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You know, we've always voted but we've never been aggressively following a competition to determine the who's and the why's. We've just kind of said, hey, you know, whoever the Americans say is Commander-in-Chief, that will be our boss (Interview #34).
In response to a question following her presentation on 26 October 1997 at a conference in Baltimore sponsored by Harvard University's Institute for Strategic Studies, Sara Lister--who was then serving as the Army's Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs--drew an invidious comparison between the Army and the Marine Corps that produced an uproar of sufficient magnitude to necessitate her early retirement. What caused this problem for Lister was her statement about the Army being "much more connected to society than the Marines are." In her view,
... Marines are extremists. Whenever you have extremists, you've got some risks of total disconnection with society. And that's a little dangerous.(1)
The reaction from the Commandant of the Marine Corps to Secretary Lister's remarks was quick and predictably outraged. Politicians hostile to the Clinton administration, led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also rose to defend the Marines, demanding both a full apology and Lister's dismissal.(2)
Lister's speech is but one in a series of analyses and incidents in the 1990s that assert the existence of a widening breach between senior military officials and the rest of society. Although no one claims that American military leadership is itself a danger or threat to the social order, there exists the belief among a number of thoughtful observers that the values and sentiments associated with civilian institutions are not as deeply anchored within the divisions, wings, and carrier groups of the nation's military.(3) The most pessimistic version of this theory of military disengagement from civil society contends that the insularity of military organizations from the wider society discourages young people from even considering military service as a possible career and leads inevitably to an inbred and ever more militaristic culture within the U.S. armed forces. Civilian control of the military, in this radical scenario, becomes weaker and less assured.
This article examines the issue of the connectedness of military leaders from civil society through an analysis of the political beliefs and identification of a sample of U.S. Army general officers. As part of a larger study of the military profession, a sample of 62 army generals was asked about their political views, party affiliation, and other issues that would indicate their more general political worldview. Unlike previous studies, which have relied primarily upon questionnaires that, by design, are intended to constrain discussion and discourage attempts by the respondent to elaborate upon what are essentially very complex questions, this study followed a more qualitative approach, using a semistructured interviewing technique that is more conversational in tone and allows both the questioner and the respondent to probe more deeply into the issues raised by the research. Based upon this elaboration of their political viewpoints, any argument concerning the disconnectedness of U.S. Army general officers from mainstream American society must be rejected. This article concludes with a far more sanguine view of the future of civil-military relations in the U.S. than the one that has emerged recently in either journalistic reports or the professional literature.
Methods and Data
Between April 1993 and April 1999, I interviewed sixty-two U.S. Army generals then serving on active duty.(4) These interviews were all open-ended and semistructured and initially focused on the mechanics of the military promotion process, officers' perceptions of the promotion system, and the characteristics of successful officers. Over time, the scope of the interviews broadened to include values, sentiments, career highlights, favorite jobs, mistakes, combat experiences, sponsors, hobbies, family background, personal philosophy of life, cultural capital, retirement plans, and positions on contemporary political and social issues. As the interviewing process unfolded, the focus of the interviews gradually shifted in response to what was learned in earlier ones. As a result, not every question was asked of every respondent, although most of the questions were asked in some form to all of them. In the present analysis, for example, 51 of the 62 generals in the sample were queried concerning their political attitudes.
