Olin Institute for Strategic Studies
Soil: The Widening Gap between the U.S. Military
and U.S. Society
Thomas E. Ricks
U.S. Post Cold-War Civil-Military
paper was written while the author was a visiting
scholar at the Foreign Policy Institute and
Strategic Studies Institute at the School of
Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins
University. Mr. Ricks would also like to recognize
Charles Moskos, Eliot Cohen, Andrew Bacevich,
Andrew Krepinevich Jr. and Richard Kohn for
their insights on this subject conveyed in conversations.
After following a platoon
of Marine recruits through boot camp training
on Parris Island in the spring of 1995, I was
stunned to see when they returned home on post-graduation
leave how alienated they were from their old lives.
At various times, each of these new Marines seemed
to experience a moment of private loathing for
public America. They were repulsed by the physical
unfitness of civilians, by the uncouth behavior
they witnessed, and by what they saw as a pervasive
selfishness and consumerism. Many found themselves
avoiding old friends, and some experienced difficulty
even in communicating with their families.
One typical member of Platoon 3086, Craig Hoover,
reported that the Amtrak ride home to Kensington,
Md., was "horrible. The train was filled
with smoke, people were drinking and their kids
were running around aimlessly. You felt like smacking
around some people."1
Pvt. Hoover also found the train ride a sad contrast
to the relative racial harmony of Parris Island.
"It felt kind of segregated by race and class--a
poor white car, a poor black car, a middle-class
white car, a middle-class black car." Even
McDonald's, which had become a fantasy-like symbol
to the recruits as they ate military rations during
a week of training in the woods, proved to be
an odd letdown. "You look around and notice
that a lot of the civilians are overweight, and
a little sloppy," said Pvt. Hoover.
Pvt. Jonathan Prish, a former white supremacist,
went with old friends to a bar in Mobile, Ala.
"We played pool and drank," he reported,
in a typical comment. "It seemed like everyone
there was losers. All they want to do is get smashed.
They're self-destructive. They're not trying.
They're just goofing around."
In the wealthy Washington suburb of Potomac, Md.,
Eric Didier felt the same way. "There are
some friends I've stayed away from," he said.
"They're not going anywhere, and I don't
want to be around them. We don't have any common
ground." Though they are in their early 20's,
he said, "They're not doing anything, living
at home, not working, not studying."
In Pittsburgh, Pvt. Patrick Bayton went to a Saturday
night party and also called two old friends "losers."
"Everything feels different," he said.
"I can't stand half my friends no more."
Pvt. Frank DeMarco attended a street fair in Bayonne,
N.J. "It was crowded. Trash everywhere. People
were drinking, getting into fights. People with
obnoxious attitudes, no politeness whatsoever."
But, he said, "I didn't let it get to me.
I just said, `This is the way civilian life is:
Only half-jokingly, Pvt. DeMarco's buddy John
Hall called civilians "a bunch of freaks."
His mother, listening to this conversation, looked
astonished. "Do you really feel like that?"
she asked. He considered for a moment, and then
said, "Yeah, I do."
Black members of the platoon suffered less shock
than did the white members--not because they were
any less estranged, but because they long had
been alienated from the mainstream of American
society. "Defending my country?" said
Pvt. Christopher Anderson. "Well, it's not
really my country. I may live in America, but
the United States is so screwed up."
Yet the member of Platoon 3086 perhaps most at
odds with his former environment was Daniel Keane,
probably the one from the most privileged background.
The son of a Merrill Lynch & Co. executive,
Keane seemed almost in pain as he was interviewed
in the living room of his parents' house in Summit,
N.J. When he first arrived home from Parris Island,
he said, "I didn't know how to act. They
said, `What do you want to do?' I'd say, `I don't
know.' I didn't know how to carry on a conversation."
He found his old peer group even more difficult.
"All my friends are home from college now,
drinking, acting stupid and loud," said the
18-year-old Marine. He was particularly disappointed
when two old friends refused to postpone smoking
marijuana for a few minutes, until he was away
from them. "They were getting ready to smoke
their weed. I said, `Could you just hang on for
a minute, can't you wait `til you get to the party
instead of hiding on the end of a back porch?'
They said, `Then we'd have to give it out.'"
So, he recalled, they lit up in front of their
Marine friend. "I was pretty disappointed
in them doing that. It made me want to be at SOI"--that
is, the Marines' School of Infantry.
Like many members of 3086, Pvt. Keane felt as
if he had joined a new cult or religion. "People
don't understand, and I'm not going to waste my
breath trying to explain, when the only thing
that really impresses them is how much beer you
can chug down in 30 seconds."
I think that the Marines of
Platoon 3086 experienced in personal microcosm
the widening gap between today's military and
American society. To be sure, their reaction was
exaggerated by the boot camp experience, in which
the Marine Corps especially among the services
tries to sever a recruit's ties to his or her
previous life. But because of the nature of American
society today, the re-entry shock of leaving recruit
training appears to be greater now than it was
in the past. Asked to explain this difference,
retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor noted
that, "When I got out of boot camp in 1946,
society was different. It was more disciplined,
and most Americans trusted the government. Most
males had some military experience. It was an
entirely different society, one that thought more
about its responsibilities than its rights."
Similarly, Depot Sgt. Maj. Harold Moore, currently
the senior sergeant on Parris Island, commented
that it "is difficult to go back into a society
of `What's in it for me?' when a Marine has been
taught the opposite for so long....When I look
a society today, I see a group of young people
without direction because of the lack of teaching
of some of those things. We see that when we get
them in recruit training. The recruits are smarter
today--they run rings around what we were able
to do, on average. Their problems are moral problems--lying,
cheating, and stealing, and the very fact of being
committed. We find that to get young people to
dedicate themselves to a cause is difficult sometimes."
