Monday, May 25, 2009

Standing Armies

I like watching motor racing. So, that means on Memorial Day weekend, I get blasted by a big load of militarism as I try to watch the races I want to watch. The corporate TV networks are constantly pushing the message that we all must support our massive military in its goals of conquering the world.

So, this made me get on the internet and do a little research. About 240 years ago, some brave people fought hard and made great sacrifices to establish America as a free nation of free citizens (well, at least if you were white, wealthy and male ... we've had kept working on that bit over the centuries).

I found one web page of what Thomas Jefferson, primary writer of the Declaration of Independence, thought of the idea of keeping massive military establishments around during peace time.

"The supremacy of the civil over the military authority I deem [one of] the essential principles of our Government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801.

"Instead of subjecting the military to the civil power, [a tyrant will make] the civil subordinate to the military. But can [he] thus put down all law under his feet? Can he erect a power superior to that which erected himself? He [can do] it indeed by force, but let him remember that force cannot give right." --Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774.(*) ME 1:209, Papers 1:134

To me, its an interesting question as to exactly how much civilian control of the military we have in this country these days. We take that as a given, that in America the military is under civilian command. But stop and ask yourself this question. How often in your lifetime have you see the military submit to a civilian command?

Remember the fight over gays in the military at the beginning of the Clinton terms. Clinton tried to fulfill a campaign promise to allow gays in the military. The military basically told him "No". The result was the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy that left the military basically unchanged.

During the Bush years, there was of course no conflict between the civilian and the military as President Bush seemed determined to always give the military whatever it wanted.

The interesting data point of the Obama first 100 days is that a change in civilian authority led to no change at all in the military command structure. Sec. of Defense Gates remained in charge of the military. Lately we've seen Mr. Gates traveling overseas conducting his own foreign policy in the middle east. And of course, the change in Presidents has led to no change in the war policies, no change in war funding, and continued increases in 'defense' spending.

The story in the link posted below this one speaks a bit about the hostility in the military to the notion of the Democratic Party being in charge. I have no idea why, since the Democrats are a militaristic as the Republicans, but the perception in the military is obviously that the Democrats might actually try to make the military do some things it might not want.

On a holiday, we hear a lot about the patriotism of our people in uniform. Stop and think a bit about just how patriotic they are when they are hostile to a civilian political party that might interfere with their power.

More Jefferson ....
"There are instruments so dangerous to the rights of the nation and which place them so totally at the mercy of their governors that those governors, whether legislative or executive, should be restrained from keeping such instruments on foot but in well-defined cases. Such an instrument is a standing army." --Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, 1789. ME 7:323

"Nor is it conceived needful or safe that a standing army should be kept up in time of peace for [defense against invasion]." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Annual Message, 1801. ME 3:334

"Standing armies [are] inconsistent with [a people's] freedom and subversive of their quiet." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Lord North's Proposition, 1775. Papers 1:231

"The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force." --Thomas Jefferson to Chandler Price, 1807. ME 11:160

"The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814. ME 14:184

"Bonaparte... transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm. Some will use this as a lesson against the practicability of republican government. I read it as a lesson against the danger of standing armies." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Adams, 1800. ME 10:154

This quote seems poignant after two days of watching racing on TV where I've been told repeatedly that the people in the military are superior to the rest of us and require our devotion and support.

"A distinction between the civil and military [is one] which it would be for the good of the whole to obliterate as soon as possible." --Thomas Jefferson: Answers to de Meusnier Questions, 1786. ME 17:90

Its also an interesting quote to remember during election seasons when we are constantly told that candidates who've served in the military are superior to other candidates.

The Democrats have gone quiet again on their desire for a draft. But, with Obama keeping the war in Iraq going and dragging his feet on withdrawing our troops from there, and with Obama expanding the wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and with Obama saber rattling and trying to start a war in Iran, at some point it becomes obvious that Obama will need to bring back the draft to accomplish his goals of empire abroad. Most likely, the talk of a draft has gone quiet as Wall Street's crashing of the economy has meant that the military is the only job available to people.

