zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Seeds of a Caste Soldiery

Seeds of a Caste Soldiery

I found this news snippet to be intriguing:

In a historic but little-noticed change in policy, the Army is allowing scores of husband-and-wife soldiers to live and sleep together in the war zone – a move aimed at preserving marriages, boosting morale and perhaps bolstering re-enlistment rates at a time when the military is struggling to fill its ranks five years into the fighting.

“It makes a lot of things easier,” said Frazier, 33, a helicopter maintenance supervisor in the 3rd Infantry Division. “It really adds a lot of stress, being separated. Now you can sit face-to-face and try to work out things and comfort each other.”

Throughout history, civilized societies have basically fielded armies with three different orientations: caste, professionals and citizen-soldiers.  The United States opted with the switch to the All-Volunteer Force under the Nixon administration to abandon conscription and adopt a professional ethos. The above policy of the U.S. Army is essentially a humane, on-the-spot, accomodation to demographic changes in the force and the exigencies of war in Iraq; but it also highlights an incipent trend toward the emergence of a military caste within American society.

Much like universities, the American military, as women have been gradually integrated into the services in ever wider roles, has become a social filter bringing men and women of prime marriageable age together. It should be no surprise that some of them, sharing similar values and career interests, are indeed marrying and raising families within the context of military culture. We would need many generations for this practice to play out in order to discern the results, but it would stand to reason that such a policy, if institutionalized, would accelerate the cultural divergence between members of the U.S. military and the mainstream of American society at large to the detriment of both.

The U.S. military as a caste apart, would not be, in my view, an ideal result. Obviously, the answer is not to further burden military personnel already serving in combat zones under the most difficult of circumstances. Instead, other policies should promulgated to narrow the “culture gap” by encouraging greater volunteerism among the civilian population, perhaps by a wider range of military service options and to give career military personnel increased time working in “para-civilian” roles, increasing their “Sys Admin” skill-sets which can later be brought to bear on the spectrum of missions the U.S. military is forced to handle.

16 Responses to “Seeds of a Caste Soldiery”

  1. historyguy99 Says:

    This is the first I have heard of this development. I totally agree that it is has the ripe potential to morp itself into a caste system, with all it’s attendent negatives.

    I suggest that you start a thread over on Small Wars Journal, to see how the trigger pullers, past and present think of this policy.

    Seems to be another cassualty of the prolonged overuse of certain parts of the military, IE, the Army in Iraq. The Marines, Navy and Air Force so far, are not following this policy.

  2. Smitten Eagle Says:

    When I was in Iraq in 05-06 I can speak that married male and female Marines who were operating on the same base (al Asad, etc…), when given permission by the commanding officers involved, were allowed to cohabitate.  I’m not sure how it is now, and I’m sure it’s the commanding general’s prerogative.  But nonetheless this is not a new development for the Marines.

  3. deichmans Says:

    Zen, Some good friends of ours (both Army field grade officers) did the cohabitation thing in Mosul a couple years ago. However, I have to wonder about the demographics: what percentage of husband-wife soldiering families are (a) both officers? (b) both staff NCOs? or (c) both enlisted? My guess (based on a very limited sample size) is that (a) > (b) >> (c).

  4. Nebris Says:

    And so begins the march toward Federal Citizenship.

  5. Seerov Says:

    We should use orphans for the military.  Socialize them into believing that they are born to serve in the military.  They have no families, they’re expendable.  This will further separate the public from war.  The public doesn’t even have to know about the wars America is involved in. 

  6. zen Says:

    I took the liberty of fixing Nebris’ link. I have not read Starship Troopers, an admission that I’m sure will horrify Lexington Green, but I’ll take a look at the PDF nonetheless.
    Hi HG99
    If I have time, I’ll re-work it into a short original post at SWC. It’s considered bad form to whore one’s blog there so I don’t do drive-by link-dropping 🙂
    Deichmans and The Smitten Eagle,
    I’m quite sure that you are both right about the composition and recent history of married military personnel. However, I’d like to add a few observations. We are the very inception of this policy, in terms of contemplating downstream sociological effects. The idea of this happening when my father or any of my Uncles served in the pre- thru post- Vietnam War era ( which in historical terms was only a short time ago) would not have been considered. Secondly, Adam Elkus pointed out to me today the quiet integration of civilian families on overseas U.S. military bases – in ancient or medieval times these would be called "camp followers". This is something that is quite likely to take root and become normalized through Congressional action and will reinforce any "caste formation"

  7. zen Says:

    Hi Seerov,
    The Ceaucescus already tried that tack in Romania, albeit for Securitate and not the military. It didn’t work. I hear that Irish orphans make for some good eatin’ though 😉

  8. strategist Says:

    It would be interesting to see what other features of ‘caste armies’ are taking root in the US army. I’m guessing what these features could be, but caste armies seem to be marked by inter-generational service within families (sons and grandsons serving in the same regiments as their forebears) and living on cantonments. The officer class of the 19th century British army, and the Brahmin-dominated sepoy regiments of the Honourable East India Company’s army, might be two examples. 

    Conversely, I remember reading somewhere that post-war Ghurkha regiments in the British army were reluctant to enlist the sons of serving Ghurkha soldiers – who had grown up on bases in Malaya and Hong Kong – because they were seen as not having the native toughness of Nepalese born in the Himalayas.

    But wouldn’t a key feature of a caste army be that its members, and their offspring, had few life choices apart from military service?

