Below is an excerpt from the foreword by Peter Feaver in the new book Party, Politics, and the Post-9/11 Army by Dr. Heidi A. Urben:
American leaders from George Washington to Lloyd Austin have, from time to time, expressed concern about the caliber and conduct of the people serving in uniform. These concerns are usually balanced, even overmatched, by strong dollops of pride, confidence, and genuine affection for the same collective body of servicemen (and now servicewomen). And these concerns are tempered with caveats. Washington was talking about the irregular militia and keen to develop a cadre of professional soldiers who, he believed, would not suffer from these defects. Austin was talking about a military more professionalized and better-trained than anything Washington could have imagined—but Austin also emphasized that the problematic element was an infinitesimal fraction of the overall force.
Yet a common thread runs through these and countless other examples that could be assembled: a conviction that the strength of the US military turns to a great extent on the human factor, particularly the quality of the rank and file. A military that is otherwise well-equipped but is disordered—whether through chronic ill-discipline or through the poison of factionalism—will not adequately provide for the common defense.
Accordingly, theorists of American civil-military relations have long focused on the orientation of the men and women who serve in uniform as one of the key pillars undergirding the health of the armed forces, and thus the security of the Republic. This orientation—sometimes called the “military mind” or “professionalism” or “the military viewpoint”— encompasses a wide range of values, attitudes, opinions, and even behaviors that collectively describe what the military is thinking. Theorists do not agree entirely on what the military should be thinking, but they all agree that—whatever it is—it is an important component in healthy civil-military relations.
Theory begets empirics. If it is important, then it should be measured and tracked.
And here is the rub. If it is measured and tracked, then it can be debated and contested—and theorists, including some of the very same theorists who have identified this as a crucial factor in civil-military relations, have also worried that too much attention and debate is likely to stir up the very same factionalism and politicization that is the hallmark of a troubled force.
Military leaders have paid attention, alternating between wanting to know as much as possible about the thought orientation of the force and worrying that investigating the same will stir up trouble. Some high-profile academic studies, including a large one I helped lead, may have done just that.
This has resulted in a situation where the scholar must trade off access and scope. One can work with military officials to get close access to the force, but in exchange one must accept limits on the scope of what one can investigate. Or one can explore as wide-ranging a set of questions as one wishes, but at a distance, catching military personnel where one can. It is impossible to maximize both access and scope at the same time.
This brings us to Heidi Urben’s important contribution in this monograph. Dr. Urben has balanced this trade-off as well as any scholar in recent times and with it has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of the orientation of the US military. To be sure, even this superior study had to make practical concessions. The most important is that she focuses just on US Army officers, current and prospective. Given the post-Capitol insurrection concerns about extremism in the ranks, the latter is a more serious limitation than the former. But her choices in this study’s scope are sensible, and the result is admirable.
The book is both timeless and timely. Dr. Urben is engaging several decades of scholarship and bringing fresh data to bear on these well-established questions. Yet the book is arriving in the wake of a particularly turbulent period of civil-military relations where the questions she is asking—does the US military have a political orientation and if so, will that lead to behaviors that are problematic for the health of American democracy—are so fresh as to be almost raw.
*This book is in the Rapid Communications in Conflict and Security (RCCS) Series (General Editor: Dr. Geoffrey R.H. Burn).