Patriots Used to Be Skeptical of the Military

by on February 2, 2015 at 7:31 am in History, Law | Permalink

The most recent issue of the Fletcher Security Review features a paper by Alex Nowrasteh and myself on Privateers! Their History and Future. One of the interesting side notes is that Americans supported privateering not just because it was effective but also because America’s greatest patriots, the founding generation, were deeply skeptical about standing armies and navies. Today, the right-wing, uber-patriotic brand of Americanism is pro-military and pro-empire. In contrast, the founders would regard the empire as deeply un-American. Quoting from the paper:

The founders feared standing armies as a threat to liberty. At the constitutional convention, for example, James Madison argued that “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” For the founders, the defense of the country was best left to citizens who would take up arms in times of national peril, form militias, overcome the peril, and then to return to their lives.

As a result, the ideal military for the founders was small and circumspect (remember also that the second amendment was in part about the fear of standing armies, hence the support of the militia). The 1856 Treaty of Paris banned privateering but the United States refused to sign. Secretary of State William Marcy explained why in a great statement of patriotic American anti-militarism:

The United States consider powerful navies and large standing armies as permanent establishments to be detrimental to national prosperity and dangerous to civil liberty. The expense of keeping them up is burdensome to the people; they are in some degree a menace to peace among nations. A large force ever ready to be devoted to the purposes of war is a temptation to rush into it. The policy of the United States has ever been, and never more than now, adverse to such establishments, and they can never be brought to acquiesce in any change in International Law which may render it necessary for them to maintain a powerful navy or large standing army in time of peace.

Today the patriotic brand of anti-militarism, the brand that sees skepticism about the military and the promotion of peace and commerce as specifically American, is largely forgotten. President Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation was perhaps the last remnant in modern memory. It’s a tradition, however, that true patriots must remember.

1 JC February 2, 2015 at 7:40 am

I though acting or thinking like the founders in 2015 was a bad thing…

2 dan1111 February 2, 2015 at 8:57 am

Who is this directed at? I don’t think Alex has espoused that view.

3 Dan Weber February 2, 2015 at 12:18 pm

It feels like some variation of No True Scotsman.

“Well, *real* liberals believe in freedom of speech!”

4 Aaron Luchko February 2, 2015 at 11:35 am

I’m not American so I don’t really care what your founders think.

But the modern pro-military patriots he’s indirectly criticizing tend to claim a deep respect, even a reverence, for the the founders and their opinions. If they’re in complete disagreement with the founders on some basic issues it’s worth pointing out.

The sections Alex excerpted were also applicable as modern critiques of current policies. It is the case that the US’s military adventurism is largely a result of having a massively overpowered military and no other good use for it.

5 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 2:18 pm

“If they’re in complete disagreement with the founders on some basic issues it’s worth pointing out.”

The short version is that their not. Alex Tabarrok is either taking an extremely simple view of the history involved, or he doesn’t really know it in great detail.

I’m not exactly a student of such history, but even basic American history taught in high school in the 1980’s documented the conflicting opinions among the Founding Fathers on this subject.

6 carlolspln February 2, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Cue famous Madeleine Albright quote [to Colin Powell]: ‘What good is having the best military in the world if you never use it?”

7 So Much for Subtlety February 2, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Aaron Luchko February 2, 2015 at 11:35 am

If they’re in complete disagreement with the founders on some basic issues it’s worth pointing out.

I suspect they are in complete disagreement with their views on slavery and race. Just a hunch.

It is the case that the US’s military adventurism is largely a result of having a massively overpowered military and no other good use for it.

The idea that military adventurism exists in the US is laughable. The US is extremely slow to use its military. Too slow in fact.

The main cause for the love of the military on the Right (excluding the Paulistas of course) is that they do serve. Ordinary, working class even, men serve the public. They believe in America. The Left hates that. The Founding Fathers may have hated the idea of a standing Army, but it is impossible to think of Benjamin Franklin having his picture taken sitting on a British cannon. Or the student body of Harvard marching shouting “Geo, Geo, George III!” As the Left has turned on America, the Right’s support has hardened.

8 Pochemuchka February 3, 2015 at 4:10 am

“I suspect they are in complete disagreement with their views on slavery and race”

Are you kidding? Right wingers today have pretty much similar views on slavery and race as founding fathers. They express them in more subtle ways.

9 Art Deco February 3, 2015 at 12:09 pm

You need to make your ignorance and general disorientation less manifest.

10 Agra Brum February 3, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Ha ha, US too slow to use its military. That is rich. What was Iraq but adventurism?
We are dropping bombs in a range of countries across the globe rather cavilerly. I actually agree with most of it, but I also recognize that these are almost all wars of choice, and there is little to no backlash in getting involved. No other country on earth uses its military outside its borders as much as the US. Yet you claim we are far too slow. Rather remarkable…

11 Pochemuchka February 4, 2015 at 6:16 am

Truth hurts…

12 William Woody February 2, 2015 at 8:01 am

It’s amazing how reality caused our Founding Fathers to change their minds in 1791, fielding a standing army in the west to protect the frontier from Indians. And it’s amazing how the British burning Washington D.C. to the ground during the War of 1812 caused those same Founding Fathers to reform the War Department whose responsibilities included coastal defense.

