Still valid: The Soldier and the State
Thoughtful people will wish the new Commander-in-Chief well and hope that he will heed sound military advice during the next four years. Unfortunately, a significant number of people within the military are naturally “wary” of someone with no military or foreign policy experience.
According to a recent poll conducted by The Military Times, 60-percent of active duty personnel polled are “wary” of Barack H. Obama. On the upside, 33-percent felt he would be “okay.”
The large number of “wary” military personnel raises the issue of civilian control of the military. Fortunately, during 20 years of active duty (even though we were being sent by President Lyndon Johnson again and again into a war in southeast Asia that many of us increasingly knew that LBJ wasn’t allowing us to win), I never heard that doctrine questioned. Why? In part, because the doctrine of civilian control is taught throughout the military’s vast educational system.
Photographs of the members of the chain-of-command, beginning with the Commander-in-Chief, are ubiquitous in Army orderly rooms, Navy wardrooms, Air Force buildings and barracks. On January 20, 2009, clerks or yeomen in military facilities all over the world will dutifully take down the photograph of the out-going president and replace it with that of Barack H. Obama.
This is a good point to mention the work of Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington. While Huntington is most famous for his The Clash of Civilizations, a more meaningful work for military personnel is his The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. In 1957, Huntington argued that the best way to strengthen civilian control of the military was to make the military more professional, to teach its members that their vocation was as hallowed as the traditional professions such as medicine, law and the clergy.
In other words, inculcate within the military the sense of a being a special and distinct segment of society, albeit subject to civilian control. Huntington’s 1964 critic was Professor Morris Janowitz who, in The Professional Soldier, argued the opposite. Janowitz wanted the members of the military to be more civilian-like, a view that had been reflected earlier when the distinctive uniforms of the Army and Air Force were changed to look more like those of greyhound bus drivers. Note: In 2009, the Army will reclaim its distinctive (and more historically significant) Army Blue uniform.
In 1958, after several months of living for the very first time inside an army post, I began to wonder about the place of the military within the overall context of the civilian society. I found the answers in Huntington’s The Soldier and the State.
Napoleon famously said, “Every soldier carries a marshal’s baton in his knapsack.” Lacking a baton, I substituted a copy of The Soldier and the State.
In 1970, when assigned briefly to the Pentagon to help write a tiny bit of doctrine for the All-Volunteer Army, I was pleased to find Huntington’s views in vogue. Other than increasing the civilian-like creature comforts of the troops, we concluded the new force should focus on the development of a military ethos distinct from the 1960s, baby-boomer “if-it-feels-good-do-it” society. Based on the outstanding performance of the all-volunteer force in combat, not trying to mirror the ambient civilian society was the proper direction.
In 1981, while walking around the atrium balcony at Harvard’s JFK School of Government, I spotted the office of Samuel P. Huntington. A knock elicited a voice that bade me enter. I rushed in, pumped Huntington’s offered hand, and gushed on about how much his book meant to me. Professor Huntington was somewhat bewildered by someone still so enthusiastic about a book he had written back in 1957.
Now, I’m so glad that I took the opportunity to thank him. On December 24, 2008, Samuel P. Huntington (81) passed away.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, studied at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Dr. Hamilton is a former assistant professor of political science and history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
©2009. William Hamilton.