Posts Tagged ‘New American militarism’

The new American militarism

October 24, 2011

The U.S. armed forces in the 21st century bestride the world.  There are U.S. bases on every continent; the Pentagon itself cannot state with accuracy how many bases there are.  The United States spends nearly as much on its armed forces as the rest of the world put together.  Spending on weapons system and weapons research is exempt from normal budget constraints.

But even so, the U.S. military is not large enough for its many missions.  It is necessary to issue stop-loss orders to retain troops whose enlistments have expired, and to make the National Guard part of the regular fighting force.

I recently read Andrew J. Bacevich’s  The New American Militarism: How America Is Seduced by War, an excellent book explaining how this came about.  The book was published in 2005, but unfortunately is still as true now as it was then.

Bacevich is a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran and retired career Army officer who teaches international relations at Boston University.  He is a self-described conservative Catholic, whose first articles on this subject were written during the Clinton administration and published in National Review.  His son, also a career Army officer, was killed while serving in Iraq some time after this book was written.

The U.S. armed forces have greater prestige than at any previous time in American history.  No important politician in either party fails to praise the military.  Movies and television glamorize the military.  Pundits take the military virtues as a model for society as a whole.  Yet few people, especially among the political and economic elite, actually serve in the military.  The disconnect between the military and the citizenry is unhealthy in a democracy, Bacevich wrote.

He said that the welfare of the nation, and also of the military itself, requires that the mission of the U.S. military be scaled back to the Constitutional one of providing for the common defense, rather than imposing a new world order on unwilling people.  He said the size of the U.S. military should be scaled back to reasonable level—say, a budget no larger than the combined budgets of the next 10 greatest military powers.   He said Congress must claw back its authority to declare or refrain from declaring war.  The National Guard should normally serve on the home front and not abroad.

He made good proposals for bridging the gap that now exists between the professional military and the civilian citizenry.  Instead the armed forces should offer to give a free college education or pay the college debts of anyone who enlists for a specific time.  He said all military officers should be required to earn a degree from a civilian college, and then take one year of additional schooling at one of the service academies.   He does not advocate bringing back the draft unless there is a national emergency that requires it, but thinks these proposals would make the military more broadly representative of society.

He had good answers for every question except one—the need to project U.S. military power to assure U.S. access to the oil of the Persian Gulf.   I don’t have a good answer to that one either.