In the pages of the Washington Post, we were treated to a review of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ memoir Duty by former wonderboy Bob Woodward, who will write sycophantic treatises for the powerful. (For an interesting review of the review, go here to the New Republic.) The former Smartypants, Nancy LeTourneau, has a very perspicacious piece on the uphill battle facing any modern President going against the wishes of the military and intelligence establishments.
While the military has always been esteemed in the Republic, and successful generalship served as a steppingstone to the Presidency (Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant, to name two), for most of the country’s history the military was kept in severe check. For a great power, the United States had an almost laughably small regular peacetime Army. On the eve of World War I, the regular Army and National Guard numbered just around 200,000 soldiers, a force dwarfed by Germany’s army. A “preparedness” drive was bruited, but the public wanted none of that.
It was only with the titanic struggle of World War II, and the ensuing Cold War against Soviet Russia, that the United States acquired what every great power had always had: a large, permanent military establishment. Conscription ended after the end of World War I; it continued after the Second World War until the disaster of Vietnam and the near mutiny of the conscript Army made leadership decide on a highly trained, volunteer force.