views updated May 23 2018


William Kamman

Near the turn of the twentieth century, Secretary of War Elihu Root told a Chicago audience: "We are a peaceful, not a military people, but we are made of fighting fiber and whenever fighting is by hard necessity the business of the hour we always do it as becomes the children of great, warlike races." Theodore Roosevelt's admonition, "Speak softly and carry a big stick," says it more succinctly, and the great seal of the United States with an eagle clutching both an olive branch and thirteen arrows expresses the idea symbolically. The history of the United States offers many examples of the nation at peace and war, speaking softly while carrying a big stick. But does one characteristic dominate?

Although the nation's rise to imperial size and world power during the twentieth century may suggest military influence, historians do not agree among themselves. Samuel Flagg Bemis, a distinguished diplomatic historian, described manifest destiny as a popular conviction that the nation would expand peacefully and by republican example; it was not, in his view, predicated on militarism. During the expansionist period (excepting the Civil War), the army and navy were small and there was no conscription. Dexter Perkins, another distinguished historian of the same generation, would agree with this interpretation. The United States completed its continental domain, he said, with less violence than usually accompanies such expansion. Perkins believed that Americans have only reluctantly recognized the role of power in international affairs and that they desire a reduction of armaments compatible with national security. Undoubtedly influenced by Cold War events, particularly intervention in Vietnam, many writers have challenged such interpretations. Dissenters such as J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, saw a trend toward militarism in foreign policy arising after 1945, when extreme emphasis on defense and anticommunism led to a national security state with huge military budgets, increased executive power, and greater commitments abroad. Others maintain that militarism emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century, whenaccording to historian Gabriel KolkoPresidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson "scaled the objectives of American foreign policy to the capacity of American power to extend into the world." Still others discern imperialism broadly defined as a goal of American policy from the very beginning and suggest that recent military events are the logical culmination of trends over two centuries.

Militarism, like its frequent handmaiden, imperialism, is an avowedly distasteful phenomenon to Americans. The term can be broadly or narrowly defined and may be tailored to circumstances. Noah Webster defines militarism as predominance of the military class or prevalence of their ideals; the spirit that exalts military virtues and ideals; the policy of aggressive military preparedness. In his history of militarism, Alfred Vagts distinguished between militarism and the military way, the latter referring to the legitimate use of men and matériel to prepare for and fight a war decided on by the civilian powers of a state. Militarism does not necessarily seek war and therefore is not the opposite of pacifism; in its spirit, ideals, and values it pairs more precisely with civilianism.

Although most nations offer examples of militarism, the attitude is most often associated in the American mind with Prussia and Wilhelmian Germany. Expressions of militarism and policies reflecting it were clearly discernible in the Germany of that time. The writings of the historian Heinrich von Treitschke and of General Friedrich von Bernhardi seemed representative of a general view that war was natural and right; and Otto von Bismarck, called to lead the Prussian king's struggle for army reform without parliamentary interference, emphasized power at the expense of liberalism, once telling the parliamentary budget commission that iron and blood, not speeches and majority decisions, settled the great questions of the day. For a time the Prussian nobility regarded the army as their almost exclusive opportunity for power and rank and sought to discourage the rise of bourgeois elements in the officer corps. Loyalty was to their noble class for the maintenance of its privileges. With his swashbuckling manner, Kaiser Wilhelm II epitomized German militarism for Americans, and the 1914 invasion of Belgiumdespite a treaty guaranteeing that nation's neutrality ("just a scrap of paper" and "necessity knows no law" said Berlin)represented the immorality of German militarism and its refusal to accept any constraints.


In the American experience, some of the traditional marks of militarism are lacking. There has been no aristocratic class, except perhaps in the antebellum South, which regarded military values highly and the army as a career preferable to business and civilian professions. There have been few challenges to civilian dominance over the military and little disagreement during most of American history about a small standing army. In the United States, any militarism must exist alongside democratic, liberal, civilian traditions and sometimes even have their support. Generally, this support has not been lacking when achievement of foreign policy goals (continental expansion, defense of the Monroe Doctrine, neutral rights, preservation of the European or world balance of power) has seemed to require military power. With that support the evidence of militarism in the United States increases as the nation accepts greater foreign policy commitments.

Late eighteenth-and nineteenth-century American history shows few signs of militarism. Americans were not militaristic because there was no rationale for it. Yet these were not years of unbroken peace, for, as Root said, Americans were willing to fight when need was apparent. American fortune allowed war preparations after the crisis developed and permitted rapid demobilization when it was past, or as historian Daniel J. Boorstin, referring to the American Revolution and later American wars, said, "the end of the war and the end of the army were substantially the same." Strong pressures for militarism in the United States came mainly after a long development of antimilitaristic sentiment.

American military efforts in the Revolution and the successful preservation of independence brought no changes in colonial antipathy (learned from the English cousins) to standing armies. A standing army was, for the revolutionary generation, dangerous to liberty and a tool for establishing intolerable despotisms. Americans believed that those who had arms and were disciplined in their use would dominate and that a standing army was inconsistent with free government. As noted by Bernard Bailyn in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, such thoughts reflected the influence of earlier English writers and was dogma that prevailed with little dispute throughout nineteenth-and into twentieth-century American history. For colonists the British army might provide needed defense, but it should do so with few demands on colonial life or pocketbook. After 1763, when England kept several thousand troops in America, there was distrust in the colonies; on the eve of the Revolution, the Continental Congress memorialized the king with their grievances about the standing army in their midst and the commander in chief's assertion of authority over civil governments in America. In the Declaration of Independence, the Founders repeated these charges. Many Americans were convinced that the army was not needed and colonial wars of past yearsreferred to by the names of the British monarchswere of little interest to them. This attitude reflects the isolation of the colonies and illustrates its effect on military thinking. Thomas Paine emphasized it when he urged separation from Britain. Britain fought for its own interests, he said, not for any attachment to Americans: "She did not protect us from our enemies on our account; but from her enemies on her own account." Independence would demonstrate America's isolation and lessen the need for a large professional military establishment.

More important in colonial experience was the armed citizen, the embattled farmer who was ready at a minute's notice to defend family and community. Most of the able free male inhabitants of an English settlement were armed because dispersed settlement made it necessary. They were accustomed to the rigors of hard life and were familiar with firearms. Although most of them served in the militia, the drills and reviews offered little instruction; the men were little inclined to military training or subordination. These plain citizens with arms were the military men; their presence made civilian control over the army a reality well before adoption of a constitution in which that principle was firmly embedded. During the Revolution many of these armed men served in the Continental army, the militia, or in some irregular capacity. They have been variously described as ragged, dirty, sickly, and ill-disciplined, unused to service, impatient of command, and destitute of resources.

One foreign observer, however, believed the whole nation had much natural talent for war and military life. All descriptions were apt for the citizen soldiers for whom General George Washington sometimes despaired, but with favorable geography and foreign aid, without which success would have been difficult, they won. The victory amid political and economic confusion did not emphasize the military prowess of the Continental army or of the militiamen, and fortunately, too, for the civilian tradition, the man who commanded those victorious arms did not have the seeming messianic impulse of Napoleon, Charles de Gaulle, or Douglas MacArthur.

Washington reinforced civilian dominance at the time the nation was formed and precedents were set. He understood that the Revolution needed the support of public opinion as well as successful military efforts; he emphasized to his civilian soldiers their own interests (not those of some king) in the conflict; and he remained subordinate to Congress. At the end of the war, when soldiers were grumbling about back pay and unkept promises of future reward, Washington counseled patience and obedience. It was a time when politicians were scheming with discontented officers and there was imminent danger of military interference in political matters, but Washington's position prevailed. In June 1783, most of the army disbanded and the following December the Virginia planter-turned-general resigned his commission and went home. Never again in American history would the army be so close to open defiance of civilian authority. The disbanded troops met general public opposition to their demands for further pay; many received little or nothing. Civilian suspicion of military men was also revealed in public reaction to the Society of Cincinnati, a social and charitable organization of officers with membership passing through primogeniture. Opposition focused on the aristocratic trappings and possible military pressure on government. It was a natural civilian and democratic reaction from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and John Jay.


The colonial heritage, experience in the Revolution, and constitutional constraints influenced the military policy of the new nation. The Constitution firmly established civilian dominance, although it did not prohibit a standing army. The president was commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States, including state militiamen called into the nation's service; Congress had the power to provide and support an army and navy but no appropriations for the army would be for more than two years; and Congress had the power to declare war. Under Congress's suspicious eye, the army remained small throughout the nineteenth century, except for bulges during the century's four major wars. Liberal sentimenta heritage of the Enlightenment as accepted by Americans and passed on through the Declaration of Independenceemphasized tolerance, progress, and the individual; these traits allowed only restricted acceptance of military development, especially in the absence of any great threat and as American expansion moved apace with little opposition. Alexander Hamilton might call for substantial military preparations in 17971798 and support creation of a U.S. military academy (a proposal attacked as aristocratic and militaristic but nonetheless implemented in 1802), Secretary of War John C. Calhoun might in 1820 make a well-reasoned plea for the standing army against economy cuts, or Henry Clay might argue for greater defense in the face of an alleged European threat during the Latin American revolutionsbut they failed to alter substantially the American mood for a small army. Diplomatic efforts of John Adams preserving peace in the late 1790s, or of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams extending the nation's boundaries, or unilateral pronouncements such as the no-transfer resolution and the Monroe Doctrine all seemed to provide at little expense what Americans wanted.

