Sunday, April 23, 2006

Civilian Control: What Is It?

The author of the eloquent article "Physical Courage, Moral Courage, and American Generals," Lawrence Velvel, touches on a very important subject that few people, from any part of the political spectrum, want to think about, which is the principle of "civilian control" of the armed forces, measured against the elaborate traditions and "codes of behavior" within the military establishment. These traditional military "codes" have far reaching implications in a "professional army" whose troops are trained to be loyal first and foremost to their units, to their corps, and to their commanding officers. In a citizen army, in which soldiers "do their duty" by giving temporary mandatory service to their country, and then retire back to the civilian life that they left reluctantly, the implications of "directed loyalty" are not so critical. Citizen-soldiers, doing temporary service to their nation, are very naturally loyal to that nation first, and their commitment to the military is secondary. But in a "professional military," in which the bulk of the officer corps, and most of the non-commissioned officers, (the sergeants who actually directly supervise the soldiers), and even many of the troops themselves, are career "mercenaries," professional soldiers for whom the military is their chosen "trade," the primary loyalty of the soldiers undergoes a subtle but all important shift, and loyalty to one's nation often becomes distinctly secondary to loyalty to one's unit, to the corps, and to one's commanding officers.

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his legions in 49 BC, it marked the end of the seven centuries of the Roman Republic, and initiated the long cruel centuries of the Roman Empire. Caesar's seasoned veteran troops were loyal to HIM, not to Rome. He was murdered not too long after he prevailed in the Civil War that followed his march on Rome, and when Octavian, his nephew and heir, defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, and ascended the newly created "throne" as "Imperator" (Emperor) of Rome, it was his personal command of the Army that determined his power. The Roman Senate continued to meet throughout the centuries of the Empire. The charade of "republican democracy" carried on. But all clearly understood that the power of the Roman State lay solely in the hands of the Emperor, as long as he commanded the unquestioning loyalty of the Legions, (and particularly of the Praetorian Guard).

Augustus, as Octavian came to be known, defined the powers of the Emperor during his long reign, but those powers never exceeded the power that has been claimed by George Bush. Bush claims personal command of the military. He has made a complete mockery of the separation of powers that supposedly reserves to Congress the exclusive right to "declare war." He has taken the "tradition" of using the military for "police action," (and thereby circumventing the need for a "Declaration of War"), to unprecedented extremes, and has proclaimed an Official Doctrine of the American State which declares, in prideful and grandiose terms, that America shall command the world through the violent power of its military. If Bush wants to "nuke" Iran, nobody can stop him. He will simply declare his authority as Commander in Chief to protect "national security," and then simply give the order to launch a strike. Do we think that such a unilateral order will be disobeyed by the mercenary professional soldiers under his command?

He has already proclaimed, by imperial edict, that his "duties" as Commander in Chief give him the "right" to disobey any laws passed by Congress, should he alone decide that any laws are not in the interest of "national security." He has pressed forward this claim several times now, as he has issued 'signing statements" declaring that he is not bound to follow the laws he is signing whenever he determines, by his own personal judgment alone, that his "duties" as Commander in Chief, (to guard "national security"), should supercede the will of Congress, or any mere law that Congress passes. (He has also signed a bill into law that was not even passed by Congress, but was rather only advanced by one branch, and had not yet passed the other).

With not so much as a credible whimper of protest from Congress, from the magistrates on the Courts, from the press, or even from the citizenry, we, the people of the United States of America, have fallen under the "rule" of an "emperor" every bit as powerful as Augustus Caesar, who claims personal authority over a mercenary professional military, and has declared that the priority of his military command places him above the law, and beyond any obligation to honor the Constitution. Augustus Caesar claimed no more than this. Once the office of "Imperator" was created by Augustus, many emperors to follow extended these basic powers to every excess. Eventually the military itself came to control Rome, and to control the Empire, as the excesses of the Emperors fell under the restraint of the Praetorian Guard, which simply murdered any Emperor who failed to give the Guard the proper "respect" in came to command.

