The Third-World Flavor of America’s Love Affair with the Military

Yves here. America’s relationship with the military is becoming more and more unhealthy. The “all volunteer” service is a cover for shifting the human cost of service mainly onto young men and women who lack better career prospects, as in members of the lower/lower middle classes who lack the family monies and connections to have more attractive options. And while that deal once might have seemed attractive between government-funded higher education, medical care, and pensions, extended tours of duty have changed this equation. And while it used to be members of the right that were subject to hard-ons for men in uniform (as opposed to a mere healthy respect for military service), Team Dem has more recently gone into swoons over current and former senior military men in the wake of RussiaRussia! Recall that Lambert and others warned of the Clinton camp’s lobbying for a change in the Constitutional order, including the incoming President having to be acceptable the Pentagon.

By Mandy Smithberger, the director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and >William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex Originally published at TomDispatch

This month’s insurrection at the Capitol revealed the dismal failure of the Capitol Police and the Department of Defense to use their expertise and resources to thwart a clear and present danger to our democracy.  As the government reform group Public Citizen tweeted, “If you’re spending $740,000,000,000 annually on ‘defense’ but fascists dressed for the renaissance fair can still storm the Capitol as they please, maybe it’s time to rethink national security?”

At a time of acute concern about the health of our democracy, any such rethinking must, among other things, focus on strengthening the authority of civilians and civilian institutions over the military in an American world where almost the only subject the two parties in Congress can agree on is putting up ever more money for the Pentagon. This means so many in our political system need to wean themselves from the counterproductive habit of reflexively seeking out military or retired military voices to validate them on issues ranging from public health to border security that should be quite outside the military’s purview.

It’s certainly one of the stranger phenomena of our era: after 20 years of endless war in which trillions of dollars were spent and hundreds of thousands died on all sides without the U.S. military achieving anything approaching victory, the Pentagon continues to be funded at staggering levels, while funding to deal with the greatest threats to our safety and “national security” — from the pandemic to climate change to white supremacy — proves woefully inadequate. In good times and bad, the U.S. military and the “industrial complex” that surrounds it, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower first warned us about in 1961, continue to maintain a central role in Washington, even though they’re remarkably irrelevant to the biggest challenges facing our democracy.

These days, it’s completely normal for military and defense officials to weigh in endlessly on what once would have been civilian matters. As the Biden years begin, it’s time to give some serious thought to how to demilitarize our democracy.

Unfortunately, in the America of 2021, the short-term benefit of relying on the widely accepted credibility of military figures to promote policies of every sort is obvious indeed. Who in the political class in the nation’s capital wouldn’t want a stamp of approval from dozens of generals, active or retired, endorsing their favorite initiative or candidate? (It’s something in years past the authors of this piece have been guilty of as well.) As it happens, though, such approval comes at a high price, undermining as it does the authority of civilian officials and agencies, while skewing resources toward the Pentagon that should be invested elsewhere to keep us truly safe.

It’s an essential attribute of the American system that the military remains under civilian authority. These days, however, given the number of current or retired military officers who have become key arbiters of what we should do on a dizzying array of critical issues, civilian control is the policy equivalent of an endangered species.

In the last election season, long before the attack on the Capitol, there was already an intense national discussion about how to prevent violence at the polls, a conversation that all too quickly (and disturbingly) focused on what role the military should play in the process. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was repeatedly asked to provide assurances that it would have no role in determining the outcome of the election, something that in another America would have been a given.

Meanwhile, some actually sought more military involvement. For example, in a widely debated “open letter” to Milley, retired Army officers John Nagl and Paul Yingling stated that “if Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order.” Proposals of this sort undermine the integrity of the many laws Congress and the states have put in place to prevent the military or armed vigilantes from playing any role in the electoral process.

Similarly, both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have identified the military as a key future player in distributing the Covid-19 vaccine, something that could and should be handled by public-health institutions, if only they, like the Pentagon, had adequate resources.

The Military Knows Best?

During and after the attack on the Capitol, officials from the military and national security worlds were given pride of place in discussions about the future of our democracy. Their opinions were sought out by the media and others on a wide range of issues that fell well outside their primary areas of expertise. A letter from 10 former secretaries of defense calling on the Republican caucus to respect the results of the election was given headline attention, while political figures pressed to have retired military officers involved in the January 6th assault tried in military, not civilian, courts.

Before pursuing the second impeachment of Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi typically turned to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs (who isn’t even in the civilian chain of command) to seek assurance that he could stop the president from starting a last-minute nuclear war. And none of this was faintly unusual, given that retired military officers have regularly been asked to weigh in on subjects as varied as abortion rights, climate change, and childhood obesity. It’s not, of course, that such figures shouldn’t be able, like anyone else, to offer their opinions or support on matters of public health and safety, but that their voices shouldn’t matter more than those of public-health experts, scientists, medical professionals, or other civilians.

