Dispatch the War Department
by Becky Akers
However small or large a government you consider ideal, whether you’re left, right or center, you probably agree that the military is indispensable and legitimate. You may quibble about its size and purpose (defensive versus policing the world), but almost no one wonders whether we need an army.
It’s time we did.
Questioning the military’s necessity puts us in good company, specifically that of the Founders. Many of them vehemently opposed a “standing” army (i.e. one that is professionally, permanently established and remains intact rather than disbanding after beating off an attack. That definition encompasses cops as well: the Founders would never have drawn the artificial distinction we do between a force that fights overseas and one that wars on its own citizens. Indeed, the Redcoats patrolling Boston in the 1760’s and ’70’s fulfilled the functions of modern police).
So Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts articulated popular wisdom when he damned standing armies as “the bane of liberty” during Congressional debate in 1789. The heroic Patrick Henry, too, denounced bellicose professionals because they “execute the execrable commands of tyranny.”
Even James Madison, among the most Federalistic of the Founders, listed the horrors that “proceed” from armies: “debts and taxes; … [which] are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.” At the Constitutional Convention, he cautioned, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved, the people.”
Despite these warnings, the Constitution assumes that the Feds will maintain not only an Army but a Navy, too. Why? Perhaps partly because of a debate then ongoing – and one that still rages among historians and military buffs: could the militia, which simply means armed citizens as opposed to professional soldiers, have prevailed against the British Army by itself? After all, Patriot militia won several battles, including the essential one at Saratoga. Or was the United States’ victory in the Revolution impossible without the professional, full-time Continental Army?