The idea of a gap between the military and American
society is hardly new. For much of the nation's
history, noted Samuel Huntington in The Soldier
and the State, the U.S. military has had "the
outlook of an estranged minority."2
A decade ago, the journalist Arthur Hadley called
this strained civil-military relationship "The
Great Divorce." In The Straw Giant: Triumph
and Failure--America's Armed Forces, he defined
this as, "The less-than-amicable separation
of the military from the financial, business,
political and intellectual elites of this country,
particularly from the last two."3
But because of changes both in society and in
the military, that "divorce" or "gap"
appears to be more severe now than it frequently
was in the past. There are two overarching reasons
for this. First, after 20 years without conscription,
the ignorance of American elites about the military
has deepened. Second, with the end of the Cold
War, the U.S. has entered into historically unexplored
territory. If the Cold War is indeed considered
to be a kind of war, then for the first time in
American history, the nation is maintaining a
large military establishment during peacetime,
with 1.5 million people on active duty and millions
more serving in reserve and supporting civilian
roles in the Defense Department and the defense
Several trends already underway in society and
in the post-Cold War military threaten to widen
this gap in the coming years, further isolating
and "de-civilianizing" the military.
In his 1974 prologue to the revised edition of
The Professional Soldier, Morris Janowitz
confidently concluded that there wouldn't be "a
return to earlier forms of a highly self-contained
and socially distinct military force; the requirements
of technology, of education, and of political
support make that impossible."4
But with the end first of the draft and then of
the Cold War, the conditions that shaped the military
observed by Prof. Janowitz no longer obtain. It
now appears not only possible but likely that
the U.S. military over the next 20 years will
revert to a kind of garrison status, largely self-contained
and increasingly distinct as a separate society
Seen in this light, the Clinton Administration's
frictions with the military--over gays in the
military, the supposed "dissing" of
a uniformed general by a White House aide, military
resentment over the administration's hamfisted
handling of the later phases of the Somalia mission,
and military resistance to U.S. interventions
in Haiti and Bosnia--are not the unique product
of the personal histories of one president and
his advisers, but rather a preamble to future
problems. As Harvard political scientist Michael
Desch concluded in a preliminary assessment of
post-Cold War politico-military decision making
in the U.S., it appears that "civilians are
now less able to get the military to do what they
want them to do compared with previous periods
in recent U.S. history."5
Three broad areas of movement need to be examined
to understand why this gap appears to be widening.
They are, first, changes in the military; second,
changes in society; and, finally, changes in the
international security environment.
Changes in the Military
By far the most important change
in the military is the termination of the draft
in 1973. Twenty-three years later, the consequences
for the military of this shift are still unfolding.
Today, all 1.5 million people on active duty are
volunteers. That fact carries vast implications
for how the military operates and how it relates
to society. In contrast to the post-World War
II demobilization, for example, the current post-Cold
War drawdown is being met with fear and loathing
by many in the military, because all volunteered
to be there, and indeed are fighting to stay in.
Partly as a result of the end of conscription,
the last 15 years especially have seen the rise
of a professional military, even in the enlisted
ranks. While better trained as soldiers and more
stable as a society, this professional military
also is vastly expensive, because it brings with
it a "tail" of families and all the
social infrastructure that entails, from health
care to substance abuse counseling to on-base
higher education. John Luddy, a Senate Republican
aide, estimates the total family-related costs
of the Defense Department to be more than $25
billion a year.
Especially on newer bases, such as the Army's
Fort Drum, in upstate New York, the quality of
infrastructure far outstrips the world outside
the base gates. Last year, for example, I interviewed
a typical soldier, Spec. Marc Walker, a member
of a medical support unit. At age 22, he and his
wife, also a soldier, have a purple Camaro and
a black Isuzu Trooper parked in the driveway of
their two-bedroom pastel blue apartment in Fort
Drum's Remington Village. They pay no rent, and
no bills for their electric heat, gas stove, and
water. Inside, their home had a powerful stereo
with Bose speakers, a 27-inch television, two
leather couches, and a nursery awaiting the birth
of their first child. With its trimmed lawns,
lack of litter, and safe parks, Remington Village
is the nicest place in which Marc Walker, a native
of southside Chicago, has ever lived. Even policing
is different. When Fort Drum's regular military
police unit was deployed to Haiti in 1994, it
was replaced by a reserve unit manned by California
police officers. Base residents were unaccustomed
to the rough handling meted out by the Californians.
"They were extremely overzealous, very jumpy,"
said Col. Kenneth Ellis. Unlike civilian police,
Fort Drum's MPs have the time and power to practice
preventive policing: If they are called to a domestic
dispute, they will require one spouse to leave
the house for the night. (In the District of Columbia,
by contrast, the police in 1996 sometimes take
up to six hours to respond to active threats,
such as a violent person beating on an apartment
door.) Compared to his old world, said Spec. Walker,
"It's almost make-believe."
It isn't clear that this strong social safety
net will be sustained--and, if it isn't, what
the implications will be for the effectiveness
of the all-volunteer force and for civil-military
relations. In fiscal 1995, for example, the Defense
Department paid out some $260 million to subsidize
its 346 day care centers. (If it were a for-profit
organization, that chain of facilities would make
the Defense Department the nation's fourth-largest
private day-care operator.) Given today's conflicts
and force structure, good day care centers make
sense in that they do more to enhance military
readiness by supporting deployed personnel than
would, say, an additional B-2 bomber.
Yet with a defense budget "train wreck"
looming in the late 1990's, the vast social infrastructure
constructed by the military is likely to come
under severe attack by Congress. The military,
and especially the Army, which is the most vulnerable
of the services on force structure issues, face
a dilemma in addressing those cuts. The powerful
social safety net appears necessary to supporting
a professional military with a high "operating
tempo." But to find the funds to maintain
that net, the Army likely would be required to
take cuts in personnel far beyond what it considers
desirable. Either course--curtailing support for
personnel, or curtailing the personnel themselves--likely
will engender resentment in the military.
The post-draft professionalization of the military
also has wrought cultural changes. The officer
corps today acts and feels differently than it
did during the Cold War, argues Richard Kohn,
a former chief of Air Force history who now teaches
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill. "I sense an ethos that is different,"
he said. "They talk about themselves as `we,'
separate from society. They see themselves as
different, morally and culturally. It isn't the
military of the `50's and `60's, which was a large
semi-mobilized citizen military establishment,
with a lot of younger officers who were there
temporarily, and a base of enlisted draftees."
