Must U.S. Military Culture Reform?

Change is characteristic of military culture because of the many influences that constantly affect the values, behavior, and beliefs that together define it. The proper question for debate is therefore not whether American military culture will change but rather how it should change in response to such pressures. To be more precise: What are the central tasks of the military? What legitimacy does it draw from founding documents and national laws? How does it reflect the culture of the society it serves? The answers to these questions form the context in which military culture evolves.

At the present time, a confluence of powerful and diverse imperatives is at work. Contemporary social mores and the end of the Cold War have combined to change the military’s roles and missions, budgeting, organization, legal foundation, and internal disciplinary code, even as it is pushed and pulled according to political advocates’ judgments as to the extent to which it should or should not reflect American society in general. (Table 1 illustrates the most important of these, listed in comparison to those of the Cold War era.) Yet within what General Douglas MacArthur once called “a welter of change and development,” certain constants always apply lest U.S. military culture: 1) no longer effectively provide for the common defense; 2) lose the institutional “soul” rooted, as Don Snider suggests, in “warfighting”; or 3) accommodate demands for social change at the expense of the military’s functional or legal imperatives.

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