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June 29, 2010


Excellent catch, Eric! Thanks for finding and posting this.

Agreed all around. Our standing professional military erodes the concept of the citizen-soldier and balloons the national budget out of all proportion to the rest of the world.

We are a feverish, timocratic republic.

They need to reclaim ownership of their army.

we will not.

what's plan B?

we will not.

Exactly. See remarks by SCOTUS nominee Kagan today as just one example: "I respect and indeed I revere the military."

It is a problem for a couple reasons. The military is more religious than general society, more conservative, and much more likely to have a parent who served. As we get further from conscription, we start to have volunteer children of volunteers. In some ways it is a warrior class that is being raised.

Not to mention that according to recent reports, 75% of young people don't qualify to serve, and that goes up to 90% is some areas like Philadelphia.

When recruiting is made difficult in certain areas due to policy differences, and ROTC is discouraged on certain campuses, this process of a military that is separate from society is exacerbated.

We could end up with a military that only wants to listen to certain national leaders.

To put it in perspective, most of my military colleagues think I am a progressive.

To put it in perspective, most of my military colleagues think I am a progressive.

Yikes! ;)

Kagan's proclaimed "reverence" for the military is a problem, too. It's gotten to the point that society is too busy "honoring" the "service" of people in the armed forces, or thanking them for "protecting us," to remember that the military is just a tool to be used by our political leaders, rather than a higher calling.

Yikes! ;)

No kidding. There is very little "progressive" influence that I have ever encountered.

Which is funny, because the active duty live in a very socialist society. Free medical care. You are paid more if you have dependents. Houses on base are provided in part based on size of family. Lower ranks pay less for various base activities. Officers pay a "Sir" tax at the commissary. It is very difficult to "fire" someone, very similar to the dreaded "tenure" or union.

And yet the active forces are among the most conservative people you will meet.

For most of our history we had a professional armed forces (Civil War excepted), but our politicians were a lot smarter than the current crop of sychophants. They starved it for funds and kept it small....on purpose it would seem.

Even in the face of the "existential threat" posed by Mexico and the scattered tribes of the Native Americans, we kept the armed forces small and in penury.

Times sure have changed.

what's plan B?

Pinochet with a happy face. A less lugubrious Franco.

We're a cheerful people.

To put it in perspective, most of my military colleagues think I am a progressive.

I don't mean to rattle your cage, but so do I.

I like the Swiss model. Small permanent professional officer cadre, *very* broad based citizen militia from the age of 18 until you're in your 40's.

And yet the active forces are among the most conservative people you will meet.

It might help if we got Rush off of the damned Armed Forces Radio.

The man breeds sedition.

I don't mean to rattle your cage, but so do I.

Well, I think I am too, it is just few non-military people agree. Just a peculiar brand of progressive, I guess.

It might help if we got Rush off of the damned Armed Forces Radio.

The man breeds sedition.

I remember one of the first times I heard his name I was on a range in Germany in 1992 or so and some lieutenant was talking about how we needed to get him on AFN. I think I flippantly called him "the most dangerous man in America" based on a comment from my brother (I think cribbed from Time).

He was on a year or so later.

I think Armed Forces Network is pretty much passe today: the internet brings the world to soldiers. I think AFN is actually outsourced to contractors now (as far as I could tell when I was in Baghdad, the broadcasts were by civilians, rather than soldiers). I never heard Rush while there.

He was probably on, but nobody was listening.

We had CNN World rather than Fox news in the messhall, too.

I don't think the outside influences are the problem: I think it is the nature of the people willing to serve, or perhaps the nature of the people unwilling to serve. If we had a broader group of volunteers, it would not be a problem. But we go to war with the volunteers we have, not the volunteers we wished we had.

After Vietnam, the United States abandoned its citizen army tradition, oblivious to the consequences.

For how much of its history has the US actually had a "citizen army tradition"? Foreigner here, but my impression is that for most of the 19th century it was a small professional army (with the exception of the Civil War) right up to the First World War. So, really, we're talking about three periods of a citizen army: the Civil War; WW1; and WW2 up to the 1970s. If anything, it's a professional army tradition, to almost the same extent as Britain's.

jrudkis already hinted at it, another major problem is that the offcier corps gets progressively (no pun intended) infected by RW versions of Kristianity(TM), the Air Force Academy and General Boykin being just tips of the iceberg. And as countless examples 'from the front' show, those officers (ab)use their authority to proselytize their subordinates* and to turn the foreign wars into literal crusades.

*tempted to write 'inferiors' since that branch of Kristianity(TM) worships steep hierarchies and breathes comtempt for non-members of the cult.

For how much of its history has the US actually had a "citizen army tradition"?

People, people, you're not using your ObWi periodical search function. Some of this history was discussed here on this very site way back in Jan 2009.

I'm going to repost excerpts from an excellent book that I quoted from in that post.

Lt. Col. John Sayen (US Marine Corps, ret.) provides a summary of the overall picture:

Our military has broken its constitutional controls. Our Founding Fathers wanted no more than a very limited size and role for a federal military. They feared standing armies not only because they might be used against the American public, i.e. to establish military rule, but also for their potential to involve us in costly foreign wars that would drain our treasury, erode our freedoms and involve us in the “entangling alliances” that George Washington warned of in his farewell address. At that time our armies were composed mainly of state militias that the president needed the cooperation of Congress and the state governors in order to use. Today, we have one large all-volunteer federal Army, which for all practical purposes responds only to the president and the executive branch. It has engaged in numerous foreign wars, involved us in many entangling alliances, drained our treasury and eroded our liberties just as our Founding Fathers foresaw. It has enabled the president to take the nation to war on little more than his own authority. The recent repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 allows him to unilaterally use the military not only against foreigners, but against the American people as well.