Despite its failure to win a war in decades, the military remains one of America’s most respected institutions, getting the kind of appreciation that generally doesn’t extend to other more successful public servants. After almost 20 years of forever wars, it’s hard, at this point, to accept that the military’s reputation for wisdom is deserved. In fact, continually relying on retired generals and other present or former national security officials as validators effectively erodes the credibility of, and the public’s trust in, other institutions that are meant to keep us healthy and safe.

In the Covid-19 moment, it should be clear that relying on narrowly defined notions of national security harms our democracy, a subject that none of those military or former military figures are likely to deal with.  In addition, in all too many cases, current and retired military officials have abused the public trust in ways that call into question their right to serve as judges of what’s important, or even to imagine that they could provide objective advice. For one thing, a striking number of high-ranking officers on leaving the military pass through the infamous revolving door of the military-industrial complex into positions as executives, lobbyists, board members, or consultants for the defense industry.  They work on behalf of firms like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics that receive a combined $100 billion annually in Pentagon contracts with little accountability, even as they remain key go-to media figures.

They then use their former rank and the prestige attached to it to lobby Congress and influence the media on the need for endless wars and an ever-increasing military budget to support major weapons programs like Lockheed Martin’s troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — all without bothering to disclose that they stand to gain financially from the positions they’re taking. And the prospect of a big, fat salary in the weapons sector upon retirement also exerts an unhealthy influence on officers still serving in the military who are often loath to anger, or in any way alienate, their potential future employers.

This revolving-door phenomenon is widespread.  A study by the Project on Government Oversight found that, in 2018 alone, there were 645 cases in which the top 20 defense contractors hired former government officials, military officers, members of Congress, and senior congressional legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or executives. This should hardly inspire public trust in their opinions.

In some cases, ex-military officers have even taken to the airwaves and the op-ed pages of newspapers to advocate for war without disclosing their ties to the arms industry. A 2008 New York Times investigation, for example, revealed that a number of retired-officers-turned-media pundits with continuing defense industry ties had, for years, advocated for the Iraq War at the Pentagon’s behest. Ex-generals like former Trump administration Defense Secretary James Mattis, who served on the board of General Dynamics before taking the helm of the Pentagon and returned there shortly after stepping down, too often use their stature to refrain from providing basic information to the media while befogging the transparency and accountability that should be a pillar of democracy.

The Politicization of the Military

When civilian voices and policies are eclipsed as the central determinants in how our democracy should operate, a larger dilemma arises: continuing to rely on the military as a primary source of judgment for what’s right or wrong in the civilian world risks politicizing the armed forces, too. From retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn leading chants of “Lock her up!” at the 2016 Republican National Convention to the competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as well as, in the 2020 election campaign, between Joe Biden and Donald Trump to see who could get more retired generals to endorse him or her only helps militarize the civilian election process and politicizes what should be a nonpartisan institution.

Given the more than a trillion dollars Americans annually invest in the national security state, it’s striking to note, for instance, how such institutions let us down when it came to addressing the threats of white nationalism. Last summer, the Intercept uncovered a buried FBI report on the shortcomings of various federal agencies when it came to dealing with domestic terrorism. Before the 2020 election, the bureau refused to release that report on the domestic threat of white supremacy. Last year, in a similar fashion, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withheld for months its assessment of the same “lethal” threat of racist extremism in this country.

While there must be a full investigation of what happened at the Capitol on January 6th, reports seem to indicate a striking blindness in the national security state to the possibility of such an attack. It’s not that the DHS, the FBI, or the military need an influx of new funds to face the problem. Rather, what’s needed at this moment in history is a clearer focus on the real risks to our country, which have little to do with foreign terrorists, the Taliban, or other such groups the U.S. has been fighting abroad for years on end. The Department of Defense typically did itself and the rest of us no favors by burying a report on widespread racism in the ranks of the military, which, though completed in 2017, didn’t see the light of day until this January. Only in the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol did that organization finally begin to truly address its own white-supremacy problems.

The military, like so many other American institutions, has failed to reckon seriously with deep-seated racism in its ranks. Even before the January 6th insurrection, it was clear that such racism made it nearly impossible for Black officers to be promoted. And while many questioned the naming of key military bases after Confederate generals, the issue has only recently been addressed (over a presidential veto at that) with the creation of a new commission to rename them. Reports of active duty, reserve, and veteran members of the military aiding the Capitol insurrection only bring into stark relief the inexcusable costs of not having addressed the problem earlier.

More Pentagon Spending Won’t Make Us Safer

There are also high costs to be paid for relying on the Department of Defense to handle problems that have nothing to do with its primary mission. Using the armed forces as key players in addressing crises that aren’t military in nature only further undermines civilian institutions and is often counterproductive as well.