When diplomacy faltered, the United States did turn to war. Some of these wars were aggressive, fought by a young, nationalistic, and expansionist people. In the case of the Mexican War, there was heavy opposition to the conflict, marked notably by Henry David Thoreau's call for civil disobedience, more a challenge to the extension of slavery than to the war itself. There were many other armed conflicts in nineteenth-century American history than students may remember, if they ignore the numerous army engagements with the Indiansestimated between 1,200 and 1,500lasting until 1898. These conflicts with Native Americans have posed serious and complicated questions for interpreters of U.S. history. Wars and diplomatic negotiations with England, France, Spain, and Mexico established the country's continental boundaries by mid-nineteenth century, but relations with the native inhabitants of these lands remained ambiguous and problematic into the latter part of the century. These relations were clashes of culture besmirched with greed, maladministration, and corruption and based on force to overcome resistance. Reconciling the territorial desires of the country and its people with respect for Indian lands was in the end impossible. While some leaders of the new nation might want to advance the nation's perceived wellbeing without sacrificing its honor in treating with indigenous people, it was never, as the historian Francis Paul Prucha notes in his Sword of the Republic (1969), the intent of the U.S. government to halt the westward movement for all time.

There was bound to be conflict, and despite their hostility toward standing armies, the country's leaders established an army, although small, to resolve problems caused by the movement of Americans into frontier lands. U.S. policy was established by treaties and laws and generally administered by civilian agents at first from the War Department and later the Department of the Interior. The regular army, frequently supplemented by militia troops, was available to provide force when deemed necessary. Many officers and their men had contempt for Native Americans, and there was excessive violence in handling Indian affairs, including extensive bloody wars to remove tribes from their homes as in Florida (18351842, a result of government policy on removal) or in actions of militiamen, as in the Chivington massacre in Colorado (1864). Robert Wooster in The Military and United States Indian Policy, 18651903 (1988) remarks that a view of Indians as subhumans obstructing civilization's advance allowed officers to avoid moral misgivings in the face of brutal actions. Yet some officers such as General William Tecumseh Sherman, who supported strong action against Indians and did not view them as equals, understood their resistance.

The westward advanceimperialism under the name of manifest destiny, with army supportprovides evidence of militarism, but there was little or no glorification of martial virtues or the martial spirit except as Hollywood might in later years portray it. Despite the army's role, there was a strong civilian influence on what was done. Sometimes when the army removed white invaders from Indian land or controlled trade with Indians there were complaints of military tyranny. Early legislation provided that persons apprehended for violating Indian territory would be subject to civil, not military, courts, and there were cases of civil actions brought against officers for performing such duties. There was also the belief among some army personnel that civilians frequently caused Indian problems, hoping to encourage military action. While fighting was an important part of the army's assignment in the West, it had a multipurpose role well beyond the use of force. Michael L. Tate in The Frontier Army in the Settlement of the West (1999) describes the army's major accomplishments in civilian-oriented tasks, including exploration and mapping, road and bridge building, agricultural experimentation, meteorological service, and a variety of services for persons going to and returning from the West.

Slavery provided the moral setting for the greatest threat to the Union and the most severe test of the civilian-military relationship in the nineteenth century. The occasion was a civil rather than a foreign war, and for that reason the internal threat seemed more imminent and restrictions on civil liberties more justified. President Abraham Lincoln was not happy about some measures taken nor the exuberance of some officers in carrying out regulations, but he thought preservation of the Union required adequate measures, even including suspending the writ of habeas corpus, detaining thousands of persons for disloyalty, sending hundreds of provost marshals into the country to oversee conscription and internal security, and using military officers and men in political campaigns to ensure election of administration supporters. Few people today would question Lincoln's motives, although his means are debatable. Yet national elections were not canceled (Lincoln defeated a general he had earlier removed from command), and the restrictions were not permanent although military governments were established in the South, some occupation troops remaining until 1877. Noteworthy, too, is the civilian control of the restrictive militaristic policies a condition, according to some historians, not dissimilar to the civilian aspect of present-day militarism. In foreign relations, the Civil War demonstrated the nation's relative immunity to foreign dangers even at a time of great internal peril what better argument to challenge calls for greater military preparedness after the war? Also significant was Lincoln's broad interpretation of presidential powers during wartime, a legacy enlarged by future chief executives whose actions have fed much of the debate on militarism and imperialism in recent American history.

When the guns fell silent after Appomattox, more than a million men went home and the fleet of almost 700 ships declined to fewer than 200, many unseaworthy. Public attitude was the usual postwar aversion to things military, although the war had its heroes and the people elected General Ulysses S. Grant president as earlier they had chosen George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Taylor. Also, as after earlier wars, veterans' organizations developed to promote patriotism and economic self-interest and preserve wartime camaraderie. The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, as the Aztec Club after the Mexican War, was modeled on the Society of the Cincinnati and had little impact. The Grand Army of the Republic was of greater importance. Its influence was probably more effective on veterans' benefits and patriotic observance than its sometimes divided opinions on foreign and military policies. As the historian May Dearing has noted, the GAR was so busy with patriotic exercises, textbooks with a loyal Northern bias, and military instruction in schools (denounced by writers, peace groups, and some labor unions as militaristic) that it had little time for "jingoistic fulminations against other countries." Nonetheless, the patriotic exuberance may have encouraged public sentiment for war in 1898, and when war came the GAR leadership supported it and the territorial expansion that followed.

Still, old dogmas of civilian dominance over the military and a small army and navy prevailed, but there were changes affecting the economy and foreign policy that would alter the traditional civilian-military relationship over the next decades. In the thirty-five years following the war, the nation's population more than doubled; by the end of the century, American manufacturers had made the United States the world's industrial giant; American exports during the latter half of the 1890s exceeded a billion dollars annually. Few people could doubt America's claim to the status of a world power: there remained only the emulation of European imperialism to give formal recognition of that fact, and that came with the Spanish-American War of 1898. Whether America's fin de siècle imperialism was a great aberration, part of a search for markets, a continuation of earlier expansionism, an expression of manifest destiny, or simply a duplication of European practices, U.S. policy would not be the same again, and in the formulation of that foreign policy there were unmistakable signs of militaristic thinking.

As early as the 1840s, General Dennis Hart Mahan, father of the naval officer and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, had urged creation of a more effective regular army to carry America's influence to the world. Mahan believed that the United States was probably the least military of the civilized nations, "though not behind the foremost as a warlike one." "To be warlike," he went on, "does not render a nation formidable to its neighbors. They may dread to attack it, but have no apprehensions from its offensive demonstrations." The Mexican War had demonstrated the military potential of the United States, and, however slow Americans were in profiting from the lesson, the rest of the world recognized it. General Mahan's vision of military glory went far beyond defense of the nation to an extension of its power outside the continent. Despite Mahan's vision and the arguments of such generals as Emory Upton, who deplored civilian control over strictly military matters and overdependence on armed citizenry in war, there was little change in American opinion.

While the navy experienced the same reluctance to abandon traditional military policies and became embroiled in politics and spoils, it was free of some of the public's extreme suspicion of a standing army and benefited immensely from that apostle of navalism and imperialism, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and two of his sometimes overlooked contemporaries, Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce, founder of the Naval War College where Mahan expounded his ideas, and Benjamin Harrison's secretary of the navy, Benjamin F. Tracy, advocate of a battleship fleet. The naval building program also spawned lobbyists and vested interests in the industries providing the new matériel and equipment. Wanting to avoid overdependence on foreign suppliers, Congress in 1886 required navy shipbuilders to use only matériel of domestic manufacture. The following year the Bethlehem Iron Company agreed to supply the first American-made armor plate and in 1888 began production of the first steel propeller shafts for U.S. warships.

Like his father, Alfred T. Mahan had a vision of America's world positiona vision, perceived through study of British naval history, not confined to defensive preparations. The younger Mahan's message emphasized sea power as a source of national greatness: the building of a battleship fleet to protect U.S. interests, if not to reach distant countries at least to keep clear the main approaches to America. The sea is a highway, he said, and ships providing access to the world's wealth and traveling on that highway must have secure ports and must, as far as possible, have "the protection of their country throughout the voyage." The United States with safe frontiers and plentiful internal resources might live off itself indefinitely in "our little corner" but, suggested Mahan with a tone more of warning than speculation, "should that little corner be invaded by a new commercial route through the Isthmus, the United States in her turn might have the rude awakening of those who have abandoned their share in the common birthright of all people, the sea. The canala great commercial pathwould bring the great nations of Europe closer to our shores than ever before and it will not be so easy as heretofore to stand aloof from international complications." He saw in Americans an instinct for commerce, preferably in their own ships, a possibility for colonies, and a need to control an isthmian canal. For him, war was sometimes necessary just as the policeman's work was necessary; through such organized force the world progressed.

As many Americans accepted Mahan's strategic proposals to give a historical validity to their imperialist, militarist policies, so many also adopted Charles Darwin's theory of biological development to lend scientific support for survival of the fittest in international relations. In his study of social Darwinism, the historian Richard Hofstadter remarked that although Americans did not have to wait for Darwin to justify racism, militarism, or imperialismall present in American history before 1859Darwinism was a convenient handle to explain their beliefs in Anglo-Saxon superiority, meaning pacific and belligerent expansion.

Few people typify the spirit of Mahan in the milieu of Darwinism as well as Theodore Roosevelt, a strong exponent of the "large policy" designed to make the United States a world power and possessor of colonies to provide bases and encourage trade. As a Rough Rider, public official, or historian, Roosevelt admired strength, pursued power, was sometimes a demagogue, sometimes chauvinistic, his ardent nationalism easily becoming militaristic. Roosevelt's call for a strenuous life revealed much that could be ominously dangerous: "We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life." He did not want to avoid war simply to save lives or money; the cause was what mattered. "If we," he said, "are to be a great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world. The timid man, the lazy man, the man who distrusts his country, the over-civilized man, who has lost the great fighting, masterful virtues, the ignorant man of dull mind, whose soul is incapable of feeling the mighty lift that thrills 'stern men with empires in their brains'"thus he characterized people unwilling to undertake the duties of empire by supporting an adequate army and navy. He urged Americans to read the Congressional Record to identify those opposed to appropriations for new ships, or the purchase of armor, or other military preparations. These men, Roosevelt declared, worked to bring disaster on the country; they had no share in the glory of Manila; "they did ill for the national honor." He feared the nation would become a weak giant like China. That tragedy could be avoided through a life of strenuous endeavor. Every man, woman, and child had duties: the man, to do man's work; the woman, to be homemaker and "fearless mother of many healthy children"; and the child, to be taught not to shirk difficulties. Roosevelt had little patience for the timidity of those who opposed empire or their canting about liberty and consent of the governed "in order to excuse themselves for their unwillingness to play the part of men." Not many Americans had Roosevelt's eloquence or his platform, but many shared his sentiments.