But then, complaining that conservatives are strong supporters of the military is like complaining that conservatives believe that the Supreme Court should more jealously guard its role in limiting and overturning unconstitutional laws, as this was not the original purpose our Founding Fathers saw the Supreme Court playing. (It wasn’t until Marbury v Madison (1803) that the Supreme Court took upon itself the power to rule laws unconstitutional–more than a decade after the establishment of the U.S.’s first standing army.)

And it is well worth remembering, by the way, that the same country that was founded by Founding Fathers who were suspicious of a standing army (and for good reason, as it was the means by which the British imposed control on the colonies) would be the same nation who, only 87 years later, would practically single-handedly invent modern warfare–including steel battleships, rapid intelligence reports via electronic communications, repeating rifles, machine guns, and even previewed the trench warfare of World War I at Petersburg in 1864.

Should we consider the libertarian conservative movement bankrupt because it shows pride in the military tradition we built during the Civil War? And if so, is the modern libertarian conservative movement also bankrupt because it opposes slavery?

13 Pshrnk February 2, 2015 at 9:22 am

You forgot to mention Hitler.

14 Ray Lopez February 2, 2015 at 10:06 am

If he does, he will lose due to Godwin’s Law.

15 Judah Benjamin Hur February 2, 2015 at 10:19 am

“conservatives believe that the Supreme Court should more jealously guard its role in limiting and overturning unconstitutional laws”

“Conservative” judges are just as activist as liberals, perhaps more so.

16 Jay February 2, 2015 at 11:39 am

I believe he’s saying that exact thing.

17 William Woody February 3, 2015 at 10:32 am

> I believe he’s saying that exact thing.

Pretty much.

And I think that’s okay. Or rather, I think holding ‘conservatives’ to the original intent of the Founding Fathers prior to the signing of the Constitution–as if history stopped in 1787 and institutions did not evolve over the course of the following 30 or 40 years–is to hold Conservatives to believing in slavery, that slaves should only count as 3/5ths of a person, to a Supreme Court which is powerless to adjudicate the constitutionality of laws, to a Senate that should be selected by state governments rather than elected by the people, and to the idea that women should not have the right to vote.

And to me that’s absolutely absurd. It’s holding modern conservative ideology (which, properly speaking, evolved as a reaction to perceived government over-reach of the New Deal of FDR and the Great Society of LBJ) to a hypothetical standard which serves absolutely no purpose towards understanding the conservative movement. It’s like saying that all Christians are not “true” Christians unless they believe in transubstantiation–then calling all Christians cannibals, or it’s like saying that all Liberals are filthy hippies.

Both Liberals and Conservatives are activists–meaning both are actively seeking to change the status quo to a more ideal vision of the country. Which to me is fine. And, given how thoroughly entrenched a lot of liberal ideology is in our modern society, one could argue that the modern Conservative movement are the true radicals seeking to overthrow the current established order to impose a more idealistic vision.

18 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 1:45 pm

v“Conservative” judges are just as activist as liberals, perhaps more so.

Rubbish.

19 Judah Benjamin Hur February 2, 2015 at 3:57 pm

I’m convinced, thanks.

The “conservative” Supreme Court denied millions of people access to Medicaid and may very well deny another 5+ million heath insurance this year. (please don’t rehash the laughably contrived legal explanations) Nothing even the Warren court did was that extreme. I won’t even bring up Bush v. Gore, but I’m guessing, a wild guess mind you, that our 9 robed rulers were not engaging in honest jurisprudence. I would place the odds of that at roughly 1 in 512.

The bottom line is that the US Supreme Court, whether run by “conservatives” or “liberals” has no more integrity and is deserving of no more respect the the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, but at least no one took the latter very seriously.

20 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 4:19 pm

If you use the broad definition of judicial activism, it’s pretty much, a judge that makes a decision you don’t like. Or more generally, one who makes a decision based on their personal convictions.

However, in the narrow sense, as in a judge who acts as an alternate policy maker, it’s much more likely to be a Left leaning judge that’s involved.

21 Judah Benjamin Hur February 2, 2015 at 5:10 pm

There is not a shred of evidence that conservative judges are less likely to engage in policy making than liberals. If we were having this conversation 40 years ago, I might have agreed (partly because it seemed to be the case, and partly because I was 5 years old).

22 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 5:47 pm

There is not a shred of evidence that conservative judges are less likely to engage in policy making than liberals.

There is not a shred of evidence you are capable of making an honest remark.

23 Judah Benjamin Hur February 2, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Art Deco, you should argue that conservative activism is better than liberal activism. Just like drug dealers shouldn’t ingest their wares, propagandists shouldn’t swallow their hogwash. The idea that conservative (or liberal) judges are impartial and faithful to the Constitution is about as believable as the tooth fairy. Please.