In the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of politicians called for President Trump to use the Defense Production Act (as it seems Biden will indeed soon do) and the Department of Defense to ramp up the production of N95 masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment. The story of what happened to such funds in the Trump years should be telling. The Washington Post discovered that $1 billion in supposed pandemic relief money was instead funneled directly to defense contractors and $70 million of the funds the Pentagon spent went to ventilators that proved unfit for Covid-19 patients. While some of that money did go to bolster mask supply chains, another Post investigation discovered that such efforts did not come close to addressing national shortfalls and amounted to less than the department spends on instruments, uniforms, and travel for military bands.

Perhaps the most disturbing cost of our overreliance on the military can be found in Congress’s budget and policy priorities. In December of last year, a bill to authorize nearly $740 billion in Pentagon spending garnered enough votes to easily overcome President Trump’s veto (motivated mainly by his refusal to condone renaming military bases named after Confederate generals) at the very moment when Congress was blocking legislation to give $2,000 relief checks directly to Covid-19 embattled Americans.

By now, two decades into the twenty-first century, it’s clear that more money for the Pentagon hasn’t made this country safer. It has, however, helped give the military an ever more central role in our previously civilian political world. Biden’s selection of retired General Lloyd Austin III to be secretary of defense only emphasizes this point. While it’s certainly laudatory to appoint the first Black leader to that position, Austin has retired so recently that he needed a congressional waiver from a law requiring a seven-year cooling off period before taking up such a civilian post (just as Mattis did four years ago) — another sign that civilian control of the military is continuing to weaken. In addition, now that he has retired from his role in private industry, Austin stands to make a small fortune, up to $1.7 million, when he divests his stock holdings in Raytheon Technologies.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” President Eisenhower warned Americans in his 1961 farewell address. How right he proved to be!  Sixty years later, it’s become all too clear that more must be done to deal with that very “unwarranted influence.” The immediate crises of the American republic should be clear enough right now: responding to the pandemic and restoring our civilian democracy. Certainly, military leaders like Milley should be appreciated for agreeing on the need to prioritize the pandemic and oppose sedition. However, more Pentagon spending and more military influence will not, in the end, make us any safer.

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  1. Synoia

    20 years of endless war in which trillions of dollars were spent and hundreds of thousands died on all sides without the U.S. military achieving anything approaching victory, the Pentagon continues to be funded at staggering levels,

    The Pentagon continues to be funded at staggering levels

    That’s winning. The remainder is theater.

    1. workingclasshero

      Quit reading after the “white supremacy” as major national threat quip.i’ve read a thousand of these articles over the last 20 years and can sympathize with malignant national priorities rant,but the military industrial techno congressional complex is spread over all 50 states and is probably a big part of our national industrial try curb or defund it you’re literally killing jobs.we should transition the economy but good luck to any politician or social movement that tries.

      1. jsn

        I’ve trained myself to hear “capitalism” whenever someone says “white supremacy”, particularly if they’re younger than 50 and in any way integrated with the bicoastal political complex.

        Mandy here appears to qualify. I picked this trick up trying to figure out what all our younger staff was talking about at the employee group meetings during the “white supremacy” hysteria in the spring last year.

        If they took to doing that themselves, who knows maybe we’d have a movement on our hands, but as is the narrative masters have them insulting a huge portion of their potential allies with this malapropism.

    2. The Historian

      When in Rome…….

      We have a perfect historical example of what happens when a government becomes militarized, don’t we. How sad that we remember what Rome’s military accomplished but fail to remember how Rome’s Republic fell.

  2. JBird4049

    Since the Democratic Party is now a center right, or even just right, party and the national economy, government, and society continue their accelerating decline, worshiping those with the guns who ostensibly run under military discipline makes sense; I am saying this seriously and not sarcastically. People are emotionally desperate to find anything that they believe will provide stability and safety.

    I expect the hagiographic descriptions of police and Alphabet Agencies and paeans for the “competent”and “smart” leaders to increase in numbers, volume, and Stalinist insipidity. Fear (and love) often does make one stupid and makes seeing the flaws in others difficult.

    1. Robert Gray

      > People are emotionally desperate to find anything that they believe will provide stability and safety.

      I’m reminded of the (vaguely remembered) line from Huxley’s Brave New World, something to the effect of “I’m so glad I’m not an Alpha!”

  3. Sound of the Suburbs

    The Americans need to be very careful elsewhere to ensure they can afford their military budget,
    There is nothing like wasting money on futile wars, that they incapable of bringing to any successful conclusion.
    This is where the Americans like to waste their money.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > There is nothing like wasting money

      Only real resources matter. And we have wasted enormous amounts of resources on our military. And the waste corrupts everything else, as when we turn soldiers into cops, and police work into a military operation.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think there is an interesting discussion (which I’ve rarely seen) about the economics of the US military and how it relates to the rest of the US economy. On the plus side, historically there is no doubt that military spending has been a key tool in regional balancing in the US – i.e. putting lots of cash and jobs into the poorest States – this is of course essential when such a large and complex nation has a single currency. It’s also been important historically as an automatic Keynesian countercyclical balancing mechanism. And its proven a useful way of hiding investment in infrastructure (the interstate network) and basic research (aviation, power and electronics in particular).

