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Posts Tagged ‘civil-military gap’

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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Near the very back of the A section of the November 25, 2011 edition of the New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise offers one of the best descriptions of the civil-military gap to be found anywhere in the mainstream national media in recent years (available online here).  Sabrine reports that, according to a recent Pew research Center survey:

At any given time in the past decade, less than 1 percent of the American population has been on active military duty, compared with 9 percent of Americans who were in uniform in World War II. As a result, there is a growing generation gap, with younger Americans far less likely than older ones to have a family member who served . . .  The result is a military far less connected to the rest of society, a condition that some academics have said might not bode well for the future of military-civilian relations (the military is run by civilians). Others have warned that less connection between the military and the rest of society could lead to less-informed decisions about whether to go to war, because conflicts and the people who fight them are not part of most people’s everyday lives.

The Pew Center’s findings were drawn from two surveys conducted in 2011. The work summarized an earlier study, released in October of 2011 by Pew Research Center’s, and appears to support the notion, often forward in civil-military relations literature, of a long-term trend away from military participation (for example, look here for a 2003 report from the National Research Council noting a trend away from military participation among American youths).

 

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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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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.

depuywinners[1]

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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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