Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations

Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations

Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations

Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations


Conventional wisdom holds that the American military is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican, and extremely political. Our Army paints a more complex picture, demonstrating that while army officers are likely to be more conservative, rank-and-file soldiers hold political views that mirror those of the American public as a whole, and army personnel are less partisan and politically engaged than most civilians.

Assumptions about political attitudes in the U. S. Army are based largely on studies focusing on the senior ranks, yet these senior officers comprise only about 6 percent of America's fighting force. Jason Dempsey provides the first random-sample survey that also covers the social and political attitudes held by enlisted men and women in the army. Uniting these findings with those from another unique survey he conducted among cadets at the United States Military Academy on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, Dempsey offers the most detailed look yet at how service members of all ranks approach politics. He shows that many West Point cadets view political conservatism as part of being an officer, raising important questions about how the army indoctrinates officers politically. But Dempsey reveals that the rank-and-file army is not nearly as homogeneous as we think--or as politically active--and that political attitudes across the ranks are undergoing a substantial shift.

Our Army adds needed nuance to our understanding of a profession that seems increasingly distant from the average American.


We project our prejudices onto people we do not know. We fill gaps in our understanding of others with stereotypes and assumptions. The American army is especially susceptible to this dynamic, as few Americans have direct experience with military service. Because of this, a formation of soldiers can become a blank slate upon which we might imagine the best, or worst, of America.

In recent years it has been commonly assumed that the American military is overwhelmingly Republican and conservative. For some this has been a point of pride, as the military is generally one of the most respected institutions in the United States. For others this perceived affiliation with the Republican Party has been a point of concern. Many have wondered about the professionalism of a force wholly associated with one side of the political spectrum.

This book presents a comprehensive assessment of the political and social attitudes of members of the U.S. Army. The evidence suggests that while a great many officers feel comfortable identifying themselves as conservative and/or Republican, the sentiment is not consistent across the army. However, it is clear that the perception of the army as overwhelmingly Republican is widespread, both in and out of the military. This perception has led political parties to adjust their voter-targeting and campaign strategies. It has also generated extensive discussion among scholars of civil-military relations. In some respects it has been a case of too much theorizing, or overreacting to incomplete data.

There are two purposes to this book and two intended audiences. The first purpose is to add some depth to our understanding of the people who serve in the American military. I want to replace the stereotype of the American soldier with a more nuanced understanding of how soldiers think about social and political issues and a better understanding of the ways in which they are similar to, or different from, the civilian population. One half of the audience for this book is therefore the American public, who are entitled to a richer understanding of their army.

The second purpose is to highlight to members of the army the dangers, and impropriety, of conflating identification with a political party or political ideology with military service. The perception of the military as a monolithic voting bloc may be inaccurate, but it was not created out of whole cloth. A generation of military leaders grew up in a military education system that forgot to teach the importance of political neutrality. As a result, an unacceptable number of army officers have comfortably . . .

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