        But of course when spending ratchets up independently of economic cycles, and more and more of the money gets funnelled into already prospering regions rather than weaker ones, it becomes a parasite on the economy. Even more so when so much spending is on military bases outside the US. And if, for example, Boeing retreats into becoming a mostly military contractor, then the industrial spin offs from military expenditure become much less apparent. You can see the same process happening in microprocessor manufacture, where the US has lost its lead to Asian nations despite its enormous expenditure via the military in both research and raw purchasing power. Likewise, the US has lost its lead in nuclear power plant manufacture, despite spending more on nuclear research than all other countries combined. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least half a dozen key industrial sectors where the US used to be a world leader due primarily to military expenditure, but is now seriously lagging despite ongoing spending (e.g. aero engines, composite materials, civil aviation, high end metal alloys, shipbuilding, high end pressure boilers, high speed microchips).

        I think there is a tripping point (some argue this is what destroyed the USSR) when military spending becomes a net resource destroyer rather than simply another sector of the economy. It probably comes when, as was said of Prussia: ‘it is not a nation with an army, its an army with a nation attached’. Thinking through all the areas where the US used to be a world leader, but is no longer, there is an arguable case that the tipping point has already been reached, and what we are now witnessing is the parasite consuming the host.

        1. JBird4049

          Losing the Afghanistan War and flooding the entire Soviet Union with injured and traumatized veterans just around the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Chernobyl weakened the then discredited pro Soviet faction and strengthened the nationalist separatist factions.

          Of we’re nothing like that at all.

          1. Wyatt Powell

            That does not mean a better outcome. Infact that makes it soooo much worse. The USSR fell apart fairly peacefully, probably because those factions had national ambitions outside of the union. Something to go home to, so to speak.

            In the USA you have 2 factions that believe they are the rightful inheritors of the country, that can only end in bloodshed.

            The only hope is if both political factions in America were discredited , but you’ll have 10-15% diehards on both sides that wont give either of the up.

            And what fill that political vacuum? The right goes to true-blue facisism (not Twitter babies crying about “fascism”) and the left goes for Id-Pol stalinist/maoist “Communism”?

            (Disclosure im a Marxist. So im
            Mot commune bashing, but the Anglo neoliberal left is incapable of producing a socialist revolution with (or without) Id-Pol poisoning the batch)

        2. hemeantwell

          Second the idea that without getting a bead on military Keynesianism this otherwise good article loses its bearings. Feeding the military-industrial complex is not simply a ‘mistake,’ it is one form of support for a demand-hungry capitalism. As Seymour Melman and others argued years ago, it wins as a policy option because it’s cloaked in ‘patriotic’ rationales and also spending can be distributed across Congressional districts. So could Green New Deal spending, but that doesn’t, yet, have quite the scarey oomph as preparing for wars that military spending, oddly, makes more likely.

        3. km

          What we have learned is that it is smarter to spend money on useful things, things that deliver returns (like roads, airports, schools, research and hospitals) in one form or the other than it is to hand out trillions of dollars to oligarchs and destroy value in the process.

        4. John Anthony La Pietra

          We can have an Interstate Defense Highway System — can we have a National Health Defense System?

        5. Keith Newman

          The U.S. military has long funded many high-tech advances at least since the end of WW2. It was always inefficient with respect to its bleeding into the civilian economy – was it Seymour Melman that wrote extensively about that? It didn’t matter very much because its main military/political rival, the USSR, was not an economic rival. The economic rivals were within the Western/Asian developed countries that the US could control to a large extent. Now that has changed.The China/Russia alliance is a true economic rival, with Russia providing the military strength. They refuse to be controlled by the U.S.
          In a truly bizarre twist of history the US government under Obama strongly encouraged that development by its actions and equally bizarrely subsequent administrations have and are continuing the strategy. The resources the U.S. wastes on an oversized military, and its inefficient use of those resources, is dragging the US down relative to its rivals who put similar vast resources to better and more efficient use. Accordingly the U.S. economy plods on slowly while the others rise much more quickly.

      2. Sound of the Suburbs

        Only real resources matter.
        Ban advertising.
        It gets people to buy stuff they don’t really want in the first place.