Nationalism, an effort to exert greater influence beyond the country's borders, and a willingness to threaten or use force, while not new in United States foreign policy, seemed more apparent as the country moved into the twentieth century. Several episodes of American foreign and military policy highlight this trend.

Deficiencies of the U.S. Army in the Spanish war necessitated a revamping of the military organization. Using European precedents, Secretary of War Elihu Root proposed several changes, including creation of the Army War College and a general staff. Much opposition came from entrenched interests in the army and the state militias, but through compromise Root's proposals passed. America's participation in World War I was more effective because of these changes. For some people development of the general staff raised a specter of militarism. Walter Millis, a student of militarism, writing in 1958 commented on Root's contribution and mused that without it American participation in the Great War might not have occurred. "But Root, like all large figures," Millis said, "was only a reflection of his times. There were many other architects of the great disaster of militarism which was to supervene in 191418."

The new navy was begun under the administrations of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. In 1883, Congress approved four steel vessels, and the building program continued through subsequent administrations, especially the Mahan-influenced presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, when emphasis was on battleship construction. A major turn came after war broke out in Europe. Since Roosevelt's presidency, American naval policy had called for a navy second only to Great Britain. In 1915 policy proclaimed a navy second to none. The naval appropriations act of 1916 had no precedent for its naval construction plans. A strong opponent, House majority leader Claude Kitchin, argued futilely that approval would make the United States "the greatest military-naval Nation the world has ever seen." The act reveals an interesting dichotomy, showing the uneasy American attitude toward military measures by combining large appropriations for warships with a renunciation of armed aggression, and an endorsement, in principle, of disarmament. Wilson's support for a strong navy shows his realization of the interaction of military power and diplomacy. The navy would allow the United States to meet existing challenges and to perform the international tasks it expected after the war.

In Latin American policy and in implementation of the Monroe Doctrine, Americans showed a new assertiveness resulting, particularly in the twentieth century, in frequent military interventions, intervention to remain a standard response to political instability until the 1930s. In 1896, Secretary of State Richard Olney and President Grover Cleveland confronted the British with "the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition." A few years later, Theodore Roosevelt, fearful of European intervention (perhaps a German naval base in the debt-ridden Dominican Republic), accepted for the United States the role of international policeman in the Caribbean. From the Roosevelt Corollary, the Platt Amendment with Cuba, the responsibilities of dollar diplomacy, and the 1903 canal treaty with Panama, whose independence Roosevelt assured by timely naval maneuvers, there emerged a Caribbean foreign policy often characterized by the big stick. American troops and tutelage countered political and economic chaos. Clashes were bound to occur: in 1912, U.S. forces in the Caribbean for the first time went into battle to suppress revolutionaries, this time in Nicaragua. In ensuing years, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Nicaragua experienced extensive interventions, often with violence and with a full-scale guerrilla war in Nicaragua in the 1920s and early 1930s. Guerrilla opposition was not new to Americans, who had faced it in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.

If broad interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine in areas near the Panama Canal and if growing interests in Far Eastern affairs born of the Open Door and the search for that vast Asian market cast the United States in a role of greater involvement calling for more reliance on military solutions, this was not accompanied by surrender of traditional attitudes toward military matters. Compromises were always necessary: even entering the war in 1917 was put in the perspective of fighting German militarism, of fighting a war to end war. While most Americans might applaud a combative nationalism that had Roosevelt proclaiming, "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead" when Raisuli, a Moroccan bandit, abducted an alleged American citizen near Tangieror while pacifist Jane Addams might lose much of her popularity during World War I and have her speeches considered dangerous, or while Eugene Debs might be sent to jail in 1918 for a speech condemning war, these and similar events were more a result of the exuberant patriotism of the times than a widespread tendency toward militarism. In the postwar years there is substantial evidence that Americans wished to return to policies less likely to involve force. Much of the opposition to the League of Nations came from those who thought Article X of the Covenant deprived Congress of a free hand in deciding on war. These men did not want to guarantee the "territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League," for that might lead to a war not in America's interest. The disarmament conferences and the Kellogg-Briand Pact to outlaw war as an instrument of national policy did not usher in a long era of peace, but they were symptomatic of peaceful desire. Weary of the Nicaraguan imbroglio, President Herbert Hoover and Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson concluded that marine interventions were too costly and should end. Revelations of war profiteering, exposés of the armament industry, and the revisionist historical literature on U.S. entry into the Great War brought disillusionment and a determination that it should not happen again. Presidential power in foreign policy was suspect, the neutrality laws of the 1930s tried to close all loopholes that might lead to war, and there were restraints on presidential flexibility in foreign policy. One proposal, the Ludlow Resolution (19351938), even indicated distrust of Congress on the matter of war by urging that declarations of war should be by national referendum. These questions became more pressing as world crises multiplied. During the debate on American foreign policy in the late 1930s and early 1940s, each side proclaimed its approach as the true road to peace while the opponent's was sure to involve the United States in war.


Among isolationists in the interwar period there was fear of militarism. The historian Charles A. Beard felt the military interests seeking a larger navy would, if left to themselves, "extend America's 'strategic frontiers' to the moon." If Americans rejected the policy encouraged by Alfred Thayer Mahan, Theodore Roosevelt, John Hay, and Henry Cabot Lodge, and if by plan, will, and effort they provided "a high standard of life and security for the American people," using to the fullest the national resources, technical arts, and managerial skills in the United States, there would be no need for large military forces. Defense policy should be based on "security of life for the American people in their present geographical home"; the army and navy should not be huckstering and drumming agencies for profit seekers, promoters, and speculators or defenders of every dollar invested abroad. Guided by such a clarification of policy, Beard said, military authorities could make calculations adapted to clearly defined ends; until then they "will demand every gun and ship they can get." Beard saw military leaders committing themselves to a policy of trade promotion and defense all over the world. Sometimes, he believed, they took dangerous chances and then tried to convince the people that national interest or points of honor were at stake. As long as naval strategists demanded more ships, men, and financial support, by using "the kind of propaganda they have been employing," they were more a danger to American security than a guarantee of it.

Senators also frequently spoke out on these issues. Robert A. Taft also urged restraint on interventionist policies because he opposed war. He did not trust President Roosevelt; he thought there was little the United States could do about democracy abroad; and he felt war would expand the power of the federal government to the detriment of democracy at home. Not all isolationists would agree with this reasoning, especially since German and Japanese aims appeared more aggressive. Senator George Norris came to believe by the late 1930s that despite the dangers of militarism the United States must rearm.

The American Legion, an organization of veterans that emerged in the interwar period, also advocated programs of preparedness. The legion supported the idea of a naval disarmament conference in Washington in 19211922 but did not want to sacrifice an adequate navy for maintaining the position of the United States as a world power; nor did the legion want its support of the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) outlawing war as an instrument of national policy to imply any support for reduction in the nation's military establishment. Whether the American Legion has influenced public opinion or merely reflected it is uncertain. In the great foreign policy debate before Pearl Harbor, the organization had its own divisions on internationalism and isolationism; and, as for many Americans, the legion's general anticommunist stance gave way before the realities of World War II, returned with the Cold War, and adjusted to détente and the postCold War years. The size and organization of the American Legion have made it a more powerful lobby than its first antecedent, the Society of the Cincinnati; but it has also had public suspicion and criticism, reflecting perhaps the American civilian's distrust of military influence.

The first four decades of the twentieth century witnessed no marked trend toward militarism in the United States. But more than ever before in the nation's history, Americans were having to come to terms with world power, having to think about international relationships that had been far from their minds in earlier times. Many Americans believed that the old truths of civil-military relations were still valid, although they realized that some concessions were necessary for adequate defense in a world not free of war. The big question then and still today centers on how much is adequate. In the interwar years, the army was seldom above 200,000 men and most often below 150,000; there was rejection of conscription until 1940 and much debate on the advisability of compulsory Reserve Officers Training Corps in colleges. The navy also suffered postwar neglect, and many officers regretted naval weakness in the Pacific, where they considered Japan the enemy. A change came with Franklin D. Roosevelt's support of naval expansion and more jobs in the shipbuilding industry.


A majority of Americans came to accept Roosevelt's policy of gradually increasing both aid to the Allies and military preparation at home. When war erupted most people were still unaware that the free security from which they had unknowingly benefited for so long was gone forever. Many Americans believed that when the war was over national life would return to the prewar style. As Samuel A. Stouffer and others note in their sociopsychological study The American Soldier (1949), there was little feeling of personal commitment to war after the early sense of national peril had disappeared. The war was simply a detour that must be taken before one could return to the main, or civilian, road. At war's end the soldier had no desire to reform the United States or the world; he was interested in himself and his family. Cessation of hostilities brought not-surprising demands for rapid release of fathers, sons, and husbands; by 1946 the number of men on active duty had fallen from over 12 million to little more than 3 million, which was reduced by half the following year. In his plans for the postwar world, Roosevelt had sensed the public mood and anticipated a small armed force. At Tehran, when Stalin suggested that Roosevelt's idea of four policemen to preserve world peace might require sending U.S. troops to Europe, Roosevelt envisaged the United States providing ships and planes while Britain and the Soviet Union provided the land armies. And at Yalta the president doubted if U.S support for future peace would include "maintenance of an appreciable American force in Europe." Clearly, the United States accepted an international role and would not make the mistake of rejecting membership in the new world organization, but Americans expected to fit their participation into a familiar mold requiring only limited military effort. This paralleled Wilson's first hopes in 1917 that the American contribution to the war would come mainly from the navy and industrial production, and Roosevelt's hopes in 1940 and 1941 that nonbelligerency would prevent defeat of Germany's enemies while keeping the United States out of war. These hopes were lost in events.

