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THE ROLE OF THE MILITARY IN THE COLD WAR By Dr. James D. Atkinson, Associate Professor of Government, Georgetown

University, January 31, 1962

CONTENTS A. Introduction.

The myth of military opposition to the civil authority.
B. The historical background:

1. The formative years.
2. General in Chief of the Army Winfield Scott.
3. General McClellan and the Civil War.
4. President Theodore Roosevelt.
5. President Woodrow Wilson and Gen. Leonard Wood.

6. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. C. The military and the cold war :

1. The cold war and the military-foreign policy mix.
2. The military's role in the cold war.




The myth of military opposition to the civil authority

No myth has been more persistent—especially since the 1920's—than that there existed a military mind which was alien to American soil and which had to be watched carefully lest it undermine our national institutions. The myth that somehow an officer caste might arise and create a dictatorship has never had any foundation in fact in the United States, yet it has somehow managed to persist. The myth has been nourished on the idea that there has been a conflict between the military and the civil authorities over the question of “civilian supremacy” over the military. Actually, this is a false dichotomy. Even a cursory survey of American military history reveals the fact civilian supremacyeven during the darkest days of the Civil War-has never been questioned by military people.

Typical was the approach of Gen. John M. Schofield, a leading Civil War general and later commanding general of the U.S. Army, who wrote of the “reasonable limits of military ambition in a republico where the President is and must be Commander in Chief * * *.' 3 The heart of the civil-military matter has actually been more complex than the simple question of civil versus military supremacy. Instead, it has been the question as to whether the military should be automations who merely respond to the orders or suggestions of the civil authority or whether the military has a right, perhaps a duty, to advance its views on national policy matters affected with a military interest.

The development of the cold war in the uneasy years after World War II has heightened the problem of isolating military from nonmilitary questions since the cold war is such a mixture of military, quasi-military, and nonmilitary elements. Hence it is not surprising that the 1960's should witness a reexamination

1 See, for example, “The American Approach to War" in James D. Atkinson, “The Edge of War,” Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1960, p. 1ff. 2 Emphasis supplied.

Russell F. Weigley, "The Military Thought of John M. Schofield,” Military Affairs, vol. XXIII (1959), p. 83.

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of the role of the military in American society and of what has always been the real question : Should the Government be lenient in permitting military people to express opinions impinging on national defense or should it be arbitrary? President Kennedy has, for example, implied that in matters of national defense it may be preferable to lean toward the side of frank discussion. Thus in referring to the time during which President Eisenhower had been openly insulted by Mr. Khrushchev and “the Russians seized the crew of the American RB-47 downed over the East German border” and “when enemy rockets rattled off the coast of the United States 90 miles away” he noted that “these are unpleasant facts, unpleasant to recite, unpleasant to face. But face them we must; for, as Winston Churchill told the British House of Commons, in a period of similar peril for Great Britain: 'We shall not escape our dangers by recoiling from them.' TO face those facts is not disloyal, as some have implied. It is the highest type of loyalty."

This is, of course, sound advice. If the President should ever be surrounded only by "yes" men who tell him that all is well with our national security when, in fact, it is not, the consequences to our country may well be final and fatal. Certainly in no other area is it as important to have a full and free examination of all factors as in the area of national defense. It is here that we must often face facts that are unpalatable to our natural tendency as Americans to be optimistic. And yet the American people are instinctively ready to hear the truth, even though it may not always be pleasant. President Kennedy indicated this when he said that “we must stop deluding ourselves about our situation abroad. The collapse of the summit, the fiasco in Japan, the hostile mobs around the world—these are not diplomatic triumphs for America *** and we may as well face the unpleasant, unpopular truth. For as Demosthenes said, 'if you analyze it correctly, you will conclude that our critical situation is chiefly due to men who try to please the citizens rather than to tell them what they need to hear.' I think the American people want to hear the truth.” ?

