The Sociopolitical Problem of the All-volunteer Military – Part 2

The History of U.S. Civil-Military Relations

“Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few,” – James Madison, April 20, 1795

For most of United States history, the Administrations in Washington D.C. “gauged the size and capabilities of America’s armed services according to the security tasks immediately at hand.”[1] Andrew Bacevich explained in The New American Militarism that throughout the nation’s history the status quo was to maintain a military large enough to meet wartime demands, but that during peacetime the U.S. would sustain a small professional military. “For example, the million-man Union Army of 1865 shrank within a year to a mere fifty-seven thousand and within another five years was reduced to fewer than thirty thousand.”[2] Having defeated the professional Army of England to secure Independence, the nation’s Founders understood the perils of maintaining a large standing professional army. Furthermore, the Founders understood the importance of civilian control of military leadership.

The U.S. Constitution is clear in Article II, Section 2 that the President of the United States was to act as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.[3] Furthermore, the Congress would maintain the authority in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution the right to declare war and raise a military.[4] It’s clear that the framers of the Constitution were wary of putting the power of waging war in one branch of the government, instead relying on a system of checks and balances to ensure that military force was used only in the defense of the United States of America. However, the implementation of the AVF in 1973 signaled “the shift from a military establishment based on the mobilization of civilians in time of war to a ‘force in being’ employing trained personnel for immediate military tasks, especially that of deterrence.”[5] Not only did the AVF create a large standing military, which destroyed two hundred years of precedence set by the Founders, but it also marked a shift in attitudes in the government that relied more heavily on the executive power of Commander-in-Chief to utilize that professional force as needed, circumventing Congressional power to wage war.

The Father of the Constitution James Madison warned the Constitutional Convention in June of 1787 about “the dangers of a permanent army,” when he said, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”[6] Madison further argued that, “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”[7] Madison, an advocate for a strong central government and author of the Federalist papers, wasn’t alone among the Founders in his “negative feelings” about a standing army.[8] Christopher Hamner, a Professor of History at George Mason University, wrote that there was a “near-universal” negative feeling by the founding generation toward a standing army that was seen in 18th century America as a nursery “of vice,” “dangerous,” and “the grand engine of despotism.”[9] Samuel Adams wrote in 1776 that professional armies were a danger to liberty and the people because “soldiers wee likely to consider themselves separate from the populace, to become more attached to their officers than their government, and to be conditioned to obey commands unthinkingly.”[10] Disregarding the last assertion, statistically the current military is the most educated in the nation’s history; Adam’s description is eerily reminiscent of the current military and its separation from the American population.

American Revolutionaries had developed their negative attitude through decades of perceived British oppression and the historical understanding of past civilizations with large standing armies i.e. the Romans. “Throughout history, the treat of military coup – governments deposed from within by the very forces raised to protect them – has been a frequent concern.”[11] Though there is little historical evidence of a military coup d’état within the U.S. government, there is ample evidence in other civilizations that at a time were largely considered the most powerful nation such as the United States is today. In 1783, there was an attempt or proposed attempt by a group of Continental Army officers who were unhappy with the central government’s inability to pay soldiers to depose of Congress and seize control, although most historians believe it was never “a realistic possibility.”[12] Since the nation’s founding, there has been throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries examples of once great nations succumbing to military coups, so the Founders’ hesitation or disdain toward standing armies is completely justified. So, in a nation that prides itself on adhering to the wisdom set forth by the country’s Founding Fathers how does it justify its current military? At what point did the government begin to ignore the country’s adherence to this protocol and start to use the military in situations other than for the defense of the nation?

Andrew Bacevich argues that the turning point in historical use of force by the United States for anything other than defense began in earnest with Woodrow Wilson’s Administration and U.S. involvement in World War I. “For Wilson, reflecting a long-standing but then still vigorous American tradition, the resort to arms could for the United States never be more than an expedient, a temporary measure reluctantly employed, not a permanent expression of the nation’s character.”[13] Though Wilson was determined for the United States to stay neutral and promised to do so when he ran for president, a series of events to include the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania, which killed 128 Americans, and the continued use of submarines by the Germany Navy against American ships led Wilson to asked Congress on April 2, 1917 to declare war on Germany.[14] Wilson argued before Congress that “the world must be made safe for democracy,” and thus the beginning of the U.S. use of military force in an effort to bring about democracy to the rest of the world.[15] On April 4 the Senate approved the use of force and on April 6 the House concurred; the United States later declared war on German ally Austria-Hungry on Dec. 7, 1917.[16] Though Congress approved Wilson’s request to go to war, many in the United States were still adamantly opposed to getting involved in European problems.

“Senator Robert M. La Follette, a stalwart progressive from Wisconsin, warned Americans that ‘under a pretext of carrying democracy to the rest of the world,’ Woodrow Wilson was actually doing ‘more to undermine and destroy democracy in the United States than it will be possible for us as a Nation to repair in a generation.”[17] Elder son of President William H. Taft and Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft agreed with his senatorial college when he wrote, “’Frankly, the American people don’t want to rule the world,’ he said, ‘and we are not equipped to do it. Such imperialism is wholly foreign to our ideals of democracy and freedom. It is not our manifest destiny or our national destiny.’”[18] It is important to note that Wilson had initially called on American citizens to be “impartial in thought as well as in action,” in 1914 as war broke out in Europe.[19] Wilson was a highly educated Progressive who graduate from Princeton University in 1879 and the University of Virginia Law School in 1880, and he also serve as Princeton faculty and eventually president from 1902 to 1910.[20] In a few short years, Wilson went from New Jersey governor to the White House, and is often considered the most educated president in U.S. history. So, why then was it during President Wilson’s two Administrations that the United State’s longstanding emphasis on a small military and neutrality begin to shift toward our modern day version of a force for democracy? Simply argued, Wilson began to believe after the United State’s entrance into World War I that the U.S. could lead the world into a peaceful democracy as advocate in his Fourteen Points speech to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 8, 1918.

