We've been discussing threats to our democracy largely due to the antics of the Bush administration. I have been encouraging a real discussion about real American values. And one of the things that I have been thinking about is the role of the military in a democratic society. James Madison once said, "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad." He also said, "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
Prior to WWII the US never kept a large, professional standing army. We usually had a relatively small force ready to go and mechanisms such as the draft that could be used to dramatically increase manpower when we needed it. These were citizen soldiers But since the end of WWII, not only have we dramatically increased the size of our standing military, we have fully professionalized our forces. See the table below. You will notice that we never returned to Pre WWII levels of military force. There were good reasons for that (most which I needed not explain here), the most important being the start of the Cold War. I had a beautiful table all created, but couldn't up load it. So forgive the uneven spacing.
Active Duty Military Personnel, 1789-2004
Year -----# of personnel----- Event
1814 -------46,858 ----------War of 1812
1848 ------60,308 ----------Mexican War
1865 ------1,062,848 -------Civil War
1898----- 235,785 ----------Spanish American War
1945 -----12,123,455 --------WWII
1952 -----3,635,912---------Korean War
1968 -----3,547,902-------- Vietnam War
1988 ----2,138,000 --------Approx. Fall of the Berlin Wall
1991 -----1,985,600 ---------Persian Gulf War
2003 ----1,434,000 ---------Iraq War
Compiled from various year reports of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, US Census Bureau, section 11
Concept taken from William E. Hundson's, American Democracy in Peril: Seven Challenges to America's Future, 3rd ed. Chatham House Publishers, 2001
What is the most interesting thing about this table is what it doesn't tell you. Along with this military build up has come a whole support apparatus comprised of what Eisenhower coined the "military industrial complex" and an unwieldy intelligence system. It has also caused Americans to accept limits on their liberties while the government has increased its power over the citizenry. The National Security Act of 1947 that established the CIA (built from the remains of the Office for Strategic Services- OSS) specifically forbade the agency from conducting counter intelligence operations. In effect, it forbade the CIA from interfering with domestic policies. The domestic side was the FBI. The FBI was charged to watch "dissidents" and other dangerous elements in the U.S. The NSA was charged with listening to everyone (except Americans), everywhere and then to pass that information on to the proper agency. This is why, by the way, there was a Chinese wall build between intelligence agencies.
The Atomic Energy Commission was build up in the Cold War years to develop nuclear weapons, but eventually got involved with business to start building civilian nuclear reactors. All types of nuclear work were deemed necessary for "national security". The National Science Foundation was meant to conduct defense related research. Congress justified its every action by using defense. We had the National Defense Education Act, the National Defense Highway Act, etc. So in many ways, we owe our current standard of living to wars. Wars spur government investment. Foreign language professionals have been telling the government for years that we need to increase funding to foreign language education in this country. No one listened until people started getting shot in Iraq. Suddenly, foreign languages are up there with math and science as a national priority.
All of this is to say that the U.S. has basically been militarized since the end of WWII. With the end of the Cold War, we searched for new threats rather than demilitarize. By that time, the militarization of the nation had been so ingrained, the economy so tied up in the military industrial complex, that demilitarization was unthinkable. The peace dividend never materialized.
Our Founders believed that a large standing army was a threat to democracy. All one has to do is start looking at the number of military coups around the world to understand the Founders' concerns. In addition, resources that go to the military establishment don't go back into other "soft" issues like education, health care, social security. In fact, we borrow from theses programs, especially the latter to help pay for the military establishment. We have become what Harold Lasswell termed the "Garrison State" back in 1930. He believed that the perpetual state of crisis created a society where secrecy, dishonesty, mobilization, procedural shortcuts, increased power to military dominated leadership, and repression were all acceptable. And the worst thing of all is that when the power to squash others is there, it will be used- often for unjustifiable reasons. Why negotiate when you can blow half a country away with a single bomb? Why rely on diplomacy when you can point a gun and get what you want? None of these things are conducive to democracy at home or to relations abroad. We have created a new cycle of violence for ourselves. We have the weapons, we use the weapons, we create more instability so that we need to spend more on a military to defend us. We too, will spend ourselves into the ground as did the former USSR. The difference is, the USSR had a real enemy. We are only fighting our own shadow.