Although most Americans during and immediately after the war thought mainly of returning to peacetime pursuits with little or no consideration of America's role in the world and what that role might require, there were military leaders pondering the country's future and how to protect its interests. Even shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack, as noted by Michael S. Sherry in his Preparing for the Next War, General George Marshall was thinking about peace after the imminent war and the war to follow it. Despite this slight beginning, postwar planning did not become serious for more than a year, and even then the planners had to deal with many uncertainties including vaguely expressed plans from political leaders and lack of cooperation inherent in the rivalries among the army, navy, and virtually autonomous army air force. All aspired to a preeminent place in defending national interests perhaps challenged by Soviet expansion, a concern of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 1942. Planning proposals that emerged included universal military training, unification of the services, and an independent and large air force, but unanimity was lacking except on the essential ability for rapid mobilization. A proposal for universal military training eventually received President Harry Truman's support but never passed Congress. The country relied on the draft until 1973 with a brief hiatus in 19471948. The National Security Act of 1947 provided for coordination of the armed services and an independent air force. Although the war ended without planning consensus, hurried efforts in the latter half of 1945 brought recommendations advocating a policy of deterrence and preventive war. Sherry points out that such recommendations contrasted with earlier practicegoing from a passive to an active defense. There followed military budgets lower than those of wartime but higher than prewar levels and continued large research-and-development funding, allowing soldiers and scientists to remain partners. All of this, Sherry believes, created an ideology of preparedness and Cold War mentality permitting militarist influence to permeate American society.


With the destruction of western Europe and the decline of Great Britain as a balancer of European power, the door to American retreat in the face of any new totalitarian threat closed. The challenge seemed to come from the Soviet Union, and this challenge as perceived by Americans has largely determined American foreign and military policies since 1945. Wartime cooperation with the Soviet Union had always been a marriage of convenience, although some hoped the social, economic, and political differences could be smoothed over to allow a peaceful working relationship after the war. Disagreements over Poland and Germany soon revealed the incompatibility of American and Soviet postwar goals. By 1947 the Truman administration was convinced that the world was polarized between the United States and the Soviet Union, and to protect itself the United States must preserve the balance of power against Soviet expansion. Truman came forth in broad rhetoric to tell the American people that the United States would support "free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Not long after, the diplomat George F. Kennan in his "X" article in Foreign Affairs provided an analysis of Russian behavior and prescribed a response in the form of "a long-term patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." On these appraisals the U.S. government based its foreign and military policies and over the years perhaps went far beyond what Truman and Kennan had intended. In his Memoirs, Kennan regretted his failure to make clear that he was not talking about "containment by military means of a military threat" and his failure to "distinguish between various geographic areas." Later reference to containment to explain American involvement in Vietnam disturbed Kennan. Certain areas of the world were more important to the United States, he said, and the world situation had changed since 1947; there was no longer only one center of communist power.

Although the major change in American defense policy came with the Korean War (19501953), even before that conflict there was much of the temper of the war years. Despite rapid demobilization of U.S. forces after World War II, they were still larger than during any peacetime in American history; the military budget was many times the 1940 level; President Truman was pushing for universal military training; and the United States was heavily armed, with a monopoly on the atomic bomb.

Nonetheless, Truman was reluctant to raise defense spending above $15 billion, much to the concern of military leaders and Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. On the eve of the Korean War, a committee of State and Defense Department officials described in a plan (NSC 68) the potentially rapid economic and military growth of the Soviet Union and emphasized the need for strength if there were to be any successful negotiations with the Soviet Union or any agreement on arms regulation. According to Paul Hammond, it was a program calling Americans to rise to the occasion by giving more effort and resources to prevent further deterioration of the strategic situation of the United States. The Korean War provided the impetus for the administration and public to accept the call: the national security budget shortly went above $40 billion and the number of military personnel on active duty more than doubled.

Events occurring and attitudes established during the five years after the end of World War II set a pattern for response to subsequent challenges to American foreign and military policies. Supporters argued that reliance on well-prepared armed forces supplied with the latest weaponry and stationed around the globe was a deterrent to war, while critics perceived it as an example of militarism little related to the defense needs of the United States and, as in Vietnam, sometimes disastrous.

Many conditions acceptable for achieving victory during World War II have been denounced as militarism in the postwar era. Believing that the war was essential for the achievement of legitimate national goals, most Americans accepted industrial mobilization, strong and sometimes secretive executive leadership, large armed forces, large military budgets, and the use of whatever weapons were available. From the beginning of the Cold War, however, there have been many dissenters who doubt any international danger and question the military and foreign policies designed to counter communist aggression.

Probably the most cited example of militarism in American life is the military-industrial complexan alliance between the military establishment and the companies supplying weapons and matériel used by the armed forces. The relationship was not new during World War II, but huge postwar defense budgets and the great dependence of some companies on government orders brought lobbying activities to new heights and saw substantial increases in the number of former military men on corporation payrolls. Add to this intellectual, political, labor, and geographic interests in various research projects or companies whose operations represented thousands of jobs, and there emerges a vast constituency to influence defense decisions. Defense spending for research and development also has had great impact on the nation's universities. The historian Stuart W. Leslie has described how large contracts from the military have influenced academic scientific research and maintained or established new laboratories under university management. The science and engineering departments did the research, consulted, and trained the graduates for work that was in demand by the defense establishment with the result, as Leslie says, that the military was establishing the scientific priorities.

In his Farewell Address of 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against unwarranted influence from the industrial-military complex. Many critics of the complex disagree with much of American foreign and defense policy since 1945 and fail to see any challenge requiring a large military response. The sociologist C. Wright Mills saw a greater penetration of military men in the corporate economy, which seemingly had become a permanent war economy, while Gabriel Kolko argues that the military establishment is only an instrument of civilian business leaders who seek strategic and economic objectives. Many of the critics reveal the old animosity toward munitions makers who peddle their wares that soon become obsolete and necessitate a new round of even more sophisticated and destructive weapons. Modern weapons are many times greater than needed to destroy an enemy, but the nation's security is less than ever before. Failure to achieve international control over weapons, for which some critics blame America's lack of suitable initiative when it had a monopoly of the atomic bomb, continued the wasteful arms race and increased chances for their usean unthinkable event, or so it seemed until Herman Kahn's Thinking About the Unthinkable (1969).

Opponents of postwar policies frequently centered their attacks on the president and his almost exclusive direction of foreign policy and his broad use of powers as commander in chief. According to critics, presidents have exaggerated foreign dangers and secretly committed the United States to other countries, entangling the nation in war in violation of the Constitution. Broad use of executive power from Washington's declaration of neutrality, through James K. Polk's occupation of disputed territory, Lincoln's reinforcement of Fort Sumter, Franklin D. Roosevelt's destroyer-base deal, and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra deal appears often in American history. The American people and their historians generally praise and admire (at least in historical perspective) the strong, active executive, but the Vietnam War and Watergate revelations caused a reexamination of presidential use of power. Some writers who supported presidential prerogative but became disillusioned in the later years of the Vietnam War have been at pains to distinguish which presidents faced real emergencies and were justified in wielding their authority. The distinction is difficult.

Critics also note Defense Department influence in foreign policy decisions as another example of militarism. During the John F. Kennedy administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff at first opposed a comprehensive test ban treaty because it might reduce American vigilance and finally gave support only with extensive safeguards. During the Cuban missile crisis, the Joint Chiefs advised an air strike against Cuba, and earlier they had seemed at least tacitly to support American participation in military operations against Fidel Castro. Often cited are the optimistic and frequently misleading military reports of progress in Vietnam, reports that suggested victory was within reach with a little more effort. Acceptance of the idea that only the military people had the facts made effective challenging of Pentagon estimates difficult even for the sometimes skeptical President Kennedy. According to reporter David Halberstam, Kennedy's failure to match his growing inner doubts with his public statements would have made his successor's task extremely difficult even if President Lyndon B. Johnson had been less accepting and admiring of his military advisers.

No one can deny the widespread emphasis on military preparedness, the evident abuse of power by agencies created to improve American defense, the questionable American presence in Southeast Asia, and myriad other examples of militarism in American life. Reluctance to maintain a large standing army has given way before international realities that no longer allow the United States the cheap security described by the historian C. Vann Woodward. There have been attempts to maintain civilian control, and the Korean War is a case in point. The controversy between Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur over limiting the conflict to the Korean peninsula ended in victory for the president. While the people might wildly welcome MacArthur home and while they might be bemused by the concept of a limited war, they wanted little of his plan to broaden the war; nor were there many ready to accept MacArthur's belief that military men owe primary allegiance to the country and the Constitution rather than those "who temporarily exercise the authority of the Executive Branch." General MacArthur won a brief, emotional victoryhis New York tickertape parade bested Charles Lindbergh's almost two-to-one in paper tonnagebut it was General Eisenhower, with his promise to go to Korea to seek an early and honorable end to the war, who won the votes and became the soldier-hero president. His willingness to please the fiscally conservative Robert A. Taft wing of the Republican Party and his search for a strong military policy compatible with a sound, growing economya concern not new with Eisenhowerwas no surrender to militaristic thinking. In fact, he feared that a prolonged military program might lead to a garrison state, and he wished "to keep our boys at our side instead of on a foreign shore," even though some American troops remained abroad. At times, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles engaged in militaristic rhetoric, but policy remained generally cautious, although "massive retaliation," "going to the brink," and "liberation" were added to the slogans "containment" and "aiding free peoples everywhere"slogans that undoubtedly affected popular thinking and allowed people to accept policies or actions without serious consideration. Involvement in Vietnam, where these policies and actions merged and gradually escalated, had no willing hand or perceptive mind to limit it until the commitment was very large. It was a self-perpetuating and self-deluding conflict without clear purpose, entangled in personal and national pride. Yet popular sentiment and journalistic and historical accounts of the war reveal a lively antimilitaristic feeling that challenged authority and induced eventual withdrawal.

For some Americans the end of the Vietnam War dispelled fears of militarism. Others suggested only abandonment of American economic expansionist goals as seen in the open door, or open world, policies would reverse conditions feeding militarism. For still others, greater congressional supervision of foreign and defense policies, limiting executive initiative, was needed.

