Newswise — Over the course of their military service, combat soldiers become less right wing, adopt more dovish political views and are more open to comprise on security issues " according to research completed in the School for Political Science at the University of Haifa by IDF Reserve Colonel Dr. Zvika Barkai who served as Commander of the Haifa region and head of the Operations Branch of the Home Front Command. Additional parameters that effect change in political views include the specific unit served in, gender and service as an officer. "In the opposite of what would be expected, military service does not cause adopting militaristic views," said Dr. Barkai.
The research, which was conducted over three and a half years under the direction of Prof. Avraham Brichta, Dr. Daphna Canetti-Nisim and Dr. Ami Pedahzur, surveyed 490 male and female soldiers of every rank and in every branch of the IDF. Soldiers were asked to respond to the same series of questions at three different times, before induction, six months into their service and immediately following their release. The goal of the research was to evaluate whether the army is in actuality the politically neutral institution that it purports to be and whether it has any effect on soldiers' political views. "It's a problem when the public is convinced that soldiers are coerced into adapting specific political views, sometimes against their will, and to act accordingly. Such a public belief could limit the ability of the government to use the army for nationalist missions," remarked Dr. Barkai.
The research did indeed find that soldiers' political views change over the course of their service, and that the type of service, length of service, rank, and gender influence the change. The initial interviews found that a large percentage of the soldiers began their service with clear right wing views. Six months into their military service they were more right wing, but after completing their service they took on more dovish views and were more willing to compromise on security issues. In addition, these soldiers adopted more conciliatory views towards minorities in general, and more specifically towards the Arab minority, and experienced a greater change in their views about human rights than soldiers who began their service with less extreme views. Over all, when political views did change during military service, they reverted back to the original views after release, with the exception of combat soldiers who maintained more dovish views following their release.
Within the different types of army units, soldiers who served in field units underwent the greatest change in their political views. The research reveals that no only combat soldiers in these units undergo a change; all of the soldiers in field units undergo a change in their political views. Those with hawkish views adopted more moderate views and a raised consciousness for minority rights.
Those who served as officers also underwent a substantial change in their political views. Officers adopted much less right wing and more pragmatic views than enlisted soldiers. In addition, they underwent a greater change in espousing strongly democratic values, adherence to the rule of law and minority rights.
Women, on the other hand, underwent a change in political views " and became more right wing and hawkish. At the same time, they increased their support for regulation of non-conventional weapons more than male soldiers did. Women soldiers experienced a greater change in their support of democratic values while men underwent a greater change in the attitude towards human rights and minority relations. "It is important to note that although men underwent a greater change, their values were almost identical to women's in terms of concern for human rights at the end of their service, as they began with more extreme views," explains Dr. Barkai.
While army service did not affect the level of religious observance among the soldiers, it did improve understandings between religious and non-religious soldiers and increase willingness to compromise on religious issues.
According to Dr. Barkai, the research findings demonstrate that military service does influence political views; therefore civilian authorities need to oversee the values and messages that the army espouses to ascertain that the military works to assimilate only universal, accepted values. Only then will the military be an effective agent for the integration and assimilation of positive values and an agent for bridging and narrowing existing conflicts.
The study results lead the researcher to recommend that minorities and marginalized populations be encouraged to serve in the military. He recommends a large-scale draft of Arabs, increased participation of Druze and Bedouins, ultra-orthodox Jews and religious women and designing special programs for marginalized youth (who are often excused from military service). "Even taking into account that expanding the draft to include the abovementioned groups may have a marginal or even negative effect on the country's security, the latent national gains should be weighed against the security issues " not necessarily by the military," summarized Dr. Barkai.