A Conspiracy of Silence: Why Doesn't Anyone Question the Military Status Quo?
The ideological twentieth century was a century of slaughter. Twenty million people died in World War I, and 50 million were killed in World War II. Several hundred thousand of these were Japanese civilians dead through the instrumentality of nuclear weapons thereafter used only to deter combat between superpowers. But even these, the ultimate weapons, failed to deter North Korean aggression, or Communist nationalism in Vietnam, or fundamentalist nationalism in Afghanistan, or countless local and regional conflicts since. Military theorist Martin van Creveld has calculated that, of more than twenty such conflicts since the end of the Cold War, none has been between two nation-states. Even as war achieved maximum technological sophistication, it was devolving downward to tribal use of Stone Age clubs and machetes.
The historian Barbara Tuchman defined folly on a national level as recognizing that a policy is flawed or outdated, knowing that there is a more plausible alternative, but persisting in pursuing the inferior, outdated policy nonetheless? The United States spent over four decades and trillions of tax dollars structuring a military establishment designed to deter, or if necessary defeat, the Communist bloc led by the late Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, however, neither political leadership nor military establishment has suggested the need to reorder, reform, or restructure our defense forces to cope with a dramatically changing world.
It is not as if evidence of change were not plentiful:
* Vietnam was the first warning that troops equipped and trained to fight the Soviet army in central Europe might not be prepared for guerrilla conflict waged by low-technology indigenous forces.
* A ragtag claque of Tontons Macoutes initially chased away a U.S. expeditionary force from the highly televised beaches of Haiti.
* U.S. forces were withdrawn from Mogadishu after being bloodied in a savage tribal brawl involving mostly teenagers.
* Even the more traditional war of the 1990s, in the Persian Gulf, proves the point of a changing world. Over six months were required to organize, train, and deploy coalition (largely American) forces, negotiate basing terms with the Saudi Arabians, transport the elaborate logistics and heavy equipment required of a modern army, and develop reasonably reliable intelligence on the region and the opponent. Wisely choosing maneuver over attrition warfare, the United States and its allies achieved their initial objective of liberating Kuwait quickly and effectively but failed in the larger objective of destroying Iraq's Republican Guard and deposing Saddam Hussein.
* There have been recent calls for federal forces to be used to combat drug syndicates rampant in the nation's capital.
* National consensus to maintain U.S. peacekeeping forces in Bosnia is fragile.
These and other experiences should have brought military planners to consider other post-Cold War force structures. Not to have done so is folly But this folly has its own logic. It is a perverse logic that should be called Eisenhower's Nightmare. In his valedictory, famous more in its breach than its observance, President Dwight Eisenhower warned, both as president and as general, against the creation of a "military-industrial complex" so politically and economically powerful as to take on a life of its own. This was not, as some would have it, an afterthought, the retirement sentiments of an aging statesman. "This world in arms is not spending money alone," Eisenhower said in his first months in the White House and within the first decade of the Cold War; "it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children." Nevertheless, a military-industrial complex we would have, and it is still with us, representing massive corporations, powerful labor unions, economically dependent communities and states, and requiring candidates for public office to endorse procurement of major weapons systems and maintenance of military bases no longer needed and which, occasionally, the military may not even want.
The massive Cold War machine is composed of: contract-hungry politicians who prefer to serve their self-interest by lobbying for dubious weapons systems, such as the B-2 bomber or the Seawolf submarine, rather than serve a greater national good by totally restructuring military procurement; a calcified foreign policy and national security priesthood cloistered in Washington think tanks seeking to salvage remnants of Cold War theories to justify its existence; security analysts conditioned to convert every tribal rumble into a potential "major regional conflict"; military professionals more expert in budget manipulation than troop motivation and combat leadership; business and labor leaders more interested in a piece of the Pentagon pie than in a thorough shake-up of an outdated, corrupting system. This great machine grinds grimly, ineluctably onward, searching for villains, whether stone-throwing tribesmen or desert quacks, to justify its existence. Self-interest provides many reasons not to question the status quo -- but there is one overwhelming reason -- a changing world -- to do so. Not to consider serious reform of the U.S. military to respond to this changing world is, by any definition, folly on a classic scale.
