|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.|
Orfall of Seoul, South Korea asks:
Is the growing gap between military and civilian elements of society a result of a conscious (or, for that matter, unconscious) effort to create an organization that is inherently conservative because of its missions and duties or a reflection of civilian misunderstandings of what those duties and missions are?
Charles Dunlap responds:
I don't think there is any conscious effort to build a more politically conservative military - I think that some degree of conservatism in the ranks is a natural to military organizations. So the idea that the military might be generally more conservative than society at large should not itself be unexpected. The issue, I think, is not conservatism per se, but whether or not that conservatism has become inappropriately politicized within the armed forces.
Richard Kohn responds:
Certainly some "gaps" are necessary and functional! Not all divergences of values and attitudes are bad, and not all convergences are good!
One of our studies shows that at accession, the views and opinions of soldiers (in the generic sense) are largely congruent with their peers. I think military service, in part because it is a "total experience" compared to others, molds a certain viewpoint and approach--purposely--that is critical to achievement of the kind of teamwork, discipline, training, expertise, and attitude necessary for military success. Victory in battle, after all, is the ultimate purpose of military institutions, even if they are called upon for all sorts of other duties and tasks. And of course a certain inherent conservatism is necessary and functional (although we know that the most successful military organizations are ones that are flexible, bold, and innovative as well as careful, cautious, and conservative--it's a fine line frequently, and highly situational!)
Our data shows that civilian society, both mass and "elite," are pretty knowledgeable about military institutions--recognizing the functionality of discipline, tradition, ritual, and the like, and largely in agreement about the nature of the threats and the purposes of the military. There were some real misundertandings on the role of the military (and the division of function with the civilian leadership) in decision-making--so the picture is to a degree mixed.
Mackubin Owens responds:
I believe it is more the latter. I think that the military's functional imperative--what society asks the military to do--attracts a more conservative sort of person.
A big debate concerns the sort of organizational model is going to prevail when it comes to the military. Military sociologists make a distinction between the "institutional" model and "occupational" one. The former stresses the needs of the organization over those of the members. What is necessary for the institution to survive and perform effectively? The institutional model stresses duties and missions.
The occupational model looks at the military as if it were just another job, akin to a commute to the Pentagon. As you can tell from my response to question number 1, I don't believe this is true. Military culture serves a very real purpose.