The Civil-Military Divide: An Imagined Structure of the Military Mind (also, @amyschumer)


The other night I saw a skit on the Amy Schumer show that was pretty funny and got me thinking. Amy played a soldier who had just returned from an Iraq deployment and wanted to surprise her boyfriend by popping out of a cake for his birthday, a lá the surprise reunion videos that have grown so popular as entertainment recently. As she hides in the cake, she overhears him talking shit about her. She listens and takes it all in. When she pops out, she’s embarrassed and breaks up with him on the spot. As the scene ends, someone awkwardly “thanks her for her service,” because that’s what you’re supposed to do. A special kind of “fuck you” that soldiers have heard when they’re being helped by someone that can’t really help, and get thanked for their service when what they really need is to get their cell service terminated before deploying.

Anyway, it’s a pretty funny skit and it got me thinking that maybe the civil-military divide isn’t really that big of a problem as people think it is. In fact, maybe these wars have been the best thing for closing it.

The “divide” isn’t a new thing by any means. It’s been written about by every generation going back to Sparta. I still think the best recent piece on the divide in our era comes before the Global War on Terrorism began, back in this Tom Ricks article in The Atlantic (1997).

I’ve written before about how there seems to be a correlation between willingness to poke fun at the military in popular culture and a perceived decrease in the civil-military divide. That is, the more comfortable civilians feel making fun of soldiers and the military, the better relations are (so long as military folk don’t get too butt-hurt about it).

As far as I know, Amy Schumer never served in the military, but that didn’t stop her from going for the skit. I’ve seen it done real well on Family GuyThe Onion and Fox’s short-lived Enlisted (rest in peace).

I still believe that the civil-military gap is an imagined structure of the military mind. The gap is as big as the veteran wants it to be simply because civilians don’t walk around thinking of themselves as something different from everyone else – veterans do that. In that regard, the more connected to civil society the veteran feels, the smaller the imagined gap. It is an individual effort to close it, not a collective one.

That said, the more shots taken at military life from the civilian side, the more normalized the whole thing becomes. The wars have kept the military in the media for the past decade in a way they wouldn’t have been without them. We seem to be moving past the point of blanket hero worship and into a realm that’s more thoughtful and critical.


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