  4. Fireship

    American worship of their military is weird, creepy, and cringe-inducing. It does, however, fit in perfectly with the Neoliberal Death Cult. To anyone who has read “kill everything that moves”, it is also stomach-churning that such a psychotic, genocidal organization as the US military could be held in such high regard. But not really surprising as DH Lawrence remarked, ” The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”

    1. Kilgore Trout

      I use the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as markers for when this country “turned bad” (though this ignores both our genocidal actions in the Philippines and our slaughter of the continent’s indigenous peoples). But it announced to the world that “Belli America” had arrived on the world stage. We now know neither bomb was necessary to end the war; and they were dropped over the objection of most of the generals advising Truman, including Ike. As many long suspected, they were done as warning shots to the Soviets in the post-war era to come. None of the conflicts or coups we’ve engaged in since WW2 were necessary to our national security, and all defy the war crimes principles we’d helped write after the war. Nor did any of the conflicts or coups make the world a safer, better place. In order to justify such acts by our “defense” establishment, we are the most heavily propagandized nation on the planet. The “exceptional” and “indispensable” nation is the world’s leading terror(its) state. And has been since the end of WW2.

      1. Felix_47

        As a veteran of three wars and 35 years I thank Mr. Trout for his comment. He is right on. I went into the military even though many escapes were possible because I thought Kennedy meant something when he said “Ask not…..” Looking back I am not sure he even knew. One way we could control the military is to make military service something Americans have to think about. Bringing back the draft would solve a lot of problems. We never would have gone to Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria or Africa with a draft. And it needs to be a national draft that includes children of hedge fund billionaires and Wall Street CEOs and inside trading senators. The next generation of Trumps or Bidens should not be able to escape it. And it needs to put their children through basic training and up close with minority kids from modest backgrounds. Until the politicians and citizens have skin in the game the military will get worse and worse. If Americans do not want to reinstate the draft they more or less deserve the leadership they get, which is not much.

        1. vegeholic

          There should be some kind of (1-2 year) compulsory national service required of every citizen: soldiering, teaching, public health, coast guard, forest service, fire-fighting, law enforcement, peace corps, CCC, etc. With such a universal, shared experience, it would eliminate the epic level chasms which separate and de-legitimize participants in these discussions. It would give everyone a basis for informed opinions on national priorities. It would give a boost to many struggling government departments and services, and give young adults some valuable experience while shopping around for a career path.

        2. Kilgore Trout

          I think the civic and republican virtues embodied in Kennedy’s inaugural speech, which I found stirring even as a 10 year old, foundered on the shoals of Vietnam. It would be nice to think a draft and national service could restore some sense of unity and patriotism (in the best sense of the word) to the nation. But we can’t even agree on mask-wearing to ease a pandemic. It’s one more demonstration of Neoliberalism’s pernicious influence, building since the end of WW2.

          James Galbraith wrote in Boston Review years ago, and James Douglas in his book “JFK and the Unspeakable”, that Kennedy had signed orders removing all advisors from Vietnam in October of ’63. Douglas argues persuasively that this act was the final straw (IIRC) culminating in the events in Dallas the next month–which actually was the second attempt on Kennedy, the first some weeks earlier in Chicago. Pondering the what-ifs had Kennedy lived, and he’d been able to continue and enlarge his back channel talks with Khrushchev, and Vietnam war had never happened, perhaps we’d be living in a very different and better world today.

  5. skippy

    The American military has always been ideological at its core, its original mission was to negate the authority of divine rulers in the matters of commerce and its profits as the creator saw fit in there eyes.

    This millstone has been transferred across all time and space with a notion of its own divine providence against all others because of the advantage it affords those that make the most from it.

    1. JBird4049

      The large, permanent American army as it is now was never meant to exist for the original idea and in reality was for a small standing army, really more of a skeleton of one, for border patrol and manning the coastal forts; when there was a serious war the skeleton was given flesh, but only if the state militias/armies were unable to handle it, which they usually weren’t. Besides a few regiments of dragoons to fight the Indians, an infantry regiment or two, the fort garrisons, and the oversized Corp of Engineers (which was actually used to convince Congress to fund an army at all) use to build public works and fortifications. And that was it for the Federal army. The only large force was navy because it takes too long to build and piracy (something like half of the federal budget was for paying off the Barbary pirates until they were defeated)

      Until 1947, it was normal to disband most of the American military until needed again. A policy that was in effect from when the colonies existed to then. That would roughly be 350 years. It is from independence, it would be 170 years. It would be nice to have that policy beck in effect again.

      It was only because of the Cold War including the Soviets getting the Bomb and Korea that it was changed. IIRC, military Keynesianism was also an idea. Once we had a nice big and shiny military we decided to use it.

      The Founders as well as the framers of the Constitution could described as terrified of a large, permanent national because of it eventually being used for “tyranny.” The entire Bill of Rights was a reaction to what the British, using their military as a police force, had done before the American Revolution. Yes, taxes, money (greed) even some honest principles were important, but the constant abusive attempts at revenue collection supercharged the colonists anger.

      It is strange that we are once again having a militaristic police in place increasingly ignoring all the protections in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights created to prevent this. The history and the ultimate results of the last time are written about in many, many history books. Doesn’t anyone in power read them? Someone once wrote something like those who do not know their history are doomed repeat it.