An army of the people is, ipso facto, an army supported by the people. Because it is not an army of the people, support for the current Cold War permanent standing Army in peacetime will last only so long as the American economy is expanding. Even a casual glance at recent economic history, however, shows this current expansion will not last forever. Booms give way to busts because the economic gods insist on market "corrections" and "adjustments." When the economic cycle turns downward, inevitably sooner rather than later and surely before the turn of the century, revenues to the federal Treasury will diminish, the military budget will look disproportionately large, and an anxious public will finally raise questions as to whether we actually need a Cold War military. Typically, politicians will be tempted to cut and slash in the short term rather than undertake the more complex task of reform in the long term. We will end up with a somewhat smaller Cold War army, demoralized, alienated from the people, and still no better prepared for the chaotic twenty-first-century world.
Our thesis is this: post-Cold War history has presented both the opportunity and the necessity of converting our current large, standing, Regular Army to a smaller, rapid-deployment, expeditionary-intervention force backed up in the event of longer-term deployments by a larger, better-trained, and better-equipped citizen reserve army.
The issue between large regular and small reserve armies on the one hand and smaller regular and larger reserve armies on the other is not one of military competence. The often-challenged Israeli military, for example, follows the second model. Indeed, it is not principally a military issue at all. It is a political issue in the classic sense and thus an issue of civic values. It is an issue of the kind of country we are and what kind of people we want ourselves to be. Arguably, the way a nation structures its defenses is the clearest way of defining itself and its values.
Re-creation of an army of the people should not be undertaken principally to save money It should be less costly to maintain a reserve rather than a permanent standing force. And a persuasive case has yet to be made -- aside from the generic argument that "the world is a dangerous place" -- for spending $250 to $300 billion for a Cold War army to fight a defunct Soviet threat in the post-Cold War century. But the reform proposed here is not advocated primarily as a budgetary matter. Politically (with a capital P) this proposal is not presented as a leftist, antimilitary vendetta. It is, rather, a recognition of the central importance some form of defense must continue to play in guaranteeing future American national security that prompts this proposal for major military reform required in a new century of capricious challenges. Politically (with a small p), requiring political leadership to explain the national interest that requires a reserve call-up in a crisis or conflict is an important constraint on leadership's otherwise unilateral authority and is a vivid means of engaging citizens in decisions that affect their, and their sons' and daughters', lives.
Our current military establishment evolved in response to the realities of the twentieth century. These realities include: fascism's threat to conquer Europe; Communism's threat to impose its will by force on Western Europe; North Korea's invasion of South Korea; the Communist insurgency in Southeast Asia; China's emergence as a military power; concern for Japan's security; regional conflict in the Middle East; continued reliance by the United States and its allies on Persian Gulf oil; and, most recently, the rise of terrorism and radical fundamentalism.
Although certain of these realities will persist into the twenty-first century, fundamentally the Cold War realities that U.S. military forces were structured to defend against no longer exist. The single most important new global reality is the unforeseen, uncelebrated end of the Cold War. The mystery behind the dearth of celebration may rest in part with some embarrassment felt by professional cold warriors who did not see the collapse of the Soviet system coming and who, indeed, believed it never would. It may also have reflected a sober and mature judgment by Western democracies to avoid a demonstration of triumphalism embarrassing to our former adversaries. But most likely, those with a powerful stake in the status quo wished to avoid the natural public desire for demobilization of military forces on the occasion of a great victory. "There are always troubles in the world" quickly became the new doctrine of national security "experts" and foreign policy elites, and few, if any, raised the critical question as to why the United States might be required to project a massive -- and massively costly -- permanent standing military and military-industrial complex, designed to prosecute a protracted war against the Soviet Union, into a new century in which the Soviet Union existed only for curious historians to pick and sort among its pathetic rubble. Besides, the permanent standing army, being both professional and very large for the first time in American history, there were no citizen conscripts demanding demobilization in order to return to an involuntarily interrupted civilian life.