What's more, as Prof. Huntington observed in The
Soldier and the State, the American people
have never been comfortable with professional
militaries, theirs or anybody else's:
The Revolutionary War was described
as a war of citizen-soldiers against the standing
armies and mercenaries of George III. The Civil
War was against the West Point-directed armies
of the South....German militarism was the principal
enemy in World War I....The professionals, in
other words, are always on the other side.6
The second major area of change in the military
is its post-Vietnam rebuilding. In this area,
as in some many other aspects of defense nowadays,
the U.S. Marine Corps appears to be a leading
indicator. During the 1970's, the Marine Corps
was a disaster. Drug use was rampant, and discipline
ragged. There were 1,060 violent racial incidents
in the Corps in 1970.7 Jeffrey
Record noted in Proceedings that during
that era, "The Corps registered rates of
courts-martial, non-judicial punishments, unauthorized
absences, and outright desertions unprecedented
in its own history, and, in most cases, three
to four times those plaguing the U.S. Army. Violence
and crime at recruit depots and other installations
escalated; in some cases, officers ventured out
only in pairs or groups and only in daylight."8
Today the Marines Corps, like the rest of the
U.S. military, has drastically reduced its discipline
problems. It is largely drug free, running positive
rates of under 4% in random urinalysis tests.
And while racial tension still exists, the military,
and especially the Army, has probably done about
as good a job of minimizing race as an issue as
is possible in the American context. There are
now some 9,700 black officers in the U.S. Army.
As Charles Moskos has observed, the U.S. military
is still the only place in American society where
it is routine to see black people bossing around
white people. (This may be one reason the black
drill instructor has become a stock figure in
American popular culture, from films such as Officer
and a Gentleman, Major Payne, and In the
Army Now, to commercials for beer and long-distance
In addition, two related post-Cold War trends
in the U.S. military infrastructure may carry
overlooked consequences for civil-military relations.
These are the process of closing unneeded bases,
and the privatization of many logistics and maintenance
The base closing process may have a side effect
of increasing the geographical and political isolation
of the military--or, to put it another way, of
returning the military to its pre-World War II
condition. "Before World War II, the majority
of military posts were located in the South and
in the West," notes Prof. Janowitz.9
This was also an era when the South was disproportionately
represented in the ranks of senior officers--some
90% of Army generals had a "southern affiliation"
in 1910, Janowitz reports.10
The base closing process so far has hit especially
hard in the Far West and the Northeast--areas
that have the twin characteristics of being more
liberal and more expensive than the rest of the
An odd result of the base closing trend is that,
by my count, the majority of major Army bases
in the continental U.S. now are named after Confederate
officers: Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Benning
in Georgia, Fort Rucker in Alabama, Fort Polk
in Louisiana, and Fort Hood in Texas. In addition,
there are minor installations like Fort Gordon
in Georgia and Fort Lee and Fort A.P. Hill in
Virginia. It would be interesting to find out
if black officers in the Army feel any unease
about honoring this Confederate heritage, or believe
it should be balanced by naming, say, a Norfolk,
Va., facility dedicated to teaching insurgency
or "escape & evasion" techniques
after Nat Turner, who led the South's only sustained
slave rebellion in southern Virginia in 1831 and
then evaded capture for six weeks.
The moves to privatize some logistics and much
of the military's huge depot structure may also
contribute to the social and political isolation
of the military. One of Prof. Janowitz's key conclusions
was that the military inextricably was becoming
"civilianized" by new technological
Occupational specialization since
the Civil War demonstrates that the skill structure
of the military has become not only more complicated,
but also more transferable to civilian society.
Military-type occupations for enlisted men accounted
for 93.2% of the personnel in the Civil War,
but after the Spanish-American War civilian-type
occupations began to predominate. By 1954, only
28.8% of the Army enlisted personnel were engaged
in purely military occupations.... (T)his trend
is present in all the armed forces and reflects
the expansion of logistical and maintenance
Faced with the need to cut personnel, and seeking
to preserve its warfighting "tooth,"
the U.S. military in the post-Cold War has sought
to privatize much of its support "tail."
This privatization, which promises to reduce the
number of soldiers in "civilian-type occupations,"
is occurring not only on in the U.S., where maintenance
work is being farmed out to corporations, but
also in expeditionary situations. In Somalia,
Haiti and Bosnia, for example, Brown & Root
Corp. has performed a host of functions once done
or at least supervised by the uniformed military,
from staffing mess halls to purifying water to
preparing for shipment home the bodies of soldiers
killed in firefights.12 This
trend accelerated so much in the 1990's that it
began causing friction between the military and
Congress, to whom the 89,000 civilian jobs at
30 military depots represented good, high-paying
work that--unlike private sector work--couldn't
easily be moved out of a given congressional district.
Rep. Glen Browder, an Alabama Democrat who has
both a doctorate in political science and a seat
on the House National Security Committee, recently
complained that "now the Pentagon seems determined
to contract out all its depot work."13
The result of extensive civilian contracting is
that military personnel are less likely to be
serving in occupations that have civilian equivalents,
and are more likely to be locked into positions
where they specialize primarily in military skills
that are not transferable to the civilian sector
or well understood by civilians.
These isolating trends are occurring in the context
of broader cultural changes in the military. The
most notable of these is the relative politicization
of the officer corps. Of course, there has always
been a conservative streak inherent in U.S. military
culture, just as there is an element of anti-authoritarianism
inherent in American journalism. I suspect, however,
that today's officers are both more conservative
than in the past, and more politically active.
The evidence in this sensitive area is admittedly
hazy, partly because the data are skimpy, and
partly because the definitions of "conservative"
attached to the data are unstated but almost certainly
shifting. Nonetheless, the few indications available
today are striking in how contrary they are to
the conclusions reached by Prof. Janowitz. In
his 1954 survey of 576 Pentagon staff officers,
he found that 21.6% identified themselves as conservative,
45.3% as a little on the conservative side, and
23.1% as a little on the liberal side.14
That conservativism, he found, tended to take
a non-partisan form, with military honor requiring
the professional soldier to avoid "open party
preferences."15 He found
the military becoming more representative of society,
with a long-term upward trend in the number of
officers "willing to deviate from the traditional
And he detected a correlation between rank and
intensity of conservative attitudes.17
Today the evidence that is available indicates
that all these trends have reversed. There
appear to be vastly more "little conservatives"
than "little liberals" in the military.
