For nearly 40 years, the American public has placed extraordinary trust and confidence in the military, celebrating heroism and service in diverse venues ranging from religious services to theme parks to sporting events. Survey after survey has shown that Americans revere their military, at least superficially. How members of the military feel about their own service, sacrifices, and relationship to the rest of society has been an open question. To help explore these questions, we surveyed more than 1,200 midgrade to senior military officers and West Point cadets between 2017 and 2020 regarding their political views, their sacrifices, and their pride in service. In addition to confirming past research indicating that servicemembers are increasingly isolated and have a growing sense of exceptionalism, our results also indicate that the attitudes of military elites who are in the minority in terms of race, gender, and political views vary considerably at times from their majority peers, raising questions about the degree of inclusivity within the ranks today.
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Dr. Susan Bryant is the executive director of Strategic Education International as well as a retired U.S. Army colonel, an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University, a visiting lecturer at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and a visiting research fellow at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.
Mr. Brett Swaney is an assistant research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at National Defense University. His research focuses on civil-military relations and NATO/Europe. He holds an M.A. in global security studies from Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Heidi Urben is an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University, non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, adjunct scholar at West Point’s Modern War Institute, a visiting research fellow at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, and a retired U.S. Army colonel. She is currently writing a book on partisanship and political activity in the armed forces.
This article reflects the personal views of the authors. It does not represent the views of the U.S. Army, National Defense University, or Department of Defense.