24 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 7:37 pm

You should stop trying to argue, given the intellectual projects of the law faculties of the last 60 years (freely admitted to by Prof. Tribe and others), that some petty dispute over statutory language regarding Medicaid eligibility is on a par with manufacturing rights to abortion, rights to ‘gay’ marriage, and various other travesties out of a few phrases in a constitutional amendment passed in 1868 on irrelevant subject matter. You would, if you had a ounce of integrity. You do not.

25 Cambias February 2, 2015 at 8:07 am

So what?

There’s an odd presumption in American politics that the “conservative” side isn’t allowed to have any opinions or ideas that weren’t around during Washington’s second term. That respecting the rule of law and the Constitution somehow also means buying into all the attitudes and mindsets of the Founders’ generation.

Admittedly, this bizarre notion is a rhetorical godsend to the “Progressives” because it means they can freely jettison all the vile poison in their own past (eugenics, segregation, imperialism, etc.) but gleefully imply conservatives are hypocrites for not mindlessly following Jefferson’s blueprint for America.

26 Walken February 2, 2015 at 9:24 am

“Patriotism is an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.
It can probably be said that the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as right purposes. . . . like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the values he holds on other people.”
(Friedrich von Hayek)

Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.

27 dead serious February 2, 2015 at 10:06 am

The problem is that the “conservative” side is, like the “progressive” side, sometimes not in keeping with its namesake.

And so what we’re left with is a party whose platform picks and chooses what exactly it wants to “conserve,” in this case not the old timey standing armies viewpoint but the old timey Second Amendment which was the whole purpose of the Second Amendment. Today’s “conservatives” are ardent supporters of both the standing military *and* the Second Amendment.

There is no shortage of dichotomies and inconsistencies within the “progressive” platform either.

28 dead serious February 2, 2015 at 10:24 am

* And so what we’re left with is a party whose platform picks and chooses what exactly it wants to “conserve,” in this case not the old timey standing armies viewpoint but the old timey militia viewpoint, which was the whole purpose of the Second Amendment.

29 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 4:30 pm

* And so what we’re left with is a party whose platform picks and chooses what exactly it wants to “conserve,”

Yes, that’s right, so?

30 The Engineer February 2, 2015 at 8:16 am

The narrative in this post is simplistic and un-historic. Most of the founding generation wouldn’t even consider themselves “American” in the uber-patriotic sense. They considered themselves citizens of their respective states.

It probably wasn’t until the Civil War that the nationalistic style of Americanism really got started, and even then it wasn’t all that powerful.

It wasn’t until the Progressive Era that American nationalism was truly invented, and like most things Progressive, it was created to make it easier to sell an all encompassing state to a rather skeptical public.

31 The Engineer February 2, 2015 at 8:28 am

Also, the critique of modern conservatives is probably wrong. Conservatives have been for a competent military in times of war, whether it be the Cold War or the War on Terror, but for the few years in between when we really did not have an acknowledged enemy? The facts say that the military took the brunt of the budget cuts during the 1990’s.

And, of course, Conservatives give our men and women in uniform the respect that they deserve, the kind of respect that liberals give to internet celebrities and Ivy League academics.

32 ttt February 2, 2015 at 1:19 pm

yes , i am a liberal so obviously i want an incompetant military.
“And, of course, Conservatives give…” give me a break

33 Tyler February 2, 2015 at 8:43 am

I thought I had accidentally stumbled on the post of an undergrad who just finished American History 101. Omigosh did you know the Founding Fathers weren’t storybook characters?

34 dead serious February 2, 2015 at 10:08 am

Only a cartoon thinks and believes this shite.

“Conservatives give our men and women in uniform the respect that they deserve.”

…by sending them into stupid-ass combat situations of their own making and with sub-par gear. GO TEAM RED! Fucking morons.

35 Stephen February 2, 2015 at 10:58 am

And yet, the military tends to vote Republican.

36 dead serious February 2, 2015 at 11:18 am

This is true.

Poor white people also vote Republican – against their economic well-being.

37 SPENCER February 2, 2015 at 11:18 am

And the officer corp creates almost a pure socialist environment for themselves.

The most socialist organization in the world is the US Army.

38 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 1:35 pm

“The most socialist organization in the world is the US Army.”

LOL, that’s just wrong. The modern US army tends to operate much like a corporation and to provide for allowances at a set rate vs actual expenses.

http://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/Home/Benefit_Library/Federal_Benefits_Page/Allowances.html?serv=147

This is not how a socialist organization is run.

39 Stephen February 2, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Only if you define economic well-being as receiving government assistance. Some people may not believe that is in their best interest.

40 JonFraz February 2, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Actually poor white people generally do not vote Republican– you are confusing them with the Republican-voting white middle class. Poor white people, as with poor people in general, very often do not vote at all, but when they do, the tend as a group to vote for Democrats.