The military appears to be becoming less politically
representative of society, with a long-term downward
trend in the number of officers willing to identify
themselves as liberals. Open identification with
the Republican party is becoming the norm. And
the few remaining liberals in uniform tend to
be colonels and generals, perhaps because they
began their careers in the draft-era military.
By contrast, the junior officer corps, aside from
its female and minority members, appears overwhelmingly
to be hard-right Republican, largely comfortable
with the views of Rush Limbaugh.
A variety of recent formal and informal surveys
point toward those conclusions. At Annapolis,
midshipmen, who in 1974 were similar in their
politics to their peers at civilian colleges,
are now twice as conservative as the general population
of students, according to an unpublished internal
Navy survey. "The shift to the right has
been rather remarkable, even while there has been
an infusion of rather more liberal women and minorities,"
concluded one person involved in conducting the
Similarly, Army Maj. Dana Isaacoff, who taught
at West Point in the early 1990's, routinely surveyed
her students on their politics, assessing about
60 students during each of six semesters. In a
typical section, she reported, 17 would identify
themselves as Republicans, while none would label
themselves Democratic or Independent. She concluded
that to today's cadets at West Point, being a
Republican has become part of the definition of
being a military officer. "Students overwhelmingly
identified themselves as conservatives,"
she reported.18 Here the
definition of conservatism is important, for this
doesn't appear to be an identification with the
compromising, solution-oriented politics of, say,
Sen. Bob Dole. "There is a tendency among
the cadets to adopt the mainstream conservative
attitudes, and push them to extremes," said
Maj. Isaacoff. "The Democratic-controlled
Congress was Public Enemy No. 1. No. 2 was the
liberal media....They firmly believed in the existence
of the Welfare Queen."
These tendencies toward right-wing attitudes aren't
limited to malleable students at the military
academies. A 1995 survey of Marine officers at
Quantico, Va., found similar views. It should
be noted here that the Marines aren't the most
representative example, but rather--because they
are the most tradition-bound and unabashedly culturally
conservative of the services--the most dramatic.
They should be viewed not as an indicator of where
the U.S. military is today, but instead of where
it is heading. The Corps was less altered by the
Cold War than any of the other services. With
the end of the Cold War, the other services are
becoming more like the Marines as they too become
smaller, insular, and expeditionary.
In the Quantico survey 50% of the new officers
studying at the Basic School identified themselves
as conservatives. In a parallel survey of mid-career
officers at the Command and Staff College, 69%
identified themselves as conservatives. In a striking
indication of alienation from the larger society,
an overwhelming proportion of the Basic School
lieutenants--some 81%--said that the military's
values are closer to the values of the founding
fathers than are the values of society. At the
Command and Staff College, where students generally
have at least 10 to 15 years of military experience,
the proportion of those agreeing with that statement
was 64%. A majority of officers also agreed that
a gap exists between the military and society,
and stated that they expected it to increase with
the passage of time. Fewer than half believed
it desirable to have people with different political
views within their organizations.
"I believe these results indicate the potential
for a serious problem in civil-military relations
for the United States," concluded Army Maj.
Robert A. Newton, who conducted the survey and
analyzed the responses in a study titled "The
Politicization of the Officer Corps of the United
particular, I believe these results indicate a
growing alienation of the officer corps from society.
Instead of viewing themselves as the representatives
of society, the participating officers believe
they are a unique element within society."
Not only do today's officers appear to be more
conservative than in the past, they also appear
to be more active in politics, both in their identification
and their voting behavior. This change is all
the more striking because, while conservatism
has long been present in the American military,
political involvement is something of an anomaly.
During the Civil War, reported Prof. Huntington
in Soldier and the State, "Not one
officer in 500, it was estimated, ever cast a
ballot."20 In Once
an Eagle, an illuminating novel about the
20th century U.S. Army, Anton Myrer has his young
hero tell a congressman, "When I serve my
country as a soldier, I'm not going to serve her
as a Democrat or as a Republican, I'm going to
serve her as an American."21
In a similar novel, A Country Such as This,
James Webb has his hero, a Naval aviator, grasp
his brother by the shoulder and emphatically state,
"I ain't any Republican. I ain't a Democrat,
either. I'm a Navy man, that's all. I go anywhere
in the world they tell me to go, any time they
tell me to, to fight anybody they want me to fight."22
As Prof. Huntington emphatically concluded, "the
participation of military officers in politics
undermines their professionalism, curtailing their
professional competence, dividing the profession
against itself, and substituting extraneous values
for professional values."23
Nowadays that defining characteristic of U.S.
military professionalism also appears to be reversing
direction, which is troubling both for the military
and the nation it serves. After historically shying
away from voting, military personnel for the last
decade have been voting in greater percentages
than that of the general population.24
In his survey of Marine officers, Maj. Newton
found that, "Although a majority of the officers
did not believe the military should play an active
role in political decisions, a significant minority
did believe such activity was appropriate."
He concluded that "these results could indicate
potential long-term problems for the nation's
In this context, it is worth noting that the last
two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have
injected themselves into election-year debates
over issues touching on the military. During the
1992 election, Gen. Colin Powell twice spoke out
against military intervention in Bosnia, which
the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton, was proposing.25
More recently and less noticed, his more retiring
successor, Gen. John Shalikashvili, spoke out,
as he put it in his speech, "in the midst
of the presidential primary season," against
isolationism and anti-immigration rhetoric--two
major issues for Republican candidate Pat Buchanan.26
Suspicions about politicians are hardly new to
U.S. military culture. But they take on new meaning
when they emanate from a more politically active
military. An odd little book titled Clint McQuade,
USMC: The New Beginning is unintentionally
revealing in this area, far more so than the sophisticated
novels by Myrer and Webb cited above. Reading
this novel privately published by the author,
a retired Marine major, feels like taking a spelunking
trip through the collective unconscious of the
Corps. Indeed, the author, Gene Duncan, states
at outset that much of it "springs from my
subconscious, over which I have no control."27
The book turns on an intriguing literary device:
A retired Marine master gunnery sergeant is reborn
with the body of a 16-year-old while retaining
the knowledge, memories and experience of his
old self. He eventually--of course--joins the
The book is most interesting for what it states
as matter of course--essentially that American
society is decaying, corrupted, misled by its
elected officials, and deserving of resentment
by the Marines who protect it. "Americans
are selfish people," McQuade explains to
his buddies.28 Later, expanding
on that point, he tells them, "I think I
have lost all faith in our politicians, so I take
the narrow view and confine it to those around
me of like mind, minds which dictate unselfishness
In a postscript to Clint McQuade, the author
states his that his "purpose in writing these
books is to give the reader a sense of the heart
of the United States Marine Corps." He flatly
concludes that he tries to show the Marines to
be "special people with special hearts who
serve a seemingly ungrateful nation."
