In February, the journal Social Sciences published an article authored by the Chair in Justice Studies at Montclair State University, Dr. Christopher Salvatore, and the Director of Research at the National Police Foundation, Dr. Travis Taniguchi. Their publicly peer-reviewed article is entitled “Military Service and Offending Behaviors of Emerging Adults: A Conceptual Review” and discusses whether military service suppresses or encourages criminality among young adults. Salvatore and Taniguchi ultimately conclude that more thorough research is required, but also offer a fascinating discussion of the research to date.
The article first points out that an evaluation of the societal effect of military service on criminality by young adults requires data to be collected from both currently serving personnel and veterans.
In order to fully understand the relationship between military service and crime, a distinction must be made between criminal and deviant behavior occurring while in the military versus behaviors that occur post-military service.
Further, treating military veterans from multiple eras as a unitary whole is unhelpful.
Studies examining military service around the time periods involving World War II and the Korean War have typically found better outcomes [as regards criminal and deviant behavior] for military service than studies that have been conducted on more recent military service.
Disaggregated data shows that veterans who served after the shift to an All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1970, “had a higher likelihood of being incarcerated compared to those of the draft era.” Those higher rates of incarceration have also tended to be associated with specific types of crime: namely “violent sexual assault, followed by other violent crimes, property crimes, drug offense, and DUI/DWI.”
To explain this divergence between the criminality of draft-era veterans and AVF-era veterans, Salvatore and Taniguchi point to research concerning the changing demographics of the military cohort from those eras. The most prevalent factor appears to be economic in nature.
The modern era AVF military is composed of disproportionately minority racial/ethnic groups (relative to their numbers in the population) from middle-class backgrounds whereas the pre-AVF era drew across a broader social and economic background. Military personnel drawn across socio demographic lines could have led to greater inclusion of individuals less predisposed to offending or reduced inclusion of those with prior delinquent offending.
The article posits that the changes in the American economy have also served to make veterans of the AVF less marketable post-service than those who entered civilian life from the draft-era military, potentially driving differences in the rate of criminal and deviant behavior between those cohorts.
[G]reater economic opportunities provided to draft-era Veterans relative to those leaving the military in the AVF Era may have resulted in improved outcomes. Those in lower socioeconomic status groups in the pre-AVF era were able to take advantage of the benefits offered through the G.I. Bill including educational, training, and housing opportunities coinciding with the suburban ‘boom’ and strong post-World War II economy. In contrast, those in the post-AVF era face challenges with the need for increased education and skills in an economy driven by information and service [industries], rather than manufacturing.
Other research has shown that veterans of the post-9/11 era have experienced higher rates of emotional difficulties that could explain higher rights of violent offending. Specifically:
Studies of veterans from the post-9/11 era have found many combat veterans reported difficulties with family, have a higher level of irritability and anger, and increased symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Salvatore and Tanguchi note that the risk of criminal and deviant behavior by young veterans in the AVF era persist despite the fact that modern military service tends to promote earlier association with characteristics often correlated with reduced rates of antisocial behavior. For example, AVF veterans are more likely to be married.
[Studies have shown that] in contemporary times, military service members were somewhat more likely to be married relative to their same aged peers when they started service. Other [researchers] have found some may enter military service single but tend to marry younger. . . . In other words, unlike the World War II generation, those serving in the modern era may find military life encourages the turning point of marriage.
Additionally, service members in the AVF era are more likely to be parents than service members of prior eras.
Relative to their same aged peers, those in the military become first time parents sooner, with 21 to 25 being the most frequent age range for females in the military having children, relative to the mean age of 26.9 for women not serving in the military.
These factors – marriage and parenthood – are factors that modern military service tends to promote and which, in turn, tends to promote prosocial behavior and discourage crime and deviance. Nonetheless, Salvatore and Tanguchi’s article suggests that those favorable factors appear to be insufficient to overcome the negative factors that tend to drive criminal and deviant behavior among both veterans and currently serving military personnel, especially as regard to the “sexual assault . . . prevalent throughout the military, including in areas where combat is occurring.”
The implications of Salvatore and Tanguchi’s article extend beyond merely showing the need for additional research. The Department of Defense’s ultimate purpose is to promote the security of the nation. Serving as an incubator of criminal and deviant behavior is antithetical to that purpose. It is therefore imperative that the Department’s polices promote characteristics – like marriage and parenthood – that serve to suppress criminal and deviant conduct, while simultaneously attacking factors that tend to result in antisocial behaviors.
To address factors that promote antisocial behavior, the Department of Defense needs to take more effective action to tackle a problem it has long acknowledged – the widening cultural Military-Civilian Gap. For example, the Department defines the Gap as “a lack of knowledge and an inability [of the American Public] to identify with those who serve.” A more accurate characterization of the Gap would be described in the inverse – as a burden for the Department to bridge, as opposed to a failure on the Public's part. The military must take action to better ensure that its personnel have knowledge of, and an ability to identify with – and to return to – the general public and its institutions. The extent of DoD’s failure to meet that challenge was put on full display on January 6th, when disenchanted military veterans, driven by a spirit of exceptionalism rather than subordination that they likely learned while in-service, were disproportionately represented in the mob that attacked the seat of our civil government. That dynamic was more fully discussed in Scholarship Saturday: Blessed be the tie that binds – resubordinating the military to civil authority.
However, the Department’s failures as regarding the Military-Civilian Gap extend beyond merely failing to promote a healthy civil-military relations culture. The Department must also better execute policies designed to promote successful veteran inclusion into an economy that is data and service driven. There are bright spots on that horizon, such as the DoD SkillBridge program, which allows service-members to accept industry internships, and work those internships with full military pay, during the last 180 days of their service commitment.
However, even laudable efforts like DoD SkillBridge evidence a fundamental weakness of the Department’s approach to the problem. The effort to tie service members to the Nation at large is often an afterthought as opposed to a foundational and enduring principle prioritized throughout a member's period of service. It is something to be done in the waning days of what might have been a 20- or 30-year career that was focused on promoting a culture of exclusion and exceptionalism (i.e., a “specialized society”). That approach is clearly insufficient to the needs of the Nation. The result of such short-sightedness (or half-heartedness) is veteran disenfranchisement and disenchantment that may tend to make them a greater criminal threat to the Public – and, if January 6th is any indication, perhaps even the Republic itself. Such an approach invites a profound national security failure.
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