Congress...established the relationship between the federal government and the state militias with two militia acts passed in 1792. The first gave the president the authority to call out the militia in response to foreign invasion or internal disorder. The second ordered that the militia consist of all able-bodied male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. Each member would arm and equip himself at his own expense and report for training twice a year. The state legislatures would prescribe the militia’s tactical organization (companies, battalions, regiments, etc.). As time went on, however, and the nation grew more secure, militia service effectively became voluntary. Militia units began to resemble social clubs more than military organizations, but even as late as 1898 the militia could field five times more troops than the U.S. Army.

If the president wanted to take the United States to war, he would need a national army that, unlike the militia, could fight anywhere, not just within its home states. Unless the war was to be of extremely limited scope and duration, the regular U.S. Army would be too small. To enlarge it, the president would have to go to Congress not only to obtain a declaration of war, but also the authority and funding needed to call for militia volunteers. Assuming that Congress was forthcoming, the president would then issue a call for volunteers, ordering each state governor to raise a fixed quota of men from their respective militias. These orders were difficult to enforce and during the war of 1812 and the Civil War several governors refused them. However, those that complied would call on the individual companies and regiments of their respective militias to volunteer for federal service. The members of those units would then vote on whether their units would become “U.S. Volunteers.” Individual members of units that volunteered could still excuse themselves from service for health or family reasons.

Given that most militia units were below their full strength in peacetime, and that a portion of their existing members would be unwilling or unable to serve, they would need a lot of new recruits if they were to go to war. They would also need time for training and “shaking down.” Secretary of War John C. Calhoun in 1818 noted that the United States had no significant continental enemies and was essentially an insular power. Thus, the Navy could ensure that an invader could not land in America before the U.S. Volunteers had time to prepare. The system certainly made it harder to go to war.


While it is easy for children of the World War II/Cold War era who have grown accustomed to an enormous, permanent standing Army to assume that this was always the state of affairs, a closer look at the preceding decades reveals a different story. At the time of this nation's founding, there was only a nominal national force - with most arms residing with state-based militias. While this force was gradually augmented over time, even "as late as 1898 the Army was still authorized only 27,000 men." It is that point in time that marks the dramatic break from past traditions.

The state of military affairs prior to the turn of the 20th century reflected the prevailing political will: there was an overriding concern that a large standing Army could usurp representative government, exert outsized influence over that government and/or lead it into unnecessary adventurism through the seductive lure of martial power. Rather than constructing a force that could pose a threat to the republic, or facilitate far-flung folly, US leaders by and large relegated the military to one overriding purpose: defense of the nation's homeland. [...]

The structure of America's military apparatus made it difficult to go to war on a whim, or for anything less than a cause deemed vital by enough actors across a broad swath of geography, class and ideology. The warriors themselves had, in essence, veto power. The results that stemmed from this were unsurprising: "In the first 100 years of its existence the United States fought only two significant foreign wars."

Under our current system, on the other hand, the military lacks the same level of autonomy or prerogative when it comes to making decisions. Our modern day volunteer force receives orders, not ballots, when there is a call to arms. Further, whereas multiple actors needed convincing prior to fielding an army in the past (from Congress, to sate governors, to militiamen themselves), increasingly, in modern times, there is only the President.

Back to the Sayen:

...[T]he National Defense Act of 1916, passed in anticipation of America’s entry into World War I. In effect...transformed all militia units from individual state forces into a federal reserve force. The title of “National Guard” became mandatory for all militia units and, within the War Department the Division of Militia Affairs became the National Guard Bureau. Instead of the state titles that many had borne since the colonial era the former militia units received numbers in sequence with regular Army units. In addition, the act created a U.S. Army Reserve of trained individuals not organized into units and established a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in the colleges and universities.

...The political cost had been high. America now had the large professional standing army (with no counterbalancing militia) that our Founding Fathers warned us against. The president now controlled all of the nation’s armed forces in peacetime as well as in war. He would no longer have to beg either Congress or the state governors for troops.

Within a few years he would not have to ask Congress for a declaration of war, either. Yes, Congress still holds the purse strings but, as other chapters of this book will show, it has never gripped them very tightly...[T]he new U.S. Army was effectively accountable only to the executive branch of government.

The world got smaller, training more time intensive, and our interests more abundant. I don't think there is much of an alternative to having a standing professional army. I suppose we could break up the Army into full time Guard units so that they would be ready if nationalized, but require a declaration of war to nationalize them.

I do think the standing army currently is on the same scale relative to population as it has been historically. We are at about 1/3 of 1 percent of the population (assuming you count the Navy, Air Force, and Marines as being "military," which is dubious...might as well count the post office if you are going to count Marines).

Unless you include the police (federal, state, and local) as part of the standing army. Which makes sense in that I think federal police forces can appropriate the services of state and local forces fairly easily. With the growth of the internal gestapo, I could see a risk of a military-criminal justice-industrial complex coup. Or maybe that already happened.

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