41 Just Another MR Commentor February 2, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Well he is The Engineer. Engineers don’t tend to be very bright people, they’re basically either weird nerds or glorified garage mechanics. Extremely critical to be sure, but not very bright. This is why I support letting in many more immigrant engineers – to keep supply up and not allow this profession to achieve any sort of social prominence. I compare it to being a janitor – we need clean floors and toilets but janitors don’t deserve to be treated like intelligent professionals.

42 Just Another Engineer - JWatts February 2, 2015 at 4:31 pm

“Engineers don’t tend to be very bright people, they’re basically either weird nerds or glorified garage mechanics. ”

What’s with the or? We can be both.

43 Just Another MR Commentor February 2, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Whatever. As much as I praise the entrepreneurial genius of Silicon Valley I’ve long thought it was a good idea to hire local high school football teams to go into the Google, Facebook, etc. offices and give those nerds weggies, and swirlees in the washrooms. Some of these guys think they’re big shots now and that they “showed them” – that’s not a good attitude for a workforce if we want to see these companies continue to be successful and provide excellent returns for investors.

44 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 6:31 pm

“I’ve long thought it was a good idea to hire local high school football teams to go into the Google, Facebook, etc. offices and give those nerds weggies, and swirlees in the washrooms.”

Unfortunately that plan won’t work. All the Google and Facebook engineers hired a selection of former high school football players as building security. And gave them guns.

http://www.richardcrouse.ca//wp-content/uploads/2013/09/paul_blart_mall_cop01.jpg

45 Benny Lava February 2, 2015 at 8:22 am

Well Tyler there goes your theory that framing is important!

46 Axa February 2, 2015 at 9:23 am

@Tyler Cowen: Nice historical reference, but what’s your opinion on this specific part from Eisenhower’s speech?

“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

47 Ray Lopez February 2, 2015 at 10:09 am

@Axa–this is not a Tyler post, but an Alex post. They have different styles. Alex, hailing from Canada, tends to be more ‘gung-ho’ and idealistic, strangely enough.

Bonus trivia: Canada is actually bigger than the USA and the second largest country beside Russia.

48 Axa February 2, 2015 at 10:18 am

My mistake……..anyway, what about the “government contract becoming a substitute for intellectual curiosity”?

49 John Mansfield February 2, 2015 at 9:36 am

The last few years, far-right conservatives sometimes talk up limited military spending and overseas involvement, remembering that military is a big chunk of the government they want to pare down and get out of their lives. It probably comes of having a Democratic president in his second term.

50 John Mansfield February 2, 2015 at 9:39 am

For example, look up Glenn Beck on military spending.

51 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 1:41 pm

“The last few years, far-right conservatives sometimes talk up limited military spending and overseas involvement ..”

You’ve forgotten your history. During the 1990’s Dick Cheney actively cut the military budgets.

“Cheney’s most immediate issue as Secretary of Defense was the Department of Defense budget. Cheney deemed it appropriate to cut the budget and downsize the military, following the Reagan Administration’s peacetime defense buildup at the height of the Cold War.[42] As part of the fiscal year 1990 budget, Cheney assessed the requests from each of the branches of the armed services for such expensive programs as the Avenger II Naval attack aircraft, the B-2 stealth bomber, the V-22 Osprey tilt-wing helicopter, the Aegis destroyer and the MX missile, totaling approximately $4.5 billion in light of changed world politics.[27] Cheney opposed the V-22 program, which Congress had already appropriated funds for, and initially refused to issue contracts for it before relenting.[43] When the 1990 Budget came before Congress in the summer of 1989, it settled on a figure between the Administration’s request and the House Armed Services Committee’s recommendation.[27]
In subsequent years under Cheney, the proposed and adopted budgets followed patterns similar to that of 1990. Early in 1991, he unveiled a plan to reduce military strength by the mid-1990s to 1.6 million, compared with 2.2 million when he entered office. Cheney’s 1993 defense budget was reduced from 1992, omitting programs that Congress had directed the Department of Defense to buy weapons that it did not want, and omitting unrequested reserve forces.[27]
Over his four years as Secretary of Defense, Cheney downsized the military and his budgets showed negative real growth, despite pressures to acquire weapon systems advocated by Congress. The Department of Defense’s total obligational authority in current dollars declined from $291 billion to $270 billion. Total military personnel strength decreased by 19 percent, from about 2.2 million in 1989 to about 1.8 million in 1993.[27] Notwithstanding the overall reduction in military spending, Cheney directed the development of a Pentagon plan to ensure U.S. military dominance in the post-Cold War era.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Cheney

52 Mark February 2, 2015 at 10:00 am

Alex has a distorted view of the founders, and any historian could correct it. The majority of the Founders were Federalists and did believe in a strong national army. Madison was the founder of the Democratic Republican party, the eventually successful opposition to the Federalists. The Jefferson/Madison decimation of the standing army when the Democratic Republicans got into power was a major contributor to three years of disastrous military failure during the War of 1812, and no governing party since then has chosen to replicate the experiment. Jefferson and Madison were fervent believers in untrained militias, who were no match for professionals on the battlefield.

