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Tonight We’re Going to Argue Like It’s 1999

Posted By Matt Barganier On April 19, 2006 @ 1:59 pm In Uncategorized | Comments Disabled

Jesse Walker finds a Glenn Reynolds statement from 1999 that could easily appear on Antiwar.com:

    [O]ur current situation – with so many foreign troop deployments that even military buffs can’t keep track of them all and with wars initiated essentially on presidential whim – would have horrified the Framers.

Reynolds huffs and puffs, but Walker could have quoted more. Here’s the passage above in broader context (scroll down):

    During the 18th and 19th centuries, militia forces proved quite effective at their primary purpose: defense of local terrain against invasion and insurrection. (Militia-like forces are still good at this, even against professional soldiers, as the U.S. experience in Lebanon and Somalia illustrates.)

    When it comes to projecting power abroad, militias aren’t as good. Part-time soldiers are less willing to go on such missions, and, as Temm rightly notes, preparation for such work requires more and different training than does the defense of familiar terrain. To the Framers, who feared not only standing armies but also the imperial ambitions they would bring, this unsuitability for foreign missions was not a flaw but a feature: A militia-based defense strategy was far less likely to produce foreign entanglements and wars. As Gary Hart correctly points out in the book I reviewed, our current situation – with so many foreign troop deployments that even military buffs can’t keep track of them all and with wars initiated essentially on presidential whim – would have horrified the Framers. A professional army is better suited to our current situation, but the militia system was meant to keep us out of the situation altogether.

For even more eye-openers, read Reynolds’ glowing review of Gary Hart’s The Minuteman: Restoring an Army of the People. Dig this:

    Hart opens by noting that our current military posture could be described as “Eisenhower’s Nightmare”: a military-industrial complex so politically and economically powerful that it has taken on a life of its own. It is Eisenhower’s nightmare because the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about was a creature of the Cold War, but its present-day version has survived the end of that struggle almost intact. Despite the oddity of a huge military establishment with no plausible superpower foes, this fact is rarely remarked upon. That is because almost everyone in a position to care, from members of Congress fighting military base closings to flak-jacketed journalists addicted to covering war zones, has an investment in keeping the money flowing. As Hart says, “this great machine grinds grimly, ineluctably onward, searching for villains, whether stone-throwing tribesmen or desert quacks, to justify its existence.” (Compare this with what Framing-era writer Joel Barlow said about standing armies: “Thus money is required to levy armies, and armies to levy money; and foreign wars are introduced as the pretended occupation for both.”) …

    Hart’s book is well-written and thoroughly anchored in both military and political realities. An America that followed his recommendations would probably be less apt to become involved in ill-considered foreign wars, more resistant to tyranny, and effectively impossible to invade. This prospect is reason enough to begin the national debate that Hart calls for. Whether that debate takes place will be an interesting test of whether Eisenhower’s nightmare is coming to an end.

Wow, you’d almost get the impression that imperialism and the military-industrial complex are bad things…

UPDATE: Corrected wrong link on “broader context.”


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