What Is a Civilian?

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A civilian is someone who has not been enlisted into the military or any other armed force. This definition also applies to a person who is not a member of any political party or organization that advocates war. A civilian is also a person who does not work in any profession that involves military training and service, such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, and police officers. The term civilian can be used in the context of civil-military relations to describe individuals who serve at the policymaking level, most notably members of the National Security Council and the Office of the President with their relevant committees.

The distinction between combatants and civilians can be less straightforward during an internal armed conflict. Nevertheless, international humanitarian law establishes that civilians must be protected from the dangers of military operations “unless and until they have taken a direct part in hostilities” (Additional Protocol II).

This protection does not exclude the presence within the civilian population of persons who are not combatants; however, these individuals should be accorded enhanced protection in order to ensure their safety and allow them to return to peaceful life as soon as possible (API Art. 50).

Although it may not always be easy, it is important for a military veteran to make a smooth transition into civilian life. This includes adjusting to relationships with friends and family who remained on the home front, as well as dealing with financial changes that are often associated with civilian living. While it is necessary to find a new routine, veterans should not forget that they have unique skills and knowledge that can help them adapt to the civilian world.

In the workplace, it is important for a military veteran who has recently transitioned into civilian life to avoid using military forms of address, such as sir and ma’am, Mr. and Mrs., or by rank. These types of terms are considered inappropriate in the civilian sector and can make others uncomfortable. This is especially true in jobs with large numbers of civilians who are accustomed to addressing their coworkers with first names.

Despite the fact that most people consider the military to be an all-civilian endeavor, it is not uncommon for individuals who serve at the highest levels of the Pentagon to question or disagree with civilian policy guidance that they deem unwise in their professional judgment. The example of James Mattis, President Trump’s first Secretary of Defense and a retired four-star Marine Corps general, is illustrative of this phenomenon. However, it is difficult to argue with the experience and vision that a senior military officer has acquired over time through countless meeting rooms and practice fields. It would be unreasonable to expect such an individual to revert to a neophyte politician just months after retiring from the military.