53 AngryAnalyst February 2, 2015 at 10:07 am

Putting aside the question of whether the statement the founders were anti-standing military is correct, it is at least possible that they would feel differently 200+ years into the the life of the country they founded. Very real (though still relatively rare) police brutality aside, nobody seriously worries about the American military indulging in a coup or being used as an instrument of domestic oppression. Perhaps it is more likely than it seems, but a scenario where the US military deposes Obama is hard for me to envision.

54 AngryAnalyst February 2, 2015 at 10:08 am

To be clear, that is a primary concern it seems the founders have from your quotes. The cost point is still true clearly…

55 dead serious February 2, 2015 at 10:14 am

I’m more worried about an armed police force than the military.

This from a never-been arrested, clean-nosed, affluent white guy.

56 Lib February 2, 2015 at 10:17 am

Consider also Marcy’s statement that Alex quotes especially:

“The expense of keeping them up is burdensome to the people; they are in some degree a menace to peace among nations. A large force ever ready to be devoted to the purposes of war is a temptation to rush into it.”

Seems correct.

57 Stephen February 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

The military doesn’t send itself into war.

58 ladderff February 2, 2015 at 10:32 am

Honest essayists should avoid the phrase “true patriot.”

59 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Canadian immigrants should avoid uptight lectures to the natives about true patriotism.

60 Just Another MR Commentor February 2, 2015 at 4:20 pm

All immigrants are good immigrants.

61 ilsm February 2, 2015 at 10:47 am

US navy exists so that merchantmen, of any nation, do not have to be armed.

A lot of it is “unwarranted influence”.

Military spending as %GDP: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/defense_spending

In terms of constant dollars US now spends more than in 1969. The negative rate in the 1990’s was modest. Reflected mainly killing or delaying failed weapons designed during the Reagan splurge such as the B-2 and F-22, Commanche helo, V-22….,

“If we would just take the profit out of war, there wouldn’t be any” Woody Guthrie

62 ilsm February 2, 2015 at 10:51 am
63 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 4:05 pm

You’re proposing to use 1969 technology and 1969 salary scales in today’s military?

64 prognostication February 2, 2015 at 10:56 am

See also James Fallows’s excellent Atlantic cover story from last month: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/12/the-tragedy-of-the-american-military/383516/

65 Just Another MR Commentor February 2, 2015 at 12:06 pm

James Fallows is the 4th dumbest guy in the entire Internet

66 ilsm February 2, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Fallows is so dumb he points out the $70M a copy V-22 tiltrotor which cannot land in hot landing zones and has huge aerodynamic restrictions cost $70,000 and hour to fly to ferry distinguished guests between safe bases. Similar for F-22′ and F-35!

67 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Do you really think that a generic opinion journalist with a history as a draft dodger, no history of doing any other sort of work in his adult life, and no academic background in any relevant subdiscipline is going to tell you anything worth knowing? It’s not that difficult in a library to rustle up material you can use to educate yourself. Fallows is paid to turn in copy on time. That’s it.

68 albatross February 2, 2015 at 5:47 pm

If only it were possible to read Fallows’ article and point out problems, instead of merely making arguments about whether anyone should listen to his opinions in the first place.

69 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 7:54 pm

Do you have unlimited time? If you do not, how do you set priorities?

If I read The Atlantic for amusement, I might look at his article, and, if it interested me, might try to see if I could glean citations out of it. I have not read The Atlantic at the library much for 30 years, so I’d have to go out of my way to browse. If I’m at the library, I can look at publications which are actually written by people who know the subject matter. Fallows has been a working opinion journalist for about 40 years or more. It’s not as if I haven’t read anything by him and I can anticipate important features of such an article because I’ve read them before. One will be a lack of formal citation to guide serious reading and another will be implicit references to expert opinion without any indication of who could have told him that.

Look at Military Review if it’s still published, or Journal of Political and Military Sociology, or others in this vein.

70 Mark Thorson February 3, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Ignorance is strength.

71 Matt Moore February 2, 2015 at 10:59 am

This is why the UK has a Royal Airforce, a Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, and the… Army.

Both the Crown and Parliament have always been suspicious of standing armies, so no “Royal” label.

72 derek February 2, 2015 at 11:11 am

All this may have been true at one time, but the post WW2 Pax Americana that arguably has been one of the drivers behind the rise in global prosperity has convinced people otherwise. The US has benefited enormously from a peaceful and prosperous Europe and Asia. Both maintained by a vigorous US military.

73 A Definite Beta Guy February 2, 2015 at 11:31 am

Yep. The Founding Fathers aren’t distantly removed from Cromwell and the Thirty Years War. In contrast, Modern Americans have experienced large standing armies that took on Nazism, Communism, and Terrorism. If the Founders had the same experience as modern Americans, they’d be all “rah rah Army!” as much as the rest of us. They probably wouldn’t be gung-ho about invading Third World nations for no damn reason, though.

74 ilsm February 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Standing army in 1940, the first peace time conscription brought in 1M soldiers……

There was a very small US Army in 1939.

