|CIVIL-MILITARY GAP: BACKGROUND|
|A collection of articles written by or about participants in our forum about the civil-military gap.|
"Gaps, " Imagined and Real: American Society and the Military Ethos
by John Hillen and Mackubin Thomas Owens
In his remarkable 1997 book, Making the Corps, Thomas Ricks of the Wall Street Journal wrote that the US military "is extremely good today." Indeed, it is "arguably the best it has ever been and probably for the first time in history the best in the world." But Ricks also identified what he took to be a possibly dangerous and corrosive gap between the military and the society it is sworn to protect. In Making the Corps, especially in that part of the book excerpted as a watershed article for The Atlantic Monthly ("The Widening Gap Between the Military and Society," July 1997), Ricks argued that the US military was increasingly alienated from American society and that the officer corps, once apolitical, was growing both more conservative and more politically active than ever before.
Concern about the gap has emerged as a staple of recent debate over the state of US civil-military relations in the post-Cold War era. Following Ricks' lead, numerous academic political scientists and sociologists have warned of the dire consequences for liberal democracy of a "nearly unbridgeable divide" between the military and American society. Most claim that such a gap is fundamentally unhealthy for US democratic institutions and therefore must be closed.
Thus influential members of Congress such as Senator John McCain and Representative Ike Skelton have expressed public concern about a professional military estranged from society and called for efforts to "close the gap between military and civilian Americans." Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense William Cohen has made "reconnecting the military to society" a top priority.
Calls to close the gap between the military and society beg several important questions. First, does a gap really exist and if so, what are its characteristics? If it does exist, is it as dangerous as some claim? And finally, if it must be closed, just how do we go about doing so?
When most commentators speak of a gap, they seem to mean a divergence in values between the military and society at large. Thus they stress the increasing conservatism and Republican party affiliation of the heretofore apolitical officer corps. Ricks noted the disdain of Marines who had recently graduated from boot camp for a civilian society they saw as "undisciplined."
There are, of course, profound dangers for civil-military relations
if the military is large, semi-autonomous, and so different and estranged
from society that it holds itself above society, and unaccountable to
those it serves. The symptoms, pointed out by Richard Kohn and others,
are disrespect and unresponsiveness on the part of the military to civilian
leaders, elements that have in other countries led to military coups.
At the societal level, such a phenomenon could result in a sense among
the military and society in general that they have separate fortunes
and are not entirely tied together. This was the German experience in
1806 when Prussian citizens saw the Army, and not Prussia or themselves
as defeated by Napoleon at Jena and Auerstadt.
The gap that does exist between the military and American society is a functional gap, not one of diametrically opposed values and cultures. While the military must remain subordinate to civilian authority, it must also meet the hard requirements of the battlefield. Success on the battlefield is the military's functional imperative. To carry out its functional imperative, the military cannot govern itself in accordance with the principles of liberal society. The functional gap between society and the must exist to some degree. Those who have experienced combat or who at least have seen Saving Private Ryan can understand why.
This is especially so in a liberal society that has justified the existence of a military for one reason only - to provide for the common defense. As T.R. Fehrenbach wrote in This Kind of War, his classic study of the Korean conflict, "By the very nature of of its missions, the military must maintain a hard and illiberal view of life and the world. Society's purpose is to live; the military's is to stand ready, if need be, to die."
While the alleged "values" gap between the military and society at large is oversold, a troubling gap does exist--the gap between the military and America's civilian elite. This gap is exacerbated by the fact that the great majority of this elite has never served in uniform.
The Vietnam War and the end of the draft marked the beginning of the estrangement of the American civilian elite from the US military. In the 1970s, two-thirds of members of Congress were veterans. Now the proportion is less than a third. President Clinton actively opposed US policy during the Vietnam War and wrote of his "loathing" for the military as an institution. For the first time in history, none of the major foreign and defense policy makers, including the secretary of defense, the national security advisor, secretary of state, or any of their principal deputies have ever served in uniform. At the same time, while much is made of the proportion of the US officer corps who identify itself as conservative and Republican, a far greater proportion of journalists and academics identify themselves as liberal and Democrat.