And this is the point. A permanent standing military seeks causes for its continued existence and resources to maintain itself. A citizen army -- an army of the people -- participates in the debate as to why it exists, what threat it must repel, and how and where it might be used. For a democratic republic, there is a world of difference between these two institutions. This very difference, and the reasons for it, is the subject of this book. The post-Cold War era and the dawn of a new century provide the occasion for a public debate on this subject, a subject less about what might threaten us and more about who we are.
Indeed, our constitutional history requires this debate at this time. Few subjects preoccupied the Founders of the American Republic more than that of whether to maintain a standing army in time of peace. On this question, as in others, two strains of strongly held public opinion, bracketed by Alexander Hamilton on the one hand and Patrick Henry on the other, would be laid down for debate well into the nation's third century. "If we mean to be a commercial people, or even to be secure on our Atlantic side," said Hamilton, anticipating late-twentieth-century American foreign policy, "we must endeavor, as soon as possible, to have a navy. To this purpose there must be dockyards and arsenals [at home and abroad]; and for the defense of these, fortifications, and probably garrisons." Thus, Hamilton, the commercial Federalist, anticipated the Persian Gulf War by just over two centuries. "A standing army we shall have," thundered the anti-Federalist Henry in response, "to execute the execrable commands of tyranny" Echoes of this sentiment resonated in the rhetoric of Vietnam protest.
More is at stake in this debate now, as then, than simply the question of allocation of financial resources between civilian and military needs. This is not to say that public expenditures in excess of $250 billion annually in time of peace is inconsequential. But money is not the only or even the principal issue. At issue also is the greater latitude possessed by a commander-in-chief to commit a permanent standing army than to commit a militia-reserve army. At issue is the role and responsibility of the citizen in defense of the nation. At issue is the Founders' intention that state-maintained militias play a role in securing the nation, and thus the true reason for the constitutional guarantee of the fight to bear arms. At issue is whether technology requires a military professionalism at odds with the republican ideal of the citizen soldier. At issue is whether military matters, including whether, when, where, and how to deploy American forces, have become too complex for the ordinary citizen in a democracy At issue is the sinister sanction given by America's leaders in the Persian Gulf War to the conversion of U.S. military forces into a mercenary army -- Saudi Arabia's Hessians -- for the first time in American history. At issue is the continuing tendency by Washington elites to define our national "interests," requiring deployment of military forces for their protection, absent debate and consent by American citizens. At issue is a new definition of national security and a clear definition of threats to it. At issue, quite simply, are the values of our society and the kind of country we want to be in the next century.
There is an imperative to the reintegration of military issues and the makeup of our armed forces back into the life of our society. A society defines itself and its values in many ways, not least through the way it structures its armed forces. To abandon the question of the disposition of the lives of our sons and daughters to the "professionals" is an abdication of moral responsibility in a mature democratic republic. We no longer possess the excuse, conveniently presented by the Cold War and the threat of Communism, that military issues are too complex, too technical, too abstract for the average citizen to comprehend. Even our elected representatives in Congress, as I know from immediate experience, find it too convenient to leave military matters to the "experts," to give their proxies to colleagues on congressional Armed Services committees on questions of manpower and weaponry, to succumb to the imperatives of the Pentagon, to confess ignorance on "threat assessments," to consider only the jobs created by new weapons systems and not their effectiveness or necessity, to play courtier to defense professionals, weapons contractors, and prominent national security virtuosos, to sacrifice their constitutional responsibilities out of fear, favor, or torpidity.
The great secret of the "defense debate" (which is not a genuine debate), however, is that on the great issue of the role of the military in a democratic republic there are no ultimate experts. On the foundational question of America's role in the world and the means, including military means, for pursuing it, every citizen is as expert as another. For the coin of the realm is common sense. The question, simply put, is this (and all important questions can be simply put): do you wish to be defended principally by careerists or by fellow citizens?