75 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Which is widely regarded as a mistake and a strategic handicap. The small size of the US army and it’s inadequate equipment is the primary reason that the US had to delay the invasion of northern Europe until 1944. Stalin and Churchill were both clamoring for a US invasion as early as 1942. However, any rational analysis at the time indicated that the US Army wasn’t prepared to fight the Wehrmacht at that point.

76 JonFraz February 2, 2015 at 2:57 pm

It’s just as well they did wait until 1944: By then the Russians had chewed up enough German war strength to give the invasion a greater chance of success.
And even if the US would have had a larger army in 1941, it would not have been any more more ready for real combat– only actual war can do that.

77 Albigensian February 2, 2015 at 12:10 pm

As a relatively small, weak nation it surely made sense for the 18th century USA to avoid “entangling alliances” (“Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” ) yet the USA of today is in a very different position in the world than was the USA of 1797.

For that matter, Eisenhower’s warning regarding a “military-industrial complex” should also be placed in context. During Eisenhower’s presidency the USA’s military developed it’s triad of cold-war nuclear deterrence (long-range bombers, land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles) and the cost of doing so was large. Yet the USA’s dilemma in those days was that in the days before spy satellites it had only inaccurate estimates of Soviet military assets; thus, some in the military were constantly trying to counter all the weapons that the USSR might have. Eisenhower correctly saw that trying to counter everything imaginable in an age of very imperfect intelligence could only bankrupt the country.

Did the Founders fear a large military? Well, yes, they did. But, how relevant are their fears to post-WWII USA? And note that despite their fears, they were willing to finance a navy to counter the Barbary Pirates …

78 athEIst February 2, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Albigensian.

I thought you were all burnt at the stake in the 13th century.

79 dead serious February 2, 2015 at 2:31 pm

How relevant is the Second Amendment in light of everything you just wrote?

80 A Definite Beta Guy February 2, 2015 at 2:40 pm

Depends. If you have absolute faith in our benevolent Washington overlords for now and the entire future of human existence, maybe not.

81 dead serious February 2, 2015 at 4:19 pm

I don’t have absolute faith in anything, but I trust the government more than I do a mentally unstable populace armed to the gills.

82 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm

“but I trust the government more than I do a mentally unstable populace armed to the gills.”

If you think the US citizenry is armed to the gills as compared to the US government, you really don’t get out much.

83 dead serious February 2, 2015 at 5:12 pm

I wasn’t comparing arsenals.

84 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 6:34 pm

“‘I don’t have absolute faith in anything, but I trust the government more than I do a mentally unstable populace armed to the gills.”

Oh I get it. You trust the US government not to attack anybody without a really good reason.

85 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 10:40 pm

I don’t have absolute faith in anything, but I trust the government more than I do a mentally unstable populace armed to the gills.

It’s pretty common (as often as not among wage-earners) to own guns and favor sport hunting and target shooting in non-metropolitan counties in New York. The homicide rate in the counties averages to a bit over 20% of the national mean, so people in those parts really are ‘mentally unstable’ (or at least our social betters tell them).

86 Jeff R. February 2, 2015 at 11:24 am

Putting aside the whole issue of what’s a proper attitude about standing armies, patriotism, etc, and focusing on the privateering question: most wars today are fought between state and non-state actors. Supposing you could get some cash together, buy a gunboat or two, hire some ex Navy guys, and head off to the Mediterranean or the Gulf, does ISIS or Hezbollah or whoever have anything worth stealing that would actually make it worth your while? Honest question. Just seems like there’s a pretty big difference between, say, the Royal Navy in the early 1800’s and modern-day paramilitary and terrorist organizations.

87 Donald Pretari February 2, 2015 at 11:53 am

Amen. I also think Ike was the best President in my lifetime.

88 ilsm February 2, 2015 at 1:02 pm

US has about half a trillion dollars a year in “privateers”, they are called contractors, but none of them perform.

89 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 1:53 pm

US military contractors aren’t the same as privateers. US military contractors provide support services and security. The US doesn’t have any large scale “contractors” that are out fighting offensive military campaigns which would be the role of privateers.

90 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Blackwater in its heyday had a workforce of just under 1,000. We’re not spending $3 tn on that.

91 athEIst February 2, 2015 at 1:42 pm

President Eisenhower’s farewell address .
It would be nice to know
1. (we know he didn’t write it)
2. Did he read it before he spoke it?
3. Did he understand it when he spoke it?
4. Did he ever understand it? He died nine years later.
From graduation from High school until the end of his life he was a government employee or pensioner.

92 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Questions 2-5 are stupid and insulting. As for your initial assertion: which memoir of the Administration has been sufficiently granular that it tells us just who wrote every speech? Eisenhower himself wrote speeches for Gen. MacArthur in his younger days and some of his aides have said (quoted in Garry Wills Nixon Agonistes) that he was unusually discerning in his use of the written word and testy and critical regarding the initial drafts of his speech writers (“I hate this sentence. Who challenges whom? What about?”),

93 lxm February 2, 2015 at 2:16 pm

I think this is what Alex is talking about and what true patriots need to worry about:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-02-20/defense-cut-hypocrisy-makes-gop-converge-with-democrats

He’s an anti-tax Republican representative from Ohio. She’s an anti-war Democratic senator from Washington state. Jim Jordan and Patty Murray have little in common, save this: Protecting multibillion-dollar defense projects in their states from budget cuts.