This estrangement has created a serious problem. It means that those who are responsible for directing the employment of US military forces, and those who comment upon that employment, largely lack experience with, understanding of, and appreciation for the military instrument. Potential perils of this estrangement include an "over- or under propensity to use force, civilian operational meddling, inadequate support for the military, or the imposition of policies destructive of military culture."
The greatest of these dangers is the subordination of the military's
functional imperative to social ones. At best, the members of the elite
who pursue such policies remain oblivious to the impact of these policies
on the ability of the military establishment to carry out its functional
imperative. At worst, they purposely seek to undermine the military
The main thrust of the assault by the civilian elite on military culture is the contention 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 functional imperative. A more radical version of this argument is that the military must accommodate itself to the dictates of "identity politics." The goal here often is destruction of the culture, not reform. Thus former Rep. Pat Schroeder gleefully announced during the Navy's Tailhook travails that the Service's problems represented "the sound of a culture cracking."
The Nature of War and the Military's Functional Imperative
To understand why the attempt to subordinate the military's functional
imperative to the dictates of liberal society is dangerous, it is necessary
to comprehend the nature of the military's functional imperative and
why it has generated the kind of ethos that it has.
No one has developed a more comprehensive theory of war than the 19th century Prussian philosopher of war, Carl Von Clausewitz. He described the phenomenon of war as a violent clash of opposing wills, each seeking to prevail over the other, further complicated by the fact that the will of each adversary is directed at an animate object that reacts, often in unanticipated ways. This cyclical interaction between opposing wills occurs in a realm of chance and chaos, constantly generating "friction...the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper.
In his magnum opus, On War, Clausewitz argues that war is a "remarkable trinity." The first part of this trinity is "primordial violence, hatred, and enmity," which Clausewitz calls the realm of the people. The second part is composed of "chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam," which he calls the realm of the commander and his army. The third is the "element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes [war] subordinate to reason alone," the realm of the government.
Clausewitz makes the case that while the character of war is infinitely variable, the nature of war is basically immutable. It is first and foremost a violent clash between opposing wills, each seeking to prevail over the other. In Clausewitz's formulation, our will is directed at an animate object that reacts, often in unanticipated ways. This cyclical interaction between opposing wills occurs in an environment dominated bychance and chaos.
Since war is a human enterprise, the human dimension is central to the proper understanding of the phenomenon. Accordingly, war involves intangibles that cannot be quantified. War is shaped by human nature, the complexities of human behavior, and the limitations of human mental and physical capabilities. Any view of war that ignores what Clausewitz called the "moral factors," e.g. fear, the impact of danger, and physical exhaustion, is fraught with peril. As the Prussian observed, "Military activity is never directed against material forces alone; it is always aimed simultaneously at the moral forces which give it life, and the two cannot be separated." Since the art of war deals with living and moral forces, it cannot attain anything approaching absolute certainty in things either large or small.
War does not take place in a deterministic, predictable, or mechanistic world. Rather it is characterized by complexity, apparent randomness, and sensitivity to initial conditions. War is not a mechanistic system that can be subjected to precise, positive control or synchronized, centralized schemes. Instead it is a highly complex interactive system characterized by friction, unpredictability, disorder, and fluidity. Such systems are composed of numerous independent agents that interact with each other, co-evolve from this interaction, and adapt. War is an open system interacting with its external environment (including the enemy), and characterized by complex feedback loops and non-linear dynamics.
As the "new sciences" of complexity have demonstrated, non-linear systems exhibit erratic behavior, arising from disproportionately small outputs or disproportionately large outputs relative to inputs; and from "synergistic" interactions. An important branch of non-linear dynamics is so-called "chaos theory." "Chaos" is often observed when a system is non-linear and sensitive to initial conditions. Immeasurably small differences in input can produce an entirely different outcome, can follow various behavior routes, and exhibits characteristics of randomness. War seems to be such a system.
Since "[w]ar is not the action of a living body on a lifeless mass... but always the collision of two living forces," war exhibits the sort of unpredictability observed in chaotic systems. Military action does not produce a single reaction but a dynamic interaction, the very nature of which is bound to lead to unpredictability. This unpredictability inherent in war as a non-linear system is magnified by three other phenomena that Clausewitz addresses in some detail: chance, uncertainty, and friction.