The novel is significant because is effectively
represents part of the military talking to itself
when it doesn't think it is being overheard. Though
obscure to the outside world, Gene Duncan is known
within the Marines. His books are sold by the
Marine Corps Association, which at its Quantico
bookshop has a special "Duncan's Books"
area for his works. In a more official endorsement,
General Military Subjects, the textbook
used to train all recruits at Parris Island, begins
by quoting Duncan on its inside cover. (The job
of a drill instructor, it quotes him as saying,
is to undo "18 years of cumulative selfishness
and `me-ism.'")30 Then,
following the table of contents, the textbook
gives Mr. Duncan another full page. The only other
person honored with even one full-page "stand-alone"
quote in the entire 199-page textbook is President
These isolating attitudes, while perhaps most
extreme in the Marines, are also found in varying
degrees elsewhere in the U.S. military. "There
is a deep-seated suspicion in the U.S. military
of society. It is part of the Vietnam hangover--`You
guys betrayed us once, and you could do it again,'"
observed Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel
who is executive director of the Foreign Policy
Institute at Johns Hopkins University's School
of Advanced International Studies. This suspicion,
he added, "isn't going away, it's being transmitted"
to a new generation of officers.
Here again, the long-term consequences of the
end of conscription are still unfolding. With
the end of the draft, it has been easier for the
middle class in general, and liberals in particular,
to follow their traditional impulse to turn away
from the military. Within the military, the end
of the draft also meant the end of its leavening
effect: People from non-military families frequently
were conscripted, or spurred by the draft to enroll
in ROTC, and found they actually liked military
life. Gen. Powell, for example, came from a non-military
background and attended the distinctly non-military
City University of New York. His successor as
chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Shalikashvili,
was himself a draftee. There were spells in the
early 1990's when the majority of the members
of the Joint Chiefs came from public universities
well outside the traditional routes of West Point
and Annapolis. But that generation of draft-era
officers is now retiring out of the military,
and it is a virtual certainty that the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs 20 years hence will not be
a draftee. All this will makes it easier for the
military and the liberal professionals of the
middle class to look upon each other with contempt.
There is, of course, much in American society
today deserving of contempt. But it is another
matter to propose that it is the role of the U.S.
military--especially an all-volunteer, professional
military oriented to a conservative Republicanism--to
fix those problems. Yet that is what some are
doing. "It is no longer enough for Marines
to `reflect' the society they defend," retired
Col. Michael Wyly advised in the Marine Corps
Gazette. "They must lead it, not politically
but culturally. For it is the culture we are defending."32
It is legitimate to ask whether it is possible
to make too much of this. After all, isn't the
U.S. military really just reverting to its pre-World
War II, pre-Cold War stance--socially isolated,
politically conservative, and geographically located
primarily on bases in the South and West? In that
context, military contempt for civilian society
is nothing new. In The Professional Soldier,
Prof. Janowitz stated that, "Military ideology
has maintained a disapproval of the lack of order
and respect for authority which it feels characterizes
civilian society....In the past most professional
soldiers even felt that the moral fibre of American
manpower was `degenerating' and might not be able
to withstand the rigors of battle."33
There are two key differences in the way the U.S.
military is reverting to its pre-Pearl Harbor
form. First, it is far larger--some six times
the size of the 244,000-man active-duty military
of 1933. It also appears to be more politically
active. It is being used frequently as an instrument
of national policy, with large deployments to
Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia occurring in recent
years. A third possible major difference is the
quality of the U.S. military. For the first time
in the nation's history, it generally is regarded
as the best in the world. If, as now appears likely,
the size of the U.S. military is cut significantly
over the next 10 years, frustrated officers may
express their resentments in more politically
direct ways than in the past. It would be surprising
if all were to revert to the stance of Gen. Omar
Bradley, who, in a passage quoted by Prof. Janowitz,
commented that, "32 years in the peacetime
Army had taught me to do my job, hold my tongue,
and keep my name out of the papers."34
Changes in Society
The changes in society are,
as in the military, more a matter of culture than
of politics. Although there are disagreements
over the implications of the changes, I think
there is widespread agreement that over the last
several decades American society has become more
fragmented, more individualistic and arguably
less disciplined, with institutions such as church,
family and school wielding less influence. These
changes put it at odds with the classic military
values of unity, self-discipline, sacrifice, and
placing the interests of the group over those
of the individual.
Related to this, and deepening the split, is the
fact that while the U.S. military has addressed
effectively the two great plagues of American
society, drug abuse and racial tension, American
society has not. From the military perspective,
says Col. Douglas Hendricks, commander of the
Recruit Training Regiment at Parris Island, "There
has been a separation of cultures."
In addition, the U.S. military is doing a better
job in other areas where society is faltering,
such as education. With the growth of realistic
training at facilities such as the National Training
Center, the Joint Readiness Training Center, and
the Combat Maneuver Training Center, the Army
especially does well in this area. Younger enlisted
soldiers and Marines frequently exude an air of
competence that is rare in today's 18- and 19-year-old
civilians. America's high schools, by contrast,
don't seem to infuse youth with that sort of confidence.
Marine recruiters in Boston, for example, report
that they no longer recruit from certain high
schools, such as Madison Park and Dorchester,
because so few of the graduates of those schools
are able to pass the military entrance examination,
the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery,
a simple test of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Second, the end of the draft has altered the way
society looks at the military. Charles Moskos,
the Northwestern University military sociologist,
traces the American people's supposed intolerance
of casualties to the end of the draft: Because
the elites aren't sending their own offspring
in harm's way, the American people don't trust
them to send everyone else's children into battle.
I disagree with this analysis, and instead am
persuaded by the alternative explanation put forward
by James Burk of Texas A&M that the American
people won't tolerate casualties in situations
where they dislike a policy or don't understand
it, as with Somalia.
