The Officer-Enlisted Distinction and Patterns of Organizational Reaction to Social Deviance in the U.S. Military

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Deviance management (the identification and sanctioning of norm breakers) practiced in the military enhances the legitimacy of social-control agents, in part, by keeping intact the social distinctions between leaders and followers. Three “turning points” in organizational reaction to social deviance since World War II (shifts in the severity of sanctions, court expulsions, and the rate at which “bad paper” discharges were given) are examined in light of the war-peace cycle, the changing social qualifications of the forces, and contingencies commonly thought to characterize the Vietnam War. Official responses to deviance became more intense during periods when the social superiority of those in charge was most problematic Moreover, after experiencing hegemony with regard to educational credentials which set them apart from the troops, the rate of discretionary sanctioning used by the officer corps expanded significantly.

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The transformation of the armed forces from a segregated to an integrated institution was an impressive achievement in directed social change. Yet in the present period the relationship between white and black servicemen is characterized by polarization with attendant interracial conflict. Data are presented which show an overconcentration of blacks in the combat arms as well as substantial cross-service variation in the distribution of black personnel. At the same time, service life continues to attract and retain a greater proportion of eligible blacks than whites. The special situation of black servicemen overseas is discussed along with an appraisal of the military establishment's current efforts to cope with its racial difficulties. Finally, despite the fact that racial strife has hampered the mission effectiveness of the armed forces, it may be that the military will most likely set the pace towards the alleviation of America's perennial dilemma—race.