War takes place in the realm of chance and uncertainty, constrained by time, and always subject to friction. As Clausewitz observed, "No other human activity is so continuously and universally bound up with chance" as is war, and "Three-quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty."
Uncertainty represents what we do not know or understand about a given situation. Practically, it is a doubt that threatens to block action. Uncertainty is not merely a lack of data that can be solved by gathering and processing more information, but the natural and inevitable product of the dynamic of war. In war, all actions generate uncertainty, and the ultimate requirement is to be able to operate effectively despite uncertainty.
Like uncertainty, friction in war also seems to be an intractable
problem. As Clausewitz observes:
Those who have experienced combat understand the various manifestations of friction. But those who have not can get a sense of the phenomenon by reference to Steven Spielberg's magnificent 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan, which from first to last, illustrates the pervasiveness in war of friction. The opening scenes of the movie place the audience right in the middle of the chaotic interaction of friction and chance.
The operational plan for the amphibious assault on Omaha Beach, portrayed with such striking realism by Mr. Spielberg, was extremely detailed. Unfortunately as Count Helmuth von Moltke (the Elder) observed, "no plan of operation extends with any certainty beyond first contact with the main hostile force." In conformity with Moltke's dictum, most of the amphibious tanks that were supposed to provided cover for the Omaha Beach assault sank before reaching shore. Combat engineers in the initial assault waves were supposed to destroy the obstacles the German defenders had arrayed on the beach and mark the approaches for the landing craft carrying the subsequent assault waves. But strong currents carried the landing craft of the first wave off course by as much as 1,000 yards.
As a result, most of the obstacles were not destroyed and as the follow-on waves approached the beach, men began to use the obstacles as cover from the murderous German defensive fire. Because of this manifestation of friction and chance, landing craft began to stack up, men wading ashore were mowed down, and others, Paralyzed with fear, drowned as the tide came in.
Countering Friction-The Military Ethos
Of all these factors, cohesion is perhaps most important. While friction and the other characteristics of war that create uncertainty seem to be inherent to war itself, military organizations attempt to reduce these factors. Friction is countered by such means as training, discipline, cohesion, regulations, orders and what Clausewitz calls "the iron will of the commander," i.e. what we think of as the components of the military ethos.
Those who have seen combat up close recognize that unit cohesion is critical to countering the natural friction generated by combat. Indeed, most of the research on men in battle has shown unit cohesion to be a necessary element of battlefield success. Critics of military culture have either denied its or attempted to define it down so that it could just as well apply to a civilian workplace. But unit cohesion in combat is far more than teamwork. Cohesion arises from the bond among disparate individuals who have nothing in common but facing death and misery together. This bond is akin to what the Greeks called philia--friendship, comradeship, or brotherly love.
Philia or the bond that underpins unit cohesion has been well described
by J. Glen Gray in his discussion of unit cohesion in The Warriors:
Reflections on Men in Battle:
There is no better description of unit cohesion than that of the 1992 report of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces: cohesion refers to "the relationship that develops in a unit or group where 1) members share common values and experiences; 2) individuals in the group conform to group norms and behavior in order to ensure group survival and goals; 3) members lose their identity in favor of a group identity; 4) members focus on group activities and goals; 5) unit members become totally dependent on each other for the completion of their mission or survival; and 6) group members must meet all the standards of performance and behavior in order not to threaten group survival."
These are the factors that made it possible for American soldiers on Omaha Beach to overcome the chaotic interaction of friction and chance that they faced on D-Day. The Omaha Beach landing surely would have failed were it not for the selfless leadership of small unit commanders such as the officer played by Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, Captain John Miller, and the discipline and courage of individual soldiers who kept moving forward, singly and in small groups, despite the most powerful emotion known to human beings-fear arising from the instinct of self-preservation. It was a military culture capable of transforming school teachers, farm boys, and city slickers into soldiers that made the difference between ultimate success and failure on Omaha Beach as well as on countless other battlefields throughout American history.
In the face of such arguments, the civilian elite advances two more arguments to justify subordinating the military's functional imperative to the social. The first is the contention that while the military ethos may have been necessary in the past during an era of large-scale war, the latter is only a remote possibility in our enlightened age. Accordingly, the US military can be transformed from a war-fighting organization into a constabulary force. Such a transformation would make it possible to replace traditional, hierarchical, non-democratic military virtues with values more appropriate to a liberal democratic society. According to advocates, this move would eliminate the gap between society and the military.