But I think Prof. Moskos is pointing in the right
direction: American political and economic elites
generally don't understand the military. Nor is
such understanding deemed important even when
involved in the making national security policy.
Consider, for example, the conspicuous lack of
staff members with military experience at the
Clinton White House--an administration that has
proven to be militarily activist. Even after bungling
an inherited mission in Somalia and then using
U.S. forces to feed Rwandan refugees, invade Haiti
and enforce a peace agreement in Bosnia, the Clinton
Administration did not see fit to follow suggestions
from Pentagon officials that a person with a military
background be appointed to a senior post at the
National Security Council.35
To not understand the military is dangerous both
for the military and the nation. Nowadays, I think,
civilian policymakers tend to overestimate what
the military can do. It isn't clear, for example,
just how the Clinton Administration expects the
appointment of a four-star general, Barry McCaffrey,
to revitalize its counter-drug efforts. Overestimating
the military is probably even more dangerous than
believing it is peopled by incompetent buffoons,
as the Baby Boomer generation seemed to believe
in the 1970's.
This uncertain grasp of military affairs is likely
to characterize policymaking for the foreseeable
future. Even as late as the Vietnam War, two-thirds
of the members of Congress were veterans. Today,
almost two-thirds are not. For most, what they
know of the military is what they saw on television
during the Gulf War. They took two lessons away
from that war: That high technology weaponry works,
and that the U.S. needs missile defenses. Partly
because the Army effectively blacked out media
coverage of its Gulf War triumph, the Congress
didn't come away with a lot of interest in training
or personnel issues or ground forces in general.36
So, despite the expectations of many in the military
that the Republicans would be their allies, it
should have been no surprise that after the Republicans
won a majority in Congress in 1994, they pushed
missile defenses and B-2 bombers while trying
to cut military pensions. In March of this year,
several younger members formed "the Republican
Defense Working Group," which, they said,
would "scour the defense budget for savings."37 As Andrew Bacevich has observed, it will be interesting to
see how the political beliefs of the officer corps
change when it realizes that to be "conservative"
is no longer necessarily to be "pro-defense
But the most salient point about Congress and
defense nowadays is the relative lack of congressional
interest in defense issues. This isn't a matter
of ideology. Even before the Republican victory,
the Armed Services Committees were declining in
prestige. Mainly because of the post-Cold War
reduction in military budgets, defense is an unpleasant
issue for members of Congress. Several rounds
of base closings have made membership on the Armed
Services committees something of a liability:
As one congressional staffer noted, "Back
home, they'll ask, `If you're on the committee,
why couldn't you do something about it?'"38
Hence, in the congressional class elected in 1992,
19 of the new members requested seats on the Science
and Technology committee, historically a backwater,
while only 7 asked for Armed Services.
Changes in the Security Environment
The biggest single change in the
security environment is the end of the Cold War.
With the evaporation of the Soviet Union, a lot
of Americans don't understand why the nation needs
a large standing military. Arguably, for the first
time in its history, with the possible exception
of the two decades preceding the Spanish-American
War, the U.S. Army must justify its existence
to the American people. This has huge implications
for how the Army relates to the Congress and the
American people. It suggests that the Army itself
will become more like the Marines--small, expeditionary,
and, for the good of the institution, better at
explaining itself to the Congress and the media.
Even so, the peacetime trends of American civil-military
relations point toward huge budget cuts in the
coming years. Recently, for example, Rep. Peter
DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, proposed reducing
defense spending to $210 billion in 2001, down
from the current $263 billion. The Electronic
Industries Association recently made a similar
prediction, forecasting a 2005 defense budget
of $214 billion.39 The Army
is likely to absorb a disproportionate share of
the resulting cuts, most of them aimed at personnel
(rather than the procurement or operations &
Also with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military's
definition of "the Threat" went up for
grabs. Everybody used to agree that it was the
Soviet Union. Now there is a lot of talk in the
military, especially in the Marines, that the
new threat is "chaos." Gen. Charles
Krulak, the commandant of the Marine Corps, argues,
for example, that "when we go into the 21st
century, warfare as you and I know it will occur
maybe 10% of the time. The other 90% is going
to be chaos."40 At the
other end of the chain of command, Sgt. Darren
Carey, one of the drill instructors for Platoon
3086, the unit I followed home from Parris Island,
taught the platoon that "today the threat
is the low-intensity things, the 911, that you
never know what's going to happen--it's Bosnia,
Haiti, Somalia. I'd also teach that the threat
is the decline of the family, the decline of morals."
As Sgt. Carey's comment indicates, it is easy
when defining the threat as "chaos"
to blur the line between foreign and domestic
enemies. I think this haziness may already be
occurring on an institutional scale with the Marines,
for whom the Los Angeles riots of 1992 were a
preamble to the Somalia deployment later that
same year. From a military perspective, the operations
were similar. In both cases, Marine combat units
based in California were sent to intervene in
fighting between armed urban factions. "As
soon as we got to Mogadishu, we were struck by
the similarity to L.A.," commented one Marine
colonel involved in both operations.
Some of the "lessons learned" by the
Marines in Los Angeles are worrisome, especially
when seen in the context of a strongly conservative,
politically active military. Marine Maj. Timothy
Reeves argued in a paper at the Marine Command
and Staff College with the evocative title "The
U.S. Marine Corps and Domestic Peacekeeping"
that because of "the rising potential for
civil disobedience within the inner cities"
it is "inevitable" that the U.S. military
will be employed more often within American borders.41
The trouble, he continues, is that a variety of
U.S. laws inhibit execution of the mission. "These
restrictive policies are in direct conflict with
the overall tactics of peacekeeping in a phase
level IV response, which require forces to detain
suspected enemy and search and confiscate weapons."
