What Is a Civilian?

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A civilian is someone who is not a member of the armed forces. Civilians typically work for governments or private businesses. They have jobs that range from office workers to firefighters. Civilians also play a role in military affairs by providing support and advice to military leaders.

The term was first used in the 19th century and came from the Latin word civilis, which means people who live according to civilian law. The meaning of the word has changed over time as society has evolved. Today, it refers to someone who is not involved in the armed forces.

One of the biggest differences between military life and civilian is that there are more rules in the civilian world. In the military, many things are regulated such as schedules, tone of voice and responses to commands. This can cause frustration when transitioning into civilian life.

Another big difference is that civilians pay hourly or salary and not a monthly paycheck. This can make budgeting and planning a challenge. Lastly, civilians have to pay for their own health insurance which can be expensive. This is in contrast to the military where they have access to free or reduced cost health care.

In the military, soldiers are paid a salary and receive health care. Once civilians get their first job they may be surprised to learn that their pay is different than what they were used to in the military. This can be frustrating because they might not understand what it takes to pay the bills and meet other expenses.

For many veterans, a big change when returning to civilian life is their relationships. They have to re-establish bonds with friends and family that were a long distance away while they were deployed. They must also figure out how to fit back into the lives of those that stayed home. This can be a difficult process especially when it comes to adjusting to long distance relationships.

The distinction between combatant and civilian in international humanitarian law is a complex issue. In a landmark case, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that a person who engages in direct participation in hostilities loses civilian status but does not become a combatant or entitled to prisoner-of-war status (see The Image Before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction Between Combatant and Civilian, Cornell University Press, 2011).

In policymaking terms, “civilian” in civil-military relations connotes expertise that complements and guides that provided by professional military advice. This is the core of the principle that civilian control must supersede military authority in a democracy. It may not constitute a single profession like military officership, but it is real and relevant to the legitimate policymaking process of the defense enterprise.