Soldiers, statesmen and Scholars

“The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”

Sir William Francis Butler

An article in WSJ re ROTC on campuses gave me the quotation and made me think. What are the implications when one part of a society's elite becomes anti-military. No matter how strong the rhetoric about supporting the troops, keeping ROTC off many of our best campuses and sometimes not even allowing military recruiters shows that many of those who run our best universities see the military as "the other", not acceptable for "our" kids. And many in the military reciprocate.

I am sure those who don't want the military around campus have a lot of good reasons. But theirs is a self-destructive point of view. Americans think that they are exceptional and exempt from the forces that have driven history. We Americans have enjoyed effective civilians control over the military for so long that we forget what happens when a country looses it.

But what if we are less the exception than we think? What if we just were lucky and managed the situation very well up to now? For the good of both the military and the civilian sectors, it is essential that there be close interactions among them. An estrangement between those who fight and those who manage would be much more dangerous than the largely rhetorical blue-red divide.

Maybe Washington rejected the role of a Caesar because he considered himself a civilian. Maybe Grant and Sherman didn't turn their armies on what they considered a wrong headed Congress because they still thought of themselves as civilians in uniform. Maybe Harry Truman could relieve a very popular Douglas MacArthur because the army and civilians institutions were so intimately connected. What would happen if the civilian leaders did not have friends or relatives in the military? And what if the colonels and generals don't know many civilians they respect?

We are long from a crisis in America. But big changes result from the accretion of little changes. Formal structures of society work because millions of individual and personal ties make them work, and we have a culture that supports them. Otherwise constitutions and laws are just words on paper. Already there is a significant demographic difference between the military and civilian populations -and it is even worse in elite institutions. If the little crack becomes a chasm we are all in trouble.

Posted by Jack at May 15, 2005 10:26 PM