The civil-military gap is both real and significant. Its causes are many, but it is in large part a result of the fact that Americans simply do not know much about the military – and that many national security and foreign policy elites spend little time or effort communicating across this divide. But while the moat that separates the two parties is wide, both sides need one another desperately; the habitants on both shores need help communicating to cross this perilous water hazard. Security simplification and Shorthand Abstractions (SHAs) can be useful tactical tools for bridging the civil-military gap in the national security and foreign policy arenas.
Take your pick: when it comes to national security and foreign policy, Americans are either apathetic or confused. At presidential campaign time, when Americans are asked what issues they consider most important, vast majorities say “the economy.” Answers linked to “foreign policy or national security typically yield between 3 and 5 percent.” Professor Ivan Arreguin-Toft recently lectured on the lack of basic “military literacy” in the United States and how this is detrimental to a liberal democracy. He cited a worrying statistic: 70% of newspaper-reading Americans never turn to the foreign affairs section (and that’s of the paper-reading subset). The New York Times recently featured a story about the U.S. Army’s adaptation to garrison life. In a published response, one reader quoted an Army specialist, home from Afghanistan, who griped about “too many slow days.” The letter suggested a “few projects” for the soldier, including: “playing sports with children whose parents don’t have time,” “road and bridge building,” and “delivering food to shut-ins.” Though the letter may have been tongue-in-cheek about the soldier’s role in society, with such a small sliver of society (.5%) currently in uniform, maybe it wasn’t. Those comments might just represent what Americans think soldiers are for.
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