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Rethinking Civil-Military Relations

Friday, July 19th, 2013

As our military engagements abroad wind down, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey suggests that the postwar era will fundamentally change the dynamic between the all-volunteer military force and civilians. Dempsey’s recent op-ed, “Time to rethink civil-military relations” argues that this is a critical time to redefine the relationship between civilians and the military.

Over the past four decades of our all-volunteer force’s existence, America has made great strides in respecting soldiers’ contributions even during politically unpopular wars, but there is room to improve, Dempsey says. “As a nation, we’ve learned to separate the warrior from the war. But we still have much to learn about how to connect the warrior to the citizen.”

Dempsey argues  that one obstacle to uniting the two groups is the military’s culture of superiority. While the military makes great contributions to society, Dempsey suggests that soldiers should not ignore the services that civilians bring to their communities:

We are an all-volunteer force, but we are not all who volunteer. Service has always been fundamental to being an American. Across our country, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, coaches, pastors, scout masters, business people and many others serve their communities every day. Military service makes us different, but the desire to contribute permeates every corner of the United States.

In order to bridge the gap between civilians and the military, Dempsey argues that both civilians and the military have a role to play. Civilians, for their part, should help assimilate returning veterans, rather than expecting that government programs and the VA are sufficient. The military community, Dempsey argues, needs to connect with and stay involved in their local communities.

Related: For another perspective on the civilian-military relationship, read Underserved: A Case Study of ROTC in New York City.