Civilian Chauvinism and “Military Brats Matter”

Identity is constrained by a multitude of factors: racial or ethnic affiliation; gender orientation; class residency. Given each peculiar instance of the combinations that this trifecta can generate, “white privilege” is the category that can seem easiest to critique as the source of many of our country’s most grievous offenses against human dignity.

In all the critiques of “white privilege” in the Academy, however, I have never once heard anyone ever mention their status in regards to “civilian privilege.” If privilege is that which is most obnoxious when it is so taken for granted that it never occurs to the possessor of privilege that they are privileged, then civilian privilege is right near the top in being part of the reason I feel so alienated in this country. It permeates everything I come into contact with in the civilian world; and, sad to say, bringing it up only makes people uncomfortable. “Don’t we have enough discrimination problems to deal with without you bringing this up?”

Just as sexism is gauged by the degree of self-assumed privilege that males indulge in, and such individuals are called male chauvinists, those who have had the privilege of growing up in a civilian household are more likely to have succumbed to the blandishments of civilian chauvinism. It never seems to occur to people who grow up outside of the confines of military culture in general, and of career enlisted military culture in particular, that the cultural capital they have acquired is not just a matter of class as a matter of economic resources, but of the emotional and intellectual mobility that civilian stability assumes as its natural habitat. Civilian privilege, in particular, exercises its benefits most clearly in the domain of education, and becomes ever more visible the higher one moves up the teaching ranks.

Simply ask yourself this: what percentage of tenured college professors between 1970 and 2020 are the offspring of career enlisted military personnel?

My guess is that it’s less than one-tenth of one percent of those born between 1940 and 1970.

Why did such a shockingly low percentage of the several million individuals in this subculture grow up and not attain the preeminence of intellectual accomplishment? In large part, this is due to circumstances that are unfathomable not just to those who are middle-class, but even to many in the working class. The disadvantages inflicted on military brats are so pervasive, I’m afraid, that even those most encumbered are unaware of the structural disparities that play out in their lives. Unfortunately, as long as this nation maintains that its destiny is to be the center of a global empire, there will be no diminution of civilian privilege. If anything, there will only be an even more stringent acquiescence demanded of the youngest unofficial but de facto members of the U.S. armed forces. The permanent impact of deprivation on their personal character will of course puzzle those outside the subculture, but not enough to make them ever question the basic premises of civilian privilege.

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“Military brats matter.”