How Military Doctrine Furthers the Civil-Military Divide

Intelligence

U.S. Army Photo

People on both sides of the “civil-military divide” love to bemoan that divide. Despite more than a decade and a half of war (if the Battle of Tora Bora were a child, it could get its driver’s license this week) fewer than one percent of the country has deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

We are a country of roughly 330 million people, yet our armed forces account for only about six-tenths of one percent of them. Back in 2011, a Pew Research Center study found that among Americans between the ages of 18 and 29, only 33 percent had a friend or family member who had served or was currently serving in the military. Conversely, among those between 50 and 64, the figure was 79 percent.

And any veteran who has been on a civilian job interview recently will tell you, even among companies looking to hire veterans, there is little understanding of what life in the military is like. I often find myself telling my civilian friends that being in the Army was not like the first half of “Full Metal Jacket.” Many civilians seem to think that military leadership and management involve little more than cursing at an insane volume.

Many in the military like to complain that the country has outsourced its national security to a professional warrior class akin to Plato’s auxiliaries. “The Army went to war, America went to the mall,” they complain. This has been increasingly, and regrettably, true since the end of conscription in 1973. But it is not entirely the civilian world’s fault.

Doctrine writing at its worst

Like any closed group, the military has its own set of passwords and secret signs. Dense writing is one of them.

Earlier this month, the Army Capabilities Integration Center, part of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, published a case-in-point. “Multi-Domain Battle: Evolution of Combined Arms for the 21st Century” is a 79-page “concept” intended to describe how the Army “will operate, fight, and campaign successfully across all domains—space, cyberspace, air, land, maritime—against peer adversaries in the 2025-2040 timeframe.”

I’m currently trying to muscle my way through this document. It’s not for the faint of heart. For instance, near the bottom of page three, we find this gem: “Friendly forces achieve victory through convergence by employing multiple combinations of cross-domain operations that create physical, virtual, and cognitive windows of advantage to enable cross-domain maneuver and fires to achieve objectives.”

A Soviet officer is rumored to have remarked, “A serious problem in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine.” Doctrine writing like this is why that is so.

I spent 25 years in uniform, am fairly well-educated, and have no earthly idea what that sentence means.

Keep it simple, stupid

There’s a reason why the “Army Writing Style” that was drilled into our heads has two central tenets: bottom-line up front, and write to an eighth-grade level. If I don’t understand it, there is no way the average civilian is grasping it (if they ever even hear about it). Nor is the average young soldier going to grasp what the hell he’s expected to do to create a physical, virtual, or cognitive window of opportunity.

This is a problem. Military operations shouldn’t be a “black art.” Citizens should be helped to understand how their military does its job.

This, however, is a case of Army doctrine writers trying to prove they’re smarter than their civilian counterparts. The academic world heaped scorn on the Army for the counterinsurgency field manual a decade ago, an effort I worked to counter. But at least the COIN writing team tried to make their doctrine accessible. This new publication seems deliberately to be muddying the waters that divide the military and civilian worlds.

For all the impenetrable language, the message couldn’t be clearer. “We’re the professionals. You couldn’t possibly understand. Leave us alone and let us do our jobs” But the Constitution is clear that the military is subordinate to civilian authority. It is most unhelpful to have the military deliberately trying to thwart the civilian world’s understanding of its work, and writing like this only deepens the civil-military divide.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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