In Los Angeles, Maj. Reeves notes, when faced
with violating doctrine or violating federal law,
some Marines chose the latter course, and detained
suspects and conducted warrantless searches. Indeed,
with characteristic Marine Corps bluntness, the
major states that, "In interviews with Marine
officers involved in domestic peacekeeping missions
and with officers responsible for articulating
the Marine Corps' policy on domestic peacekeeping,
it became apparent to the author that Marines
took whatever action was necessary. At times,
these actions required Marines to violate U.S.
law." (Similarly, Marine Capt. Guy Miner
reported that Marine intelligence units were initially
worried by the need to collect intelligence on
U.S. citizens, which would violate a 1978 Executive
Order, but that "this inhibition was quickly
overcome as intelligence personnel sought any
way possible to support the operation with which
the regiment had been tasked."42
To enable the Marines to execute these new domestic
missions in the same way that they do abroad,
Maj. Reeves calls for major alterations in U.S.
law. These proposed changes, incidentally, could
carry long-term consequences for U.S. civil-military
relations. "Experience from the Los Angeles
riots," he warns, "demonstrated the
need to grant U.S. Marine forces the legal right
to detain vehicles and suspects, conduct arrests,
searches, and seizures in order to accomplish
the peacekeeping mission." The Los Angeles
mission also demonstrated a need for the Marines
to coordinate terminology with the police: When
police asked some Marines to cover them while
they confronted an armed suspect barricaded in
his residence, Maj. Reeves reports, the Marines
laid down covering fire, shooting approximately
30 rounds into the building before the police
Maj. Reeves' thoughts about a domestic role for
the Marines could be dismissed as the isolated
ruminations of a mid-career officer on a one-year
lark at school. But I think they are representative
of a strain of thinking within the Marine Corps
that remains a minority view but is gaining new
adherents. For example, Mr. Duncan, the Marine
novelist and commentator, predicted in a 1992
column that the United States is moving toward
More prominently, in a December 1994 article in
the Marine Corps Gazette, William S. Lind,
a military analyst who has been influential on
the doctrinal thinking of the post-Cold War Marines,
wrote with two Marine reservists that American
culture is "collapsing":
Starting in the mid-1960's, we
have thrown away the values, morals, and standards
that define traditional Western culture. In
part, this has been driven by cultural radicals,
people who hate our Judeo-Christian culture.
Dominant in the elite, especially in the universities,
the media and the entertainment industries (now
the most powerful force in our culture and a
source of endless degradation), the cultural
radicals have successfully pushed an agenda
of moral relativism, militant secularism, and
sexual and social `liberation.' This agenda
has slowly codified into a new ideology, usually
known as `multiculturalism' or `political correctness,'
that is in essence Marxism translated from economic
into social and cultural terms.44
There is little remarkable about that paragraph,
which reads like standard right-wing American
rhetoric of the `90's, not all that different
from Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan on a prolix
day. Its significance lies in the conclusion that
Mr. Lind and his co-authors draw from their analysis:
"The point is not merely that America's Armed
Forces will find themselves facing non-nation-state
conflicts and forces overseas. The point is that
the same conflicts are coming here." So,
they conclude, "The next real war we fight
is likely to be on American soil."
As a coda to this, retired Col. Michael Wyly,
another influential Marine thinker, added a few
months later in another Gazette article
that, "We must be willing to realize that
our real enemy is as likely to appear within our
own borders as without."45
He then swipes at the two fundamental principles
of U.S. military professionalism: unwavering subordination
to civilian control and non-participation in politics.
"If our laws and self-image of our role as
military professionals do not allow for this"--the
recognition that the real enemy may be within--"we
need to change them." He goes on to raise
the possibility of the Marines refusing to enforce
certain laws. Specifically, if Congress were to
restrict gun ownership, then Marines need to understand
that "enforcing such a restriction could
quickly make us the enemy of constitutional freedom."
(To its credit, the Gazette' carried in
the same issue a common-sense response to the
Lind article from Maj. Mark Bean: "America
is made of tougher stuff than the authors would
have us believe."46
This "culture war" trend of thinking
seems at odds with the ethos of American military
professionalism. Instead, it is closer to the
stance taken recently by an Italian military officer
in a commentary in Proceedings: "(T)he
military is one of the few professions truly aware
of the dangers surrounding the country,"
wrote Commander Paolo Bembo.47
When the military is politically active, when
it believes it is uniquely aware of certain dangers,
when it discusses responding to domestic threats
to cherished values, then it edges toward becoming
an independent actor in domestic politics. "A
classic example of this situation happened in
Chile," warns Maj. Newton at the conclusion
of his report on "The Politicization of the
Officer Corps." "The Chilean military
was a very professional organization. The majority
of the officer corps came from the middle class.
When the society elected a communist president,
the military broke from society. The officer corps
believed this change threatened the basic principles
upon which the society rested."
What Must Be Done?
A U.S. military coup remains extremely
unlikely. Prof. Huntington seems closer to the
mark when he attributes the civil-military turbulence
of the Clinton Administration to the process of
seeking out a new post-Cold War equilibrium in
the civil-military relationship.48
But not all equilibria are equal. As Prof. Huntington
noted in the opening paragraphs of The
Soldier and the State, "Nations which
fail to develop a balanced pattern of civil-military
relations squander their resources and run uncalculated
risks."49 The United
States may be in danger of doing just that by
drifting into a situation in which the military
is neither well understood nor well used, yet--unlike
in previous eras of military estrangement--is
large, politically active, and employed frequently
on a large scale in executing American foreign
policy. Developing the semi-autonomous military
described by Michael Desch isn't a healthy situation
in a democracy. In addition, it isn't clear that
the U.S. military, for all its political-military
expertise, is best placed to decide how it should
be used, either at home or abroad. For all the
Clinton Administration's ignorance of military
affairs, for example, its estimate of the costs
of invading Haiti appears to have been far more
accurate that those done by the Pentagon. Similarly,
in the Bosnian deployment, after five months,
none of the military's grim warnings about the
U.S. military suffering widespread casualties
as it became entangled in a guerrilla war have
been realized. This is a testament in part to
the professionalism of today's American soldier.
But it also should cause future Pentagon estimates
of the human costs of possible operations to be
viewed with great skepticism.
Mutual distrust between the nation's political
elites and military leaders ultimately could undercut
American foreign policy, making it more difficult
to use force effectively. Indeed, this unease
may contribute to the U.S. Army's reluctance to
take a more activist stance in the Haiti and Bosnia
missions, and instead to fret publicly about "mission
creep." To repair the relationship, several
steps could be taken.
First, consideration should be given to somehow
reinstating a draft. Along the lines of the current
German system, this could be combined with National
Service under which youths could perform, say,
18 months of military service, or two years of
But resumption of conscription appears unlikely
for the foreseeable future, so several other steps
should be considered to engage the military with
civilian society. For example, ROTC programs should
be vastly expanded, especially at elite institutions.
