Civilian Military Divide (Part 1)

with Phillip Carter, Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at CNAS

National National

1.1 percent of the population serves in the active-duty or reserve components of the U.S. military, or as Department of Defense civilians. Phillip Carter, Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security joins Robert Traynham for a discussion, detailing the civilian-military divide and how stakeholders on all sides can help narrow it. This discussion continues in part 2 of Civilian Military Divide.

Interview recorded Oct 11, 2017.  Hosted by Robert Traynham.

Read a partial transcript of this interview below:

Robert: A 2017 study by the Center for a New American Security found that just 7% of the nation’s population are veterans, a gap amplifying many Americans being unfamiliar with military life and culture.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I’m Robert Traynham. Joining me is Phil Carter. He’s the director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.

Phil, welcome to the program.

Phil: Thanks, Robert.

Robert: Why is that gap so large with respect to people not being familiar with military life and culture?

Phil: [00:00:30] There’s this divide that we call the civil-military divide, and it’s essentially the gap between those who serve or have served in uniform and the rest of society. Right now, we think that gap is large because for 70 or so years, the US has not had conscription with the exception of the Vietnam conflict and the Korean War, and some level of peace-time draft since then. The military is small relative to the overall population of America.

[00:01:00] The military is concentrated in bases around the country. They’re generally not in big cities by design. You can’t have a big training area in the middle of Manhattan.

Robert: Is it safe to assume, Phil, that because there’s not a shared sacrifice, if you will … For example, during World War II, as I understand it, there were many, many Americans, even if you were not serving in the military that experienced the world on a daily basis, whether it was seeing the ships sailing up and down the river coming out of your ports, or perhaps maybe you worked in the factories, [00:01:30] or perhaps maybe you had a victory guard …

In other words, we were all in this together, and so everyone kind of knew that this was a joint-victory effort, if you will.

Phil: It’s shared sacrifice, but it’s also shared experience. There’s something that’s very viscerable about the military experience and understanding what it’s like to leave your community, go off to basic training, serve, sometimes go into harm’s way, and then come home. There’s something about understanding that experience that is meaningful, and [00:02:00] it’s largely absent from today’s society.

If 93% of Americans have not served, if you go into a classroom or a workplace or a restaurant, you’re unlikely to see a person on the other side of the table who has had that same experience as you have.

Robert: We know that our military is an all-civilian force. It’s also a volunteer force. We also know that our military is, they’re stretched and pulled in many different directions. I’m not sure we know, exactly, all the things that the folks [00:02:30] that wear our uniform do on a daily basis. How do we bridge the divide here?

Phil: It’s a great question, because absent a war on the size of World War II and conscription, you’re not going to fully bridge this divide. I think one, it’s by having employers and universities, some of the major institutions in the civilian sector do what they can to bring their veterans and their non-veterans together in the workforce, to build affinity groups within companies to share experiences, to highlight the experiences of veterans that work in companies and lead and succeed [00:03:00] within those organizations.

I think second, media organizations can do a great deal of good here by sharing and highlighting stories that connect people, even though they haven’t had that shared experience.

And, I think there’s a role for veterans like me to play, too, to take leadership roles in our society, to share our experiences, and be very open about this so that we help to bridge that divide through what we do and say as well.