  9. historyguy99 Says:

    To follow-up on your observation:
    We are the very inception of this policy, in terms of contemplating downstream sociological effects. The idea of this happening when my father or any of my Uncles served in the pre- thru post- Vietnam War era ( which in historical terms was only a short time ago) would not have been considered.

    I am a product of that Vietnam War era which marked an end to our citizen-soldier orientation. Prior to the World Wars, a state milita system of citizen-soldiers backed up a small professsional army that was for much of our history, treated as second-class citizens, camp followers in what we today would see as a caste system. Two World Wars gave military service a status unheard of in the 19th century. Vietnam, and the end of a national service commitment, sent us spinning back to the past, by putting those who chose to serve our country, sadly, below the radar of most Americans.

  10. Fabius Maximus Says:

    This might spark a lot of fast marriages on foreign stations like in the Middle East — and a high divorce rate.  But no doubt the Army’s thorough staff work before this policy was implemented considered these effects.  Such as the resulting increase in single parent children of serving soldiers.

  11. Smitten Eagle Says:

    Another factor to consider is what sort of influence parents have on offspring joining the military–do they encourage it or discourage it?  For example, I have no problem with a son of mine joining the Marines, but a daughter?!  Hell no!  I know what men think, and she shouldn’t have to be the "object of their affections."  (For the moment I have no children.)

    Furthermore, it seems that a military caste system would actually undercut professionalism–no longer would military service be a calling–it would just be an inheritance.  Fortunately military service is somewhat darwinistic and perhaps whatever tendencies toward caste-creation would be negated by the ill effects of poor performance.

  12. Lexington Green Says:

    Let’s not worry too much. Anglospheric militaries have tended to be relatively small, professional, unpopular, expeditionary (ie overseas or out on the plains somewhere) and often composed of generations of families, especially among the officers, for whom the Navy, Army or Marines was the “family business”. Edward Coffman’s books on the US Army show this, as do Kipling’s poems. The idea of the Army as the repository of the nation’s ideals, etc. Is more of a continental European idea. We bought into it during the era of mass, industrial warfare in the 20th C. That era is over. Good. We are now returning in some ways to the older model. Again, good.

    And while I am not horrified, you certainly must read Starship Troopers — a thought-provoking classic.

  13. zen Says:

    Smitten Eagle wrote:

    "Fortunately military service is somewhat darwinistic and perhaps whatever tendencies toward caste-creation would be negated by the ill effects of poor performance."

    Heh. Very true. Sort of accelerated tempo "natural selection" – organizations either get tempered and improved or ground down to the point of disintegration

  14. Matthew Says:

    I will begin this with saying that I served for 7 years, overseas and CONUS. 

    I knew many couples that were both military, mil-to-mil was the term, and for many of their children, the military was not a career choice.   Many sons and daughters of military members have a wonderful viewpoint on the military in that they actually recognize service to ones country as a wonderful thing.  These same children also realize that they have other choices.  I think strategist has it right.  These other choices will draw people away from the military, and inversley, a lack of choice for others will drive them to the military.

    This has brought up a question in my mind.  What now happens to the family members left behind in the states?  Used to be policy not to have all remaining sons of a family in combat.  Also used to be unwritten policy not to have sons and fathers fighting at the same time and place.  Interesting now that they would let a father and mother both be in peril at the same time and place. 

  15. historyguy99 Says:

    Nice going Zen, when TPM Barnett picks up the post…..You think Leviathan personnel issues are tough… 😉
    A lot of thoughtful comments above.
     Mathew notes something, a father and mother both be in peril at the same time and place.  That will surely give anti-war folks a fit when a lucky motar hit makes some kids orphans….
    A lot said above about wives serving with soldiers even in our past history….true, but they stayed back at the fort, while hubby was away chasing the bad guys…..

  16. Steve Says:

    I’m a recently retired (20+ yr) Army Senior NCO.  two of my four sons has chosen to enter military service.  One went in the Army, did his 4 year hitch including 15 months in iraq, then used his earned education entitlment to attend college.  He is in his second year and on the dean’s list. The other wants to go in the Marines. 

    All of my children experienced life as part of a military family.  One went thru a tough time while I was deployed to Iraq but has since adjusted and is an “A” student getting ready to graduate this year.  I tried to make sure they saw my work as service to our country but also as a profession that was open to be accepted or rejected.  My family has a minor histroy of military service with my uncle serving in WW II and others futher back in various services.  We were not indoctrinated to be part of a caste.

    I believe in a combination of voluntary service and the draft to prevent a “caste” problem.  Alot of my peers are military family and some of they’re kids have chosen the profession of arms and some have not.  I suspect our current society would be hard pressed to accept the manditory service requirement which would be needed to hol off caste system issues.

    The best route, I’ve found, to a genuine solution is that we must define what we want from our military.  We have to have a goal, an endstate, an accurate estimate of what we want them to do for our country.  Then use the civilian authority over the military, as it should be, to get there.  Currently they are doing what is asked of them. 

    What is it that we as a country want them to do?  Will a caste system develop from an all volunteer force that does what is asked of it?  They’re are all kinds of rich, poor, black, white or whatever you want to call yourself that I served with. One guy was calico, literally.  No one cares about that…can I trust you, can you do your job when the fur starts flying, can you get the job done no mattter what else is going on, will you bleed with me if I bleed with you? Thats what matters to a profesional military.  No one wants to bleed.  Every soldier hates war. If that is what develops a caste system then maybe that is what we need to satisfy what we want our military to do for us.

    I personally see social isolation, financial stability and required healthy lifestyle as what is giving the appearance of a caste system.  Just my thoughts from an insider now working 7-3 on the outside.

Switch to our mobile site