The sample included 27 brigadier generals, 24 major generals, eight lieutenant generals, and three generals. This was the distribution of respondents by grade at the time of the interview; since then, a number of generals have retired and many have been promoted to the next higher grade.(5) The sample also included two women, three African Americans, and one Asian American. At the time of the interview, the generals were serving either in the Washington, DC, area or with a unit, school, or headquarters on posts or bases in the southeastern United States. Tables 1-3 summarize some pertinent characteristics of the members of the sample, which was not drawn according to probability sampling techniques because to have done so would have been impractical, unnecessary, and unproductive. Any random selection of 60 or so generals from a list of the 400+ officers who served in that rank in 1993 would almost certainly have included officers then serving in Korea, Germany, Hawaii, Somalia, and other areas similarly distant and remote from my own base of operations in the southeastern United States. It might also have produced a sample including no women and minority officers, and perhaps none whose earlier careers were spent in one of the combat service support branches. Developing the sample as was done, that is, with purposive criteria in mind, ensured not only inclusion of women and members of minority groups but also officers who had recently or who were currently serving in the Army's most prestigious jobs as division commanders, corps commanders, CINCs of regional commands, and other warfighting organizations.(6)
Table 1 Rank of Officer by Source of Commission Rank Source of Commission Brig.Gen Maj.Gen Lieut. Gen West Point 8 4 4 (29.4%) (16.7) (50.0) Other Mil. Sch.(a) 3 1 1 (11.1) (4.2) (12.5) R.O.T.C. 7 14 2 (25.9) (58.3) (25.0) O.C.S. 6 4 1 (22.2) (16.7) (12.5) Other 3 1 0 (11.1) (4.2) (00.0) Totals 27 (43.6) 24 (38.7) 8 (12.9) Rank Source of Commission General TOTAL West Point 2 18 (66.7) (29.0) Other Mil. Sch.(a) 1 6 (33.3) (09.7) R.O.T.C. 0 23 (00.0) (37.1) O.C.S. 0 11 (00.0) (17.7) Other 0 4 (00.0) (06.5) Totals 3 (4.8) 62 (a) "Other Military Schools" include the Citadel, Virginia Military Institute, Norwich College, and Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University). Other abbreviations used in this table include R.O.T.C., referring to the Reserve Officers Training Corps, and O.C.S., the shortened form of Officer Candidate School. Cell entries are counts (top figure) and column percentages (in parentheses). Table 2 Rank of Officer by Primary Branch Assignment Rank Branch Brig.Gen Maj.Gen Lieut. Gen Gen TOTAL Combat 17 16 8 3 44 Arms(a) (62.9) (66.7) (100) (100) (71.0) Combat(b) 5 5 0 0 10 Support (18.5) (20.8) (0.0) (0.0) (16.1) Combat 5 3 0(d) 0 8 Service(c) (18.5) (12.5) (0.0) (0.0) (12.9) Support Totals 27 (43.6) 24 (38.7) 8 (12.9) 3 (4.8) 62 Notes: (a) Combat Arms branches are those that are directly involved in combat. They include infantry, armor, field artillery, aviation, and special operations units. (b) Combat Support branches are those that are routinely exposed to combat while engaged in their primary missions of supporting warfighting units. These branches include the engineer, signal, transportation, and intelligence branches, among others. (c) Combat Service Support branches include those occupational specialties that are not routinely exposed to combat but provide those services to military personnel that are necessary for the efficient functioning of those units. Among these branches are those such as the quartermaster corps, the adjutant general corps, the judge advocate general branch, ordnance, finance, and medical services. (d) Each officer is assigned in these tables the rank he or she held at the time of the interview. Since the interviews have been completed, several officers in the Combat Support and Combat Service Support branches have been promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. Table 3 Region of Childhood of General Officers by Source of Commission Source of Commission West Other Region Point Mil.Sch. R.O.T.C. O.C.S. Other TOTAL North- 2 4 6 2 1 15 east (11.1) (67.6) (26.1) (18.2) (25.0) (24.2) Midwest 2 1 5 2 1 11 (11.1) (16.7) (21.7) (18.2) (25.0) (17.7) South 9 1 7 5 1 23 (50.0) (16.7) (30.4) (45.4) (25.0) (37.0) West 0 0 2 2 0 4 (0.0) (0.0) (8.7) (18.2) (0.0) (6.5) Other(a) 5 0 3 0 1 9 (27.8) (0.0) (13.1) (0.0) (25.0) (14.5) Totals 18(29.0) 6(9.7) 23(37.1) 11(17.7) 4(6.5) 62 (a) The "Other" category includes those who, as children, moved frequently. Most of these individuals are so-called "Army brats," that is, children of military personnel.
In all of the excerpts from the interviews included here, I refer to respondents by a number ranging from #1 to #62, depending upon his or her place in the sequence of completed interviews.
The Civilian-Military Gap
In the wake of the Lister contretemps, Public Broadcasting Service's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, on 10 November 1999, aired a discussion hosted by Margaret Warner of the putative "gap" between military leaders and the wider society. Among the discussants were current and former military leaders as well as civilian specialists who had conducted research on the topic.(7) Given the provocative title of the televised segment ("The Civilian-Military Gap"), the discussion that ensued almost certainly served to allay any anxieties that viewers might have had about the military possibly refusing to follow the orders of their civilian superiors, let alone something as truly radical and alien to American political tradition as a neopraetorian usurpation of the state by military leaders. Much of the discussion centered not on the potential of a military-led coup d'etat or other equally chilling possibilities (such as that depicted in the 1962 novel, Seven Days in May(8)) but, rather, on the possible negative consequences of having too few members of Congress who had served previously in the military. Yet it is just such a radical …