The second is the claim that even if war does occur, it will be a high-tech affair. In this technological advances are creating a "revolution in military affairs" (RMA) that has so the very nature of war as to render the old verities that underpinned the traditional military ethos no longer true. Advocates of this school contend that these emerging technologies and "information dominance" will eliminate Clausewitzian friction and the "fog of war," providing the commander and his subordinates nearly perfect "situational awareness," thereby promising the capacity to use military force without the same risks as before. In such a military, technological expertise would be of much greater value than military virtues.
But regarding the claim that large-scale war is a thing of the past, we should not be lulled into a sense of complacency by the rhetoric of perpetual international cooperation. The current imbroglio in the Balkans illustrates the dangers of assuming that humankind has outgrown resort to major war as a way of settling international disputes. In addition, we should remember that the last time the world was as "interdependent" as it is now was on the eve of World War I.
In this vein, it is instructive to consider a passage from Winston Churchill's The World Crisis, in which he mocked the fatuous optimism that had prevailed during the Agadir crisis of 1911, which although it was peacefully resolved, marked another milestone on the road to Armageddon: "[War] is too foolish, too fantastic to be thought of in the 20th Century....Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, Liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong."
Concerning the claims advanced by the advocates of the RMA, optimism about the capabilities of technology must be tempered by the realities that characterize real war, as opposed to war as we would wish it to be. RMA advocates claim that technology will eliminate friction and the fog of war. But the evidence suggests otherwise. In his masterful study of Clausewitzian friction, Barry Watts argues persuasively that "general friction" is a "built-in or structural feature of combat processes" arising from the fact that war is a human enterprise. "The propensities and constraints built into humankind by biological evolution provide a wellspring for general friction that seems likely to persist at some level as long as Homo Sapiens do."
Friction seems to be an intrinsic part of war, reflecting the disproportionately large effects of the "least important" individuals in the system and of minor unforeseeable incidents. Technology does not change this reality. Indeed, there is evidence that technology itself generates its own brand of friction.
The great danger of subordinating the ethos that makes it possible to fulfill the military's functional imperative to social ones is that such a subordination is likely to generate additional friction. Consider the issue of women in combat. Opening combat specialties to women and insisting on coeducational basic training have led to several manifestations of increased friction. These manifestations include increased administrative and logistical problems arising from physical differences between men and women and in reduced cohesion in combat units (traditionally based on small group dynamics among males), privacy concerns, and increased incidences of sexual misbehavior.
But the greatest sources of friction associated with the wholesale integration of women into the military are the double standards, reduced standards, less rigorous training, and reduced readiness resulting from the need to accommodate females in the ranks. For instance, DoD's commission on gender-integrated training led by former Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker focused most of its criticism of gender-integrated basic training on the latter category of problems.
The panel concluded that the disingenuous way in which the military is accommodating the social imperatives is more problematic than the imperatives themselves. For instance, the Army has known for a decade that women tend to quit basic training at a rate almost twice that of men. But rather than accepting that as the price of maintaining high standards in a demanding environment, the Army lowered its standards in order to "gender-norm" the numbers.
Clearly the pressure on the military to make these social experiments "work" reveals that the US military and the American political system are not yet able to handle "gender and sexual orientation issues" honestly and in ways that are fair to the institutions as well as the individuals involved. America's political elite, aided and abetted by its civilian and uniformed military leaders seem convinced that American society, and therefore the military, must inevitably progress toward a social order in which "gender" is physically and behaviorally irrelevant, in which sex and sexual orientation have no impact, and in which teenagers view each other according to a benign and respectful androgeny. This new orthodoxy is a purely social construct without any functional imperative, but it is justified by the civilian elite, in the words of the late Les Aspin, because it "is the right thing to do."
