Oh Noes, the military civilian divide

Every couple of years someone will notice that the people joining the military are generally linked to someone in their family already serving or has served. This will bring about large amounts of hand wringing and questions about what must be done so that the gap separating military families from the rest of society doesn’t grow larger. For the last two decades 4 out of 5 servicemembers reported that they grew up with some other family member serving or having served. These numbers remain surprisingly consistent, but every couple of years a new author will find them “alarming” for some reason.

From where I sit, this can only be the concern of someone who doesn’t know anyone in the service. From an office in Manhattan or Los Angeles I guess the exciting life of an Airman guarding nuclear missiles from the groundhogs out in Minot, North Dakota, or the bored Marines painting a ship in the South Pacific must be as far divorced from reality as working a coal mine in rural east Kentucky. The Soldier doing KP in the freezing winter of Korea or soggy springtime of Germany probably doesn’t feel all that exotic or excited.

This divide isn’t unique to the military, most Americans won’t be familiar with West Virginia or Kentucky coal mining despite everyone understanding that it goes on, has economic benefits and consequences, and can be dangerous work. But people aren’t going on about the generational nature of coal mining. Nothing to worry about there. People are generally worried about the generational aspect of the military because it is somehow a public institution.

So what is it about the military that makes people concerned about who volunteers for service? It certainly isn’t “fairness” because the all volunteer system is about as fair as it gets, no one is forced to sign up. It certainly isn’t that the current system of 80% of the military being brought up around the military any more than coal miner fathers have a higher likelihood of having coal miner sons (and daughters who go on to be iconic country music stars).

And this hand wringing isn’t a new phenomena, it’s been going on for decades now. I’m really not kidding that the hand wringers have wrung their hands quite a bit over the decades.

1997: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/07/the-widening-gap-between-military-and-society/306158/
2007: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2007/RAND_MG379.pdf
2016: http://time.com/4254696/military-family-business/

Maybe it has something to do with the widening gap between military service and Congress. A government unfamiliar with military affairs will make rookie mistakes, although having real world military experience in government didn’t stop Korea or Vietnam so that’s probably not the answer. Maybe it has something to do with American’s being uncomfortable with the idea of a professional warrior class, as if the concentration of martial prowess could be quantified as some sort of “martial prowess inequality” where the haves concentrate the amount of violence and the have nots experience a deficit of violent capacity? Certainly not.

Could it be that we are wasting a large portion of our most capable and driven young people by letting them choose military service? Certainly not, no one advocates turning the military into a force useful only for cannon fodder.

Or is it just that people like to worry about things that don’t really matter? As far as the demographic trends go, they’ve been stable for decades, and as long as 20% of the military population doesn’t have a family member already serving, then there is probably enough movement in/out of the recruiting pool to keep the system from ossifying. In other words, 1 out of 5 recruits goes on to be a “current serving family member” or “veteran” for another generation of the 4 out of 5 recruits. As long as that 20% of “fresh blood” stays pretty constant (and it seems to) then I don’t think there is much of a case to make for being worried about the other 80%. Especially when all other demographic trends are for “older, more diverse, and better educated.”  http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/10/05/chapter-6-a-profile-of-the-modern-military/ After all, if diversity weren’t increasing then it would be a clear sign that the military truly has become a “family business” and stagnated, but that isn’t the case.

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