"In this country, [a draught from the militia] ever was the most unpopular and impracticable thing that could be attempted. Our people, even under the monarchical government, had learnt to consider it as the last of all oppressions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1777. ME 4:286, Papers 2:18

"The breaking men to military discipline is breaking their spirits to principles of passive obedience." --Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1788. ME 7:19

A note on the last quote. The History channel some times runs a show called the Color of War. Its based on color film footage of WWII. One of the early shows in the series is fascinating. Its about the massive expansion of the American Army from its peace-time size of only tens of thousands of troops, up to the massive multi-million person army needed to fight WWII.

The point this show makes is that in 1940, Americans were a free and independent people, and the military at that time had to put a lot of effort into breaking that independence to make soldiers of them. The contrast to today is striking, where the military is constantly used as the model of behavior throughout our schools and businesses, and where people are broken to military like discipline at an early age.

"If no check can be found to keep the number of standing troops within safe bounds while they are tolerated as far as necessary, abandon them altogether, discipline well the militia and guard the magazines with them. More than magazine guards will be useless if few and dangerous if many. No European nation can ever send against us such a regular army as we need fear, and it is hard if our militia are not equal to those of Canada or Florida." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1788.

220 years later, a milita would still be all we'd need to defend ourselves from the Canadian army and the Mexican army. And no European or any other foreign power would seem to have any designs on invading America. And surely, we've far exceeded any 'safe bounds' as to the number of standing troops in a free country.

"Our duty is... to act upon things as they are and to make a reasonable provision for whatever they may be. Were armies to be raised whenever a speck of war is visible in our horizon, we never should have been without them. Our resources would have been exhausted on dangers which have never happened instead of being reserved for what is really to take place." --Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806. ME 3:424

Ever since WWII, we've had a long and consistent trend of fear mongering about specks of war visible on the horizon used to pour trillions of dollars of our national treasure into building massive standing armies. We are truly never without them, and the economy today says clearly that our resources have become exhausted. We know now after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the 'intelligence' community vastly exaggerated the dangers to America of Soviet military power. And those with a memory remember that current Sec of Def Gates was a leader in the CIA at making those exaggerated inteligence estimates. Its one of the reasons he was rejected by the Senate as CIA director years ago. Yet today, he's become a power in America as commander of the military, with enough power in his hands that he stays in that post even with the election of a President who comes to office promising change.

"I am for relying for internal defense on our militia solely till actual invasion, and for such a naval force only as may protect our coasts and harbors from such depredations as we have experienced; and not for a standing army in time of peace which may overawe the public sentiment; nor for a navy which, by its own expenses and the eternal wars in which it will implicate us, will grind us with public burthens and sink us under them." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799. ME 10:77

"None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important, but especially so at a moment when rights the most essential to our welfare have been violated." --Thomas Jefferson to -----, 1803. ME 10:365

Today's politicians want an unarmed nation with a huge standing army.

"[The] governor [is] constitutionally the commander of the militia of the State, that is to say, of every man in it able to bear arms." --Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811.

Today's governors are not allowed to command their own state's National Guard units.

"Peace... has been our principle, peace is our interest, and peace has saved to the world this only plant of free and rational government now existing in it... However, therefore, we may have been reproached for pursuing our Quaker system, time will affix the stamp of wisdom on it, and the happiness and prosperity of our citizens will attest its merit. And this, I believe, is the only legitimate object of government and the first duty of governors, and not the slaughter of men and devastation of the countries placed under their care in pursuit of a fantastic honor unallied to virtue or happiness; or in gratification of the angry passions or the pride of administrators excited by personal incidents in which their citizens have no concern." --Thomas Jefferson to Thaddeus Kosciusko, 1811. ME 13:41

"The state of peace is that which most improves the manners and morals, the prosperity and happiness of mankind." --Thomas Jefferson to Noah Worcester, 1817. ME 18:299

"War has been avoided from a due sense of the miseries, and the demoralization it produces, and of the superior blessings of a state of peace and friendship with all mankind." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Queen Anne's Country Republicans, 1809. ME 16:36

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