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Armed Services Lobbying Associations

Armed Services Lobbying Associations. Voluntary organizations designed to support a specific branch of the American military have always existed in the United States. In the nineteenth century, many groups organized along specialist lines to publish professional journals and bring together active duty and retired military personnel. Real influence on military policy did not come until the twentieth century, when lobbying associations were formed for each armed service. These modern associations defined their primary purpose as lobbying Congress, explaining defense issues to the public, and working in close alliance with the branch of the armed services they represent. Such private, dues‐collecting organizations often brought intraservice rivalries into the political arena. By the 1960s, they were considered part of the military‐industrial complex, allowing defense industry advertising to subsidize their publications. Though their opponents tended to exaggerate their power to influence policy, reserve organizations served as critical links between the service branches, the public, and Congress during times of open debate over military policy.

The nation's oldest military lobbying association is the National Guard Association (NGA). Maj. Gen. Dabney H. Maury, a former Confederate officer, organized the NGA in 1878 after the militiamen of the West Virginia National Guard refused to fire on strikers in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The NGA, an organization of National Guard officers, had two early goals: better training and funding for internal policing duties and recognition of the National Guard as the country's main ready reserve for national defense. At first the boost in funding came primarily from state governments, though the federal government gave the Guard substantial grants‐in‐aid by loaning materiel for training camps. Federal funding increased when Congress recognized the Guard as the first line military reserve in the Dick Act of 1903 and other Militia Acts, and in the National Defense Acts of 1916 and 1920. The NGA lobbied successfully throughout the twentieth century to preserve this reserve status, though the cost has been increased supervision and control by branches of the federal armed forces.

The Navy League organized in 1902 when similar professional groups designed to unite civilians and others interested in naval issues appeared throughout Europe. Never numbering more than 19,000 in its first 50 years, the Navy League had many prominent businessmen and industrialists as members. The League pressed continuously for larger naval appropriations and often provided sympathetic members of Congress with critical statistics when naval legislation was pending. The U.S. Navy depended heavily on the Navy League to defend its policies. During the isolationist 1920s and 1930s, the League recorded its greatest success by keeping interest in a naval shipbuilding program alive. In the Cold War, the Navy League promoted the navy's concerns about the policy of massive retaliation and its competition for appropriations with the army and air force.

The Air Force Association (AFA) was founded in 1946 by Gen. “Hap” Arnold to provide the Army Air Force with an effective lobbying group. The new organization drew on well‐known war heroes, such as Gen. James Doolittle and Hollywood actor James Stewart, to bring attention to the importance of airpower issues. The AFA enjoyed an immediate victory when the independent U.S. Air Force separated from the army in 1947. Two years later, the AFA successfully opposed the navy during the “Revolt of the Admirals” against the cancellation of their supercarrier in favor of the B‐36 bomber. More recently, AFA opposition to a controversial 1995 Smithsonian exhibit on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki initiated a highly publicized debate. This led to a complete reorganization of the exhibit, which the AFA and its supporters in Congress charged was too sympathetic to Japanese victims of the atomic bomb blast and failed to present the full horror of Japanese aggression and violence in Asia. Membership in the AFA has ranged from a low of 40,000 in the mid‐1950s to a high of 230,000 in the late 1980s.

The Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) was founded in 1950 when two of the army's older organizations, the Infantry and Field Artillery Associations, merged. Senior army leaders feared that branch parochialism was undermining funding for an adequate land force, and wanted an organization that would help the army speak with one voice to Congress. AUSA absorbed the Antiaircraft Association in 1955. The 100,000‐member association drew retired army generals to its board, and until 1956, AUSA leadership consisted of uniformed soldiers. The difficulty confronting active duty personnel in openly debating army policy with Congress caused the AUSA to restrict key lobbying and policy positions to nonactive duty members. Like the AFA and Navy League, the AUSA publishes a professional magazine to evaluate contemporary doctrinal and funding issues, organizes local chapters, holds annual conventions, and provides experts to testify at congressional hearings.
[See also Lobbies, Military; Militia and National Guard; Service Associations.]


Morris Janowitz , The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait, 1960.
Armin Rappaport , The Navy League of the United States, 1962.
Jim Dan Hill , The Minute Man in Peace and War: A History of the National Guard, 1964.
Fifty Years of AFA, Air Force, 79 (February 1996), pp. 35–45.
Association of the U.S. Army , AUSA Background Brief, 76 (September 1997).

Jennifer D. Keene

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