Or, to put it another way KBR/Halliburton got $40 billion in contracts, many of them no bid during the Iraq war. If you need war to make a living then you will work to keep war happening. And, since we’ve been “at war” since 2001, that appears to be what is happening. Thank God for those damn Muslims!

On the other hand it’s really good to see bipartisanship in action.

94 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 2:58 pm

President Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation was perhaps the last remnant in modern memory

Pres. Eisenhower presided over a military which accounted for 11% of gross domestic product, a figure rather unlike the 1% which was the norm for the first 2/3 of his life as a professional soldier. That figure currently stands at 4.5% of domestic product. How low does it have to get before you people stop recycling the cross-of-iron speech?

Today, the right-wing, uber-patriotic brand of Americanism is pro-military and pro-empire. In contrast, the founders would regard the empire as deeply un-American.

The founding generation busily colonized the old west (in Canada as well as the U.S.) and our ‘Empire’ consists of Puerto Rico, three other sets of insular territories with a population which sums to less than that of Onondaga County, N.Y., and substantial garrisons in Germany and Japan.

The worst advertisements for libertarian ideas are the utterances of living and breathing libertarians.

95 lxm February 2, 2015 at 3:10 pm

So, if our empire is so insignificant, then why do we have to be policeman to the world?

96 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 3:37 pm

We don’t. The Chinese would love to have the job.

97 lxm February 2, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Got some proof? Or are you just a mind reader? Or just another fear mongerer?

98 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 4:23 pm

It’s idle speculation. And how is that fear mongering? Unless you are afraid of the Chinese? Are you a racist?

99 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 3:59 pm

To shoot dead the producers of inane non sequiturs.

100 lxm February 2, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Yes, violence is always a good solution.

101 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Well, it’s the fall back position for dedicated socialists, so it’s really not specifically a capitalist solution.

102 JWatts February 2, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Apparently you haven’t made it down to the video on War Communism:

http://mruniversity.com/courses/economic-history-soviet-union/war-communism

103 msgkings February 3, 2015 at 2:35 am

That post from JAMRC at 4:32PM was quite literally the best he’s ever posted. Still laughing.

104 Tarrou February 2, 2015 at 4:04 pm

I trace it to a tribal response to the Left’s rejection of the military (First because they wanted ours to lose to the Russians, then the Vietnamese, then the Iraqis). Leftism got so caught up with hating the military for not allowing us to get our “just desserts” for being bigger and more prosperous that everyone with any pro-military inclination got pushed to the right. Pre-WW2, it was the left pushing the military to help save their precious Stalin and beat up those mean Germans. It was the right that was isolationist and noninterventionist. But, the congenital longing of the left for a nice third-world boot on their neck changed the dynamic. And the military votes R for the same reason all the other poor whites do, because the left cannot contain its disdain for and bigotry against all things lower class, white, and even vaguely masculine.

People don’t generally vote for those who hold them in contempt and are open about it. Policy means nothing.

105 Tarrou February 2, 2015 at 9:56 pm

I think you are the one confused. You get a lot of votes with that line in Arkansas?

106 Sigivald February 2, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Military reality has changed since 1790, or even 1856.

The standing army of today (especially with its oath to the Constitution, rather than the State or the President) is far less a threat to liberty than the ones of the era of George III, or even Napoleon II.

It’s expensive but small.

Remember the danger seen by the Founders was one of a standing army used as an occupying force by a corrupt State.

(1.4M total people out of 330M; for the 4 million people in the US in 1790 the relevant proportion is an “Army” [note the total here includes the Navy; either 325k or 425k depending on whether or not we count reserves] of 16,000 people.

An 18th Century regiment is about 800 people; 20 regiments would thus be the equivalent size force for the immediate post-Revolutionary US.

Wikipedia tells me that in 1775 the forces “already outside Boston” when the Continental Congress started organizing numbered 22,000.; the New England Army of 1775 was 38 regiments.

Even the post-Revolution Legion Of The United States numbered some 5,400 trained troops [again, compared with the 16,000 baseline for now, and not including the US Navy, whose size in around 1795 I can’t easily find. I suspect, however, that it may well have, including support members, well exceeded 10,000, thus making the US permanent military of 1795 or so exactly in proportion to the modern one, in terms of soldiers – and it’s “number of soldiers” that matters here.]

We are comparing different things when we confuse “any standing Army” with “a standing Army of the sort that would be even vaguely useful in the Revolutionary to Napoleonic Era. The latter is far larger and thus far more dangerous to liberty, in that more soldiers per capita means more enforcers of a corrupt command and more boots on civilian necks.

Like holding an invaded country, keeping down a population requires lots of boots on the ground; you can’t do it with money and expensive kit alone.)