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union by the early 1990s understandably encouraged greater questioning of America's military and related policies that had been in place for over half a century. For many Americans the certainties posed by the fascist and communist threats were no longer present to bolster long-held assumptions. Ever since 1940 the United States had been preparing in varying degrees for one war or another. Was it not time now to enjoy a peace dividend? The question presumed that the new circumstances were strong arguments for change. There were reductions, but not to the extent that many critics hoped. By 1998 defense spending was 12 percent below the average level from 19761990. There was downsizing of military personnel, down to about 1.4 million in 1996. There were base closings, approximately seventy by 1998, but all proposals were strongly fought because of feared effects on local economies. Defense Department plans to cut military reservist positions ran into congressional roadblocks for similar reasons. These changes represented a halting, rather grudging trend. Michael Sherry, writing in the mid-1990s about America's "militarization," a more broadly defined and perhaps vaguer concept than the classic "militarism," believed that the main rationale for militarization disappeared with the Cold War and that America would probably drift away from its militarized past without a clear or formal indication that it was doing so.

While Americans like Sherry might approve the trend but prefer a more deliberate course, others worried that the country was becoming complacent in the face of future dangers. In 1999, Secretary of Defense William Cohen was concerned about a widening gap between America's civilian and military cultures and the possible effect on the well-being of the United States as well as the international community if the American people did not understand and support the military that helped to ensure global stability. The historians Donald Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, in a study comparing the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century with England in the 1920s, suggest that as England was unwilling then to prepare properly for defense, the United States seventy-five years later might not be maintaining sufficient armed forces to pursue an active foreign policy aimed at preventing war. The Cold War and its end, they argue, disguised America's continuing interest as a world power in maintaining peace and stability in an increasingly fluid and still dangerous international community.

These views of America's military and diplomatic policies and the dangers they pose for its democratic nature and its security are speculative. Finally, any control of militarism rests with the people and their traditions. Democracy is not always reliable, for a warfare economy has many constituents and overzealous patriotism may lead to uncustomary actions. American tradition is firmly on the civilian side. Americans have not easily accepted the martial virtues emphasizing authority and subordination, and, at least in theory, they have accepted beliefs in freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Nonetheless, civilian supremacy as a basic tenet in America's civil-military tradition is not above challenge in the country's history, even in recent years. The Truman-MacArthur controversy, while often cited as a victory for civilian dominance, was possible because other prominent military leaders supported Truman, and, as noted by the historian Ernest May, Congress and the public sided with one set of military leaders instead of another. The military historian Russell F. Weigley has suggested that the principle of civilian control in civil-military relations may need reexamination. He cites postCold War examples involving General Colin L. Powell, who publicly questioned U.S. interven tion in Bosnia while the George H. W. Bush administration was debating the use of armed force there and later was critical of president-elect Clinton's campaign proposal on admitting homosexuals to the military. Weigley also notes that General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, after retirement, was critical of aspects of Gulf War diplomacy. These examples followed the Vietnam War era when civil-military relations were strained by various policy constraints not to the liking of the military. Weigley concludes that the traditional civilian dominance may have an uncertain future. Obviously, tradition is not immune to erosion.

The historian Howard K. Beale believed that Theodore Roosevelt's more ominous predilections were restrained by democratic tradition, respect for public opinion, fear of political defeat in elections, concern for the nation's well-being, acceptance of a cautious middle-of-the-road approach to problems, and a sense of the worth and dignity of the individual. These traits continue to have support from an American consensus. When American policy seems to veer too far from democratic traditions, opposition grows, particularly if there is no clear relation between policy and national security and, in the case of Vietnam, if there are continuing demands for men and matériel. Withdrawal from Vietnam did not alter the general trend of American foreign and defense policy, and the militarism that critics saw as part of it remained, but the end of the Cold War brought new, if still somewhat uncertain, directions.

Complicating the outlook may be the evolution of technology allowing development of more sophisticated and precise weaponry. Examples include use of cruise missiles or other "standoff" weapons destroying clearly defined targets without widespread damage and casualties while preserving no-fly zones over Iraq or intervening in Kosovo. Does such conflict, called "virtual war" by Michael Ignatieff in referring to Kosovo, mean that this type of violence becomes more acceptable to people reluctant to go to war? If American servicemen operate their weapons out of harm's way and there are no body bags shown on evening television or if society is not called upon to mobilize, will there be less attention paid to such military action?

Technological innovation in warmaking and attempts to restrict casualty lists as much as possible are not new. One reason expressed for use of the A-bomb was that it might obviate the need for an invasion of the Japanese home islands and the anticipated loss of American lives. What is new is the extensive television coverage since the Vietnam War and its effect on public opinion. American military leaders and politicians may be concerned not only about their own casualties but also about civilian casualties on the other side and appearing too aggressive, thus losing public support. Fighting a virtual war has many complications and unresolved political, military, and moral issues, as Michael Ignatieff describes in his book, and there is no reason to believe that the United States will retain exclusive control of the new weapons. In the face of rapid international political and technological changes, what remains for the United States is to strive to maintain the credibility of its arms in the context of its democratic traditions.


Militarism is not a precise term and its definition may depend on one's ideology or point of view, and one's judgment of it may be determined by its extent and form. Classic militarism, epitomized for most Americans by Wilhelmian Germany or pre-Hiroshima Japan, has few examples in the American past, but war and preparation for war influencing the country's society and having its support is increasingly apparent, particularly beginning in the last half of the twentieth century. This is not to say that the country has not engaged in war or military conflicts or that manifestations of militarism have not existed in earlier America. Nonetheless, general antipathy toward the military and a Congress keeping tight reins on military appropriations are readily apparent through the first century and more of U.S. history. In the beginning, the War Department (including naval affairs until 1798) had the secretary of war and one clerk and was considered in those early years, as recorded by Leonard D. White in his administrative history of the period, as a "difficult and unpopular department." A century later, although the size had changed, it was still unpopular with many people, including politicians and labor leaders like Samuel Gompers, who may have been remembering the Pullman Strike when he said, "Standing armies are always used to exercise tyranny over people."

While the early twentieth century may have begun to erode such views, it was World War II and the Cold War that brought significant changes to the country's diplomatic and military policies, symbolized by the great growth of the State and Defense Departments. The secretary of war and his clerk at the beginning of George Washington's administration grew by the beginning of the twenty-first century to about 90,000 civilian and military personnel occupying millions of square feet of office space in the Pentagon and numerous other federal and commercial buildings in the Washington, D.C., area. After World War II, Americans were willing to accept these changes because most of them no longer believed that isolationism was a viable choice for the United States, and many were convinced that there was a new totalitarian threat, similar in their minds to Hitler and Nazism. When events in Poland, Germany, Greece, China, and Korea seemed to confirm their fears, many Americans, perhaps influenced by Munich and the belief that appeasement was futile for stopping aggressors, accepted containment, deterrence, and a buildup of armaments with an ample supply of nuclear weapons. Through these policies the Cold War came to permeate American society.

While militarism, or at least the preparation for war, was clearly evident during the Cold War, its justification, if not all of its aspects, remained a subject of debate. For critics who blamed the Cold War on the United States by failing to recognize the Soviet Union's security interests, Washington's military response was dangerous, wasteful, tragic, with a mindset that continued into the postCold War era. For those who believed the Soviet Union posed a real danger to this country and its friends, the preparation for war was correct and need not be regretted. The requirements for the future, with its changing political arrangements and new technologies, remained open for even more concern and debate as evidenced by proposals, which continued into the twenty-first century, for a missile defense shield.


Coffin, Tristram. The Armed Society: Militarism in Modern America. Baltimore, 1964. Recounts the growing military influence.

Donovan, James A. Militarism, U.S.A. New York, 1970. Suggests a cut in military manpower and reduction in defense appropriations as the best means for controlling militarism.

Ekirch, Arthur A., Jr. The Civilian and the Military. New York, 1956. Notes the importance of antimilitarism in American history but sees the penetration of militarism through the technological implications of modern warfare and perpetual mobilization in the post-1945 world.

Gaddis, John Lewis, and Paul H. Nitze. "NSC 68 and the Soviet Threat Reconsidered." International Security 4 (spring 1980): 164176. Comments on NSC 68, one by a historian of the Cold War and the other by the document's principal author.

Gholz, Eugene. "The Curtiss-Wright Corporation and Cold War-Era Defense Procurement: A Challenge to Military-Industrial Complex Theory." Journal of Cold War Studies 2 (winter 2000): 3575. Questions whether the military-industrial complex protected its industrial components from going bankrupt by an examination of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

Hogan, Michael J. A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 19451954. Cambridge and New York, 1998. Describes how America prepared to fight the Cold War and tried to preserve traditional values and institutions.

Ignatieff, Michael. Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond. New York, 2000. Looks at the NATO action in Kosovo as a virtual war where technology allowed it to be fought with no deaths on the American side and was thus less than fully real to the United States. The author attempts to explain "why nations that have never been more immune from the risks of waging war should remain so unwilling to run them" by his examination of the new technology and the morality governing its use.

Kagan, Donald, and Frederick W. Kagan. While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today. New York, 2000. Fears that the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century was emulating England in the 1920s in defense policy.

Knoll, Erwin, and Judith Nies McFadden, eds. American Militarism 1970. New York, 1969. A dialogue among politicians and intellectuals who bemoan then current trends in military and foreign policies and doubt if they are defending the basic values of American society.

Kolko, Gabriel. The Roots of American Foreign Policy. Boston, 1969. Emphasizes that the growing military establishment is a result of political policy not its cause.

Lauterbach, Albert T. "Militarism in the Western World: A Comparative Study." Journal of the History of Ideas 5 (1944): 446478.

Leffler, Melvyn P. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War. Stanford, Calif., 1992. How the Truman administration coped with legacies of World War II and took steps to contain the Soviet Union but at costs higher than necessary.

