|Is there a widening "thought gap" between civilians and the military? Colonel Charles Dunlap, Colonel Mackubin Owens and professor Richard Kohn respond to your questions.|
Jahn, Colonel USAF (Ret.) of Bethlehem, PA asks:
In the draft era, there were draftees that would take their military training in and then challenge it and those that held the military's values. I believe this kept the career military honest in its thinking and acted as a reality check. Today, who in the military gives this reality check?
Charles Dunlap responds:
I agree that today's military does not benefit from the influx of ideas and perspectives that draftees provided. I do, however, think that in certain respects technology helps keep military in touch with American society. For example, military personnel are, by and large, very computer literate and have access to the Web and its wealth of information and ideas. Moreover, even the most junior people have a television in their rooms - as well as access to American TV overseas via satellites. In terms of keeping the military "honest," there is a much more aggressive media today that works to do just that. Additionally, there are a plethora of internal entities - many of which did not exist during the draft era - that provide oversight to military activities.
However, I do beleive it is of great concern that so many colleges and universities have ended ROTC programs and discourage officer recruitment on their campuses. This reduces the pluralism of the officer corps - a situation not to the benefit of the military or the nation.
Richard Kohn responds:
The draft military establishment was probably more diverse in its veiwpoint and at the same time less professional than our highly trained, long service forces of today (although the Marines still rely largely on first-termers in the lower enlisted ranks). And the large "flow-through" of citizens in the junior officer and enlisted grades undoubtedly helped NCOs and professional officers stay in touch directly with American youth and culture.
However I suspect that the "challenges" to the system in those days have been over-emphasized.
Today's most promising military officers seem to me far more sophisticated and "tuned in" through extensive professional military education, familiarity with the media, and more interest in society than in the past. The armed services are very aware of, and carefully tracking, American public opinion. Thus the "reality check" comes in every day, as officers and enlisted are deluged with the media, read and exchange e-mails, listen to their families, interact with their communities, and the like.
The biggest difference is that this is a smaller, long-service establishment of professionals who are self-selected and don't always like the "reality check" they are getting. One of my concerns is that after a generation of the all-volunteer force, in the wake of the Vietnam war, and at the end of a period of "culture war" in American society, many in our military establishment seem alienated and distrustful of the society they serve--perhaps more so than in the past--and at a time when the overall threat to the United States is smaller than in the past. But the military establishment is far larger and more important than at comparable times in our peacetime past. And a few mistake their role and purpose in society.
Mackubin Owens responds:
I believe there are plenty of societal checks in place. Although a "functional gap" must exist--soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are expected to do things that civilians are not--the US military is still heavily influenced by the norms of liberal society. And that may indeed be the real problem, not that civil society will look more like the military--that's not going to happen--but that social forces will drive the military to adopt the norms of liberal society, to the detriment of military effectiveness. If you want a precedent, look at the Doolittle Board after World War II and the havoc wreaked by its reforms on US military performance in the early days of Korea.
In order to fulfil its functional imperative, the military has adopted a culture that constitutes an evolutionary response to the nature of war. To maximize the chances of battlefield success, the military places a premium on such factors as unit cohesion and morale. It stresses such martial virtues as courage, both physical and moral, a sense of honor and duty, discipline, a professional code of conduct, and loyalty. These characteristics are dictated by the requirements of a workplace foreign to most civilians.
All too often, the American civilian elite sees military culture not as something that contributes to military effectiveness, but as a problem to be eradicated in the name of multiculturalism, sexual politics, and the politics of "sexual orientation." At a minimum, elite opinion contends that the military is obligated to adapt to contemporary liberal values, patterns of behavior, and social mores no matter how adversely they might affect the military's ability to carry out its functional imperative. A more radical version, epitomized by former Rep. Pat Schroeder's claim during the Navy's Tailhook trauma that the Service's problems represented "the sound of a culture cracking," seeks destruction of the culture, not its reform.
The assault on the military ethos by the American civilian elite undergirds the ongoing process of softening military discipline and reducing training standards within the US military. The decision last year by Secretary of Defense William Cohen to reject, on the advice of the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, his own hand-picked panel's recommendation to separate basic training by "gender" is a case in point.