The colonists' most revered military institution was the militia, a model inherited from their forebears in England. The philosophical underpinnings of the militia model are easy to understand: "fear of a standing army," (Millet and Maslowski 1). A standing army can turn against its people, staging what now would be called military coups one after the other. During and especially after Independence, the validity, effectiveness, efficiency, and relevance of the militia model was called into question. This is why the United States Constitution eventually included the provisions for federalized systems of national security. Naturally, the existence of a standing army to "provide for the common defense" would be required. Independence required an organized military strategy against a powerful Empire; to protect the new nation, it was certain that the military would be necessary to preserve all that hard work. The Constitution therefore enabled the creation and maintenance of standing armies, which many original settlers and anti-federalists would have decried. Yet, as Spalding points out, "Collective defense against external threats was the primary reason why the American colonies banded together in the first place," (1).
It was only natural that the new nation would need to reckon with potential threats to national security. America was just born, and already it needed to grow up. It was an idealistic nation-project, but one that needed pragmatism in order to survive. All the blood shed during the Revolutionary War would have been in vain, if the new union submitted to any and all external threats, let alone internal insurgencies. Providing for the "common defense" is what many believed to be the "price of liberty," (Spalding 1). As John Jay put it in the second of the Federalist Papers, "Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable…the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers," (1). IN other words, Americans must accept the presence and role of the military whether they like it or not. National security is a collective endeavor, the responsibility for which all Americans share. To leave national security up to the individual states would be disastrous. States would have differential military budgets, differential methods of training, different strategies, different levels of preparedness and training, different risk factors, and different levels of readiness. It would be technically impossible to protect the United States from within a state-based militia system, much to the chagrin of anti-Federalists.
Nowhere was the concept of the role of the military most thoroughly debated in early American political history as in the Federalist papers. John Jay pointed out that some sacrifices are necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the union, which is why those who might oppose a strong national military might need to reconcile themselves with the realities of the modern world. In Federalist 41, James Madison offers an even stronger case in favor of American military might. According to Madison, the future president, "Security against foreign danger is one of the primitive objects of civil society. It is an avowed and essential object of the American Union,' (1). In other words, one of the primary functions of government by definition is to provide national security. Madison goes on to provide his political philosophy of harsh realism, in which the world order is defined and characterized by its inherent antagonism and hostility. "Is the power of declaring war necessary? No man will answer this question in the negative," (Madison 1). As cynical as Madison's views may seem, no one can deny the reality of war as a constant in history. This is why "raising armies and equipping fleets" is absolutely necessary and "involved in the power of self-defense," (Madison 1). Madison further provides for the need to maintain standing armies in peacetime as well as war, for there is no use in an army that is untrained and ill equipped to deal with the dangers and threats lurking abroad and within.
The American "way of war" has evolved little on a philosophical level since the Federalist papers, but has certainly changed with regards...
The United States has spent the bulk of its life attending to domestic matters, diverting military attentions to disparate projects ranging from the suppression of slaves to skirmishes with the French at the northern border and the Spanish to the south. These incidents do not constitute the types of national security threats perceived in the 20th century, the era in which the United States would develop its first real outward-looking military model bent far more on policing the world order than on attending to domestic land grabs. According to Millett and Maslowski, six core themes have played themselves out in American military history. Those six themes start with the anti-Federalist aversion to standing armies, what Millett and Maslowski refer to as a potent thread of irrationalism based on "preoccupation with private gain, a reluctance to pay taxes, a distaste for military service, and a fear of large standing forces," (vii). Because of the lack of general consensus on the form, function, role, and relevance of the standing armies in the United States, the nation's military has evolved rather sporadically and inconsistently. The second major theme in American military history is therefore pluralism within its military institutions. There have been professional and citizen soldiers, just as there have been antimilitary and pacifistic trends in American culture.
Third, the United States has been blessed with a unique geographic position insulating it from major concerns such as those besieging European nations in the early 20th century. Close proximity to enemies meant that European nations needed to devise military strategies far different from those in the United States. In spite of this, the American commitment to military might has grown and has "done remarkably well in preserving the nation's security," (Millett and Maslowski vii). The fourth theme in American military history has been that the military falls under the provision of elected officials, making the military directly accountable to citizens. Fifth, the American military has shifted from being a fragmented and largely civilian force to one that is highly trained and professional. The final theme of American military history is the skillful means by which Americans have been able to develop the tools of war used to enhance its power and its strategic prowess. The American way of war has been devised on these core guiding principles, rooted in the fact that success in upholding the constitutional values of national security rests on the readiness of the standing army. That readiness depends both on manpower and on technology.
American military models, policies, and goals have shifted considerably over the course of the last few centuries, and especially within the last hundred years. Boot elucidates some of the more recent developments since the Gulf Wars, when Rumsfeld's "transformational model" merged with the Pentagon's "network-centric warfare" model (1). Once again, technology reaches the center and forefront of American military strategy as new polities and goals depend on the use of surveillance and information technology. Intelligence is a mainstay of American military policy and goals in an age in which the nation-state has become less relevant. The changing nature of warfare involves paying close attention to non-state actors, anticipating their moves, understanding contextual variables, and acting with situational awareness. The new realities are far different from those experienced a century ago, when "total war" was the dominant feature of American militarism in foreign campaigns like Vietnam.
The policies and goals of the American might have changed strategically, but philosophically they remain tethered to the core Constitutional values of protecting the nation and providing for the common defense. The use of manpower and military technology to achieve this goal is taken for granted. What has complicated matters for the American "way of war," both in the past and potentially on the horizon for the future, has been how interventionist the nation's foreign policy can and should be. Interventionism has been a bastard child of the American way of war. It is a military model based on principles that are not embedded in the formal values of the Constitution, primarily because national defense has ceased to be the underpinnings of investment and military campaign. Instead, the preservation of globally held resources, the provision of security in distant geographic reasons to maintain geo-political stability, offering tit-for-tat favors, and other political policies have transformed the nature of war in America and have seriously undermined the credibility of the military institution. It may be time to revert back to the Federalist papers to provide a clearer path forward that is more fundamentally rooted in the values of the nation.
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