Wilson said on Jan. 8, 1918 that, “We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence.”[21] Wilson continued on about creating a world in which “every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.”[22] Wilson’s vision was “immediately hailed in the United States and Allied nations, and even by Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, as a landmark of enlightenment in international relations.”[23] Though his Fourteen Points, which eventually became the League of Nations, was highly regarded by foreign and domestic entities alike, it highlight a new role for the United States in world politics, which was in stark contrast to the nation’s longstanding neutrality.

“All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us. The programme of the world’s peace, therefore, is our programme; and that programme, the only possible programme, as we see it is this,” and Wilson continues with his Fourteen Points.[24] Eight of the points concern “specific territorial issues among the combatant nations. Five of the other six concerned general principles for a peaceful world … [and] the fourteenth point proposed what was to become the League of Nations to guarantee the ‘political independence and territorial integrity [of] great and small states alike.’”[25] However, though the League of Nations gained traction for a short period of time in the United States, despite Wilson’s best effort, U.S. leadership and participation in the League never materialized.

Wilson’s ideal world where the U.S. led the effort to democratize nations large and small never made it out of a Republican controlled Congress that was fearful “of involvement in Europe’s tangled politics.”[26] Countries such as the United Kingdom and France adopted the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, but, though it had broad support at home, the United States Congress instead elected to revert to its long-standing isolationism and insistence on not meddling in affairs outside of the Western Hemisphere. The disdain Wilson and Republican leader Senator Henry Cabot Lodge from Massachusetts didn’t help the cause any, but, ultimately, the failure to enter into the league was “motivated by Republican concerns that the League would commit the United States to an expensive organization that would reduce the United State’s ability to defend its own interest.”[27] Nine months after the United State’s participation in the League was voted down by the Senate, 49-35, Warren Harding was elected President, a Republican who ran a platform opposing U.S. participation in the League.[28]

And so the United States continued its pre-World War I policy by disbanding an army that prior to the war was smaller than that of Portugal’s at roughly 300,000 and had risen to more than 2 million strong a mere 19 months later.[29] The draw down from Wilson’s war followed a familiar path that the United States had taken in every conflict from the Revolution. So, how then did Wilson’s policies in the early part of the 20th century change American perception toward military use and foreign policy that was more interventionism than isolationism if the country indeed resorted to the status quo? The answer to the question doesn’t become apparent until after the implementation of the AVF and rise of the neo-Conservative ideology that sprung out of the tumultuous 1960s led by Commentary magazine editor Norman Podhoretz. However, as Bacevich explains in The New American Militarism, the rise of the neo-Conservatives didn’t take root overnight and instead found its footing with the election of President George W. Bush. But, the ultimate argument of this thesis is that the AVF isn’t sustainable and provides an undue burden on the few who serve, which, ultimately, leads to a disconnect in civil-military relations that if left unchecked could cause irrevocable damage to not only those service members but to the country as a whole. Therefore, it’s imperative to understand what preceded the AVF, why it was implemented, and, eventually, how the AVF fostered an environment that allowed U.S. policy makers to revert to the Wilsonian idea of the United States as the ambassador of freedom and purveyor of democracy throughout the world.

[1] Bacevich, Andrew, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War (Oxford University Press; 2nd updated edition, April 2013), pp. 109

[2] Ibid, pp. 110

[3] U.S. Constitution, Constitution of the United States accessed June 29, 2016 from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

[4] Ibid

[5] Janowitz, “The All-Volunteer Military as a ‘Sociopolitical’ Problem,” pp. 432

[6] Hamner, Christopher, “American Resistance to a Standing Army,” National History Education Clearinghouse access July 28, 2016 from http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/24671

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Bacevich, Andrew, The New American Militarism, pp. 88

[14] History.com Staff, “Woodrow Wilson,” History.com accessed July 28, 2016 from http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/woodrow-wilson

[15] Ibid

[16] “U.S. Entry into World War I, 1917,” Office of the Historian accessed July 28, from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/wwi

[17] Bacevich, Andrew, The New American Militarism, pp. 102

[18] Ibid, pp. 103

[19] “Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924),” George Washington University, Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary accessed July 28, 2016 from https://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/wilson-woodrow.cfm

[20] Ibid

[21] Wilson, Woodrow, “Fourteen Points” (Jan. 8, 1918) accessed July 28, 2016 from the Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Library at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/wilson14.asp

[22] Ibid

[23] “Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 1918,” Office of the Historian accessed July 28, 2016 from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/fourteen-points

[24] Wilson

[25] “Wilson’s Fourteen Points”

[26] “The League of Nations, 1920,” Office of the Historian accessed July 28, 2016 from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/fourteen-points

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid

[29] “Demobilization,” Encyclopedia accessed July 29, 2016 from http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Demobilization.aspx

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