Guide for Participants in Peace, Stability, and Relief Operations

Military Culture

THE MILITARY is a microcosm of the wider society. But, in certain respects, the military stands somewhat apart from the rest of society. Certainly there is a distance, if not a divide, between military personnel and civilians in terms of how they view the world in general and how they view their jobs. In part, this distinctive outlook is a reflection of the special nature of the military as an institution—of the specific tasks it is expected to accomplish and the manner in which it organizes itself to accomplish them. In part, it reflects a deep-seated set of convictions about how the world works and a set of core values about how people ought to behave.

Here, the aim is to sketch the outlines of what might be called "military thinking" and "military culture." Civilians who work with or alongside the military need to be able to recognize the instincts, characteristics, ideas, and values that drive the military.

Self-Awareness of the Military's Unique Role

Members of the military see themselves as different from civilians. As a generalization, military personnel have an almost reverent appreciation for order and precision. To the military, many civilians lack appreciation for those things the military, out of necessity, holds inviolate. This assumption leads some members of the military to look skeptically at the civilian community, particularly in stressful, unpredictable situations such as a rise in stability operations. To some people in the military, civilians seem to lack an understanding of, and an appreciation for, such key values as predictability, planning, and precision—values that are critical to the accomplishment of a military mission. However, as military experience in stability operations has grown, and as the armed forces have made greater efforts to train their personnel for stability operations, military cooperation with NGOs and other civilian-led agencies has improved.

There are excellent reasons why military personnel have such a strong self-identity. As a purely practical matter, military personnel are considered always to be on duty. They tend not to punch time cards or watch clocks; they are subject to recall from their homes at any time of the day or night should the need arise. Indeed, in times of emergency, all retired officers and enlisted personnel are subject to recall to active duty—an option that, although rarely exercised, is particularly likely to affect retired military personnel with highly specialized training. Military personnel forfeit certain rights that civilians take for granted; for example, U.S. military personnel must submit to regular, random drug testing and testing for HIV and be immunized against anthrax. This background is not unique to the U.S. military; militaries around the world recognize that to maintain the kind of discipline required to fight and win wars, certain freedoms must be sacrificed in the name of readiness. This is part of the military lifestyle and is part of what makes the military a profession.

A more profound reason for the military's sense of self-awareness is the unique role accorded the military. The primary function of the military is to fight and win its nation's wars, protecting national interests so that the citizens of that nation can enjoy peace and prosperity. This means that members of the armed forces can be placed in harm's way—in situations where the potential for killing and being killed is very real. Stability operations can be perilous undertakings, and, like the staffs of IOs, NGOs, and government agencies, military personnel may run significant risks as they perform their jobs. They accept that should their nation require it, they may be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. To make such a commitment, military personnel must believe in what they are doing and in the country that is asking them to do it; thus, they must have a deeply ingrained sense of patriotism.

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