Leslie, Stuart W. The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford. New York, 1993. The influence of the Cold War on American scientific research. May, Ernest R. "The U.S. Government, a Legacy of the Cold War." In Michael J. Hogan, ed. The End of the Cold War: Its Meaning and Implications. Cambridge and New York, 1992. Does not look with regret at the militarization of American government during the Cold War but questions how this government structure will fare in the postCold War period.

Millis, Walter. Arms and Men: A Study of American Military History. New York, 1958.

. American Military Thought. Indianapolis, Ind., 1966. An anthology.

Mills, C. Wright. The Power Elite. New York, 1956. Sees a unity of the power elite based on the coincidence of interests among economic, political, and military organizations.

Perkins, Dexter. The American Approach to Foreign Policy. Rev. ed. New York, 1968. Suggests that Americans on the whole have not been imperialistic and have not surrendered their essential liberties and democratic customs to demands of war.

Shaw, Martin. Post Military Society: Militarism, Demilitarization and War at the End of the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia, 1991. An examination of the concept of post-military society, bringing not necessarily the end of militarism but the possibility of peace, and, despite contradictions, a period when militarism is less dominant of society.

Sherry, Michael S. Preparing for the Next War: American Plans for Postwar Defense, 194145. New Haven, Conn., 1977. An examination of military planning to shape postWorld War II policies and attitudes.

. In the Shadow of War: The United States Since the 1930s. New Haven, Conn., 1995. A history of militarization, "the process by which war and national security shaped broad areas of national life."

Speier, Hans. "Militarism in the Eighteenth Century." Social Research: An International Quarterly of Political and Social Science 3 (1936): 304336.

Sprout, Harold, and Margaret Sprout. The Rise of American Naval Power, 17761918. Princeton, N.J., 1969.

Vagts, Alfred. A History of Militarism, Civilian and Military. Rev. ed. New York, 1959.

Weigley, Russell F. Towards an American Army: Military Thought from Washington to Marshall. New York, 1962.

. "The American Military and the Principle of Civilian Control from McClellan to Powell." Journal of Military History 57, no. 5, special issue (1993): 2758. Suggests that the principle of civil control of the military in the United States has an uncertain future.

Yarmolinsky, Adam. The Military Establishment: Its Impact on American Society. New York, 1971. Describes the influence of the military in nonmilitary areas.

Yergin, Daniel. Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State. Boston, 1977. Development of U.S. policy influenced by what the author terms the Riga axioms and the Yalta axiomsone distrustful, the other cooperative.

See also Containment; Continental Expansion; Department of Defense; Imperialism; Intervention and Nonintervention; Military-Industrial Complex; Nationalism; Presidential Power; Public Opinion .

NSC 68

One of the important Cold War documents that rationalized the military buildup to meet the communist challenge was NSC 68, principally authored by Paul H. Nitze, director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, sent to the president in April 1950, and referred to the National Security Council for comment. Influenced by the Berlin blockade, the communist victory in China, and the Soviet testing of an atomic weapon, the authors of NSC 68 composed a ringing, frightening call to rearm. Whether the strategies outlined in NSC 68 were proper and prudent for winning the Cold War or were excessive, too expensive, and a misinterpretation of Soviet intent, they are part of the general debate on the Cold War and the extent of militarism in American policy and life.

NSC 68 states that "the Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world." If there is "any substantial further extension of the area under domination of the Kremlin [it] would raise the possibility that no coalition adequate to confront the Kremlin with greater strength could be assembled." The authors described the military power of the Soviet Union and expressed belief that if a major war occurred in 1950 the Soviet Union would be capable of attacking selected targets in the United States with atomic bombs. To meet the Soviet threat the United States must possess superior overall power including military strength to guarantee national security and to conduct a policy of containment. The country should also produce and stockpile thermonuclear weapons. The rapid buildup would be costly but, "Budgetary considerations will need to be subordinated to the stark fact that our very independence as a nation may be at stake."


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Advocates of militarism

Specialization of function

Antimilitarism of the middle class

New approaches to militarism

The spectrum of power positions

Demands for military leadership

Countervailing forces

National traditions

Values and internal policies

Orientation of military leaders


Militarism is a doctrine or system that values war and accords primacy in state and society to the armed forces. It exalts a function—the application of violence—and an institutional structure—-the military establishment, It implies both a policy orientation and a power relationship.

Although militarists have used violence to silence domestic critics, their ideology rationalizes its use primarily in foreign affairs. War is held to be a divine commandment or an experience that ennobles by developing courage, patriotism, honor, unity, and discipline. Militarists seek to universalize such values by precept, symbol, and ceremony.

A fully militarized society also confers a privileged position on warriors. In the extreme case, possible only in centralized polities, the armed forces unilaterally determine the nature of basic institutions, the choice of regimes, the rights and duties of citizens, and the share of national resources allocated to military functions. In a less extreme but more common case military leaders exercise great power as partners or agents of other social groups rather than as relatively autonomous forces.

Ideal-type militarism was approximated in Japan from 1931 to 1945 and in Germany during the later stages of World War i.

Advocates of militarism

Militarists cannot be identified with military or uniformed personnel. In modern European history officers were often restrained in foreign policy and circumspect in domestic politics. Indeed, Huntington (1957, pp. 69-71) contends that such attributes define the professional officer.

The identification of militarists with men in uniform also fails because civilian militarists have long cherished war and warriors. D’Annunzio, Barres, Carlyle, Theodore Roosevelt, and Treitschke stand as examples.

Because the policy and institutional aspects of militarism can be separated, it is quite possible to emphasize one without the other. For example, though the Nazis regimented Germany to facilitate foreign conquests, they also destroyed the vaunted autonomy of the professional army. Conversely, though officer-aristocrats of the nineteenth century exalted the army, they were not always bellicose. Their “enemies” were often fellow citizens, liberals, or socialists, against whom they sometimes made common cause with foreign officer-aristocrats. Such inward-looking militarism has also existed in Latin America.

Specialization of function

In ordinary usage “militarism” has a derogatory meaning. Like legalism or clericalism it suggests excess: a lack of proportion in policy or, when exhibited by warriors, a disregard for appropriate professional bounds. Since such disregard appears central to the concept, it is not rewarding to apply the term to societies in which professional bounds are invisible, that is, where roles are so fused that a distinctive military calling does not exist. Institutional militarism assumes a minimum differentiation of mili- tary from political, economic, and religious roles. At the same time it assumes that the differentiation is incomplete or that it has been challenged and stands in danger. The negative nuance in the term also implies that disregard for the bounds carries a penalty. The penalty is technical incompetence. Historically, for example, some European militarists failed to note the obsolescence of cavalry because they were less concerned with professional questions of maneuver and firepower than with a social question: the class status symbolized by cavalry. Japanese militarists exceeded their jurisdiction as strategic planners and, insisting on making their own diplomatic determination, embarked on a conflict that ultimately proved disastrous to their own forces. In both cases militarists actually jeopardized security ends by their inability to select means appropriate to their defense.

This inability is a function of inordinate power and forsaken expertise. In a nonmilitarized society the warrior is an agent and a specialist. In a militarized society he is a principal and a generalist. He feels competent to deal with the whole sweep of public policy, foreign and domestic. But in the long run so unconfined a jurisdiction impairs his professional military expertise without developing in the warrior the skills necessary to match experienced civilians in political bargaining or economic management.

Antimilitarism of the middle class

The term “militarism” appears to have been used first by middle-class liberals in nineteenth-century Europe. Possibly they sensed that militarism was incompatible with the specialization of functions demanded in an industrial era. Clearly they realized that standing armies had become citadels of aristocratic privilege. The values of officer-aristocrats conflicted with those of the middle class. The officers prized hierarchy, feudal honor, absolutism, prodigality, and organic unity; the middle class spoke of equality, material gain, parliamentary rule, thrift, and individualism. Inevitably, military institutions were suspect to such liberals as Locke, Ferrero, Voltaire, Jefferson, and Kant. Later they became equally suspect to Leninists, whose doctrine defined war as a disease of capitalism in its final, imperialist phase.

Given the problems that concerned them, it was natural that European critics of militarism rarely speculated about the danger that military expertise might be inadequately represented in the foreign policy process. Nor, despite examples of revolutionary armies in the Americas and France, did they theorize about the causes or consequences of military liberalism. Overgeneralizing from selected aspects of Western history, they merely identified the armed forces with unbridled power, social reaction, and war. Wherever representative democracy advanced, therefore, military power was curbed. Today, in the industrialized West such power tends to be confined to defense policy, the field of greatest professional concern to warriors. This generalization also holds for the Soviet Union and other totalitarian states, except possibly during crises of succession.

New approaches to militarism

Recent social research on militarism has dealt less with Europe and Japan than with southeast Asia, the Near East, and Latin America. The change in focus has had a perceptible impact on the term itself. It is no longer identified so closely with bellicose foreign policy. In these vast regions social revolution replaces war as the significant form of violence. To be sure, it is still identified with the primacy of the military establishment. But analysis of ideological views has been succeeded by interest in the actual degree of social and political power held by armed forces in different states. Efforts have been made to distinguish these levels and to analyze the variables that determine them. More sophistication is also displayed about the economic and social policies of military regimes.

The spectrum of power positions

The political power of armed forces reaches its nadir in countries which dispense with them altogether; Iceland and Costa Rica are modern examples. Next come societies in which the military establishment is dominated by authoritarian regimes: traditional autocracies or dictatorships supported by parties of mass mobilization. In stable constitutional democracies the armed forces, like other segments of the bureaucracy, press their claims through prescribed channels and procedures but ultimately comply with decisions made by civilian superiors.

Militarism begins when the armed forces accompany their advice with a threat of sanctions if the advice is unheeded. Finer (1962) has summarized the high-handed techniques sometimes used: threats to resign, to withdraw support, to announce disagreements publicly, to demonstrate disdain for the regime, to refuse to execute its orders, or to rise up in arms. Whenever such blackmail succeeds, the armed forces in fact begin to rule covertly, either by exercising a veto or by substituting policies and personnel of their own choice for those of the de jure government. From this point it is a short step to more extreme measures which take special advantage of a disciplined following, a superior communications net, and heavy weapons. These measures include the manipulation or delay of elections, the deployment of troops to intimidate opponents or to seize key points, and the arrest or assassination of politicians.