The Extent to Which Military and Civilian Cultures Should Be the Same
The dreams of the civilian elite notwithstanding, history teaches that the battlefield imposes its own logic, a viciously impartial meritocracy, on the institutions who seek to succeed on it. Battle is the ultimate test in providing for the common defense and the one test that cannot be failed. The very foundation of the U.S. military is the need to succeed there. To this end it is designed to minimize friction, chance, and uncertainty, the obstacles that the battlefield throws up against those who would contend there. This seems a simple enough proposition, but it is often overwhelmed in times of peace by the demands of the elite that the military's functional imperative be subordinated to social ones. It is often the case that the military's own leadership too easily acquiesces in this effort.
For instance, a recent statement from the U.S. Army's leadership stated that "any proposal that calls for gender segregation of both trainees and cadre violates the very foundation of the Army." This led one incredulous observer to ask "Which foundation is that? Winning wars for our nation; the will to win; `Duty, Honor, Country;' `There is no substitute for victory?' What specific foundation was the Army leadership referring to?" Perhaps some politically correct clause has been inserted in the 223 year old raison d'être of the Army to the effect of "being male or female is merely a social construct." Does the Army's "foundation" really rest on societal mores that are so subject to contemporary trends and political whimsy?
This tension between social and functional imperatives, and the perception among many (including military leaders) that a peacetime military should look as much like society as possible is a recurring theme in recent American history. At several points in time, the triple pressures of strategic change (fewer battles), technological change (fewer warriors needed), and social change (why don't you look like us?) have tilted the balance in favor of society at large.
At the end of World War II, for the first time in America history
the military was faced with the need to maintain a large peacetime force
through conscription. It convened a board headed by war hero Jimmy Doolittle
and tasked it with figuring out how the military might change to make
itself more amenable to peacetime draftees. As
The changes did not appear to have detrimental effects on the U.S.
The guns did sound in 1950, and the battlefield performance of the American troops during the first months of the Korean War was shameful. GI's running panicked from the field of battle were not only underequipped in tanks and ammunition, but underequipped in the martial spirit and the ethos that underpins a military if it is to succeeds in the face of the unnatural stresses of war. Many blamed the Doolittle reforms that were made so that the military looked a little more like society. In the aftermath of the disaster, Ferenbach angrily wrote that "liberal society, in its heart, wants not only domination of the military, but acquiescence of the military toward the liberal view of life. But acquiescence society may not have, if it wants an army worth a damn."
The military appeared to take lessons of Korea to heart until the end of the Vietnam War, when Richard Nixon ended the draft and started the all volunteer force. The military was now faced with an even more imposing dilemma then that at the end of World War II. How to recruit volunteers from a society whose cultural icons were busy dedicating Academy Awards to the North Vietnamese?
The answer was in the recruiting slogan of the new all volunteer army. "Today's Army Wants to Join YOU." The military, of its own volition, was going to make itself look enough like the drug-plagued, race-troubled, "question-authority!" American society at large in order to attract some volunteers. The military in 1973, like 1946, was going to "lighten-up." President Carter offered amnesty for draft dodgers and deserters, the Federation of Government Employees pushed for the unionization of the military, and the services themselves relaxed the rigid social construct and military ethos that evolved over four thousand years of human history in response to the needs of men in battle. "Enlisted Councils" undermined the critical role of Sergeants and, as one army publication wrote, "to many the all volunteer army meant beer in the barracks, long hair, loss of authority by non-commissioned officers, and drugs."
A few voices sounded the alarm- Army General Walter "Dutch" Kerwin wrote in the 1970's that "the values necessary to defend the society are often at odds with the values of the society itself. To be an effective servant of the people, the Army must concentrate not on the values of our liberal society, but on the hard values of the battlefield." His advice went unheeded. Needless to say, the malaise of the Carter years not only penetrated the U.S. military, but, many say, defined it.
Colonel Harry Summers, one of the architects who then rebuilt the Army, labeled the program "an absolute disaster." As Colin Powell and many others later noted, the most corrosive element of the Carter years in the military was the hollowness of spirit, not the low budgets. The Reagan administration in the 1980's implemented not only an increase in defense spending, but a concerted effort to reinculcate the warrior culture and military ethos into the Armed Forces. The Army dropped its slogan of accommodation and replaced it with one of challenge - "Be All that You Can Be." In a few short years, and for the first time in history, the United States had the best military fighting force in the world, bar none.