With this "Imperial American Presidency" now proclaimed with so little protest, what changes might come next? It is only an amendment to the Constitution that was passed in my own lifetime, (in 1951), that prevents a president from being elected to office indefinitely. As amendments are passed, so can they be repealed. Or, now that the honesty of our electoral system itself has become so seriously suspect after the irregularities that have occurred during the past two elections, perhaps we will merely become that sort of odd "democracy" in which a minority of our citizens parade obediently to the polls to choose between prospective "Imperators" that are nominated by the two supposed "Parties," both of which are under the firm control of the Military Industrial Establishment of the Corporate Elite. Perhaps we will thus preserve some vestige of a charade of "democracy" as a sort of "constitutional dictatorship."

If History teaches us anything, it is most certainly that it often repeats itself. People, even when their lives are separated by many centuries, tend to behave in similar ways when they are in similar situations, and are faced with similar options. But sadly, we remain too self-involved and foolish to heed the warnings of people like Santayana, (who said that "those who do not learn from History are condemned to repeat it").

No one, from any position on the political spectrum, wants to talk about the implications of maintaining a mercenary professional military. The Left, which properly decries the unjust imperialist policies to which the American military is being applied, will allow no talk of a "draft" that would re-establish a "citizen military." And the Right knows full well that a draft would produce the same kind of violent unrest that it did in the Viet Nam era of the Sixties, (or in New York during the American Civil War). So all sides across the political spectrum agree that a "draft" is a "taboo" subject, a political "third rail" that no one will mention because anyone that does, (like Charles Rangel, the African American Congressman from New York who tried to point out that the professional military is staffed through a de facto "draft" of the working class poor), is showered with howls of derision from every side.

The Spirit of the American Nation, which was born from such noble ideals of Freedom, Equality, and Democracy, to which we were taught as children to pledge our allegiance, (for "Liberty and Justice for ALL"), has fallen into such horrific neglect and corrupted disrepair that severe consequences yet to befall us seem to have become inevitable. This is NOT a story never told before. Over the One Hundred Centuries of recorded human History, it has been told, and re-told, and told yet again.

In ancient Rome, political power ultimately rested at the point of the Roman gladius, the short stabbing sword with which the well-trained legions killed so many millions of human souls as they brought the world under their command. And when the world became their oyster, and the wealthy Romans became accustomed to the luxury that poured into their coffers from every other nation, when the proud yeomen of the Roman citizenry were displaced by slaves, and then left to grovel in crushing poverty on the state "grain dole," and when the Roman Legions were filled with mercenaries, rather than levied from the yeoman stock of citizens, the Army came to give its loyalty to its generals, rather than to Rome, and the Romans did not protest as their naked Greed overcame their concerns for mere "niceties" and "frivolities" like "Democracy" and "rights of citizenship."

In the twenty centuries that have elapsed since Caesar sat in his saddle and looked across the Rubicon toward Rome, only the technology has changed. We have "advanced" beyond the crude "sword," and political power now comes, (as Mao observed), out of the barrel of a gun, (or the bomb bay of a warplane). And whenever, and wherever this awful power falls into the hands of a single individual, despotism, accompanied by great and horrific suffering for large numbers of people, soon follows.

These retired American general officers have stepped forward to testify because the loyalty they feel for their Nation remains stronger than their loyalty to the "code" of a mercenary professional military. We may wish they had spoken sooner, but we should certainly applaud them for speaking now. They are indeed heroes of the American Republic, just as those who condemn them as "traitors" are its enemies.

This display of loyalty by these general officers to the concept of a Nation of free women and men, free citizens unbowed by tyranny, citizens NOT subject to military command, but rather IN command of a military that only exists to protect our freedom, should perhaps give us some Hope that we are not yet fallen so far down this path, (that leads unerringly to rule by Emperors), that we cannot recover.


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