      1. Chuk Jones

        The the third amendment is often ignored but can be considered in this context. The founders were very concerned with the intrusion of the military into civilian life. This is was most relevant to them at the time, due to The Quartering Acts imposed by the crown on the colonies. It could be argued that these acts led to the revolution itself (a prime example would be the Boston Tea Party incident). This amendment had its antecedents in the concerns over a standing army and the rise of tyranny from the same. Unfortunately, due to its simplicity, it is hard to see how it could be used to help rein in the military and its outsized role in civilian life.

      2. The Historian

        I think you need to get a good history of the War of 1812. Our love affair with standing armies began a long time before 1947. But remember, before 1947, it was much easier to create a standing army than it was after WWII and you didn’t have to have people in constant training like you do now.

        Nobody much remembers that god-awful war of 1812. We remember Tecumseh for all the wrong reasons, the battle of Baltimore for the Star Spangled Banner – which was won by the US’s standing army, and the Battle of New Orleans and we forget all the rest, like how we started that war, like how close we came to losing that war, like how it bankrupted this country, like how we thought Canada wanted to be a part of the US – it didn’t – and like how Madison had to send a standing army to Connecticut because many in New England were thinking of secession over this war that they did not want. It was not lost on the US government that militias were poorly trained, were more loyal to their states than the US, and for the most part, would not invade Canada when they were ordered to.

        1. JBird4049

          I haven’t forgotten the War of 1812. A regular standing army was required to survive the war, and it did finally silenced those who wanted to eliminate it, but the army was still greatly reduced in size after the war and kept small; it was large enough to win the Mexican-American War.

          The system essentially remained intact until after the Spanish-American War, modified afterwards and again after World War I and was only really dissolved after World War II. Don’t forget that the army itself was very rapidly demobilized after V-J Day as was much of the navy with the expectation of returning to a much smaller, although perhaps not as small, military like that of the 1930s.

      3. scott s.

        The history of US Army has an inflection point after the SpanAm war when the Army was considered to be unable to mobilize and fight effectively. Out of that came Elihu Root’s modernization of 1903 and continued organizational changes through the National Defense Act of 1916. The cornerstone was the creation of the Army of the United States (AUS).

        On a technical note the Corps of Topographical Engineers was created fro the purpose of public works, though in practice officers in both branches tended to work on both military and civil projects and that resulted in the branches merging during the American civil war.

        The third amendment I think is a reflection of the problem that in the wake of the Thirty Years War European armies had grown beyond the ability of governments to fund their existence. Hence the resort to requisition, quartering, or even plunder to meet the logistics needs of the army. But in a popular democratic system, whether army logistics is provided for by eg quartering or a direct tax on the population seems more of a distinction in method than effect.

        I’m not sure what you are alluding to in your “military as a police force” comments. Certainly the early “peace establishment” (10 regiments infantry, 4 artillery, and 2 dragoon) was mainly a police force (recall that Indian Affairs was part of the War Department portfolio until after the creation of Interior).

        1. JBird4049

          “the military as a police force” is a reference to how the British Army pre-revolution was used as a de facto police force. I should have added for comparison that modern American policing is being also used in a quasi military way to collect money by tickets, fines, and fees as well as civil asset forfeitures. It is certainly being equipped as one. They both came to the same point of using militarized strategy, tactics, and weapons to keep the peace or really to collect the money.

          To be fair, the local sheriff and the community watch would not have helped the British government very much in collecting the taxes and fees wanted. They often supported the tax evaders. The army was the only realistic other choice.

          Officer Smiley is not supposed to ride in a surplus MRAP. Somewhere we wandered away from the Mayberry PD as a comedic, but ideal policing, to believe using SWAT raids for routine searches as normal in many locations.

  6. LowellHighlander

    “Demilitarize our democracy” will resonate incredibly favorably with myriads of veterans, such as myself. Why do so many enlisted personnel leave after one enlistment, even in “peace time” (when there was such a phenom)? It’s because military life is entirely hostile to the idea of equality and democracy; rank is what counts. [And then there’s the regimentation of almost every aspect of even your personal life, but I’ll save that for another post.)

    Could we start with returning the Pentagon to its name when it used to win wars – the Department of War? Or is that name too truthful for the country these days?

  7. ArkansasAngie

    I think you should/could consider looking at the military as consisting of “rank and file” and the “big dogs” who play with politicians in Washington. By lumping them together “they” have succeeded in wedging and dehumanizing

    Follow the money.

    Interestingly to me is the fact that Democrats have become the War Party … the military/industrial complex supporters.

    To break the choke hold we need to take currency away from the government so that they cannot financing things without “our” (the rest of us) approval.

