Anchors Away?

  A commercial for the United States Navy features a father and son playing on the beach with a voice-over telling us that it's the Navy that safeguards our way of life. That's true enough, of course. But a new study shows that many in the military no longer care to protect our way of life—because they regard civilian life in America as degenerate and corrupt. A new report by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies points to a widening "values gap" between the U.S. military and American civilians. For instance, many more elite officers identify themselves as "conservative" and "Republican" than their civilian counterparts. Military officers, the report says, "tend to take a negative view of civilian society, viewing it [as suffering from] a moral crisis." These officers "believe civilian society would be better off if it adopted more of the military's values and behaviors." This values gap has "already have taken a toll on the traditional principle of civilian control over the military," the study concludes. Civilian control of the military, remember, is a defining characteristic of American life. Unlike many other countries, our Armed Forces do not define their mission. Instead, they carry out the policies of our elected leaders. Civilian control of the military is more than a matter of law. It's grounded in certain assumptions. One of them is that those in uniform respect the civilians they are taking orders from, and the society they are safeguarding. Without this respect, why would they defer to civilian leadership? During the 1990s, the principle of civilian control has been subjected to more ongoing strain than at any time in American history, typified by open dissent between military and civilian leaders over issues such as gays in the military. Secretary of Defense William Cohen has initiated a campaign to "reconnect," as he puts it, soldiers and civilians. But the real solution has to be much more fundamental. We need to reconnect civilians themselves to their own moral traditions—traditions that many in the military still cherish. Until recently, all Americans—in and out of uniform—had high esteem for such virtues as attention to duty, honor, and sacrifice. Today, the military and the Church are the only places where these values are still valued. If there is a gap today, it's not the military that has changed but the civilian culture. This values gap between soldiers and civilians reveals that the culture war runs far deeper than surface political battles between the religious right and secular elites over issues like abortion. The struggle goes to the heart of what kind of people we are, and to the very security of our nation. The military has continued to preserve concepts like honor and decency and sacrifice—and the result is that they are drifting farther and farther away from America's mainstream. In weaker nations, this kind of values gap would result in a military coup. Thank God, that's not a risk here. But we do risk a demoralized military—men and women who will begin to abandon their military responsibilities—soldiers who will wonder if it's worth risking their lives for a country that no longer appreciates them. When your neighbors tell you that Christians are narrow-minded bigots who want to force their morality on everyone else, lovingly set them straight: Explain that that we are trying to protect those values most essential to a free society—and that means keeping our military willing to fight for it.


Chuck Colson


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