Today we appear have come full circle. Once again, the military faces an identity crisis as the civilian elite pushes the idea that the military and society must have the same culture. The great majority of the military, facing recruiting and retention problems, is now trying harder than ever to look more like society. Political leaders from both parties are pressing the military to drag itself into modernity and conform to the values of The Baby Boomers and their Generation X progeny rather than the other way around.
The Army for instance, is trying every desperate tactic to sell itself to an uninterested public. In an effort to stem its most serious recruiting problem since the end of the draft, the Army has tried more and more to sell itself with what military sociologists call occupational attributes: money, training, job security - high school with a salary and fresh air. An Army recruiter was recently quoted in USA Today as trying to game "what the twenty-somethings are going to go for."
The approach appears to be backfiring - recruiting is getting worse and the service is steadily lowing standards to accommodate those that would be turned away five years ago. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Hispanic recruits are flocking to the Marine Corps because the Army no longer satisfies their perceptions of machismo.
The appeal of the Marine Corps seems to be that it tells the twenty-somethings what it is about, and what a Gen X'er is not about, not yet anyway. The Corps sells itself not as a place to work, but as a place to be. Institutional, not occupational, attributes are its forte. It offers the immutable values of the Corps as its reward--honor, courage, commitment--values little taught or even respected in much of civilian society. Small wonder that Tom Ricks found some new Marines a bit contemptuous of the society from whence they came. After they have encountered and conquered uncompromised standards at boot camp for the first time in their lives, they have every right to be. This was real self-actualization, not the trumped-up, feel-good therapy of victimhood.
The perceived importance of answering to the social imperative often means that proven military standards are compromised. Thus, the real danger to the republic does not arise from any military threat to liberal America society, but from the reverse: the civilianization of the U.S. military ethos. One wonders whether the Marine Corps (and, to be fair, the ever-shrinking combat elements of the other services, whose training is also fair and tough) can hold out against the relentless onslaught of social pressure from political advocacy groups. As Ferenbach noted in his day, modern proponents of traditional military culture cannot look with certainty inside the Pentagon for allies.
Military leaders will continue to conform the military to the values
of contemporary society so long as no-one in uniform or leaders on Capitol
Hill put up too much of a fight. The Pentagon appears trapped in a historical
pattern of making sure that if American society is going to culturally
backslide, the military make sure it is right
For instance, there are ample illustrations of the "Doolittle-ization" of today's military. Perhaps the most egregious example of this trend was recounted in an October 1997 Los Angeles Times story. The article, entitled "Boot Camp Kicks Its Harsh Image," described how "the military is stripping away the sharp edges and hard knocks from this fabled test of manhood." Basic military training in the United States traditionally has been understood as a rite of passage from liberal society to the harder institution that protects society. As an example of the "kinder, gentler approach" that now characterizes today's co-ed military training, the article cited the Navy's Great Lakes Training Center. Here a trainee who needs extra motivation is "offered emotional support, instructed on deep breathing and stress reduction, and given a chance to explore his feelings by pasting cut-out magazine photos on a piece of cardboard." The mind boggles at the thought of sailors "trained" this way manning a ship afire or "fighting a ship" actually under attack.
All too often, these reforms are justified on the basis of the argument that "we must train as we fight." This has been the contention of those who support "gender-integrated basic training. The decision by Secretary of Defense 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 illustrative of this brand of argument.
This panel had made the point that one of the problems arising from gender-integrated basic training is the dilution of military training is to ensure that female trainees can keep up with their male counterparts. But the panel predictably was answered by the refrain that this is acceptable because "we must train as we will fight." What usually goes unspoken when this phrase is invoked is how its original meaning has been subverted.
As Adam Mersereau, an astute observer of the military ethos has remarked, this phrase traditionally was used to justify the hardest, most demanding, and realistic training possible. Only by means of such training could the rigors and demands of combat be approximated in the least. Countless soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines were told that by sweating more on the training field, they were likely to bleed less on the battlefield. "The training is hard, Private, because war is hard. If you can't make it in training, you can't make it in war. You will die, and those who depend on you will die. We must train as we will fight."
Now the phrase is employed to justify reduced training standards. "Because women will be in operational units, Private, men must learn how to work with them. We can't enforce the old standards, because not enough women can meet them. But, we must train as we will fight."