In military interventions the armed forces may act alone or in coalition with civilians. They may take the initiative or respond, more or less eagerly, to pleas from politicians. These are important distinctions. It is equally important to distinguish sporadic from chronic intervention and brief from prolonged military rule. Military juntas frequently assume power with the statement that they will serve only as “caretakers” until a legitimate civilian regime can be installed. But such pledges are not always honored, and what appears to be withdrawal is sometimes merely a tactical retreat to a position from which covert rule can be attempted. On the other hand the examples of Atatürk, Franco, de Gaulle, and Ayub indicate that military leaders who serve as heads of government for long periods may in effect transform themselves into civilian politicians and thereby legitimize their rule.

Demands for military leadership

The degree of political power possessed by armed forces is determined first of all by the effective demand for military leadership. Response to such demand has been termed “reactive militarism” (Janowitz 1964, p. 16).

Demand for military leadership varies with the intensity of foreign or domestic social conflict. Prussia’s history illustrates that armies become influential in countries which experience foreign pressure consistently. The theory of the “garrison state” (Lasswell 1941) elaborates this insight and applies it to industrial nations. It assumes that if such countries face continuing security crises they will subordinate all else to defense preparations and their social systems will be controlled rigorously by a combination of military and civilian leaders. Although this thesis has not been disproved, it is evident that the vitality of the political process can affect the outcome significantly. For example, military leaders have played a prominent role in American policy councils during the cold war, but at no time has military rule been likely. Soviet and British experiences in and after World War II also suggest that prolonged security crises need not generate military regimes where civilian government rests on a firm consensus. It is equally clear that military leaders can acquire great power in the absence of significant foreign pressure. Latin America and Tokugawa Japan provide examples. In the new states of Africa and Asia military primacy is more frequently a function of internal than of external security crises. In most cases the latter make themselves felt only indirectly. For example, military aid programs, initiated in response to global security crises, increase the political power of armed forces in recipient states by reducing their dependence on local political leaders and by stimulating more rapid modernization of the military bureaucracy than of the civil service.

Demands for military leadership can be generated by domestic events under three analytically distinct conditions, which can be understood with the aid of insights derived from the general theories of Hobbes, Marx, and Pareto respectively. In the first instance, once society becomes disorganized to the point of anarchy, military force seems essential to the restoration of public order, especially at the local level. In the second situation, a privileged social group, aided by control of the state, oppresses subordinate groups. If the latter cannot seek redress of grievances peacefully, their protests may take violent forms ranging from individual acts of terrorism to the organization of revolutionary armies. Since the dominant strata cannot rely on overarching loyalties to hold the community together, they in turn must call upon police and army to compel obedience. In the third situation, although the fundamental basis of the social order is not threatened, elites are at odds over such issues as corruption, constitutional procedure, or foreign policy, and one or another faction eventually turns to the military for help.

Countervailing forces

The strength of competing forces and institutions also affects the social and political power of the military establishment. Competition may, of course, emanate from within the armed forces themselves, but little is yet known about the conditions under which military influence in society is increased or decreased by factional rivalry. The effect of external forces seems clearer. In such stratified societies as Iran or Morocco, for example, the armed forces have long been regulated by autocratic rulers; in India they were controlled by colonial civil servants. Military primacy is more likely if the legitimacy of such traditional controls is challenged before influence can be acquired by other civilians. Military primacy varies inversely with the number and strength of private associations, with the integrity and skill of civilian bureaucrats, and with the prestige of political parties and legislatures. Especially in new states, if other public institutions are tarnished by corruption or if they are supported only by privileged social strata or only in the capital city, military leaders often assume the functions of mobilizing and representing social interests.

The strength of countervailing forces is sometimes weakened by disputes over legitimate authority. During civil strife or in crises of succession it is often unclear where rightful control over the armed forces is lodged and their discretionary power inevitably rises. Legislatures cannot always make good their claim to control military budgets or war ministers. Prime ministers and war ministers do not always possess full authority over senior command and staff officers. In some cases war ministers are ineffective agents of political authority because they, too, are professional officers, with strong ties to their military colleagues. This was often the case in Germany and France before 1914, in Japan through World War n, and in Argentina and Brazil in more recent times.

Finer has related the levels of military intervention to the demands for military leadership that are generated by domestic conditions or by what he terms “the order of political culture” (1962, p. 139). In mature political cultures the armed forces engage only in prescribed modes of influence. In developed but not fully mature cultures militarism emerges in the form of sporadic and usually covert intervention, the limits of which are set in part by countervailing social forces and institutions. In countries with low or minimal political culture military intervention is proportionately easier, more open, more frequent, and more enduring. However, a succession of military coups may also serve as a substitute for revolutionary warfare in propelling countries of low political culture toward political maturity.

National traditions

Military primacy is also a function of particular national traditions. Where leaders of the armed forces have formed part of a respected ruling class or where they have come to be respected as national heroes, saviors, or symbols, they recruit a disproportionate share of talented and ambitious men. Governments are readier to authorize these men the money and materials they desire. Citizens are also readier to tolerate their assumption of political and social leadership. Under such circumstances the armed forces develop corporate pride and confidence that translate into still greater influence. For such reasons the military in imperial Germany and Japan possessed greater social and political power than their counterparts in imperial China, nineteenth-century America, or twentieth-century Africa.

Values and internal policies

Given identical opportunities to acquire political primacy, not all military leaders are equally disposed to seize them. Readiness to do so depends on self-images and values, some of which in turn shape the internal policies of military regimes.

The most important inhibiting value is a commitment to the principle of civilian supremacy. As noted earlier, Huntington (1957) defines this as part of the professional military ethic, but Finer (1962, pp. 24-30) contends that it is an independent factor. The principle itself requires military leaders to serve all lawful regimes faithfully. Acceptance of such a commitment induces them to resist substantial temptations to intervene in politics; rejection makes intervention likely on little provocation. The strength of the commitment differs from country to country, from individual to individual, and probably from one branch of service to another.

Several kinds of values predispose military leaders to seek political power. From the praetorian guards of Rome to the condottieri of Italy and the janissaries of Turkey, blackmail and coups d’état have been attempted for personal aggrandizement, special privileges, and material benefits. These essentially personal motives or values are still important in many countries.

Institutional values are important wherever military careers provide a major outlet for ruling classes or upward-mobile persons; they are less important where good opportunities exist in business, learned professions, and other careers. Different institutional interests help explain the special affinity of navies for foreign politics and the special affinity of armies for internal politics. Although such interests may be either defensive or offensive, it is not always easy to distinguish the one from the other. A desire to preserve institutional criteria for promotion of personnel can shade off into a demand for autonomy so complete that the armed forces become “a state within the state.” A desire to protect corporate values can induce an army to demand an enormous proportion of the nation’s manpower and income.

Public or political values are nowadays most influential in prompting military men to seek political primacy. Such values involve conceptions of national security, aggressive as well as defensive; conceptions of nation building in the face of centrifugal forces; conceptions of efficiency and austerity in the face of corruption; conceptions of the rule of law in the face of arbitrary government; conceptions of social unity in the face of factional politics; and conceptions of social and economic justice—conservative, liberal, and eclectic.

A historical relationship has existed between armies and conservative regimes not only in western Europe but also in the traditional autocracies of Afro-Asia and under many Latin American dictatorships. Armed forces often assist in main-taining an existing system of social stratification and privilege. But it is impossible to ignore the tradition of military liberalism in the American and French revolutions, in the Napoleonic armies, among some Prussian military reformers, among the military republicans of Spain in 1820, and among the Latin American followers and heirs of Bolivar. It is equally impossible to dismiss as conservative the military elites of the underdeveloped world today. In the new states of Africa and Asia military conservatives in the classical European sense tend to be exceptions, in part because few such countries experienced feudal institutions and in part because colonial administrators monopolized high-status positions. Also, armies in emerging nations are heterogeneous. Countries as different in other respects as Brazil and Iraq are alike in having politically influential officers who represent both oligarchic and radical forces. The former are interested in fiscal responsibility, order, and legitimacy. The latter are more interested in welfare programs, tax and land reform, and the mobilization of youth, women, and peasants. Still other officers hold positions that can only be described as technocratic or pragmatic. Some change their ideologies in response to events. Many Latin American officers, for example, support modernization efforts up to the point at which the stratification system seems threatened and then recoil in alarm. On the other hand, in most of the new states of Afro-Asia there is little principled opposition to public enterprise, and the military regimes of Nasser in Egypt and Ne Win in Burma actually pledged major transformations of the social order.

Orientation of military leaders

Social origins and connections, age, and foreign influences are among the factors that shape the economic and social orientation of military leaders. When officer-ship is primarily an ascriptive calling, it attracts the wellborn or the rich. However, when the entire military profession is open to men of talent on a competitive basis, men of the middle and lower middle class are more likely to enter it. A decision to recruit on the basis of merit has strengthened revolutionary elements in the officer corps in times and places as different as France in 1792 and Egypt in 1936. Moreover, popular military organizations, such as militia or national guards, are frequently more liberal than small professional armies.

In eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Europe such relatively technical branches as artillery and engineers tended to attract middle-class liberals, while cavalry and infantry remained citadels of the aristocracy. Similarly, in the developing nations after World War n officers whose work had a relatively large technical component tended to be less conservative than their colleagues. In these countries, also, officers in the grade of colonel or lower tended to be more radical than their more senior colleagues.

Finally, economic and social orientations of military personnel are affected by foreign cultural impacts. In the armies of Latin America oligarchic tendencies were strengthened first by Iberian influences and later by fascist military advisers. In the nineteenth-century Turkish army, on the other hand, contact with France led to a diffusion of liberal ideas stemming from the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Although it is extremely difficult to generalize, it is also probable that the net effect of post-1945 military aid programs—Soviet as well as Western—was to strengthen modernizing tendencies in the armed forces of developing nations.

