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Dissention in the Ranks—Dissent Within U.S. Civil-Military Relations During the Truman Administration: A Historical Approach Open Access

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Dissent has always existed in American civil-military relations since General George Washington and his staff dissented to the Continental Congress over funding the Continental Army. More recently, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for more understanding of dissent, but how dissent occurs is little understood in civil-military contexts. Organizational theorists are convinced dissent is ultimately healthy to all organizations, even civil-military ones. This study asked how dissent occurs within the civil-military relationship in positive, historical dissent events. A historiographical approach examined the chronology of dissent over desegregation of the U.S. Army before, during, and after President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, declaring “equality of treatment and equal opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin” (13 Fed. Reg. 4313, July 28, 1948). The U.S. Army continued to dissent 2 years after the order came out. Conflict theory holds conflict as influential in dissent (Coser, 1957). Hierarchy and power play important roles in dissent (Kassing, 1997, 1998, 2012, 2013). Lamb’s (2013) historical discourse analysis offered a high-level dissent analysis in civil-military relations from 1945 to 1950. The study found that dissent occurred because of conflict, yet conflict also resulted from dissent. Previous dissent research has concerned itself with dissent up the hierarchy, but this research discovered that upward, lateral, and outward dissent occurred simultaneously. Power patterns emerged as groups in dissent displayed, battled for, and consolidated power before a weakened, final engagement marked the terminus of open dissent. Dissent reverberated outward from political and military groups in conflict, embroiling the social group. This study contributes to dissent theory, demonstrating the influence of hierarchies and power and supporting theoretical research that dissent happens over time. Previous dissent research focused on why dissent happens. This study provided additional insight into how dissent happens, advancing civil-military theory and concluding that civil-military relations are composed of not just civilian and military authority, but a tripartite genus of political, military, and social groups. The research supports dissent as healthy to U.S. civil-military relations.

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