This state of affairs could represent a possibly calamitous confusion
between means and ends. If the end-state of having an American military
in the first place is cozy civil-military relations between a professional
military and its society, then go ahead and make Parris Island look
like Camp Hiawatha. If however, the end-state of having a
Maintaining the Gap--Different, not Separate
The principle task in defending traditional military culture is to
justify and defend the gap in values between the military and contemporary
American society. "Different, but not Separate" must be the
bumper sticker slogan guiding an effort that keeps the military
In the 1950's, 60's, and 70's, political scientists and military sociologists such as Samuel Huntington, Morris Janowitz, and S.E Finer did such work, helping to delineate the boundaries of healthy relations between the military and society. Those ideas were for different times however - a large conscript Army in the Cold War. Even the fine civil-military work done on the all-volunteer Army by Charles Moskos and others is generally constructed in light of the Cold War, a genuine national emergency that kept in abeyance the natural friction between the military and society during a time of peace.
In the absence of up-to-date, well-founded, and reasoned criteria for maintaining a healthy relationship between a society and military that differ, we are left with the simple idea that we must close the gap. A reassuring "it's okay to be different," gets trumped every time by a panicky "Close the gap!" when we have not defined how we measure the health of that difference as it relates to good civil-military relations in a democracy. Because of this, many public leaders, including veterans and military leaders, have left the impression that merely "closing the gap" should be the goal.
Senator John McCain, for instance, has said "it's a fundamental principle that armed services can truly serve a democracy only if they are a reflection of that society and are impacted by the same social trends." But what exactly does that mean? If society is slouching towards Gomorrah as some have claimed, must the military slouch along with it? Should it go just part of the way - softening rigid codes of conduct but maintaining enough discipline and order to keep the problems that infect greater society at bay? It would be hard to imagine the ex-POW McCain approving of a military even slightly characterized by the narcissism, relativism, and "culture of complaint" that social critics tell us marks American society today.
There are many similar statements from other public leaders associated with the military, such as former Secretary of the Navy John Dalton who said in a July 1994 speech that "as American society changes, the Naval service changes with it. That's not bad - that's the way its supposed to be." But while Samuel Huntington and others laid down specific markers and measurable criteria for the civil-military balance, these statements are ambiguous enough to be viewed as carte blanche for the social imperative.
Senator McCain's "fundamental principle" is certainly fundamental, but is by no means a principle because it says nothing about to what extent the military should accommodate social imperatives. If the principle is that the military should look exactly like society, a proposition with which we are deadly sure Senator McCain would not agree, then it is just plain wrong, proven neither by theory or the experience of democracies and militaries over the past several hundred years.
Nonetheless, this type of thinking or unguarded public pronouncements have helped create the inertia to "close the gap." As the Doolittle reforms illustrate, a liberal democracy that maintains a large and professional military during times in which it faces no overwhelming military threat will exert tremendous social pressures on military culture. This pressure will conflict with the functional imperatives of the military's ultimate (if, as we all hope, little used) warfighting mission. In those circumstances, policy makers will have to make a choice. In essence, leaders will often have to "stiff-arm" one of these imperatives when making their decisions. In the absence of war, or a similarly immediate manifestation of the functional imperative, they most often (as politicians are trained to do) take the path of least resistance and accommodate the social imperatives. It makes perfect political sense and there appears to be no downside, lessons of history not withstanding.
When faced with this conflict, policy makers should instead ask the question "where can we afford to lose?" If the military (and the country by direct extension) loses in combat, America stands to lose a tremendous amount of security and well-being, if not more. It is simply non-negotiable: the military must have a culture to succeed there. Similarly, it the military violates the legal imperatives that influence its culture, it is literally outside the law, and illegal. This is also non-negotiable (but the specifics are amendable) for very profound reasons.
However, if the military "loses" with the social imperatives, then the result is friction within civil-military relations and a possible disconnect from society on the whole. But these problems can and must be managed. If the military must "stiff-arm" one of these imperatives, it must be the societal one. There is less cost and ultimately it is easier to fix. The key of course, is to prevent these imperatives from driving military and civilian culture into conflict. But when they are, and there really is a gap between the two, who would seriously propose that America fix the gap problem with a rote solution of abandoning functional and legal imperatives to accommodate societal pressures? For anyone with the smallest historical sensibilities, the notion is preposterous.
