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Comparing Irans Military and Culture to the U.S. Military and Culture Essay

Related Topics: Culture War Iran Military Service

Pages:8 (2313 words)




Document Type:Essay



Military is an extension of culture, politics and history. As Eric Ouellet (n.d.) points out, understanding a nation’s military requires that one focus “on the organized violence of armed groups; whether this violence is actual, potential, or symbolic” (p. 30). When it comes to the U.S. and Iran, no two countries could be more different. The U.S. is a liberal, Western democracy with the world’s biggest all-volunteer military. Iran is a Middle Eastern nation that operates under a theocracy and mandates military service for its men. In the U.S., the military is something separate and distinct from civilian life—soldiers are respected and honored for their courage and sacrifice and regarded as heroes for defending the nation; but in Iran, military service is mandatory and there is no clear line between civilian life and the military life as every male civilian has to serve—and this difference between the two military cultures impacts the way they view themselves and their world.

The Central Role of Organized Violence

The central role of organized violence in the militaries of Iran and U.S. is somewhat similar. As Chambers (2003) observes, the central role of organized violence armed forces is to wage war. However, the waging of war is dependent upon international factors, and this is where Iran and the U.S. differ significantly in their cultural perspectives. Iran is largely and isolated country in the wider international community as a result of economic sanctions leveled by the U.S. (Jacobson, 2008). The U.S. on the other hand is engaged often in mission creep with military bases in dozens upon dozens of countries all over the world, and is seen as both aggressor and as protector, depending upon the perspectives of the countries either involved in conflict with the U.S. or looking to receive military support from the U.S. (Adams & Murray, 2014).

As Ulrich vom Hagen (n.d.) shows in “The Spiritual Armament of the German Officer Corps,” however, there is a spiritual component to the role of organized violence and in Iran that spiritual component is Islam, which guides the theocratic-democratic state and informs the nation of its principles and values. In the U.S. the spiritual component is chiefly Christian, but there is a respect for religious liberty in the U.S. that is not promoted in Iran, which is another way that the systems of organized violence differ. Considering too that military service in Iran is compulsory while it is volunteer-based in the U.S. shows that there is also a civic component to how violence is organized in both militaries: and according to the Tehran Bureau (2015) of The Guardian, “in Iran, soldiers don’t get the same respect as they do in America”—which suggests that the system of organized violence in Iran is predicated upon the hierarchical society’s strong social beliefs about duty to the state rather than to the ideals of courage, freedom and heroism cultivated in the U.S.

The Relationship between the Military and Society

The relationship between military and society is much different in Iran than it is in the U.S. In Iran, the military largely seen as a service that few want to engage in but that they must because of the law. According to the Tehran Bureau (2015), one Iranian soldier stated that in the military, “‘We do nothing…It’s a waste of time. If it were useful I wouldn’t mind, but it’s total bullsh*t.’ When pressed all he would say is that he’s doing research on Viber, an Israeli instant messaging app popular among Iranians. ‘All the files say ‘Top Secret’. I could go to jail if I showed anyone, but it’s all bullsh*t, there’s nothing in them’” (Tehran Bureau, 2015). The disdain for military service is palpable among many in Iran—but it is by no means the only feeling. Many in Iran as view the military as necessary, especially in these times, when war between Iran and Saudi Arabia or war between Iran and Israel or between Iran and the U.S. is an ever-present threat. Many in Iran’s military hierarchy have strong opinions regarding the West and its allies in the Middle East and they have made repeated threats to counter any hostile action taken towards Iran with an equally aggressive response (Reuters, 2019).

In the U.S., there is more of a patriotic…

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…to serve. Thus, the structure is only partially-traditional: bureaucracy has seeped in and the operation of the military in the U.S. today is focused more on policing the world than defending America’s borders. It has to incentivize volunteers with free college to get them to join as well.

How These Militaries Institutionalize Their Personnel and Provide for Transition Back to Civilian Life

Personnel are institutionalized by the training they receive in Basic Training in both countries. However, it is much less organized and rigid in Iran than in the U.S. In the U.S. every soldier is issued a uniform—not so in Iran. Iranians must secure their own uniforms. The soldiers in both nations are trained in skills and knowledge and given jobs in the military and they are given food and shelter and expected to serve with honor. When they are transitioned back to civilian life in Iran it is not a big deal or a big change because there is no great divide between the two (Tehran Bureau, 2015). The line between society (civilian life) and the military is blurred by the compulsory nature of service. In the U.S., transition is much more difficult, particularly for soldiers affected by trauma as a result of active service—and many end up becoming addicted to drugs in attempts to self-medicate (Snow & Wynn, 2018). There is a need in the U.S. for more assistance in transitioning soldiers from the rigid military culture to the much looser civilian culture.


The militaries of Iran and the U.S. differ significantly because of the cultures of the two nations and how they impact the perspectives of the militaries. They are similar in the sense that their organizing system of violence is based on the need to wage war and to defend their countries, but they differ in terms of capabilities and implementation. The U.S. honors its military service men and women because service is not mandatory and thus those who serve are more respected. In Iran, men must serve and so the idea of love and honor towards the military is not as keen. However, in Iran it is easier for military men…

Sample Source(s) Used


Adams, G., & Murray, S. (Eds.). (2014). Mission creep: the militarization of US foreign policy?. Georgetown University Press.

Butler, S. (2003). War is a Racket. LA: Feral House.

Chambers, J. (2003). To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America. New York: The Free Press.

Forsling, C. (2017). The military has a toxic leadership problem. Retrieved from

Jacobson, M. (2008). Sanctions against Iran: A promising struggle. Washington Quarterly, 31(3), 69-88.

Ouellet, E. (n.d.). New directions in military sociology.

Reuters. (2019). Senior Iranian military adviser threatens broad response to any U.S. move. Retrieved from

Snow, R., & Wynn, S. T. (2018). Managing Opioid Use Disorder and Co-Occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Veterans. Journal of psychosocial nursing and mental health services, 56(6), 36-42.

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