  8. Temporarily Sane

    Good article. Not mentioned is that the president is now routinely referred to as the Commander In Chief by mainstream and sometimes even alternative media even when the topic being discussed has nothing to do with the military. I think this trend began during Bush43’s reign, I don’t recall it being in frequent use before 9/11 though I may be mistaken about that.

  9. jackiebass

    A strong military has nothing to do with protecting America and it’s people . It is for the advancement and protection of Americas empire. Government spending should have a multiplier effect. Military spending has a negative multiplier effect. The actual Pentagon budget is only a part of what we spend on the military.A huge amount of money spent on the military is disguised and other spending.

    1. TomDority

      Agree – in the past, military technology was more usefull to civilian use – however, now – not so much. As for technologies where we led in research and developement – that has been decimated by the financialization of enterprizes to maximize shareholder and thus owner value (cashola) – it is the same financialization that has priced the US out of international markets for production of goods.
      After reading the 911 report when it came out – its end part was about how agencies needed to be nimble / agile and not burdened by a huge beauracracy…..then HomelandSecurity ™ came along and it appeared to be the atithesis, the opposite of the recomendations of the 911 report.
      When I tell people that the police do not rank in the top 10 for dangerous jobs – they can’t believe it – yet all the marketing and lobby work produce huge contracts because the marketing and lobby work make believers despite the facts – it is part of the reason we spend thousands of times more money preventing terrorist attacks in our borders than we do on preventing gun violence in our streets. The term Hero is evocked way to often – the police have been trying to label themselves as brave and heroic and needed to prevent chaos in the streets….. well a firefighter or a carpenter or a driver etc. is much more heroic than a cop and much less likeley to cause riots or kill or murder civilians than cops. – I think cops not only have a safe job but are more likeley to use lethal force than any non-domestic terrorist in any given year (except 911).
      Anyway – appears the real danger is fear itself – or the marketing of fear, the selling of fear as the most effective fund raising and election tool. I think the fear tool is overused and our Hero worship overworked.

      1. Fireship

        I imagine morbid obesity is the biggest killer of cops. How lard arse donut junkies became such icons is bizarre. I put it down to the ease with which Americans are cucked – unsurprisingly one of their favorite pr0n genres.

  10. Rod

    It would be good to recognize that EM and Officers have their differences also, born of their direct military experience (doing-v-telling to do)

    The Privileges of Rank
    The Peacetime Draft and Later-life Attainment

    Later research found that veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the post–Korean cold war earned more and had higher status than did nonveterans.2 According to recent research, World War II veterans earned no more, and possibly earned less, than did equivalent nonveterans.3 Vietnam veterans had lower income and lower occupational status than did nonveterans of the same period.4 Veterans who were drafted to serve in Vietnam paid a penalty compared to those who were not drafted.5 White veterans of the post-Vietnam era, or the All-Volunteer Force (AVF), earn less than white nonveterans, while non-white veterans earn more than their nonveteran counterparts.6 More recently, research has found that the effects of military service differed by rank.7 These findings suggest that the effects of military service differ across different groups and historical periods.

    1. Rod

      What I am sayin is I have yet to see Anderson Cooper (or insert cut-out here) interview an E-4 or 7 or 9–not even a W-5. All of which probably have different insights on their direct experiences with ‘military waste’ (Clips to KIA) which may have resulted in the ‘Attitude Adjustment’.

      Curious to see more details on 1/6 participants.

  11. Carolinian

    Surely there’s plenty of reason to downsize the military without bringing “sedition” into it. After all exaggerated fears of presumed threats, foreign or domestic, are the fuel that has given us such a bloated military.

  12. John Rose

    Despite being non-democratic, the military is and has, in the past and compared to the larger society, been in the forefront on racial equity, scientific research, gender respect, even environmental issues, as well as disciplined behavior (compared to politicians) and medium term thinking.

    Based on my impressions.

    1. Susan the other

      Not only their dedication to equity, but their organizational operations. The military should be used for more than a narrow definition of defense. I’d say their skills at never “winning” a war, even a 20 year one, is a plus in this sense: They know how to stay with it – whatever it is. So if we were to give them a new mandate to create a clean environment – do a big cleanup job for the country and the planet – they would stay focused on it for decades. And probably do a decent job.

      1. Offtrail

        Susan, if they haven’t done a decent job of winning wars, why would they do a decent job of cleaning up the environment?

        1. Susan the other

          just this: I don’t think there is a “decent” way to win a war. Attrition is one option – not particularly decent but less devastating maybe. The military doesn’t cook up its own marching orders – congress does. The criticism should be that congress shouldn’t start wars it cannot finish. Everything wrong with the USA today, economically, societally, militarily can be traced back to an inept congress.

      2. Anthony G Stegman

        Where is the profit and career path for those in the military who “clean up the environment”? While such a task is urgently necessary, in our capitalist society there is no big money to be made in doing so.

        1. Susan the other

          Maybe something like the “Environmental Industrial Complex” could transform the way we think about profit.