At best, professionals are efficient, skillful, and effective. At worst, they can be mercenaries, samurai, or bureaucrats in uniform. At worst, citizen-soldiers can be inefficient, ineffective, and unskillful. At best, they can fight like tigers at York-town, Gettysburg, and Normandy. Or, to put it in another way, if our goal is to help guarantee oil supplies for Japan, other allies, and ourselves, we should probably send a permanent, standing army and navy. If our goal is to defend our country from any threat, there is no one better suited to that purpose than an angry citizen.
Few armies exist in the abstract. They should exist for a purpose or not exist at all. For, in Carl von Clausewitz's famous aphorism: "War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means." If we wish to protect an empire of foreign oil, weak and vacillating allies, and other countries' disintegrating borders, we should continue to maintain a sizable (and expensive) permanent standing military. Because, as history and present experience prove, we will need it. If, however, we see our allies as strong and responsible enough to defend themselves, our own energy supplies as sufficient to maintain a reasonable standard of living, and ourselves as an island nation largely immune from invasion, then we can and should consider a national defense based upon a citizen military -- an army of the people.
In the simplest terms, our military forces must be sized and shaped according to the threats they are designed to meet. Unlike the struggle between democracy and Communism, today's threat is diverse. It is many things -- famine, erupting population, gangs with nothing to lose, monomaniacal mullahs, urban decay, terrorists with nuclear satchels, disintegrating nations, clans who seek their own nations, mad-eyed nationalists, anarchists, avaricious arms dealers, bloody-minded drug czars, samurai, Mamelukes, mercenaries, and war lords. For four decades, our principal threat was conventional Soviet tank battalions pouring through the Fulda gap in central Europe. We may soon come to wish for the day of such a simple, direct, definable threat against which conventional armies and navies could be structured. This threat was quantifiable and thus could invite a quantifiable military response. None of the threats of the twenty-first century is quantifiable, predictable, or directed only at U.S. national security Little wonder that the Defense Department, State Department, and White House of two successive administrations have chosen to maintain the military status quo.
A foreign policy must be supplied by our national political leaders. Since 1991, they have failed to do this. Perhaps a genuine debate about the kind of twenty-first-century military we need may also have the therapeutic value of forcing a debate on our undefined twenty-first-century foreign policy Perhaps also, the mysterious absence of a genuine defense debate since 1991, through two presidential elections, is but a reflection of the absence of any clue among our political leaders as to what our foreign policy in the next century ought to be.
Clearly, the nature of the military is inextricably interwoven with the nature of society's goals, values, and purposes. The military is neither a separate creature from nor a professional adjunct to the nation as a whole. It has become too much so in post-Cold War America -- remote, isolated, largely respected, but detached. From the earliest Greek inventors of republics, however, through the republic's Renaissance savior Niccoló Machiavelli, to serious students of democratic republics in the modem age, isolation of the military from society is unhealthy at best and dangerous at worst.
This is not a warning against a possible coup, takeover, junta, or autocracy. Late-twentieth-century America is much too sophisticated for that. It is merely a recognition of Eisenhower's nightmare: the permanent establishment of an economy so dependant on military procurement that massive expenditures for marginally effective or unnecessary weapons such as the Seawolf submarine and the B-2 bomber cannot be canceled for fear of economic tragedy and political retaliation; an economy so dependent on foreign (and cheap) oil that it is worth the multibillion-dollar deployment of a half-million armed service personnel, with their high technology weapons, to recover and secure it; an economy so dependent on imports from Asia that it will maintain bases and fleets to ensure against their interruption.
