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Why do democratic societies perennially worry about their own military’s periodic objections to civilian oversight and larger liberal values? Why, often in response, do military leaders conclude that they are either misunderstood or manipulated by civilian authorities whom they regard as naive or ignorant about military affairs?
IT IS A FACT WORTH REMEMBERING that the armed forces are inherently hierarchical organizations based on rank and the chain of command. There is no opportunity in military units for decision by majority vote when war begins. Once bullets fly, soldiers can ill afford to debate the wisdom of assaulting the next hill. They cannot worry about the “fairness” of a brilliant glib private having no influence in the decisions taken by an obtuse or blockheaded commanding officer.
Impatience, resolve, audacity — these necessary military traits are not necessarily those that democratic legislators and bureaucrats prize. Most politicians loathe a loud-mouthed George S. Patton in peacetime as much as they hunt out his swashbuckling style in time of war.
Sometimes the voting public suspects that professional soldiers like violence and killing, or at least far more than civilians do. And supposed sheep always worry about giving orders to hungry wolves. One needs only to read the sad letters of poor Cicero to see how in his arrogance he fatally misjudged entirely the military minds of an Augustus or Antony. Civilian overseers in France and later in Germany sought to solve emerging problems by dispatching Napoleon to Egypt or by throwing Hitler in jail but found that in the end these steps were but the beginning and not the end of their troubles. They had fatally misjudged these “troublemakers.”
Then there is the ever-present fear of militarism — that is, the fear of the cult of arms that transcends the battlefield and becomes an ideology that celebrates power, rigid discipline, fanatical devotion to a cause. Indeed, this exaggerated dimension of military life often draws the most zealous and dangerous of characters into its orbit. These can be truly scary folks, these Spartan krypteia, the Praetorian guards, or Hitler’s SS. Such groups in the past have often interfered with or intervened in politics under the posture of being models of rigorous asceticism for the nation.
Anti-constitutional military coups, and not the idealistic promotion of democracy and liberal values, thus seem the more logical vice of military figures when they intrude into politics. History in some sense is the record of supposedly sober soldiers intervening in times of perceived social chaos to bring society a needed dose of their own order and obedience.
That was the rationale in 44 B.C. when Caesar crossed the Rubicon and put a formal end to the Roman Republic, Napoleon dismissed the Directorate, Hitler ended the Weimar Republic, and the 20th-century Latin America caudillos, Greek colonels, and Middle Eastern Baathist and Nasserite officers staged their various coups. Communist dictators in the Soviet Union and China inserted their own commissars into their militaries to ensure that they were perpetual advocates for Communist ideology and indoctrination, at home and abroad.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?