      3. Peter VE

        They could start by cleaning up all the massive pollution they have left in their wake. That should keep them busy for a couple decades.

        1. Susan the other

          Yes, I do agree with this. They know where their own skeletons are buried. It is an excellent place to start.

    2. Offtrail

      This is baloney. To take just one example, gender respect, from this list of things at which you say the military excels, the services have been rightly excoriated for decades for their failure to address sexual abuse.

  13. Offtrail

    The all-volunteer army has had the effect of drastically reducing the number who serve. Fewer Americans have any experience of what it is actually like to be in the armed forces. This lends itself to all kinds of unrealistic projections about the military, abetted by the immense Pentagon PR machine and a political / media establishment that promotes war.

    If you look at the accounts of Americans who served in WWII, you don’t find glamour. You find descriptions of immense, impersonal, rather dysfunctional institutions.

    The fantasies about the modern military and its wars must be a tremendous burden to those who actually served.

    1. Maxwell Johnston

      Agree 100%. The US military is not representative of the country as a whole. The enlisted ranks skew heavily towards minorities and the less-well-off, and generally towards the old Confederacy. The officer ranks are populated mainly by graduates of the military academies and/or the offspring of military families; there is precious little overlap between the officer corps and the country’s elites (whether intellectual or financial). In my MBA class, there were only four of us with a military background (me, a West Pointer, an Annapolis grad, and a Frenchman who had done his year of mandatory service).

      I would add one small correction to an otherwise excellent article: I never saw any racism during my 4 years in the army. On my very first day of boot camp, our drill sergeant made it clear: he wasn’t interested in black or white or brown or purple, he only saw green. Whatever its (many) other faults, I think the US military does an excellent job in this respect.

      1. Kilgore Trout

        I think the military was the first institution in the US to be fully integrated, by Truman, IIRC..

  14. David

    I realise that it was an intern who composed the title of the article, but it has absolutely nothing to do with how the Third World (a dubious concept) sees its military. I wonder if the authors have ever left the US? In real life, many countries have complex and difficult relationships with their militaries, who may be admired, feared, respected, cordially disliked or just ignored.
    I’ve always assumed that America’s love affair with its military comes from the fact that, in a society devoted to the pursuit of individual wealth and power, the military symbolises, at least in theory, a better and more moral kind of life.

  15. digi_owl

    I can’t help wonder if all the weirdness of present day US society comes back to this “warrior” worship.

    Some anthropologist clued me onto an observation that it is largely warrior worshiping cultures where one find concepts like a third “gender”. This because it is easier in the short term to box the men that will not or can not partake in the warrior role as something other than a man.

    This as the alternative is to redefine the whole male gender ROLE (emphasis on role, as it seems the role and the gender gets put in a terminology blender these days) away from the warrior concept. And that is a much taller, and long term, order (and one that is liable to backslider with the passing of generations as well as outside influences).

  16. AndrewJ

    One of those vignettes that illustrated to me how the military-warrior-worship has arisen in our society, though it’s been present as far as as I can remember, as a child of the eighties – I toured the Coors factory in Golden, Colorado, and dug the history exhibits. Brewing in the mining days, up until Prohibition, how the navigated the decades up through the seventies – and then it was on to a whole new room, clearly added later, this one full of flags and uniforms and militaria that hadn’t been present to much of a degree in the previous areas. It was stomach-churning, and brought home how our current society’s lionization without question of Our Brave Heroes wasn’t always present. Now it’s everywhere and getting worse.

  17. Anthony G Stegman

    With such a vast and all-encompassing military apparatus this country can quickly and easily revert to a military dictatorship of sorts. It may be disguised to some degree, but a dictatorship it will be. Perhaps it is already here.

  18. SteveLaudig

    The costliest losingest military in human history. Since 1946 many wars, two “victories” Panama; Grenada. All the other wars were unconstitutional, unlawful under IL, and devastating to the civilians in the countries the US military assaulted.

    Under what theory of “respect earned” have members of the losingest military earned any respect?

    All the US needs to protect US nationals in the US is a border patrol and a coast guard.

    The rest is money wasted. COVID-19 is killing what I will call “a 911” [3,000. A measure like a “dozen”] Americans everyday. Imagine if the money spent since 1946 had been devoted to truly defending and enstrengthening the US with infrastructure and health care.

  19. jpr

    @Kilgore Trout
    “…Kennedy had signed orders removing all advisors from Vietnam in October of ’63.”

    This is one of those tales that gets “better” with every retelling and Proust-like “remembrance” esp. by those who were of an impressionable age in the early ’60s:

    The notion that JFK would have gone on national TV and announced a withdrawal from Vietnam runs so counter to everything that man and his famously competitive “clan” stood for that it can only pass muster in rosy eyed semi-fictional accounts written decades after the “toughness” for which the Kennedys stood had been either forgotten or not known at all by generations born in later decades.

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