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The Civilian-Military Divide: Bridging the Gap

Stornoway Productions, (2013)

"The Army is at war and America is at Walmart." Over the past decade America's long war in both Iraq and Afghanistan has produced a gap of misunderstanding between those who serve in the military and the larger public.

It's not that Americans don't like the military - they love it! They just don't have a clue who's in it, what one does, what it costs them, or costs those that join it. Military service has become something other people do. Members of the military, in turn perceive themselves as having little in common with the rest of the country. They are “different” from the civilian population and consider themselves “better”. The result is an increasing mutual incomprehension in civil military affairs that has been labeled a perfect storm.

The Civilian-Military Divide: Bridging the Gap, the third program in a series on officer training at universities in Canada, the UK and the USA, explores the clash of cultures that lies behind this important civil military crisis. Opening in 1968 with protests over the Vietnam War and the ejection of the ROTC program from Columbia University the film moves to contemporary stories of those who live on either side of the gap as well as those caught in the middle.

The solutions these stories offer inform us of the moral, strategic and personal reasons we are all part of the civil military debate and why our national security and success as a nation will be threatened unless we work to close the gap in the civil military divide.


The civilian military gap in American society has taken on an edge recently, driven by the lack of sacrifice of either blood or treasure demanded of the rest of us. "Service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do", said former defence secretary Robert Gates.

This thought was rephrased by Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his address to the 2011 Graduating Class of the United States Military Academy at West Point:

“Even those that do not support the Wars, support the troops. But I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.”


In 1968, riots at Columbia University removed the ROTC program from campus and became a defining moment in the cultural divide between the military and civilians. While the general opposition to the Vietnam War was a major factor in the withdrawal of ROTC at Columbia and other institutions there were also faculty demands that the ROTC conform to normal academic standards. A faculty committee at the time recommended that the arrangements with the Department of Defense be renegotiated to make ROTC consistent with those standards.

The Department of Defence could not accept these requirements in 1969-70 but today they govern the ROTC's relationship with universities.

These changes along with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell legislation permitting the service of open homosexuals have cleared the way for the return of ROTC to Columbia and other institutions where it has recently been revived. This gives us the opportunity to review the role the ROTC can play as a catalyst in bridging the civil military gap.


04/16/14  Memorial Day Weekend Premiere – “The Civilian-Military Divide: Bridging the Gap”

Breakout Educational Network is proud to announce a special Memorial Day broadcast of our film, ”The Civilian-Military Divide: Bridging the Gap”. The film premieres Memorial Day Weekend on U.S. nation-wide...(Read more)

07/05/13  BTG Review: Rebecca L. Schiff & Mackubin Thomas Owens, U.S. Naval War College

“Bridging the Gap is an excellent film for both civilian and military audiences. It provides critical insight into our national history and culture leading up to the current...(Read more)

06/17/13  Review of Bridging The Gap: Peter D. Feaver Professor of Political Science and Public Policy

“This is a compelling look at a timely challenge… and a valuable teaching tool that should spark the conversations about military service our country needs after a decade-plus...(Read more)

06/17/13  Endorsement for BTG: Richard H. Kohn

“I’ve had a chance to view “Bridging the Gap” and it’s excellent; it ought to be seen by every American.” - Richard H. Kohn Professor Emeritus of History...(Read more)


Breakout Educational Network is a registered charitable educational organization with two key mandates: 1) To conduct independent research and produce materials that will educate citizens on matters of public policy, and 2) to develop community, television, media and educational outreach projects that disseminates and publicizes its work.

The 7 year project aims to encourage a fuller more complete definition of citizenship by: 1) Assisting communities to re-connect with their Garrisons of Army, Navy and Air Force Reservists interspersed through neighbourhoods and communities coast to coast, and 2) Promoting the emergence of Garrison Community Councils nationwide.



Each year hundreds of students elect to pass through the University Officer Training Corps to receive military training. In For Queen & Country, a Canadian doctor sets out to discover what makes the UOTC the best club on campus! To learn more, click here.


No Country for Young Men revisits the memories of Canada's lost tradition of university military training when citizenship, leadership and service were part of a university education. For a full description of this film, click here.