Managing the Gap
Political and military leaders must be encouraged to maintain the functional gap between the military and society and to help manage it. There are two components to this scheme. The first is to communicate clearly that it is healthy for a democracy to have a society and military that adhere to different virtues, but not to the point where they can no longer appreciate or are cognizant of each other. While the military constantly must take pride and be honored by its role as servant of the American people, no matter the state of American culture, it is also incumbent upon both the civilian and uniformed leadership of the military to defend military culture when it is under attack.
As James Webb and others have pointedly argued, this has been an unforgivable failure in recent yeas, especially since the Navy's Tailhook scandal. The fact is that while many uniformed leaders once demonstrated great physical courage on the battlefield in turning back the nation's external enemies, they seem petrified before activists who might accuse them of "turning back the clock." Most disheartening has been their resort to Orwellian rhetoric as they defend their acquiescence against the truth.
The second component is to manage the real gap--that of shared experience, understanding and appreciation. American strategy and the defense budget drive the civil-military relation and managing the gap must take place within those boundaries.
For now, American strategy requires a military force constantly ready to fight several conflicts at once, as well as being regularly deployed overseas for extended missions of deterrence and peacekeeping. The U.S. has for some time found it efficient and cost effective to do this with relatively small all-volunteer professional forces. Several other industrialized countries have recently reformed their forces in this direction as well.
Despite some calls for its reinstitution, there is no practical need for a return to conscription, a move that would cause more headaches then it would be worth. The end of the draft was bad for the country in civil-military terms, but great for the military in professional terms. Moreover, with technology and budgets shrinking the U.S. military further, conscription or an extensive and regular use of militia forces instead of regular forces are strategically impracticable.
There are steps to be taken within these boundaries that can help manage the gap in shared experience, appreciation, and understanding between the military and American society. This is by no means a comprehensive or complete list, but it reflects the way we should be thinking as policy makers flesh out the concept of managing the gap.
First, the U.S. should increase participation in the military without
upsetting the effectiveness of a professional force. The number of short-term
enlistments for both officers and troops should be raised in proportion
to the 20-25 year careerists. The reserve and especially National Guard
combat forces must be used in much more
Second, the U.S. should recruit and reward elites for serving in the military. Military scholarships to the best universities should be increased in number and heavily subsidized to attract the already well-off children of elites. Elite universities not allowing a strong military presence on campus should lose all federal funding. Professional post-graduate schools should be encouraged to give preference to veterans (they often do now as a matter of course--veterans often make the best students).
Third, the military should invest heavily in active public relations. America, while not rushing to break enlistment records, is thirsting to know more about and experience more of its military heritage. In 1998 alone, Hollywood has released three blockbusters featuring World War II combat. Military histories by Stephen Ambrose and others are flying off the shelves in bookstores. The American Civil War revival of 1993-4 is still lingering. Military schools are hugely popular with baby boomer parents. A concerted effort by the military to get out in front of these trends in public consciousness would go a long way to alleviating the pressure to close the values gap and help manage the understanding and appreciation gap.
We cannot imagine why the Army has had nothing to say or do with the hugely popular Saving Private Ryan. Wouldn't it be a magnificent (and entirely true!) message to send to 1998 America that "your military is composed of men today who will do for you what Captain Miller and his men did for Private Ryan. And, we made them that way from the kids you sent us after high school graduation."
These are merely examples of some steps that can be taken by public policy makers to both 1) end the idea that it is fundamentally unhealthy to have a society and military with different values, and 2) manage the inevitable gap in understanding and appreciation that is a result of American strategy, defense planning, and the global security environment. The military must at all costs preserve the culture that produces what George Orwell called those "rough men who stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." Because of them he noted, "we sleep safe in our beds."
Those troops can well serve a liberal democratic society with values based on the needs of an institution attempting to succeed in the rigors of combat. They need not look like the local office or school in order to underpin good civil-military relations in America. The values gap is fine, so long as we establish new measures of military professionalism to keep the gap from being too wide, or closing altogether. Similarly, the gap over understanding and appreciation must be managed in order to ensure the American people appreciate the military that will sacrifice all to serve them and the military recognize that there is no greater honor than being asked to do precisely that.