Monday, May 25, 2015

Civilians Increasingly Separated from U.S. Military

This isn't a new story.

Thomas Ricks had a piece on the civil/military divide in the Atlantic back in 1997, and Newsweek had one on the military as a "family business" in 2005. And here's Time from 2011, "An Army Apart: The Widening Military-Civilian Gap."

But the problem isn't just that we have an all-volunteer military (and no draft), as some bloggers are pointing out. We've had wholesale generational changes going on for decades such that a literal microscopic proportion of the American people have any connection to the military and war. In World War Two something like 16 million Americans served in uniform, but beyond that the entire country was a war. It was shared sacrifice for the war effort. From massive wartime rationing to war bonds and victory gardens, the American people went to war. It was a cultural phenomenon that's a distant memory.

In any case, there's a great piece at the Los Angeles Times, "U.S. MILITARY AND CIVILIANS ARE INCREASINGLY DIVIDED" (via Memeorandum):
Multi-generational military families like the Graveses form the heart of the all-volunteer Army, which increasingly is drawing its ranks from the relatively small pool of Americans with historic family, cultural or geographic connections to military service.

While the U.S. waged a war in Vietnam 50 years ago with 2.7 million men conscripted from every segment of society, less than one-half of 1% of the U.S. population is in the armed services today — the lowest rate since World War II. America's recent wars are authorized by a U.S. Congress whose members have the lowest rate of military service in history, led by three successive commanders in chief who never served on active duty.

Surveys suggest that as many as 80% of those who serve come from a family in which a parent or sibling is also in the military. They often live in relative isolation — behind the gates of military installations such as Ft. Bragg or in the deeply military communities like Fayetteville, N.C., that surround them.

The segregation is so pronounced that it can be traced on a map: Some 49% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the U.S. are concentrated in just five states — California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

The U.S. military today is gradually becoming a separate warrior class, many analysts say, that is becoming increasingly distinct from the public it is charged with protecting.

As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between military personnel and the broad civilian population appear to be growing more distant, the Pew Research Center concluded after a broad 2012 study of both service members and civilians.

Most of the country has experienced little, if any, personal impact from the longest era of war in U.S. history. But those in uniform have seen their lives upended by repeated deployments to war zones, felt the pain of seeing family members and comrades killed and maimed, and endured psychological trauma that many will carry forever, often invisible to their civilian neighbors....

Jerstin Crosby, a former graduate student at the University of North Carolina who now works as a computer artist, said the only direct encounter with the military he can remember was when he taught a Middle Eastern art course to airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C.

He respected the airmen's knowledge of Iraq — some seemed to know it better than he did, for all his education — but was also sometimes baffled by them. Why, he wondered, did everyone on base stop their cars at 5 p.m. and stand at attention? Only later did he learn it was a daily show of respect as the nation's flag was lowered.

"I thought it was some kind of prank they were playing on me," he said.

George Baroff, enjoying an outdoor lunch at an organic food co-op in Carrboro one recent afternoon, said he understood the military quite well: He served three years as a draftee during World War II before eventually becoming a psychology professor in nearby Chapel Hill.

Baroff, 90, finds himself startled when people learn of his war record and say, as Americans often do to soldiers these days, "Thank you for your service."

"You never, ever heard that in World War II. And the reason is, everybody served," he said.

In Baroff's view, today's all-volunteer military has been robbed of the sense of shared sacrifice and national purpose that his generation enjoyed six decades ago. Today's soldiers carry a heavier burden, he said, because the public has been disconnected from the universal responsibility and personal commitment required to fight and win wars.

"For us, the war was over in a few years. The enemy surrendered and were no longer a threat," he said. "For soldiers today, the war is never over; the enemy is never defeated." The result, he added, is "a state of perpetual anxiety that the rest of the country doesn't experience." ...

For decades, young cadets in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, were able to rub shoulders with civilians on America's college campuses. During the height of the defense buildup under President Reagan, there were 420 Army ROTC units. Today, there are only 275 ROTC programs.

At Stanford University, Kaitlyn Benitez-Strine, a 21-year-old senior, was scribbling notes in the back row of her modern Japanese history class recently, listening as her professor cataloged the misdeeds of the American military in occupied postwar Japan.

"People became increasingly resentful of the U.S. military presence," the professor said. "There were crimes by U.S. Army personnel — rapes and murders."

For Benitez-Strine, due to be commissioned as a U.S. Army lieutenant this summer, it was an uncomfortable moment. Her sister, a Marine, is stationed in Okinawa. Her parents were Army officers, as were many other relatives. She grew up in a military community near West Point. But she rarely discusses her background with other students.

Stanford, one of the nation's elite universities, has more than 6,000 undergraduates. Benitez-Strine is one of only 11 in ROTC.

She sometimes feels uncomfortable wearing her uniform on campus, as ROTC requires two days a week. Students "might think I'm a cop or something," she said. "Or they see me as a badass who can kill them at any time."

A 2013 survey by three West Point professors found that the estrangement between the military and civilian worlds is especially pronounced among young people. Many civilians born between 1980 and 2000 "want no part of military life and want it separate from civilian life," according to sociologist Morten G. Ender, one of the study's authors.

On the other side, military recruits in that age range had become "anti-civilian in some ways," the survey found.

"I am irritated by the apathy, lack of patriotic fervor, and generally anti-military and anti-American sentiment" of other students, an unidentified 20-year-old ROTC cadet told the authors. "I often wonder if my forefathers were as filled with disgust and anger when they thought of the people they were fighting to protect as I am."

Benitez-Strine is not as critical of her fellow students. Indeed, the more time she spends in ROTC, the less certain she is about a career in the military.