Civilian Control of U.S. Military

Proposed amendment to the United States Constitution to restore civilian control of U.S. military officers.

Congress shall have the power, by appropriate legislation, to establish all rules and credentials for officer candidates of the United States Armed Forces. The President shall have the authority to select officer candidates for commissions, and shall commission such selectees as officers of the United States Armed Forces on the day of inauguration for the term of the presidency. All commissions for officers of the United States Armed Forces will expire at the end of each presidential term. Nothing in this section shall be so construed to limit the number of commissions for each officer.

A military officer class principally driven by personal ambition is a recipe for perpetual war, and thus, tyranny.

In his December 2009 speech at West Point, President Obama explained to the nation that he agreed to the military’s top brass request for another troop surge in Afghanistan, so long as July 2011 was established as the goal post for pulling out those troops. That West Point speech, early in Obama’s first term, was among the few public addresses that documented the president’s efforts to pushback against the generals’ ambitions for wider and longer military action in Afghanistan, though the struggle was chronicled in off-the-record reportage. It is now January 2013, and the United States is still in Afghanistan. The suicide rate for service members – 349 in 2012 – now outpaces battlefield deaths. President Obama, gifted orator that he is, is still promising the American people that “a decade of war is coming to an end.” Let’s hope so. But in addition to hoping, it would also behoove us to ask this question: Does any U.S. president, no matter his eloquence, really have the wherewithal to break the power stranglehold that the military officer class has on the United States of America?

How did we ever get to a point where a tiny minority of men – a minority without constitutional authority – nonetheless feel entitled to brazenly defy the will of the American people, the vast majority of whom, as evidenced by countless public polls and a refusal to enlist, want no part of their wars whatsoever?

When former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, made a speech at Duke University in September 2010 – a speech intended to entice students to consider careers in the military officer corps – he provided a window into the set of human ambitions that can indeed carry an unwilling democracy into wars that do not serve the nation’s interests.

In the Duke speech, Gates crudely yet manipulatively appealed to the ambitions of some human beings to lead others as a means to glorify themselves – even if it means leading the country into costly and unnecessary wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. At Duke, Gates referred to the “benefits” that are sure to accrue to ambitious college students under an emboldened officer training program. Among those benefits, Gates included “the opportunity to be given extraordinary responsibility at a young age – not just for lives of your troops, but for missions and decisions that may change the course of history.”

Gates went on to tell the Duke students, “In addition to being in the fight, our young military leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan, have to one degree or another found themselves dealing with development, governance, agriculture, health, and diplomacy. They’ve done all this at an age when many of their peers are reading spreadsheets and making photocopies.”

Message from Gates to the college students: Don’t end up in the doldrums of office life, be a military big shot instead…no matter if it comes at the expense of the lives, limbs, and mental health of your fellow citizens serving in the Armed Forces, not to mention a $10 billion a month price tag for U.S. taxpayers.

Writing of the dangers that the military officer class can indeed pose to democracies – a danger which is fundamentally rooted in the naked career ambitions of that class – Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “It would be an error to suppose that these various characteristics of officers, non-commissioned officers, and [enlisted] men, belong to any particular time or country; they will always occur at all times and amongst all nations.” Alexis de Tocqueville went on to argue that the common soldiers – not those desirous of military glory – would be the best representatives of the “pacific and orderly spirit of the country.”

If the United States does not change, by constitutional requirement, the fundamental relationship between the military officer class and the common citizens of this nation, the short and long-term trajectories could not be more stark: namely, that citizens leading happy lives of their own, not in desperate financial circumstances, and basically level-headed, will continue to not serve in the Armed Forces, knowing full well their lives would be putty in the hands of ruthless, ambitious men who are willing to destroy their lives, bodies and mental health so that, at the higher ranks of the officer corps, they can outmaneuver duly-elected presidents, and at the lower ranks of the officer corps, have the satisfaction of knowing they are doing something “important” while their civilian peers are making “photocopies and spreadsheets.”

A hard, but real basic, question must be asked: What kind of citizen in their right mind would want to risk their life for an institution just so that a college-educated twenty-something with a macho complex can feel important when he gets up in the morning?

Thankfully, there are not many, and that is precisely why interest in military enlistment is so minimal in this country. The net effect of this anti-democratic military-civilian synergy is the taxpayer-funded creation of a multi-billion dollar Sparta-like subculture; a subculture which most Americans quite rationally do not want to touch with a ten foot pole, and yet looms over the nation as it demands, each step of the way, to be respected for its orchestrated chaos and denigration of human life, citizen and foreigner alike.

Free citizens of a free Republic are not obliged to respect an institution that has a well-documented track record of outright physical, psychological and sexual savagery wherever it plants its multi-billion dollar boots.

Indeed, moral people – conservative, liberal or anywhere in between – need to stop living in fear of criticizing this taxpayer-funded Sparta.

To be sure, as is par for the course with all tyrannical personalities, the more one indicates they have no fear of their intimidation tactics, the more the tyrannical personality will up the ante. Make no mistake: These are people who live to be feared, and at very minimum, glorified, as former Secretary Gates so clearly spelled out. When that ability to instill fear as a means to get their way is snatched away from them, or when their glory is pulled out from under them, they don’t respond like the Easter Bunny.

Yet if one is still too frightened to stop verbally kowtowing to the military generals in this country who have no respect whatsoever for this nation’s democratic fabric, perhaps the following words will dissolve that fear, and get one focused on changing the destructive current military-civilian synergy that is creating a taxpayer-funded tyrannical trash heap at home and abroad.

In that 2009 West Point speech, President Obama said of his agonizing decision to allow the Afghanistan troop surge, “the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all the different options, along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key partners. And given the stakes involved, I owed the American people — and our troops — no less.”

He distinguished, even if momentarily, between the American people and the troops.

It wasn’t only a Freudian slip.


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