Restoration of a well-trained and properly equipped army of the people as the basis for our security would have this effect. It would once again engage taxpaying citizens in the defense debate. Demonstrating the good judgment and common sense in which Thomas Jefferson placed such confidence, these citizens would immediately raise one issue -- and, of course, it would be the central issue: what would happen if we incorporated military costs into the cost of doing business? What if we amortized the costs of the Persian Gulf War into the costs of Persian Gulf oil? What if we incorporated the costs of our fleets and bases in the Far East into the cost of products imported from the Far East? The answer is obvious. Suddenly, things start costing more. Suddenly, our lifestyle starts looking more expensive.
And, of course, this new economics still does not include the value of one investment -- the value of the lives of our sons and daughters. Only 157 lives were lost in the Persian Gulf War (too many by "friendly fire"). Therefore, it was a "success" (except to the families of the 157). The Kuwait oligarchy is restored to power and "cheap" oil flows again. We feel good about ourselves. But there is no guarantee that the next Persian Gulf War will cost only 157 American lives. It could be 1,570, or 15,700, or 157,000. If so, we certainly should have a permanent standing military, for it will be much more efficient and effective at securing these foreign oil supplies, and, presumably, its personnel will be better compensated for sacrificing their lives.
A citizen army would engage the American people in foreign policy, both political and economic, in ways they have not been since more than 15 million of them suited up in World War II. This would be a very healthy development for the Republic. Leaders, establishments, and elites, not accountable to and therefore detached from the people, begin to speak a special language and communicate only with themselves. Not familiar with the special language, and thus considering themselves incapable of engaging in the discussion, the people unwisely concede too much authority to their leaders (thus encouraging often ill-advised adventures) or they become alienated, angry, and mistrustful. The discipline of explaining foreign military, political, or economic policy to the people is therapeutic for leaders. Any policy that cannot be explained simply, directly, and cogently to ordinary people may well be flawed. No more vivid illustration of this argument exists in modem times than during the Vietnam War, when President Johnson decided against the mobilization of National Guard and reserve units fearing, rightly, that public opinion, in the form of a direct up-or-down congressional vote, would crystallize against American involvement.
Trust between leaders and people has suffered badly in recent years in America. Much of this mistrust has to do with the way we fought the Cold War. The American people generally shared with their leaders the belief that Communism was virulent and hostile to democracy, especially seeking advantage in newly liberated colonies and the impoverished third world. Direct U.S. military action might receive public sanction where it had the chance of succeeding with reasonable speed, was in support of a popularly elected government willing to fight for itself, and was designed to help a country under assault from outside invasion. But, during the Korean War, when MacArthur's brilliant Inchon landing and less brilliant invasion of North Korea brought China into the war, American and South Korean forces were driven back, and combat stalemated, American public enthusiasm waned. After repeated escalations of American military deployments, the Tet offensive, repressions, coups, and the collapse of any semblance of democratic government in South Vietnam, American public opinion caused the retirement of the Johnson administration. The Pentagon Papers revealed massive deception -- and distrust -- of the American people by their leaders, a sure recipe for mistrust by the people of those who deceived them. Systematic support for undemocratic, often dictatorial, governments, the CIA-led overthrow of sometimes democratically elected governments, assassination plots against foreign leaders -- all in the name of containment of Communism -- have replaced healthy public skepticism with unhealthy cynicism.
The exigencies of containment of Communism now having disappeared (except for North Korea), arguments of secrecy and elitist expertise must no longer be used to prevent the American people, especially including young people, from being immediately and directly engaged in foreign and military policy decisions that affect their lives. The most effective way of reengaging Americans' interest in these issues is to place greater reliance on citizen-soldiers, an army of the people.
However structured, the principal duty of an army rests in the defense of the homeland. Therefore, the citizen-soldier must be trained both defensively, to repel any invader, and offensively, to support American intervention forces in actions outside the United States. Except for a small band of Americans who once saw the Russians coming across the water (and perhaps now wish to substitute the Chinese), most Americans see their borders and coasts as secure from attack. (The use of the National Guard in controlling urban violence, illegal immigration, drug interdiction, and disaster relief is a complex issue to be discussed at greater length further on.) This leaves the reserve forces, including the National Guard, with the principal duty of supporting, augmenting, or expanding the regular forces in prolonged operations overseas.
