This session will examine how social and demographic issues affect the military and the relationship between the military and society. For example, while racial integration of the military began under President Truman in 1948, African Americans and Hispanic Americans continue to be underrepresented in all service branches other than the Army, especially among the officer corps. The role of women in the armed forces continues to be problematic in some ways, as has been the Defense Department’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals in the military. As regards social class, while the All Volunteer Force (AVF) has been found not to be widely at variance with society at large in terms of race, socio-economic status, and education, it is undeniable that so-called “urban elite,” both conservative and liberal, are underrepresented in the military. As regards religion, according to one source, more than two thirds of the military’s active-duty chaplains are affiliated with evangelical or Pentecostal churches, while only 39% of civilian Americans identify with these denominations.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the AVF? What are the consequences of a self-selecting military culture? Does it risk losing touch with the larger society and, if so what are the costs of this? Is a widening gulf between military and civilian cultures an irremediable consequence of an all-volunteer military?
Motivated in part by the belief that the members of our society should more equitably share the burdens of protecting our democracy, there have been calls for a resumption of the draft and/or some other form of mandatory national or community service. While ethically persuasive, a return to conscription, most informed sources agree, is a non-starter, both militarily and politically. The concern remains, however, that it is unhealthy for a democracy when only a small percentage of citizens literally puts lives on the line in defense of the nation.
Also of concern is that fewer of our civilian elites—in government, business, education, finance and a host of other areas—have military experience, or children or grandchildren liable to serve in the armed forces. And the same is true for our elected political leaders — the very people who determine whether, when, and where to go to war. In terms of strengthening our democracy, did we make the right decision when we gave up the draft?
The gap between military and civilian cultures in America is not new. In his classic study of the theory and politics of military-civilian relations in America, The Soldier and the State (1957), Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington observes that throughout most of our history, the armed forces have “had the outlook of an estranged minority.” Thirty years later, the journalist Arthur Hadley extended the metaphor and described the relationship as “The Great Divorce.” The ensuing 20 years have seen the end of the Cold War, the election of two baby-boomer presidents who famously avoided the draft and the war in Vietnam, and far reaching changes in both the military and society that have served to further separate the two cultures. For example, whereas much of the nation and the military would once have recognized as accurate the sentiment of Jim Webb’s fictional hero in A Country Such As This – “I ain’t any Republican. I ain’t a Democrat neither. I’m a Navy man, that’s all” – the norm among uniformed personnel today, according to one highly regarded military journalist, is identification with the stridency-prone wing of the Republican Party.
What do civilians need to understand about the military? What constructive steps can be taken to bridge the gap between military and civic culture in the United States? Whose responsibility is it to begin building that bridge? What should a 21st Century American military establishment look like?