Beyond being the best: Educating for narrative repair in transition from British Army to ‘Civvy Street’

This is an extract from Graham Cable’s latest post on his blog WriteForYour.Life, which gives an executive summary of Graham’s doctoral thesis.

I produced the following ‘executive summary’ of the above titled thesis in preparation for my viva later this month (September). In contrast to the abstract, I hope it provides an alternative and more accessible summary of my work, if not to help me as much as anyone else understand its aim in overview form (particularly as I prepare for viva). It ought to stand as a mini paper highlighting salient aspects of the much longer write-up of the study provided in the thesis, leading to an emphasis on its recommendations.

The thesis opens by emphasising military work entails not just a professional commitment, but also a personal dedication beyond the demands of most, if not all other professions. Military personnel bear arms and, in extremis, use them to exert lethal force. By its nature, military action implies an ability to endure physical and psychological hardship, and involves loss. Ultimately, this includes the loss of military members’ lives, as well as those of adversaries and non-combatants. In most circumstances, no one takes this lightly, and it comes at a cost.

This responsibility implies a training and organisational regime that is commensurately different from most, if not all other professions. Consequently, military work and life are rarely routine, and often require personnel to operate in isolation from the society they serve. Such environments have to be secure and almost entirely self-sustaining (which frequently includes families in that ‘total’ institutional context, and who thus vicariously share the intrinsic challenges). This results in a ‘civil-military gap’, and the totalising and inherently institutional nature of this existence can mean that many members come to define themselves and their identities in military terms. Many also come to rely on the self-sustaining context for almost total practical support. This is not surprising: nations expect their militaries to undertake extreme work, and this requires an extreme form of enculturation and resilience as a result. Accordingly, military organisations go to great lengths to ensure this is the case, as do the people that serve in them. This includes families that coexist within, support and are supported by those military institutions.

Click here to read more of this post