Since, by definition, reserve forces are not full-time professionals -- in the sense that military duty is not their principal career -- service in foreign operations for prolonged periods of time represents a considerable interruption of their ordinary personal and professional lives. Most reservists understand and fully accept the ethical imperative and professional commitment involved in their voluntary reserve status. Indeed, given the disruption in lives, families, and jobs represented by a call-up, members of reserve forces will follow U.S. foreign and military policy matters much more closely than they might as ordinary citizens with less immediately at stake.
With millions of reservists, their families, employers, and communities anticipating the impact of conflict in remote corners of the world, presidents, Cabinet members, and members of Congress will be called upon to explain much more cogently and persuasively why U.S. military engagement in a particular conflict or theater will fulfill national objectives. This will present a direct challenge to Washington foreign policy elites long accustomed to assuming public acceptance of military deployments of the standing Army as part of the Great Power game little understood by rustic or insular citizens.
Military deployments in the post-Cold War years -- most notably in Panama, Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia -- have been distinguished for their ad hoc-ery. Few national political leaders or civilian commanders have hazarded rules for deployment of military forces. But certain basic principles -- or rules of commitment -- can and should be established:
1. American military forces should be used primarily to protect clearly defined national security parameters.
2. Political and military objectives must be clearly established -- tangible, obtainable political goals must be stated in concrete terms.
3. The American people must support the use of their military forces in any sustained operation and be fully cognizant of proposed levels of military commitment and potential costs -- including human lives.
4. Forces should be committed only after exhaustion of diplomatic and political means of conflict resolution and after local forces have proved to be inadequate to resolve the conflict.
5. Strategies, tactics, and doctrines intended to achieve the objective(s) must be well understood and agreed upon.
6. There must be agreement on the command structure of any military deployment, and civilian commanders who make policy should not second-guess military commanders tasked with carrying it out.
7. The proposed military operation must pass the test of simplicity -- the operational plan must be achievable in its execution.
Rules for commitment, deployment, and engagement such as these must, of course, fit into some greater foreign policy context. National leadership has the responsibility to provide this context. But, if there are those in Washington who have defined anew the United States's national interest in this turbulent post-Cold War world, and a foreign policy and rules of military engagement to support it, they seem not to have taken the trouble to share this new vision with the American people.
Or could it be that such definition, policy, and rules simply do not exist? Clearly the pieces are there. Our interests include: continued support for our traditional alliances in Europe; support for emerging democracies, especially in the former Eastern bloc; free and fair trade throughout the world; security of our borders; peaceful, diplomatic resolution of disputes; participation in international efforts to address global issues such as pollution, population, immigration, poverty, and disease; and so forth. So far, so good.
But then comes the messy part, the intractable real world that resists traditional diplomatic solutions. What is our policy toward disintegrating nation-states in Africa and Asia and especially on Europe's borders in regions such as the Balkans? How shall we deal with militant Islamic fundamentalism, or should we deal with it at all? Are we prepared to make wholesale military efforts to stop international drug traffic from Southeast Asia and Latin America? Are we prepared to watch the televised slaughter of innocents in future Rwandas and Bosnias? How great is our stake in preventing civil war in Russia? Given our continued reliance on foreign oil, are we prepared to go to war against anyone who disrupts it? Will we adopt a policy of preemptive strikes against terrorists around the world? How do we prevent our allies from selling critical materials to nascent nuclear nations? Will we bomb a renegade nation we believe to be developing nuclear weapons?
These are just some of the real foreign policy issues of the twenty-first century -- not the easy, vague, comfortable categories usually given out as our "national interests" -- and virtually all these real-world questions suggest a military commitment of one kind or another.