(I think Art Deco has the right of it … though I’m a libertarian. I’m also not the sort of libertarian that goes on about The Military Industrial Complex, like the Cold War is still going on. Or like it was a bad idea.

It’s also true that probably much ‘patriot’ lack of skepticism is pure irrational reaction to the skepticism shown by the demonstrably up-patriotic; “they hate it so we should like it” is irrational, but how people work.)

107 albatross February 2, 2015 at 6:00 pm

The main reason to worry about a military coup in the US is that we’ve spent the last decade+ developing technology and doctrine for holding down resentful subject populations and suppressing insurgencies. Alongside that, we have a military which is in many ways really different from mainstream US culture. I don’t see any reason to expect that to blow up in our faces, but it’s not impossible that it could.

If it happened, it would mostly not be guys with rifles standing on street corners, it would be troublemakers being tracked by social graph analysis and surveillance, and eliminated by death squads or missiles. The ability to track everyone, and more importantly, to track who are the likely natural leaders of any movement to resist a coup, will make it *enormously* easier to prevent effective challenges from arising.

108 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 7:43 pm

but it’s not impossible that it could.

Yes, and it’s possible you could be dead before morning from one of the many sudden disasters that happen in the circulatory system. How much sleep are you losing over it?

109 marris February 2, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Thanks Alex, for this great post!

I’m amused by the large number of pedants who skip over the meat of your post (skepticism toward militarism), but desperately want to comment on what the various Founding Father thought or did not think.

110 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 5:58 pm

I’m amused by the large number of pedants who skip over the meat of your post (skepticism toward militarism),

They may have skipped over it because they understand that the ‘militarism’ is imaginary. We have a volunteer military, the ratio of military expenditure to GDP is near trough of the last 75 years (it was lower only during the period running from about 1997 to 2003), and time in the military has been considered déclassé by bicoastal elites for about 50 years now. Of course, if you mean ‘functional pacifism’ when you say ‘skepticism toward militarism’, you ought to be more forthright.

111 marris February 3, 2015 at 9:12 pm

> the ratio of military expenditure to GDP is near trough of the last 75 years

Why do you think that military expenditures should scale with GDP? 75 years is meaningless, because 75 years ago, we were in the middle of WWII. I don’t see that level of warfare happening anytime soon. And if serious war did break out, we would hopefully re-allocate some of the money from dead weight projects like the F-35 to pay for useful equipment.

> time in the military has been considered déclassé by bicoastal elites for about 50 years now

I don’t think the fact that a “bicoastal elite” hasn’t been in the military makes him/her less willing to use military force. And sorry, I don’t trust the average elected politician to know how/when to deploy that force. Losing N wars in the last 15 years is enough.

112 Tim February 2, 2015 at 6:15 pm

“The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with nearly 160,000 of its active-duty personnel serving outside the United States and its territories and an additional 88,000 deployed in various contingency operations.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_deployments

113 Art Deco February 2, 2015 at 6:48 pm

“The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with nearly 160,000 of its active-duty personnel serving outside the United States and its territories and an additional 88,000 deployed in various contingency operations.”

A few years back, Andrew Bacevich complained we still had a ‘Southern Command’ and why could we not have a ‘mature’ relationship with Latin America and not have one. What he did not bother to say was that the whole command consisted of 2,000 billets (one tenth the manpower of 1950) and nearly half of them were at Guantanamo Bay, an American possession since 1902. The only loci which had a three digit population of American troops were Guantanamo, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. Their major activity was drug interdiction.

You do realize that ‘deployment’ can refer to 6 people working in the defense attaches office at the U.S. Embassy or security guards supplied by the Marines? In fact, it usually does. The vast bulk of U.S. Soldiers and sailors deployed abroad in recent years have been on the ocean or in one of four countries: Japan, Germany, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Between 70% and 87% of American troops have been billeted in the United States. That’s your ’empire’.

114 carlolspln February 3, 2015 at 12:06 am
115 Art Deco February 3, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Oh yeah, I get my statistics on military deployments from Alexander Cockburn.

116 carlolspln February 4, 2015 at 1:26 am

Mate, you’re all tip, no iceberg.

117 JJ February 2, 2015 at 7:31 pm

When enemies are far (geographically) it’s pretty cheap to be an isolationist, and immoderate populism only pays when it’s cheap. Conversely, when enemies (or just, I don’t know, others) are “near” (Hansonically), it pays handsomely. It’s the luck of American history that those two moved together.

118 Red February 2, 2015 at 9:18 pm

I think you’re confusing patriots with neocons. If neocons are patriotic about any country, it ain’t America….

119 Andrew_FL February 2, 2015 at 10:20 pm

Patriot was a term the American Revolutionaries to express their affinity with the Whig side of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. Patriot therefore was once understood to mean, essentially, “Whig,” that is (Classical) Liberal. Patriot in the modern usage is more used for someone who possesses some national pride, which is a shame because it once meant something more distinct, more English than the European Nationalism.

120 ThomasH February 3, 2015 at 10:43 am

And “conservatives” used to be conservative.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: