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Growing Military - Civilian Divide

by Jim Humphrey

On November 11, our nation will celebrate Veterans Day. We dedicate this day to honoring the brave men and women who have selflessly served our country within the military services.

The holiday began as a day in which to reflect upon the heroism of those who died in our country's service and was originally called Armistice Day. It fell on November 11 as that is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Later in 1954, the holiday was changed to "Veterans Day" in order to account for all veterans of all wars.

Traditionally, this seems to be the one day that all Americans can unite in support of those who serve and fight our nation’s wars, ensuring we have and maintain the rights enjoyed today.

But is there a growing military-civilian divide and decreasing national interest to support and care for our nation’s warriors? Despite being one of the most trusted institutions in the United States today, there is an increasing social and cultural disconnect between our civilian and military communities.

Today, fewer than one percent of Americans serve in the active military, compared to almost nine percent during World War II. Researchers state this is contributing to the growing divide between veterans and non-veterans. It’s also noted that veterans and non-veterans are socializing less in their respective communities. I believe this varies among geographic regions, but the fact that it has become a talking point on various radio and news outlets is concerning.

Within our courses and counseling at God’s Word For Warriors, clients have expressed on numerous occasions their desire to limit association to fellow veterans or first responders. The rationale being these are the people who best understand them and operate with a similar value system.

Surely there must be more tangible reasons than this. What are some of the causes for this divide? According to sources such as The Washington Post, Veterans Administration, Los Angeles Times, and others, here are four key factors driving the growing separation.

1. The active duty force has substantially decreased in size over the last thirty years, shrinking from over 2 million in 1990 to 1.4 million by 2020 (equates to less than half of 1% of the total U.S. population). Compare these numbers to 16.1 million (WWII), 5.7 million (Korean War), and 8.7 million (Vietnam War).

2. The total veteran population is decreasing. Today there are over 19 million living veterans. Pew Research and VA projections over the next two decades show a decline of those with military experience by 35%, down to 12.5 million.

3. Perhaps one of the more sobering factors driving the military-civilian divide, is the rapidly declining numbers of our society who choose to serve, primarily those within the 18-29 year old range. Today, service members are more likely to come from a family where military service is expected or a family tradition. Also, the declining number of military bases limit exposure to military members in daily life.

4. Finally, fewer members of our national leadership have any form of military service than ever in the past. Just as the share of Americans who are veterans has declined, so has the share of legislators. According to a study in March, 2020 by Pew, the current Congress and Senate, each contains only 17% of lawmakers who have served. This compared to 81% in 1975. However, it’s only fair to say that in more recent elections, both parties have made some efforts to recruit veterans as candidates. The 2020 elected freshman class included 15 with some past military service within Active-duty, Reserves, or National Guard.

Historically, a democracy is strongest when its citizens participate in its governing and protective institutions. Our military and civilian communities must remain strongly connected in order to best represent one another. Closing the divide can’t occur without deliberate efforts of both American civilians and veterans.

So, on this Veterans Day take a moment to learn a bit more about those who currently serve or have served. Locate a veteran or service member you know and have a conversation. If you don’t know one personally, ask around or stop by a local veteran service organization…there are 100 certified by the Veterans Administration such as AMVETS, American Legion, VFW, and etc. There are also over 4,500 independent veteran service agencies nationwide. Ask them the same questions you would anyone you’d like to learn more about. They are your neighbors, family members, business owners, teachers, mechanics, truck-drivers, UPS delivery person and many more.

Let’s close the divide!

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