But if we have yet to develop a policy or policies toward these troublesome issues, how can we know what the military component must be to pursue them? A distinguished retired general officer refused my request to help design a new military structure, centered on citizen soldiers, in preparation of this book: "I am unable to be of help about shaping and sizing such a force," he wrote, "because I have no capability to assess the threat. Force structure should be based on threat assessment (long term)." Well said. But the truth is, no one can assess the threat long-term or short-term, because, unlike the threat of Communism, the twenty-first-century threat is not one thing.
In retrospect, Communism was an integrative force. It provided a central organizing principle for the West following the slaying of the fascist dragon. Strong reason could be found for maintaining a large, permanent, standing military force, integrating it with the armies and navies of Western allies, and forming permanent military alliances such as NATO. Since the early 1990s and the disappearance of the Communist menace, however, virtually all the disruptive forces in the world are dis-persed and dis-integrative. In the late 1940s, Churchill might give an "Iron Curtain" speech and George Kennan could later write his famous "Mr. X" article on containment of Communism. But in the 1990s, no national leader has given a speech or written an article with anything like their comprehensive vision.
No one can be said to be winning, or losing, the foreign policy debate -- because there is no debate. In this age of confusion, the vacuum of the nonexistent debate is filled by the forces of the status quo. For the twenty-first-century enemy is hydra-headed chaos. Aside from opposition, what is the conservative, or liberal, position toward chaos? If twentieth-century anti-Communist institutions are ill designed to prevent chaos, what new institutions might? Which of the ideologies of left or right is best equipped to stand against rigid orthodoxy, vicious tribalism, or blind fundamentalism? Are we reverting to a struggle -- potentially bloody and awful -- between what remains of traditional eighteenth-century liberalism in the West and such primeval forces throughout the rest of the world? If so, it is little wonder that official Washington, still struggling to accept victory in the Cold War, has produced no vision of the future. The new realities refuse to submit themselves to traditional, and intellectually convenient, ideological categorization.
In the dim dawn of this century of pandemonium, the military alternative proposed here is a simple one: maintain a smaller professional force capable of dealing with local, short-term military crises -- a "911 force" -- and a much larger reserve force of citizen soldiers trained and equipped to support the professional force where U.S. national interests require a larger or longer presence. This alternative traces its American roots to George Washington, and further back, all the way to Athenian democracy and the early Roman Republic. The arguments for this historic reform are more philosophical, social, and political, and less economic, tactical, or technological. Virtually all theoreticians of republican government have discussed the dangers of maintaining a permanent standing army in time of peace and the importance of a national militia.
Socially, reserve military training and involvement can provide educational opportunities to many who might not otherwise have them and the socializing advantages of young and mature men and women interacting across class and racial boundaries. A system of brief universal military training and longer voluntary national service, both military and nonmilitary, would provide the manpower base for the citizen army; but, more important, it would help reawaken a sense of citizen responsibility, civic engagement, and youth empowerment. More than any other measure, it would reestablish the necessary balance between rights and duties in a democratic society.
The link between the privileges of citizenship and the duty to share in the common defense is as old as the idea of freedom and democracy. The idea that free men must be prepared to bear arms, to be known as jus sequellae, derives from the Greek city-state that "made it a condition of citizenship that all free men of property should purchase arms, train for war and do duty in time of danger." This was the origin of the militia idea.
The ideal of citizen-soldiers collectively forming an army of the people is central to the notion of patriotism. From the Greek farmer-soldiers, to the Florentine cittadini practicing military participazione to secure the vivere libero e populare, to Jefferson's yeoman farmer and the Minutemen at Concord, to the National Guardsmen wading ashore at Normandy, the ideal of the citizen-at-arms, linked to neighbors and friends, fighting for his own freedom, his way of life, and his country is a pure one. It is not an ideal based on paranoia, vague conspiracies surrounding a "new world order," European bankers manipulating global markets, or fear, suspicion, and hatred of one's government. The purpose of an army of the people is to rescue ideas and ideals from those who distort them. But, even more, its purpose is to link the citizens of the United States more closely to the foreign policy of their country and to the decisions regarding deployment of U.S. military forces by giving them a greater and more immediate burden in sharing in the national defense. Such linkage entails a price in disrupted lives and careers and even loss of life, but its rewards are great -- restoration of citizen involvement in the nation's life, abatement of alienation, revival of a sense of national community The citizen-soldier, man or woman, will have a more immediate stake in national decisions.
