Baltimore Sun op-ed

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. 


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serious cultural differences between the military and civilian society without creating false distinctions through outdated policy positions.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.

Every year the United States Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth holds a writing competition open to anyone – civilian or military – conducting serious research on a subject chosen by the Military Review.  

This year’s prompt was as follows:

As the first commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), General DePuy established the organization that oversees all aspects of training professional soldiers of all ranks. The second decade of the twenty-first century brings America’s Army into its tenth year of persistent conflict. As an institution, the Army must inform our political leaders and the national media as to what it truly means to be a member of the profession of arms.

This years winners, of which I am fortunate enough to be one, were announced in August.


–          In 1988 approximately 40 percent of 18-year-olds had at least one veteran parent. By 2000, that figure had fallen to 18 percent and by 2018, only about 8 percent of 18-year-olds will have a veteran parent and the exposure to and familiarity with military life that comes from being part of a military family.[1]

–          As of 2009 only 7.55% of the nation’s total population has served in the military.[2]

–          Of these veterans 65.2% are 55 or older.[3]

–          Among the 535 member of the 111th Congress 120 have served in the military.[4]

–          Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 slightly more than 2 million Soldiers and Marines have been deployed into combat zones.[5]

–          Of those deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than 790,000 individuals have served two or more combat tours.[6]

–          The War on Terror is now the longest conflict in American history, yet in almost ten years less than one percent of the U.S. population has served in either Iraq or Afghanistan.[7]

–          As of 2010 the population of the United States was 308,745,538.[8]

–          Total number of active duty personnel in 2011 (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard combined) was 1,477,639.[9]


[1]See Barbara A. Bicksler and Lisa G. Nolan, Recruiting and All-Volunteer Force: The Need for Sustained Investment in Recruiting Resources – An Update, Strategic Analysis (December 2009).

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, 2005-2009 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.

[3] Id.

[4] Jennifer E. Manning, Membership of the 111th Congress: A Profile, Congressional Research Service, December 27, 2010.

[5] Michelle Tan, 2 Million Troops Have Deployed Since 9/11, Marine Corps Times December 18, 2009.

[6] Id.

[7] Charlie Lewis, A New Sparta: America’s Threatening Civil-Military Gap, Harvard Kennedy School Review (2011).

[8] U.S. Census Bureau, State and County QuickFacts.

[9] Denfense Manpower Data Center, Data Analysis and Program Division.

Don Inbody, the Director of the Center for Research, Public Policy, and Training at Texas State University, recently published a concise (and in my view, very accurate) overview of the debate concerning the civil-military gap that has taken place  within policy and academic circles in recent years.

According to Inbody:

The discussion has centered around three questions:

  1. Whether such a gap exists in the first place.
  2. If it does exist, whether its existence matters, and
  3. If it does matter, what changes in policy might be required to mitigate the negative effects of such gap.

Most agree that a gap does exist, but there is widespread disagreement as to whether the gap matters. There has been even less discussion about what policies may be required to mitigate any such gap. However, few have  predicted disaster in civil-military relations and most of the discussion has centered on the nature of the gap and what might be causing it. Most discussion has concentrated on the third period [of the three periods identified  earlier in the work] and the debate tended to lay around three principal questions:

  1. What is the nature of the gap?
  2. Why does the gap matter?
  3. How can the problem be corrected?

It is well worth the ten minutes it takes to review Mr. Inbody’s work for anyone interested in understanding the evolution of this issue and the contours of the debate taking place today.

In a 2010 article published on The Moderate Voice titled The Civil-Military “Gap” Is Not Important, Logan Penza argues that “[T]he civil-military ‘gap’ is a classic boogyman. It is a scary but ultimately fictional concept occasionally rolled out in hopes that it will provide motivation for some hoped-for policy change or proposal.”  Logan views any civil-military gap not as a genuine cultural challenge for our nation, but as an oft-abused tool of political rhetoric.

Logan suggests that Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ discussion of the gap in his speech at Duke University was simply an attempt “to kick out the props that lie underneath the hostility and contempt held by many academic and cultural elites towards the military.”  In Logan’s view, invocation of the “gap” is among the only tools available to help reconcile the military with the elite supporters of the President’s party without “having to just directly call them out for their bigotry.”  To Logan, the civil-military gap, to the extent that it exists at all, has no “real practical effect beyond its usefulness as rhetorical vehicle to either highlight anti-war arguments or the insufferable hypocrisies of anti-military elitists.”

While it is probably true that the danger of a civil-military gap is abused by some political and social commentators hoping to forward  their own policy priorities, the same can be said of nearly every social issue serious enough to garner  ational attention.  This unfortunate fact of political life does not mean that the issues are not serious in their own right.  There is, in fact, a wide and growing cultural gap between members of the American Armed Forces and the public they serve.  The  ractical effects of this gap, both potential and realized, are detailed elsewhere.  Suffice it to say that extend far beyond the benign ignorance and misunderstanding that Logan suggests.

The Summer 2011 edition of Dædalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, includes essays by a group of prominent American Scholars that address the growing chasm between the countries armed forces and its civilian population.

As reported by Stephanie Liou of Stanford University News:

In his foreword, Perry, the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor, Emeritus, highlights how less than 1 percent of Americans have a family member serving in active duty, and barely one in five members of Congress have ever served in the military. These statistics, he argues, suggest that the American people and their elected representatives are less engaged with the U.S. military than at any time this past century.

According to Kennedy, this trend could prove destructive.

“Disaffected veterans brought Mussolini and Hitler to power, born and bred in the soil of increasing misunderstanding between civil and military sectors,” he said. “It is a venerable American tradition that the citizens not only staff the military but they control it.”

But what can be done to bridge this separation, when our military now consists of a small, all-volunteer force including some 70,000 non-citizens?


This is, in my humble opinion, an important contribution to the debate not only for its content (which is excellent) but for the attention that scholars of this caliber are capable of bringing to bear on the issue.