The National Security Act as amended provides that “The Joint Chiefs of Staff shall be the principal military advisers to the President, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense.” 8 This sentence spells out the crux of the problem for all the military since it throws into sharp relief the question of "advice.” Can real "advice” be given unless there is some feeling of freedom to speak frankly? If those who constitute our highest and most competent professional military people must ever be fearful about expressing other than a purely technical opinion can they be anything but a highly paid male chorus? Do we want blind obedience from our military people? Do we believe, on the contrary, that the professional soldier, marine, sailor, and airman is and should be also an intelligent, balanced, and public-spirited citizen? That, unless we want to brand him as a second-class citizen we must credit him with being at least as dedicated to his country and to the spirit and forms of repre sentative government as we civilians. In such a climate of opinion we can well believe with President Kennedy that we should not so much "try to please the citizens rather than to tell them what they need to hear.' And there is much evidence from history to suggest that, in the long run, frank discussion-especially of national security affairs—is the only correct policy. How different the course of history might have been, how much blood and treasure might have been spared in Great Britain if the appeasers of the Munich era had realized this. As Winston Churchill had warned Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin about the


4 Emphasis supplied. 5 "The Speeches of Senator John F. Kennedy, Presidential Campaign of 1960," S. Rept. 994, pt. 1, 87th Cong., 1st sess., Sept. 13, 1961, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1961, p. 972.

8 It is not without significance that the Optimists Club is a typically American community-service type institution.

7 "Speeches of Senator John F. Kennedy," op. cit., p. 1018.
8 National Security Act Amendments of 1949, Public Law 216, 81st Cong.

9 President Kennedy emphasized the necessity for frank and honest airing of national security questions on many occasions during his 1960 campaign. Thus in a speech to the American Legion convention on Oct. 18, 1960, he said : "Neither do I wish to be the President of a nation which is being driven back, which is on the defensive, because of its unwillingness to face the facts of our national existence, to tell the truth * **." In a speech on Oct. 14, 1960, Mr. Kennedy again quoted Demosthenes: "Our trouble is from those who would please us rather than those who would serve us.” In a speech on October 9 in pointing out that we must face up to the Russians he emphasized that "we must face up to the facts as wehave done in all the glorious moments of our history from Valley Forge to the jungles of the South Pacific." And in a letter to the executive director of the Reserve Officers Association on October 19 he emphasized that "the American people (must) be given the facts about our declining relative strengths."

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need to rearm: “Tell the truth, tell the truth to the British people. They are a tough people and a robust people. They may be a bit offended at the moment, but if you have told them exactly what is going on, you have insured yourself against the complaints and reproaches, which are very unpleasant when they come home on the morrow of some disillusionment."

Finally, a distinction should be made between “political” in the broad sense involving the expression of views about grand strategy or tactical aspects of national policy which necessarily involve some consideration of politico-diplomatic questions and “political” in the sense of partisan political activity. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a cogent editorial: “The central issue concerns the extent to which a military man may be political. Military tradition, as well as some laws and regulations, try to keep the military establishment nonpartisan. This is sensible for the rather obvious reason that an armed force linked to a political group is a classic route to taking over a nation. Just as plainly, though, the discouragement of political activity doesn't mean soldiers must be nonpartisan as individuals, which would be asking the impossible even if it were desirable. And it is hard to construe it as barring officers from attempting to explain the nature and dangers of communism. The Korean war demonstrated that not a few soldiers need such education * * *." 11


B. THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 1. The formative years

In order to dispel some of the mythology that has become almost more important than fact about civil-military relationships in the United States it is well to go back to our formative years and, as Al Smith once said, to "look at the record.”

The important role of the military in American society began with the arrival of the first colonists. Thus in the early 17th century we find the General Court of Massachusetts stating that safety and peace could not be preserved "without military orders and officers.” 12 Nor were the duties of these early officers confined to strictly military things. Their tasks were often more of a politicodiplomatic nature than military and ranged from Indian affairs to making policy recommendations to the New England Confederation.

But it was the American experience in the War of the Revolution that was to have a more immediate effect on the thought of the Founding Fathers. They realized that the soldierly virtues of discipline, honor, and duty as exemplified in Washington and his Continentals had actually made the Republic a living entity. They were not so much concerned in erecting a wall between the military and civil authorities as in looking forward to their mutual cooperation. As Washington had said during the Revolution: “We should all be considered, Congress and Army, as one people, embarked in one cause, in one interest; acting on the same principle,1+ and to the same end.” 15 The same view was taken by the greatest Chief Justice ever to preside over the Supreme Court. Of John Marshall his leading biographer, Senator Beveridge, has written: "Time and time again Marshall describes the utter absence of civil and military correlations and the fearful results he had felt and witnessed while a Revolutionary officer."

That the Founding Fathers were not really fearful of the military is indicated by the Constitution. That great document gives Congress the chief power for organizing and maintaining the Armed Forces, and makes the President the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy." It is significant that although there are various prohibitions placed on the States and on the Federal Government, it was not believed necessary in the body of the Constitution to include

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10 Quoted, A. L. Rowse, "All Souls and Appeasement," London: Macmillan, 1961, p. 12. 11 The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 25, 1961.

