By Nathan Barton
Many people over the years have compared Rome to America (what is now the Fifty States), in various ways. Good and bad. Fortunately, most of the similarities are superficial, and there are many differences.
The key difference is political. The US Army has (mostly) avoided the politics involved in running the nation – the confederation we call the United States.
But as with the Romans, the US military (USM) is seen by many people with a jaunticed eye, and made into things which it is not (or should not be). Let’s look at some of those in detail.
What the US Military is NOT:
- A jobs program. The USM is no sort of “employer of last resort” nor is its primary mission (or even one of its secondary missions) to provide job training for those who enlist. It is a parasite (benign or not) on the economy, not a net producer of anything, except maybe death. Those on active AND reserve service at any time number fewer than the flucuation in employment statistics.
- A social engineering program or experiment. The USM is not a captive audience for Congress, bureaucrats, academics, or medical researchers to try out things on. Or to use to force change on society as a whole. Indeed, many of the social experiments and social engineering efforts which have been forced on the military (in the US and elsewhere) have proved to be disastrous for the actual purpose of the military: to deter war (“keep the peace” internationally) and, when necessary (as determined by Congress) go and kill people and destroy things, while preserving themselves and the people of the FIfty States. Some things the USM does right, in social matters, through coincidence or due to military necessity: it integrated long before society did, for example. If it had not been micromanaged by Congress, it would have adopted many other things that are considered “progressive” by society – not because they were progressive, but because they worked.
- A welfare program. As with jobs, the USM is not a way of paying welfare to individuals or to organizations to help them through difficult times or to help the economy recover. People are not allowed to join the military just because they need a job. (Besides, it is a whole lot cheaper to pay someone to do NOTHING than it is to support them as a member of the military.) Nor does it rebuild nations or communities.
- A right. While there are many rights promised to American citizens, there is no right to serve in the military. People may have a right to be part of the unorganized militia, by being armed and “well-regulated,” but the organized militia (and by extension, the reserve and regular forces) are “select.” Only those qualified to serve can be allowed to do so. (Heinlein’s concept in Starship Troopers to the contrary.) Otherwise, see #2: the military forces fail to carry out their real missions.
- A privilege. Despite all the words to the contrary, serving in the military is a duty – today freely accepted, but still, a duty. Serving in certain branches or with certain units or duties may be a “privilege” for which you must qualify beyond those necessary for general service. But given the current state (and often, the past state) of the Union, it is anything but a privilege. For someone without a job, it may be a “privilege” (nice) to get to enlist and get a steady paycheck, but that is not the big deal here.
- A rewards or awards plan. Or for that matter, used as an award. States and localities do not get military units in recognition of their elite or outstanding nature. People are not awarded for anything by being allowed to join. The military tries to get highly qualified people, as based on educational and other acheivement, but no diploma or test score comes with a “right to enlist and serve” attached.
- An internal police force. Notwithstanding attempts to violate the common law or posse comititus principles, the US military is not and has seldom been used to maintain law and order, or keep the peace in the Fifty States. It is not organized, equipped, trained, or motivated to do so. Even in times of slave rebellion and invasion, the active military was a stopgap aid to other forces, and usually failed miserably even then.
- A path to fame, fortune, political office, or upward social mobility. Yes, there have been many presidents and congress members and bureaucrats, and a few celebrities, who served in the US military. A very few (on fingers of one hand) who were both very high-ranking AND elected president or served in very high civilian positions: Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Grant, and Eisenhower about limit it. Even if we consider cabinet level positions like Marshall, Powell, and a few others, the list is short. Most politicians briefly served as military – in large part because they WERE politicians or planning to be so: most of the Post-War between the States presidents were in that position. As does Teddy Roosevelt. For others (Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I and II all come to mind), military service was something you did. And it is even less likely today: consider that Clinton, Obama, and Trump have NO military service. Even as far as celebrities, their military service has really been incidental: consider Elvis Presley, Audie Murphy, Jimmy Stewart, and many others.
But all of these things that the US military is NOT, have been claimed by various people now and in the past. And often Congress (and the Executive Branch) have treated the military like it is one (or almost all) of these things.
It is actually quite amazing that the USM has been as successul as it has been, given everything that has been done to it, or tried to be done to it.
Think about these things.