Military, Civilians Follow Different Callings
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 30, 2000 "According to public opinion polls, the armed forces are the most highly regarded institution in American society," said sociology professor Charles C. Moskos of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Ironically, he said, the small segment of society from which spring America's future leaders and intellectuals don't hold the military in such high regard. The fault, he said, is in misconceptions that would evaporate had these people had firsthand military knowledge and experience.
Moskos is a longtime observer of the "military culture" and is the author of numerous books on the military. He has studied Army combat units in Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Germany, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Haiti, Macedonia and Bosnia.
He said years of research have taught him that the biggest misconception civilians have of military people is that they're "not independent thinkers," and that they're "a bunch of dinosaurs." The intellectual community sometimes characterizes military personnel as mindless, gun-toting robots, he said, but they'd know better if they put some time in the armed forces.
Another misconception among civilians being there's no such thing as military justice. Moskos said there are differences between a person's rights in the military and in civilian life, but they shouldn't be exaggerated. Many basic rights are protected in the military, just as certain rights are restricted in civilian life, he said.
"Still the pressure to equate civilian and military life is strong," he noted. But the armed forces can't operate like a civilian organization," he continued, "because military people may be required to give their lives for the common good. Also, military people must give up rights of privacy that are taken for granted in civilian life.
"The real danger is that today's military may become too much like a civilian organization, thus undermining its effectiveness," he noted. Therefore, Moskos said, it's important for civilians to realize that military people have a different calling.
There are many reasons the nation needs a uniformed armed force, he said. One is the rationale, "There are always threats to our national security in a variety of forms, such as aggression by foreign powers, economic threats and terrorism," he said.
"Military service is premised on a sense of duty, on the assumption that the common good is more important than individual rights, that the welfare of the whole supersedes individual rights," Moskos and University of Texas sociology professor John Sibley Butler state in their book "All That You Can Be."
"A uniformed service -- including police officers -- is a way for both members and outsiders to define who is serving their country and community," Moskos noted. "It highlights the sacrifices that are expected of uniformed personnel.