12 Jack S. Radabaugh, “The Militia of Colonial Massachusetts,” Military Affairs, vol. XVIII (1954), p. 1 ; see also C. C. Clendenen, "A Little Known Period of American Muitary History,” ibid., vol. XIX (1955), p. 37ff.

13 Ibid., p. 7.
14 Emphasis supplied.

15 Quoted, Albert J. Beveridge, "The Life of John Marshall,” Boston: Houghton Mimin Co., 1919, vol. I, p. 131.

16 Ibid., p. 147.

17 The Constitution of the United States of America, art. I, sec. 8 and art. I, sec. 2; the broad power of Congress in the field of military affairs are spelled out in greater detail in such cases as Arver v. U.S., 245 U.S. 366, Sugar v. U.S., 248 U.S. 578, U.S. v, Curtis Wright Export Corp., 299 U.S. 304, U.S. v. Stephens, 245 Fed. 956, Korematsu v. U.8., 323, U.S. 214, etc.

any special prohibition on the military or any warning about the danger of a military seizure of power. In deference to some criticisms of the Constitution, however, the third amendment was later added with the provision that "no soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." Those who have contributed to the idea of a deadly American fear of the military often cite the third amendment as an indication of this dread. The third amendment had a uch more practical basis. The British policy of billeting troops in private homes before the American Revolution had been highly unpopular and one of the expressed grievances of the Revolution. Adding to the Constitution an amendment which allowed such a practice only under certain provisions was simply another acknowledgment of the attained goals of the Revolution. Americans—if they thought at all about the military—were less inclined to think about the dangers of militarism than of the military (in the words of John Laurens) as “those dear ragged Continentals whose patience will be the envy of future ages.

.” 18 The composition of the members of the State conventions which ratified the Constitution is also interesting. In Virginia, for example, over one-fourth of the delegates had served in the Armed Forces during the Revolutionary War. Those whose military service had made a nation were not likely to have an anxiety neurosis about the military.

In America's formative years, however, the best example of successful civilmilitary relations was that supplied by Washington. He had been the supreme military commander during the Revolution, but how little fear there was of the military is indicated by the fact that no one else was even considered for the Presidency. Chosen unanimously-the only President ever so honoredWashington was reelected (again by unanimous vote) in 1792. His military skill and personal character had won independence. Of this the brilliant English historian, Sir George 0. Trevelyan wrote, “the ultimate success of the American arms, over all that vast theater of war, was mainly due to Washington's skill and foresight, and (in a yet more marked degree) to his elevation of character.18 As our first Chief Executive, Washington laid the practical foundations for the prestige and power of that great constitutional office. With such vast knowledge of both the military and the civil power, therefore, Washington's view as to the proper scope of each is of the greatest significance. Fortunately there is an actual case-rather than a theoretical pronouncementthat clearly indicates Washington's concept of the extent of the duties and responsibilities of the military in relation to the civil authority. In 1798 America was on the verge of war with France. The Nation turned once more to its old military chief and President John Adams appointed Washington "lieutenant general and commander in chief of all the armies raised to to be raised for the service of the United States. * * *” 20

Washington accepted but told the Secretary of War that he expected to play a part in the organization and staffing of the Army. When, therefore, the President selected a list of ranking general officers in reverse order of Washington's recommendations, Washington pointed out that with all due deference to the Chief Executive, the Army commander in chief “had certain perequisites also. He had no wish to increase his own powers or to diminish those of the President * * * [but] changes in the general staff had been determined upon and others contemplated without the least intimation to the commander in

The Chief Executive answered Washington to the effect that he had drawn up the commissions of the three ranking major generals on the same day so that “should controversies as to rank arise, they would be submitted to the [Army] commander in chief.” Adams went on to say that he would confirm Washington's judgment in the matter.23 Washington's raising of this question and the decision of President Adams to defer to him is most interesting as a practical example of fact that the Father of his Country saw the role

chief." 21

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18 Quoted, C. Joseph Bernardo and Eugene H. Bacon, "American Military Policy,” Harrisburg, Pa.: the Miiltary Service Publishing Co., 1955, footnote 79, p. 28.

