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Posts Tagged ‘army’

According to last year’s census, there are 21.8 million military veterans in the United States.  Surely you can find at least one to sit down and speak with today.  Here is a rough breakdown of our veteran population:

7.6 million served during the Viet Nam era (1964-75)

4.8 million served during the “Gulf War” (defined as August
of 1990 until present)

2.1 million served during the Second World War (1941-45)

2.6 million served during the Korean war (1950-53)

5.5 million served during peacetime

These numbers do not add up to 21.8 because some veterans served during more than one of the listed periods.  For example, in 2010 there were 54,000 veterans who had served during WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam.

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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.

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Steve Clemons wrote a July 4th piece for the Atlantic in which he points to the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as evidence that the gap between “us” (presumably meaning everyone not in the military) and the military is disappearing.  As a general matter I cannot agree.  In fact, I see strong evidence of a trend in the opposite direction.  However, Mr. Clemons makes a fair point.  The fact that there exists a cultural gap between members of our armed services and the general public, and that this gap appears to be widening, does not mean that there are not also points of conversion.   

The death of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) is a wonderful example of a military norm evolving to following a change in civilian culture.  This is not a field in which I am expert, but I would like to offer two basic observations on DADT and its demise.

First, it seems to me that the policy, as originally conceived, was itself a mark of shifting norms within the military culture.  Prior to DADT there was an actively enforced ban on homosexuality in the military.  DADT did not remove this ban, it simple made its enforcement much more difficult by limiting the ability of military leaders to investigate the sexual orientation of service members.  From a cultural perspective, the more important point is the general acceptance of this policy by members of the military.  In the last two decades, as acceptance of homosexuality among the general population of America has increased dramatically, so too has acceptance increased within the military.  It would appear that now, with the military’s acceptance of the repeal, the military culture has continued to evolve in favor of the prevailing civilian views on homosexuality.

Second, both DADT and its repeal were imposed upon the military by civilian leaders.  DADT is the colloquial name of a directive issued by President Bill Clinton in 1993.  The policy began its death march last year when congress passed a bill repealing the ban on homosexuality in the military that would take effect 60 days after a study by the U.S. Department of Defense is completed and the U.S. Defense Secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the U.S. President certify that repeal would not harm military effectiveness.  This study has yet to be completed, but a court of appeals decision this week struck down the ban as unconstitutional.  The possibility of a government appeal of this ruling notwithstanding, DADT is effectively dead.  However, this result stems from civilian government action rather than from a cultural shift within the military.

From a cultural perspective the more important point is the acceptance of the DADT repeal within the military.   Senior uniformed officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, have spoken in support of the repeal.  Perhaps more significantly, a November 2010 Department of Defense study(study) found that 70 percent of surveyed service members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence at all.    

While the story is more complicated than a simple shift in norms among military members, I believe that Mr. Clemons is correct in his assessment of gap between “us” and the military with respect to this one issue. 

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Virtually all military sociologists have come to view modern militaries as highly professionalized social institutions.  Only a generation ago this was decidedly not the case.  In 1973 the United States discontinued the draft and moved towards an all volunteer military.  While most commentators would agree that the professionalization of our armed forces has resulted in a far more capable and battle ready force, the all volunteer model has greatly reduced military participation rates across the U.S. population.

According to U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates as of 2009 only 10.12 percent of the nation’s population (18 and older) has served in the military.   Of these veterans 65.2 percent are 55 or older.  Compare this to peak of about 19 percent in 1970.  As the population continues to grow, the veteran population continues to age, and military participation rates continue to dwindle, this proportion will only decrease.

This general trend can be seen in our national elected bodies as well.  Among the 535 member of the 11th Congress 120 have served in the military.  While this measure is greater than the proportion among the general population it has been declining (there were 126 in the 110th congress).  As the majority of veterans move into retirement it is likely that the percentage of representatives with military experience will continue to decline. 

Despite declining participation rates the military has long enjoyed a favorable public opinion and consistently rates above other national institutions.  However, a favorable view does not necessarily indicate and understanding of the culture of the organizations and views not based in a personal understanding of the institutions are much more susceptible to change with the political winds.

Even within our veteran population the level of understanding of the modern military culture may not be as high as it might appear at first blush.  The military culture that exists today is not the military culture that existed 40 years ago.  Perceptions of what life in the military means that are based on service that concluded decades ago may not be entirely in line with the realities of modern service.    

The mismatch between perceptions of military life and the realities of military life is often termed the “civil-military” gap.  It is the province of civil-military relations professionals and scholars to understand this gap and assess it implications for the military organization and the public at large.  Frank Hoffman described civil-military relations as the set of relationships between for sectors of society: American political elites, military elites, the American civil society, and the military writ large. It is the relationship between the last two of these that I mean to address here.    

Given the general decline in military participation rates it is important, from the perspective of the military organization, to communicate the core aspects of its culture and mission to the general public.  This blog is meant as a forum in which popular perceptions of military culture can be discussed and suggestions as to how to most effectively bridge any civil-military gap that exists can be forwarded.

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