When went on active duty in August 1995, I was told the Army was “different” than it used to be. Career NCOs preached that the military wasn’t as “tough” and that it was getting “sensitive”. I heard rumors of recruits using “stress cards” to stop drill sergeants from yelling at them. There were complaints that women had to do less, had easier jobs, and should be held up to the same standards across the board, including physical fitness.
I never understood any of it. I have always subscribed to the notion that the military was a reflection of society and should even be more forward on social causes than the general populace, not less, whether in the areas of sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Recently, I’ve read several articles by authors who feel the military system is changing too much. Articles like Philip Ewing’s October 2011 piece “It’s No Longer Our Military, It Hasn’t Been For Years” and Robert D. Kaplan’s 2007 piece “On Forgetting the Obvious” speak about a changing in attitude towards the US military and how that attitude is slowly permeating our fighting forces, and how this nonchalant attitude towards national security could render the military less effective than in years past. Both authors claim those in the service understand their mission more than the general population of the United States and therefore the American citizenry should be forced to do more, including possibly drafting citizens (or maybe non-citizens) into the military.
But these arguments are flimsy at best, false propaganda for the military-industrial complex at worst. They are the same arguments people used to keep African-Americans in separate units, keep openly gay Americans out of the military, and continue to keep women from combat arms positions. The bottom line is that these arguments do not reflect the reality of today’s American culture. They do not reflect a global world view in which cultures are connecting and merging more than ever before. Yes, there are cultural hotspots, both in America and across the world, but they are growing smaller and we are learning how to deal with them better with every passing day.
This growth in multi-culturalism has created a new and different American identity – one not based on nationalism or even civic pride, but based on smaller communities of brands, industries, groups, sports teams, or even forms of entertainment. I would not be surprised if Mac, iPhone, iPod, and iPad users rate their loyalty to Apple higher than they do to America. For many, this would be an unspeakable wrong, but if it is true, it is the reality we live in.
Whereas Kaplan bases his idea on theory (making it difficult to factually counter), Ewing tries to use selected statistics to promote his argument. He cites Robert Burns’ recent article on military member’s views on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as reason for a civil-military disconnect. Burns discusses a Pew Research Center study claiming military members believe the wars are worth fighting more so than civilians. Ewing states this as a reason the American public doesn’t “get” the military’s mission. However, this logic is put to the test by another Pew Research Center statistic that says military members on the front lines believe the war is worth fighting more than those who haven’t seen combat.
So the closer people are to something and the more they put their time and effort into it, the more they believe in it? That has nothing to do with politics, the military, or war. That’s human nature. There are automobile commercials that hinge on that very premise.
There is no doubt in my mind a non-volunteer army would not work – forcing people to fit into the American military culture would be resisted. It was resisted in the 1960s and would be even more resisted today. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. How can elected leaders force those who voted for them to die for them? Lawmakers don’t force people to vote or participate in the political process, why force them to be involved in the military process? Just like voting results are their decision, if the majority of the American people want to be under Chinese, Russian, or even Sharia rule, that is also their decision. That’s the true definition of democracy. If a minority moves from another land, becomes a majority, and enacts their own laws and rules, then that is the natural evolution of the laws of the area. The Native Americans can attest to that. Maybe the American general populace of Ewing and Kaplan will react only after such rules have been enacted. But again, if they do so, that’s their decision.
In my experience and what I have told prospective recruits for years, is that you have to want to be part of the military lifestyle. Especially in today’s American culture where we promote individuality and the celebration of differences, assimilating into the military way of life is not for everyone. The strict rigidness of the military is so different from the business world or civilian life. For those used to an artesian perspective, the military does not promote a sense of creativity. For those used to a business perspective, the military lacks adaptability as there is no “competition” and the inability to expressively define freedom creates an ambiguous end-product people with a business mind are not familiar with. One-size-fits-all might fit the military, but we cannot expect it to fit a majority of Americans unless they are willing to voluntarily put their individuality aside.
Ewing and Kaplan also claim the general public has lost touch with the military. If we want to incorporate military members into the greater society in America, we need to remove the social isolationism of the military, a phenomenon that has been growing since the end of the Civil War and the emphasis away from militias and on a national force. There are a few steps we can take besides forcing citizens into the military.
First, we can remove base housing in America. Make military members our neighbors. Let them talk about their jobs at our BBQ and at kids’ soccer games. This is will not only educate non-military citizens about the military, but also move the sense of community from the base to the neighborhood, where neighbors would be more likely to assist the wife or husband of a deployed neighbor before a unit-mate who is left behind.
Second, we can remove base/post exchanges and other life support facilities. I understand why those facilities are essential overseas. They provide a sense of comfort and security. But in America, they are a hindrance to the society understanding the jobs and functions performed on a military base. Let the troops shop at Wal-Mart, which often times even has greater discounts than the PX/BX.
In a perfect world, the actions of a military should reflect the desires of a populace. The people vote for politicians who represent them. A part of that citizenship decides to join the military to protect the citizenship. The politicians decide, and in some cases vote, to send the military to war. If the people disagree, they can vote out the politicians and vote in people who will end the conflicts.
That is why in a way, I tend towards supporting the idea of removing the military’s ability to vote. The military should not be able to vote on their own future. They are a tool of the citizenry.
Additionally, the over-classification of the military adds to disconnect. Not enough people file Freedom of Information Act requests for the masses to know exactly what goes on with the military they financially support. Of course, there are classified special operations and intelligence actions that might jeopardize national security, but how about unclassified operations? How about opening the books on who does what and how they do it and make it easily available? How about ride-alongs and things that would get kids interested? That’s a public affairs issue. The military needs to get their message out better. Don’t rely on the media. The military needs to create its own perception. Encourage soldier blogs, tweets, and endorsements.
It is not the public’s fault the military is changing. That is the natural evolution of societies. If Americans want to abandon the traditional pro-American cause as the Russian people abandoned the Czar in World War I, that is their choice. Grasping at straws and suggesting those in the military, or those with military affiliations or backgrounds, know best in regards to how the military should be socially constructed is pretentious, elitist, and against all our citizen soldiers should stand for.