Media and the Military

One of my favourite classes in undergrad was the Civil-Military Relations course taught by Prof. Saideman (who is also a funny blogger) and TAed by a friend who truly knew how to draw out his students. The relevancy of the course keeps coming up as I continue through my polisci journey.

I was just reminiscing about this class as I read two different news articles this week. One was about General McCrystal stepping down this week, a 34 year career being brought down by an article in the Rolling Stone. In an age which people have access to information 24/7, the military is held to a higher level of accountability. Loose words spoken to a journalist, especially those suggesting insubordination to the Commander-in-Chief, brought down McCrystal, leaving his counterinsurgency (COIN) gospel unfulfilled in Afghanistan.

The second article focused on Canadian military scandals. I think in general Canadians are not comfortable with having armed forces (goes hand in hand with the whole “peacekeeping Canadian” stereotype), which is why I think we scrutinize our military so closely, even (or rather, especially) when on humanitarian missions such as the one to Haïti. The kicker to this story was the fact that the military didn’t even bother to announce a high-profile dismissal till a journalist went a-knockin’.

Both these articles bring to light the differences in civil-military relations in the two countries: American brashness and Canadian apologetics. With constant media coverage, the way that the military is perceived by the public becomes ever more important, which makes the way professional military personnel are treated or the views that they express significant. One would want a culture in which the top military officers are treated as expert witnesses, to help assuage the difficulty of the decisions to be made by our lawmakers. Is expressing opinions contrary to the ones in power, albeit from a general, make it treason? As the Ouellette case shows, transparency is necessary at the higher echelons of the military. After all, in a democracy, the military is the people’s army and they need to be accountable to the people that are paying their salaries.

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