The end of the Cold War and the close of an exhausting, bloody century of ideology have brought professional armies, the abandonment of national service in conscription form, and the survival of the pure militia principle on the national level in Switzerland virtually alone plus, notably, in isolated bands of discontented Americans who have appropriated the notion to defend themselves in a perceived coming age of anarchy or, at the extreme edge, for war against their own government.
A word must be said to distinguish the national militia concept from the nongovernment (and sometimes antigovernment) militias that have sprung up in the post-Cold War years. The difference -- and it is fundamental -- is that the former is the instrument of the state and the latter are not. The national militia is organized, armed, clothed, trained, and -- most important -- paid by the state. National militia members are soldiers (from the Latin solidus, meaning "coin"). Throughout history, soldiers have tended to obey the orders of those who paid them (or occasionally rebel when not paid). The militia concept of national defense proposed here would be nothing more than a significant extension and strengthening of the well-established system of the National Guard.
One of the reasons a small but growing number of Americans have separated themselves from the state, to the point of forming their own armed forces, is their perception that the state has separated itself from them or is increasingly unable to protect them. Private militias represent a breakdown of the state. This is as true for late-twentieth-century America as it was for Weimar Germany, or Lebanon, or Liberia. Leaving supremacists and extremists, neo-Nazis and neo-Maoists aside, some private militias exist to provide order when and where state authority disintegrates. In certain urban areas and sections of certain borders, it is not implausible to believe this may be happening. To believe this may continue may be alarmist, but it is not incredible. Officials of the government in Washington, D.C., recently proposed a National Guard call-up to protect life and property in the nation's capital. Many will not walk at night more than a few hundred yards from the U. S. Capitol. When the state cannot maintain order, other elements will seek to do so.
By turning policy, particularly foreign policy, into a game by and for an establishment elite, the American state has further separated itself from its citizens. Troops are dispatched to Lebanon or Somalia, Haiti or Bosnia, with little support or comprehension by average Americans. Acting in this way, a government draws a line between itself and its citizens and should not be surprised when citizens draw their own line between themselves and their government.
By pursuing its policies through the instrumentality of a large permanent military, our government further separates most citizens from defense of the national interest. While isolating extremists of every stripe, the national militia advocated here would reconnect ordinary citizens with both foreign and national defense policies. By so doing, it would reestablish the state and its government as an object of loyalty for many who now feel excluded.
Virtually all of "official Washington" -- the foreign policy elites, most military traditionalists, political insiders and power brokers -- will vigorously oppose a citizen army The very notion will be casually dismissed as unworkable, out of touch with modern times, contrary to trends toward greater professionalism in allied armies -- at best idealistic, at worst totally impractical. To be able to deploy a very large professional army is to possess great power, to some degree ultimate political power. Those with power seldom like to see it dispersed or diffused. One of the great political struggles of the 1970s and '80s had to do with the War Powers Act passed in the 1970s, which required congressional approval for all but the most immediate and urgent deployment of American military forces. This act was a direct result of President Johnson's use of the limited Tonkin Gulf Resolution as virtually unlimited authority to make war in Vietnam. Even with this act, President Reagan and his administration thumbed their noses at the law and the more explicit Boland amendment conditioning arms shipments (and other forms of military involvement) in Central American wars in the 1980s on notification and congressional ratification. A president driven by ideological imperative, power lust, or who knows what agenda, and possessing the commander-in-chief's baton and a great professional army under it, may be sorely tempted -- especially in a single superpower world -- to seek unilateral resolution of a messy dispute. The surest check on such power is direct citizen participation in those decisions. The surest way to guarantee citizen involvement is to place the ultimate military power in the hands of the people. The surest way to transfer this ultimate power is to re-create the traditional army of the people.