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In this article on Military.com, Bryant Jordan relates several suggestions made by Diane Mazur on how the civil-military gap might be narrowed.  Among them:

–   Services should focus less on selling themselves as the way to a career and more as avenues for people interested in learning some life and work skills, then moving on

–   A military attitude adjustment — recognizing that civilian leadership and criticism are essential

–   Encourage a wider range of people consider military service such as offering short enlistment periods and taking back jobs in logistics, supply, and cooking that have been outsourced

Mazur, a professor in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida, is a former Air Force Captain.  She recently published a book on the topic titled “A More Perfect Military.”

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In this excellent post on Blue Star Families a long-time military wife describes a recent experience in talking about the trials of military life with a civilian friend.  In her words:

I don’t remember how or why the discussion started, but before I could stop myself, I was telling her all about the military lifestyle.  I told her about the yin and yang of deployments, that despite how tough they are, they’re also an exercise in personal growth and strength. I told her how reintegration isn’t as romantic as the homecoming videos we see on television, but that these reunions are a great way to get to know our spouses again. I told her how unusual it is that my family has lived at this duty station for over three years, and while I love the stability, I sometimes miss the adventures we had living overseas.

I went on to explain some of the current issues military families are facing such as President Obama’s plan to downsize the military, defense spending cuts, and the difficulties spouses have finding employment. I told her about young widows whose children never got the chance to meet their daddies and wives who have transformed into caregivers for their wounded warriors. And I told her about the many wonderful resources and organizations that provide support for service members and their families.

By the time I finished, I was practically out of breath. And Mary’s jaw was practically on the floor.

“I had no idea,” she stammered before falling silent. As long as I’ve known Mary, she’s never been short on words. But the picture I had painted for her of the ins and outs of military life had rendered her speechless

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In her 2010 work, A More Perfect Military, Professor Diane Mazur delves into the relationship between the American constitutional system and the military as it exists today.  She directly confronts a subject that most serious scholars shy away from, because, as she points out, “no on . . . ever wants to be accused of not supporting the troops.”  It helps that she spent the early part of her career as an active duty Air Force officer.

She points out, as other serious thinkers in the field have, that respect for the military and healthy civil-military relations are two very different things. Part of the problem is that in our zeal to honor those who have chosen to serve, we discourage those who have not from taking part in national debates on military issues.  We assume that a citizen who has never served is incapable of understanding the armed forces and so should not, even in the broadest of policy debates, weigh in on matters affecting the military.

Professor Mazur does an excellent job of outlining the current state of civil-military relations and offers a clear and easy to follow recitation of the standard explanations for the current “civil-military” gap.  This book could easily serve as a primer for those new to the field.  However, it is her discussion of the effect of Supreme Court jurisprudence on both military culture and civilian perceptions of the armed forces that sets this work apart from others in the field.

The core of Mazur’s work argues that, over the last thirty-five years, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently undermined the military’s traditional relationship to law and the constitution, and in so doing, contributed as much to the current civil-military divide as the switch to an all-volunteer force.

Mazur traces a line of Supreme Court cases, the most recent of which, Rumsfeld v. FAIR, was decide in 2005, that she believes have significantly eroded the bond between the American military and the constitution.  While these cases purport to protect the military institution by partially insulating it from legal scrutiny and raising the bar for judicial review, the effect has been to widen the cultural gap between the armed forces and the public at large.  By insulating the military, the court has created a presumption within the civilian community that the military is something separate from the rest of the country, something that cannot be understood from the outside and that should be left to its own judgment.  At the same time, the court’s decisions have fostered a culture within the armed forces that is at best resentful, and often hostile, to civilian legal institutions.  This, she argues, directly contributed to a failure in the military legal system with respect to detainees from our post 9/11 conflicts and set the stage for the prisoner abuse and torture scandals of recent years.

At only 200 pages, this book is concise, clear, and tightly focused on the most important aspects of modern civil-military affairs.  There are times when the narrative seems to diverge from her primary point, and the work could have been strengthened with a minor restructuring of the sequence of chapters, but these are minor quibbles with a work that should be essential reading in the field of civil-military relations. Whether you ultimately agree with Professor Mazur’s conclusions or not, you will come away from this work with a new appreciation for the ways in which our federal courts can subtlety shape popular culture and for how the basic structure of our constitutional system frames the relationships between our armed forces and the broader American society.

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On October 7th, John Arquilla, Andrew Bacevich, James Fallows, and Gary Hart, writing in The Atlantic, proposed the creation of an independent, nonpartisan investigatory commission to evaluate the military experience of the past decade.  In their view, the United States is now in an era of “persistent conflict” with no end in sight in which our armed forces achieve indifferent results while costing American taxpayers exorbitant amounts.  To address this they believe that the United States must extract from the military experience of the past decade insights that can provide the basis for a more effective and affordable 21st century force.

They identify several areas of investigation likely to bear fruit, among them is:

The civil-military gap. On the eve of his retirement, outgoing JCS chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, speaking on behalf of those who serve, noted that his fellow Americans “don’t know … what we have been through.” Americans don’t know because today’s military exists in splendid isolation from the rest of society — an unintended consequence of abandoning the citizen-soldier tradition four decades ago. The question deserves to be asked and studied: Does the existing All-Volunteer Force serve the nation’s best interests?

Their work is timely, thoughtful, and well worth consideration.  It is encouraging to see a group of such accomplished scholars focusing on the civil-military cultural divide and recommending a serious national debate on the subject.

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Mackubin Thomas Owens, US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the
Civil-Military Bargain, 2011

 

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I’ve written an op-ed that will run in tomorrow’s Baltimore Sun titled “Ending ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is about more than gays in the military.”  The piece is also available on the Sun’s online opinion page here.  I’ll refer you to their site for the details, but if you have been reading this page in recent months you can probably make an educated guess as to its content. 

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As of yesterday DADT is officially history.  This is a major win for the LGBT community, both within the armed forces and in broader society.  It is also a good sign for civil-military relations.  I suspect that this policy has been out of step with the views of a majority of service members for some time.  Rather than mark a recent change in military culture, yesterday’s change simply brings official DoD policy into conformity with the prevailing views of most of the agency’s employees.  There are enough serious cultural differences between the military and civilian society without creating false distinctions through outdated policy positions.  It is nice to see such a controversial (and in my view, blatantly wrong) practice swept away.

The military would be well advised to use this change, and the publicity it has generated, to highlight its inclusive personnel practices and begin the process of reclaiming its position at the vanguard of the civil rights movement that it formerly enjoyed.

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