Laurence I. Radway

[See alsoCivil-military relations; Military; Military policy. Other relevant material may be found inModernization; National security; Pacifism; War.c]


Andrzejewski, Stanislaw 1954 Military Organization and Society. London: Routledge; New York: Humanities.

Erickson, John 1962 The Soviet High Command: A Military-Political History, 1918-1941. New York: St. Martins.

Finer, Samuel E. 1962 The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics. New York: Praeger.

Girardet, Raoul 1953 La societe militaire dans la France contemporaine: 1815-1939. Paris: Plon.

Hackett, Roger F. 1964 The Military: A. Japan. Pages 328-351 in Conference on Political Modernization in Japan and Turkey, Gould House, 1962, Political Modernization in Japan and Turkey. Edited by Robert E. Ward and Dankwart A. Rustow. Princeton Univ. Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1957 The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Janowitz, Morris 1964 The Military in the Political Development of New Nations: An Essay in Comparative Analysis. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1941 The Garrison State. American Journal of Sociology 46:455-468.

Lieuwen, Edwin (1960) 1961 Arms and Politics in Latin America. Rev. ed. Published for the Council on Foreign Relations. New York: Praeger.

Maxon, Yale C. 1957 Control of Japanese Foreign Policy: A Study of Civil-Military Rivalry, 1930-1954. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Millis, Walter; Mansfield, Harvey C.; and STEIN, Harold 1958 Arms and the State: Civil-Military Elements in National Policy. New York: Twentieth Century Fund.

Ritter, Gerhard 1954-1964 Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk: Das Problem des “Militarismus” in Deutschland. 3 Vols. Munich: Qldenbotirg. -→ Volume 1: Die Altpreussische Tradition: 1740-1890. Volume 2: Die Hauptmdchte Europas und das Wilhelminische Reich: 1890-1914. Volume 3: Die Tragödie der Staatskunst: Bethmann-Hollweg als Kriegskanzler, 1914-1917.

Speier, Hans 1952 Social Order and the Risks of War. New York: Stewart.

Vagts, Alfred (1937) 1960 A History of Militarism: Civilian and Military. Rev. ed. London: Hollis & Carter.


views updated Jun 11 2018



Traditionally, militarism is a behavior or condition in which states resort quickly to the use of their armed forces in response to international or domestic threats or go to great lengths to mobilize people and resources for war. Militarism is also the belief that military responses are usually the best ones, and that the military is the most important institution in the state. However, militarism has different connotations depending on the era and field of scholarship. The traditional meaning of militarism is common in much of the standard international-relations literature and histories of Great Power wars. In feminist analyses, intellectual and cultural histories, or bottom-up historical accounts, militarism is a factor of inequality or an aspect of cultural hegemony. In the comparative politics field, militarism usually refers to interventionism in politics.

War has been the object of criticism since the time of the ancient Chinese, Hebrews, and Greeks, yet the term militarism did not come into common usage in the West until the latter half of the nineteenth century. As war-making became industrialized, and as states took on more and more nonmilitary functions, such as building economic infrastructure or providing social services, a growing chorus of political leaders and intellectuals began attributing war and social ills to militarism. These critics, often from a liberal or Marxist perspective, considered a state militaristic if its leaders dedicated a great deal of the government budget to the armed forces, employed a large proportion of the populace in the military or in military-related industries, and encouraged a martial spirit among its subjects. These antimilitarists worried that training so many in the methods of organized violence, along with arms races and naval competition, only increased the likelihood of war. All of those resources and people used up in the armed forces only meant less for dealing with the challenges and victims of drastic economic and social change. Moreover, given its authoritarian structure, a powerful military may be inimical to democracy. Militarism, then, from the start has been a pejorative term.

Twentieth-century Germany and Japan are oft-cited cases of militarism. Germany twice attempted to gain regional hegemony over Europe by force of armsfrom 1914 to 1919 under the kaiser and the military, and from 1939 to 1945 under Adolf Hitlers (18891945) fascist regime. Japans military government made a bloody bid for empire in Asia from 1931 to 1945. To attempt ambitious expansion, these two countries harnessed their economies and citizens to war-making, as well as the resources and peoples of captured lands. In doing so they wreaked staggering, irreparable harm on millions of people. Hence, for those who attributerightly or wrongly these wars to militarism, the term is not just a pejorative, it is a pathology. For those averse to war on principle, such as strict pacifists, states are inherently militaristic.

When states mobilize for war, they depend on taxation, recruitment, and coercion to get enough resources and people to pay for and staff their armed forces. States must also convince their subjects of the necessity of preparing for or actually going to war. This is an aspect of state militarism particularly important in democracies. Watching the German Weimar republic crumble in the 1930s, or the U.S. government expand its security powers as it geared up for the cold war, or the impact of constant war or preparation for war on Israels democracy, social scientists have long worried that war-making and accompanying militarism might weaken democratic government. Some scholars have envisioned a grim garrison state in which experts on violence have more power than elected officials, and in which national security becomes more important than the safety, liberties, and rights of citizens. U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower (18901969) worried about this possibility. Just before leaving office in 1961, this former general warned the nation to guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex, oddly anticipating the critique of American and European antiwar and student movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, or the later nuclear freeze movement in the 1980s. Other scholars have debated this thesis, arguing that democracy by its nature has hindered militarism and prevented the rise of garrison states, even in places with large militaries, such as the United States.

President Woodrow Wilson (18561924) was not worried about garrison states, but he did blame war on militarism. In his famous Fourteen Points speech before the U.S. Congress in 1918, he argued that only through transparent diplomacy, mutual security agreements, and disarmament could the world hope to diminish the causes of war. Others have since then kept this liberal banner flying. Since 1957, for example, the interdisciplinary Journal of Conflict Resolution has been publishing research on military affairs and international relations, theorizing the conditions of war and peace. Other groups have compiled data on military employment and spending, armament levels, and the number and scope of armed conflicts to measure levels of militarism. Scholars in Sweden established the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in 1966 and began publishing its annual yearbook on armaments, disarmament, and international security in 1969. A similar series, World Military and Social Expenditures, has been published since 1974.

Reactions to militaristic behavior or ideology are also easily found in literature and other arts. Erich Maria Remarques (18981970) novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) remains a trenchant account of World War I (19141918) and of the militaristic creed underlying the violence. Pablo Picassos (18811974) painting Guernica (1937) was an angry reaction to the Nazi German bombing of the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War (19361939), and it attributed the tragedy in part to militaristic elements in Spanish culture. The painting later became a symbolic reference for movements against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (19571975) and the U.S. war in Iraq that began in 2003. In the Stanley Kubrick (19281999) films Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), the military is but a step away from fascism. Kubricks soldiers and officers, in facing dehumanizing treatment or the dehumanization of the enemy, run the risk of psychosis, if they are not already psychotic.

Not all studies link militarism to the state and war-making. Some see a predominant military and martial spirit as products of civil society or culture, or of particular social groups. The indicators of militarism, or militarization some insist, are the same, but its cause lies more in socialization or cultural institutions than in state officials. In short, civilians are to blame for militarism, not the state or its soldiers.

With postmodernism and the cultural turn in the social sciences, another variant of militarism has appeared. In some scholarship, militarism is not about war-making per se, but the replication of military organization and values in the society at largenot just to increase the capacity to wage war, but for some ulterior purpose, such as to maintain social order, promote economic development, or further national integration. This social militarism may be said to exist in nations in which the military is the primary institution responsible for integrating diverse ethnic populations, for training workers, or for spearheading colonization and other development projects. Some scholars also employ this definition to argue that the spread of military organization and values into society contributes to patriarchy, elitism, or other forms of social inequality.

A fourth kind of militarism appears in the field of comparative politics in the developing world. Militarism in this field often means military interventionism in politics, and social scientists are typically concerned with the amount of independence the armed forces has from civilian rule, the level of socioeconomic segregation (that is, how many more material benefits and privileges the military receives in comparison to civilians), and the number of responsibilities the armed forces have beyond national defense. As the militarys independence, benefits, and responsibilities increase, so too does the likelihood of militaristic behavior or attitudes. The greater the militarys stake in politics, the greater its willingness and ability to intervene in politics, whether through backroom pressure or a dramatic coup.

SEE ALSO Authoritarianism; Civil-Military Relation; Culture; Fascism; Imperialism; Industrialization; League of Nations; Liberalism; Masculinity; Military; Military Regimes; Nationalism and Nationality; Patriarchy; Patriotism; Politics, Comparative; Postmodernism; United Nations; War; War and Peace; Wilson, Woodrow


Bacevich, Andrew J. 2005. The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War. New York: Oxford University Press.

Berghahn, Volker R. 1981. Militarism: The History of an International Debate, 18611979. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. 1961. Farewell Radio and Television Address to the American People by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961.

Enloe, Cynthia. 1983. Does Khaki Become You? The Militarisation of Womens Lives. Boston: South End.

Friedburg, Aaron L. 2000. In the Shadow of the Garrison State: Americas Anti-Statism and Its Cold War Grand Strategy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Gillis, John R., ed. 1989. Militarization of the Western World. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1941. The Garrison State. American Journal of Sociology 46: 455468.

NcNeill, William. 1982. The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nunn, Frederick M. 1992. The Time of the Generals: Latin American Professional Militarism in World Perspective. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Rouquié, Alain. 1987. The Military and the State in Latin America. Trans. Paul E. Sigmund. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tilly, Charles. 1992. Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 9901990. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Vagts, Alfred. 1959. A History of Militarism: Civilian and Military. Rev. ed. New York: Meridian.

Andrew J. Schlewitz


views updated May 18 2018

mil·i·ta·rism / ˈmilətəˌrizəm/ • n. chiefly derog. the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.DERIVATIVES: mil·i·ta·rist n. &·i·ta·ris·tic / ˌmilətəˈristik/ adj.


views updated May 14 2018

441. Militarism (See also Soldiering.)

  1. Adrastus leader of the Seven against Thebes. [Gk. Myth.: Iliad ]
  2. Siegfried killed many enemies; led many troops to victory. [Ger. Lit. Nibelungenlied ]