19 Sir George 0. Trevelyan, “The American Revolution,” London : Longmans, Green & Co., 1907, pt. III, p. 385. Sir George went on to state: “'What,' asked Horace Walpole, 'has an army of 50,000 men, fighting for sovereignty, achieved in America ? Retreated from Boston; retreated from Philadelphia ; laid down their arms at Saratoga ; and lost 13 provinces ! That, and nothing less, was the debt which the American Republic owed to the energy, the pertinacity, and the noble self-forgetfulness of George Washington."

20 J. A. Carroll and M. W. Ashworth completing the biography by Douglas Southall Freeman, “George Washington," New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1957, vol. VII, p. 519.

21 Ibid., p. 533. 22 Ibid., p. 534. 23 Ibid.

of the military as properly respectful of the civil power and yet not so slavishly obedient that it possessed no voice of its own.

Washington, of course, was not alone in appreciating the value of a proper defense posture nor of the proper role of the military. It is worth noting that at the time Congress acted to found the U.S. Navy, there were practical demonstrations of opinion that the creation of a navy would not end our freedom. The citizens in Charleston, S.C. proposed, for example, the purchase of a frigate through private contributions, the warship to be turned over to the U.S. Government.24 And even the supposedly pacific Jefferson approved of the establishment of the U.S. Military Academy and supported the objectives of the U.S. Military Philosophical Society for "promoting military science.” 25

In sum the formative years of the United States were hardly the years of fearful expectancy of a military caste extinguishing the liberties (actually won by the exertions of the Armed Forces) of Americans. 2. General in Chief of the Army Winfield Scott

During the first three decades of government under the Constitution the eyes of Americans were often on Europe. With the convulsions of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars shaking the world, America could hardly remain uninterested. But with the end of the War of 1812 and the general peace in Europe following the Congress of Vienna, Americans turned toward the subjugation of the natural elements of their huge land. From 1815 to the Civil War era they had a continent to settle.

The people who did it were individualists (often very rugged ones), not organization men. Of course they did not idolize the military but neither did they need psychiatric treatment for fear of it. Along with the development of the rocking chair, the Kentucky rifle, bourbon whisky, and the Colt revolver, they developed an utterly frank approach toward civil-military affairs. Disputes between the military and the civil authorities were conducted in a rough and tumble way; indeed, it would have been thought undemocratic to have adopted any other course.

Typical was the approach of Andrew Jackson, major general of the Regular Army. In 1818 he interpreted his orders to proceed against the Seminole Indians in the broadest possible fashion. He called to his assistance the Tennessee militia without the Governor's permission, added them to his force of Regulars and invaded the Spanish territory of Florida in pursuit of the Seminoles. There he hung two British subjects who had been subverting the Indians and seized the Spanish strongholds of St. Mark and Pensacola. This chain of events led Jackson into conflict with the Secretary of War, some Members of Congress, and the President. Yet although Jackson's actions in the politico-diplomatic field were beyond strictly interpreted military authority, he was defended by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and President Monroe eventually acquiesced in them. As is well known, Jackson, chiefly on the basis of his campaigns against the Indians and his record in the War of 1812, went on to become one of our most famous Presidents.


Resembling Jackson in many ways, but remaining in the Regular Army throughout his lifetime was an officer who was to play an even more important role in the history of U.S. civil-militray relations. This was General in Chief of the Army Winfield Scott. Like Andrew Jackson he was a product of a roughhewn and fearless generation. Like Jackson also he was outspoken in the extreme.

Americans today are apparently less robust than their forbears of the 19th century. Perhaps the spirit of togetherness would hold public exchanges and letters to the press by military figures to be a breach of the civil-military relationship. Or perhaps we have forgotten that while the 19th century may have had its limitations, it was a time of extreme democracy in communications and in the latitude given to military and civil officers alike. This was equally true in England. A British writer has pointed out that “up to the early part of the 20th century it was no offense for an officer to publish, either in books, letters

24 Marshall Smelser, “The Passage of the Naval Act of 1794,” Military Affairs, vol. XXII (1958), p. 7.

25 Sidney Forman, “Thomas Jefferson on Universal Military Training," Military Affairs, vol. XI (1947), p. 177 ; Mr. Forman quotes Jefferson as stating that "we must * * * make military instruction a regular part of collegiate education *

28 See Julius W. Pratt, "A History of United States Foreign Policy,” New York : Prentice Hall, 1955, pp. 156–161; W. A. Ganoe, “The History of the United States Army," New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1942, rev. ed., pp. 152–153.

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