Thursday, January 26, 2012

Guest Post: Myke Cole on "Military Culture"

 When people talk about "military culture," it evokes a lot of tired stereotypes. It's rigid, it's conservative, it's macho. I'll never forget when I first became enamored with the military as a kid. My parents laughed off the idea of my ever joining. I was too creative, too free-thinking, too aesthetic. I had a problem with authority. I was too smart. I asked too many questions. I'd never last.

What could I do? I was a kid. They were grownups. I believed them.

And that's a shame. Because they didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

The US military is perhaps one of the most misunderstood institutions in the world. This is owed partially to a relentless portrayal of it in Hollywood and the gaming industry (who have a storyteller's interest in polarity and stereotype) and partially to the growing divide between the civilian and military populations in this country, now arguably worse than it has ever been in our history. I did a guest post on this topic at the Qwillery. You can see it here -

Here's the truth. The military is (and arguably always has been) a *gigantic* organization. It draws liberally from all sections of society. Rich and poor of all races and creeds join up for reasons ranging from ideology to hope-for-advancement to sheer love of the work. The military isn't, and never has been a monoculture. It has proclivities and does draw more heavily from certain segments of society, but that doesn't change my overwhelming experience, which is this: I have met every different type of person in the military. There are artists and free-thinkers. There are anti-authoritarians and anarchists. There are mavericks and dreamers. Many countries have military castes that are kept socially distinct from the rest of society. In America, we have citizen-soldiers, who take off their uniforms at the end of the working day and integrate back into their civilian communities. We have reserve forces (like the one I serve in) that only soldier part-time. When they're off work, they're right alongside everyone else in the malls and parks and churches, recognizable only by accidental use of jargon or a distinct haircut.

It is our military's greatest strength. It is the thing that keeps the military from ever dictating policy (instead, it is an instrument of it). We are CITIZENS as much as warriors, and we are deeply connected to the fabric of the country around us.

When people ask me "what is the military's culture?" I respond "what's your culture?" We are you, and you are us.

And that's why I never look for, or seek to write "military" characters in science-fiction and fantasy. I honestly don't believe they exist. There are only characters, each reacting to and being shaped by their military experiences in their own unique way. PEOPLE remain the heart of great stories, and the military is a broad section of all the people in the society it serves.

Which is one of the biggest reasons I love it so very much.

Myke Cole
SHADOW OPS #1: CONTROL POINT coming from Ace (Penguin) in February, 2012!