In the same vein, the service requirement attached
to attending one of the three military academies
might be shortened in order to encourage more
former military officers to pursue careers in
civilian society--which, among other things, eventually
should lead to more people in Congress with military
experience. More civilians could attend the military's
war colleges, but whenever possible, military
officers pursuing higher degrees should be sent
to civilian universities, even if this means closing
some military schools. As Eliot Cohen has suggested,
there may even be ways of bringing people into
the military later in their lives, even in ranks
as high as lieutenant colonel.50
The skills of reservists could be used far more
imaginatively by the military, especially in an
era when civilian technologies are outpacing military
But the most important change that should be made
involves the military only secondarily. This concerns
the separation of professional Americans, or the
upper middle class, from the broad concerns of
society. Ignorance of the military is, I think,
primarily just one manifestation of that larger
problem. We live in an era when a Democratic president
sends his child to private school and few eyebrows
are raised. In this context, America's military
problem is not unlike that facing parts of the
former Soviet Union. Reviewing the depredations
of semi-autonomous or fully autonomous militias
in 31 new states and "ministates" in
the old East Bloc and the former Yugoslavia, Charles
Fairbanks recommended that to assert public control
over those forces,"It is particularly important
to involve the new middle class . . . in military
would do well to take that advice.
as noted, quotations used in this paper are from
interviews conducted by the author.
Huntington. The Soldier and the State.
Belknap, 1957. p. 268.
T. Hadley. The Straw Giant: Triumph and Failure--America's
Armed Forces. Random House, 1986. p. 22.
Janowitz. The Professional Soldier. Free
Press, 1975. p. xiii.
Desch, Soldiers, States, and Structure: Civilian
Control of the Military in a Changing Security
Environment (forthcoming), chapter 2.
Soldier and the State, p. 154.
Robert Moskin. The U.S. Marine Corps Story.
Third revised edition. Little, Brown, 1992. pP.
Record. "Where Does the Corps Go...Now?"
Proceedings, May 1995. p. 91.
Professional Soldier, p. 176.
Professional Soldier, p. 88.
Professional Soldier, p. 64.
article by Thomas E. Ricks, The Wall Street
Journal, May 1, 1995, p. 1.
Glen Browder, "Ending the Depot Dilemma,"
Armed Forces Journal, April 1996, p. 71.
Professional Soldier, p. 238.
Professional Soldier, p. 233 and p. 139.
Professional Soldier, p. 235 and p. 242.
Professional Soldier, p. 239.
a talk presented at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., 14 February 1996.
on the Internet through the Marine Corps University
Soldier and the State, p. 258.
Myrer. Once an Eagle. Dell, 1970. p. 39.
Webb. A Country Such as This. Bantam, 1985.
Soldier and the State, p. 71.
Robert Hahn. "Soldier-Citizen: New Roles
for Military Officers in American Society,"
paper presented at biennial meeting of Inter-University
Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, Baltimore,
Md., Oct. 1995. pp. 16-17.
Colin Powell, "Why Generals Get Nervous,"
New York Times, Oct. 8, 1992, p. 35. See
also Michael Gordon, "Powell Delivers a Resounding
No on Using Limited Forces in Bosnia," New
York Times, Sept. 28, 1992, p. 1.
Bender, "Shalikashvili Blasts Isolationist
Rhetoric of Primaries," Defense Daily,
March 21, 1996, p. 434.
Duncan. Clint McQuade, USMC: The New Beginning.
Gene Duncan Books, 1990. From introductory note,
no page number.
McQuade. p. 62.
McQuade. pp. 143-44.
Marine Corps. General Military Subjects.
U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994.
Corps. General Military History. p. 51.
Wyly. "Fourth Generation Warfare: What Does
It Mean to Every Marine?" Marine Corps
Gazette, March 1995. p. 58.
Professional Soldier, p. 248.
Professional Soldier, p. 396.
Air Force Col. John Rothrock makes the interesting
suggestion that because of the lack of a draft,
the military activism of the Clinton Administration
isn't sustainable. In an unpublished paper titled
"Class Politics and the All-Volunteer Military:
Constraints on U.S. Global Activism," he
predicts that, "the arrangement by which
the United States must raise military forces cannot
over the long term withstand the burden which
a heavily activist policy of frequent military
intervention would place upon 21st-century American
a thorough discussion of the Army's self-defeating
handling of the U.S. media in the Gulf War, see
John Fialka. Hotel Warriors: Covering the Gulf
War. Johns Hopkins, 1991.
release by Rep. Mark Foley, March 14, 1996.
E. Ricks, "With Cold War Over, the Military-Industrial
Complex is Dissolving," The Wall Street
Journal, May 20, 1993, p. 1.
Daily, March 27, 1996. p. 466.
G. Roos, "General Charles C. Krulak,"
Armed Forces Journal, Jan. 1996, p. 22.
Timothy Reeves. "The U.S. Marine Corps and
Domestic Peacekeeping," downloaded through
Marine Corps University homepage.
Guy Miner, "Intelligence Operations in Los
Angeles," Marine Corps Gazette, Oct.
1992, p. 56.
Duncan. Politically Correct! NOT!!. Gene
Duncan, 1994. p. 176.
Lind, Maj. John Schmitt, and Col. Gary Wilson,
"Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look,"
Marine Corps Gazette, Dec. 1994, p. 37
"Fourth Generation Warfare: What Does It
Mean to Every Marine?", p. 55.
Mark Bean, "Fourth Generation Warfare,"
Marine Corps Gazette, March 1995, p. 53.
Bembo, "God Bless America," Proceedings,
March 1996, p. 91.
Huntington. "An Exchange on Civil-Military
Relations," The National Interest,
Summer 1994, p. 25.
Huntington. Soldier and the State. p. 2.
Cohen, "Making Do With Less, Or Coping With
Upton's Ghost," U.S. Army War College paper,
May 1995. Pp. 13-14. Several other of the suggestions
made here also lean on, or are lifted in whole
from, Prof. Cohen's illuminating discussion.
H. Fairbanks Jr., "The Post-Communist Wars,"
Journal of Democracy, Oct. 1995. p. 33