Monday, September 20, 2010

Military policy and civilian control

I saw a comment over at Tam’s that I had to write a couple thoughts down about:

Dirt Sailor said...: “We listen to plenty of people who've never served a day in the military about military policy. Which is as it should be; our military is under civilian oversight, the majority of the Senate and House aren't veterans.”

This is entirely correct. It is as it should be, and here’s why:

“[O]ur military is under civilian oversight”: The framers of the US Constitution felt strongly enough about civilian control of the military that they wrote into the Constitution that the President (a civil office) be Commander in Chief of not only the Army and the Navy of the United States, but of the Militias of the several states; and that was the FIRST of the powers listed under the duties and powers of the President. Searching on the phrase “that the military shall be subordinate to the civil power” got me a couple of pages of references to state constitutions wherein “the military shall be subordinate to the civil power” occurs directly or in paraphrase. This is probably due to the presence of the phrase “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power” in the Declaration of Independence; which implies that in a properly-constituted government, the military should be dependent upon and inferior to the civil power.

“[T]he majority of the Senate and House aren't veterans.” This is also correct and by design. The Framers of the Constitution intended that the US have no standing army, and for a number of years Congress felt that a standing Navy was not necessary either. Being a veteran (particularly an officer) indicates several things, mostly positive; but is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a successful and/or honorable representative of the will and needs of a constituency. It is not even a guarantee of a level of knowledge appropriate to national military policy. The US Constitution, as enacted, lays an undefined limit upon the number of veterans available; particularly as it was the intent of the Framers and their successors to stay out of the ceaseless Continental warring.

All other things being equal, I am more likely to vote for the candidate who has a record of military service. It is an indicator that the candidate possesses those mostly positive qualities. I am clearly not alone, as candidates proudly trumpet (to the point of exaggeration) any military experience they possess. But service alone is not something I evaluate candidates on. What, if any, are their positions on policies important to me, that would be the primary one.

Anyone can join the military, not everyone does. There are many paths to success and influence in this nation. Military service should not be the only one. There is no way for any one person to have experience in all the areas in which the government ought to exercise influence, much less where the government actually does. It is no more necessary for a politician to have military experience to set military policy than it is for a politician to have experience with the Treasury Department to set policies “for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States”.

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