Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

National Security State

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
1789----------718
1807 -------5,323
1814 -------46,858 ----------War of 1812
1821 -------10,587
1845 -------20,726
1848 ------60,308 ----------Mexican War
1853 ------20,667
1860 ------27,958
1865 ------1,062,848 -------Civil War
1870------50,348
1896 -----41,680
1898----- 235,785 ----------Spanish American War
1910 -----139,344
1918 -----2,897,167---------WWI
1923 -----247,011
1935 -----251,799
1945 -----12,123,455 --------WWII
1950 -----1,460,261
1952 -----3,635,912---------Korean War
1959 -----2,504,310
1968 -----3,547,902-------- Vietnam War
1975 -----2,129,000
1988 ----2,138,000 --------Approx. Fall of the Berlin Wall
1990-----2,043,700
1991 -----1,985,600 ---------Persian Gulf War
1992 -----1,807,200
1993 -----1,705,100
1995 -----1,518,000
1997 -----1,439,000
2000 ----1,385,000
2003 ----1,434,000 ---------Iraq War
2004 ----1,426,800

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.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually your data shows a significant peace dividend. In 1988, we had over 2 million people in the military. Even now during our occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan we have less than 1.5 million. Dr. Strangelove may have more to say about this but I believe that 1.5 million today represents a higher proportion of reservists too. To put that in perspective, that difference between 1988 and 2004 is more than twice our total troop deployment in Iraq today.

I share US West's concerns with the militarization of American socieity but I am reluctant to suggest we reduce our military further.

To put our military spending in perspective: we spend about 3.3% of our GDP on the military. Iran also spends about 3.3% of its GDP on military. India spends about 2.9%. France spends about 2.6% of their GDP on their military. The UK spends about 2.4%. China spends 4.3%. According to the CIA the entire planet Earth expends about 2% of its global GDP on military.

Of course because because of our enormous economy, our 3.3% is far more in absolute dollars than many other powers combined (most of the other top spenders are our allies). However, if you look at what the occupation in Iraq is doing to our military and you consider the high military demands of a global trading power like the United States, reducing our military spending is not an obvious solution. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

US West said...

Unfortunately, because I can't my tables to post, I am not able to really illustrate well. I agree that we have seen troop reductions. In fact, there are, in addition to the active duty military, 1.3 mil National Guard troops. So that raises the total military to 2.5 mil. I didn't compile numbers of National Guard with the Active duty, although I could. We have relied heavily on National Guard. But this hasn't translated into as big of a peace dividend as we had hoped for.

Under Clinton, we started to see the dividend. Military expenditure was being shifted back to domestice programs. And the peace time economy worked, in large part because of a tech boom that had its roots in military R&D. In addition, when the economy is booming, potential recruits will work in the private sector.

But we are still planning a 2 front war. The Rumsfeld re-organization of Denfense is also a reason for reduced active military numbers. He wants lighter, smaller brigades rather than heavy boots.

All that said, the cost of all of this has gone up along with defense spending.

Since I can't publish the tables, here the the link. Take a look at two things: Tables 509-510 and Tables 514-515 . The last set of tables is off my original topic, but very interesting because it shows where we sold our weapons and services.

You are right, RBR, we can't reduce our military nor can we demilitarize ourselves because we have built everything around the military establishment. And we will continue to create reasons to use it. We feed the cycle that I referred to at the end of my post. It is unfortunate, but a fact of life. We should be aware of what we have created and its effect on our system of democracy.

Anonymous said...

Having a standing military is a problem. Having an evolving military class of people who are the children of retired military people is an even bigger problem. What really alarms me is that people from families with military ties vote dramatically differently than the rest of the population (they are consistently more conservative). This is a relatively new development.

In the past, our Constitution has protected us from undue interference in civil life by the military. There have been abuses in the past but they were checked by Constitutional means. We are about to enter another such Constitutional crisis. This will likely last for the remainder of the Bush presidency. We'll see how it resolves. But until these constitutional checks actually fail decisively, I'll not give up my optimism.

As for the military industrial complex...It's a problem. But consider this. While our history is full of examples of abuse of military power by corporate interests - especially "big oil," there are few examples of the military taking over businesses.

In short, I don't think the problem is military spending or even the share of the military sector in the overall economy. Rather the problem is a corporatist ideology that gives undue defference to big corporations at the expense of both the free market and individual liberty. The military, the FBI, the NSA and the rest of them have become tools of these favored corporations.

The military is a tool. Like a hammer. Our problem isn't the hammer but rather the hand that wields it.

Impeach Bush! 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

You may be correct. Only it isn't just the military now. All the intelligence agencies are huddled together in the Pentagon. Never before has the military establishment, and especailly the Secretary of Defense, had such power. 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that the concentration of power in the hands of a few is very alarming. It's the worst situation since J. Edgar Hoover intimidated everyone in Washington while he was head of the FBI.

But I still contend that the solution is not to reduce the military (we can't do it anyhow until the power balance in Washington changes). The solution is to reestablish checks and balances in our government.

Impeach Bush! 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention that in addition to relying more heavily on National Guard, so much so that we had to scrape bottom for New Orleans, we are are increasingly reliant on very expensive contractors for the real bloody jobs.  

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

Madison would be very well aware that we are seeing an unprecedented gathering of power in White House and an undoing of the whole system of checks and balances. It is a pity so few in Washington know any history, so they cannot recognize a pattern, nor avoid falling into one. It is worth noting that the fall of the Roman Republic was begun by tribunes (with the power of absolute veto) starting to veto all legislation until they became like dictators. And, of course, unchecked executive authority and the usurpation of legislative and judicial prerogatives has always been the path to lead republics into dictatorships.  

// posted by LTG

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