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The Destination of Democracy

In a democracy, the job of government is to serve the public, right? That's the idea anyway. And indeed, despite all the bickering and inefficiencies of government, most of our governments' actions seem intended for the public good. But I think a deeper truth is lurking out of sight. I think the long term trajectory for any democracy is toward a military dictatorship. By my calculation, we're about halfway there.

The halfway point between a civilian-led military and a military dictatorship would have these key markers:

1.       The military would appear oversized despite budget problems. (check)

2.       Top generals would have lavish lifestyles. (check)

3.       The country would be in a state of continuous serial warfare. (check)

4.       Generals would get rich upon retirement. (check)

5.       Civilian leadership in military matters would be mostly cosmetic. (check)

Realistically, I can't imagine a situation in the United States in which a president would go against the advice of top generals on any important military decision. A president always needs political cover in case things go wrong. Essentially, the military decides and the president pretends it was his decision. That's what passes as a civilian-led military.

On a more basic level, the military has the big guns. If a civilian government pisses off the military, it could end up a smoking pile of embers. We're nowhere near the point at which the military might turn on the government in the United States, but that's because top generals are getting most of what they want. That's what keeps us halfway between a civilian-led government and a military dictatorship. But what sort of situation might cause the military to grab full control?

The minimum requirement for a military takeover is that some future war produces a celebrity general, such as General Patreaus, and that general goes on to become President. Obviously General Patreaus is out of the running for president, but every war creates new celebrity generals. If Iran goes ugly in the next year, we'll all be reading about the awesomeness of whatever general leads the military action.

Once a general gets elected to the presidency he can use his military connections to consolidate power. He would also have access to vast private wealth via the defense companies that would happily do his bidding in return for contracts. That's a lot of money available to buy influence.

A general can serve as president for eight years, then step aside to let a puppet take over for another eight years, Putin-style. It might take a full generation before people realize democracy has become window dressing.

Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex. One assumes he knew what he was talking about.

Just to be clear, I believe 99.9% of military personnel are true patriots who support democracy and are willing to risk their lives to defend it. My scenario only requires a few bad generals. And as we know, generals are sometimes flawed. It's also a truism that power corrupts. So the seeds are all in place. I'm just connecting the dots.

 

 
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Dec 3, 2012
@whtllnew: 7 years Royal Anglian Regiment, a while back now. So sure - I have no recent experience of how knowledgeable US soldiers are about the nuances of the Constitution.

Maybe Phantom is right - maybe the vast majority of US servicemen know the Constitution inside out and back to front, and maybe the vast majority of US servicemen are secure enough in their knowledge AND confident enough that they will refuse direct ordes from superior officers because they THINK they know better.

Maybe that IS the way the US military is these days - extremely well-educated, and where refusing to obey orders will not suffer extreme sanction (provided your defence is "I didn't think the order was legal"). It would be wonderful if that were true - however, as I expressed before, I find it hard to believe that is in fact the case.

My question was: how does a military operate successfully - in a combat situation or otherwise - when soldiers are encouraged to refuse orders based on their understanding of the legal and constitutional issues involved? And I'm NOT talking about the special forces, or those where the makeup are more heavily weighted towards officers (as I believe Phantom's branch is). I'm asking about the 80% of infantry and junior NCOs.

Let me be clear - I don't mean or wish to disparage any member of the armed forces, the vast, vast majority of whom are decent men and women who take pride in their service and their duties. What I am asking is the likelihood that those men and women would disobey direct orders from a superior (that are not clearly and dramatically wrong) based only on how they perceive the Constitution should be understood.

Look at ANY workplace situation, and ask how many people will flat out refuse to do what the boss says, trusting that there will be no sanctions when they are shown to be right, or - any this is the crucial part - where they can show that they BELIEVED they were right. Then explain how an organisation where immediate response to orders is reinforced as positive benefit would see an increase in the number of people refusing to do what the boss says.
 
 
Dec 3, 2012
@Anfauglir

[Actually, that WAS exacrtly what he was saying: "those of us who have served take that oath seriously, and always have and always will live up to it.". No qualifiers.]

You can ruin a good comment with too many dumbass qualifiers you know. Sometimes you just have to take folks at what they meant instead of what they said.

[Now maybe in certain specialised arms, that will apply. But I find it pretty hard to believe that the average squaddie is that educated in law and the constitution. And I find it rather hard to understand how an armed service that enables its soldiers to switch off their humanity long enough to kill, and does this by encouraging automatic obedience to orders, has produced a large enough contingent who think carefully about orders before they carry them out, and then say "no General - this PFC is not going to follow that order".

Connect the dots for me, if you would?]

Tell me you were once in some kind of armed service and I'll pay more attention to your analysis of how a soldier thinks. As it is we have your amateur outsiders analysis vs Phantom II's insiders analysis, so Im more inclined to believe him when he says the armed services simply would not follow an unconstitutional order.
 
 
Dec 3, 2012
[Just to be clear, I believe 99.9% of military personnel are true patriots who support democracy and are willing to risk their lives to defend it.]

Splitting hairs here but 80 years ago our military personnel were specifically taught democracy was (and is) a bad thing. It's basically mob rule, which is why our country is technically a republic.

That said, I understand the general gist of what you are saying: most military people are for our current system or they wouldn't be lining up to get shot, blown up, drowned, or pushed out of a perfectly good plane.


Here's a plan B for a military takeover along those lines: the official government becomes so inept, or so against the constitution they are dying to protect that they just say to heck with it and try to put into a place a better government. I mean if the civilian government becomes a domestic enemy, wouldn't they be obliged to use their arms against it?
 
 
Dec 3, 2012
@Dingbat - interesting point. I wonder though.....will a general who has been encouraged NOT to follow authority blindly, but to evaluate the risks and rewards concerned, be more or less likely to (a) decide that his current C-in-C/the constitution is not worthy of his support, and (b) conclude that he could do a better job if he was running the show his way?
 
 
Dec 3, 2012
@whtllnew - "[But are you REALLY telling me that every single new recruit there ever has, is, or will be, takes that oath exactly as seriously as you?] - He doesn't have to."

Actually, that WAS exacrtly what he was saying: "those of us who have served take that oath seriously, and always have and always will live up to it.". No qualifiers.

It sounds like you agree with Scott - "I believe 99.9% of military personnel are true patriots who support democracy and are willing to risk their lives to defend it. My scenario only requires a few bad generals."

Phanton's point is that there are enough rank and file who are:
1) Secure in their knowledge of the constitution,
2) Secure in their knowledge of the current legal situation of constitutional application, and
3) Prepared to refuse orders given them by their senior officers.

...that Scott's scenario will not apply.

Now maybe in certain specialised arms, that will apply. But I find it pretty hard to believe that the average squaddie is that educated in law and the constitution. And I find it rather hard to understand how an armed service that enables its soldiers to switch off their humanity long enough to kill, and does this by encouraging automatic obedience to orders, has produced a large enough contingent who think carefully about orders before they carry them out, and then say "no General - this PFC is not going to follow that order".

Connect the dots for me, if you would?
 
 
Dec 3, 2012
Far from facing a military dictatorship, the military is being ruined by civilian decisions. The decision to bring only a small force into Iraq was civilian, over the complaints of the military. Military commanders are forced to play politics and say what the president (of either party) wants them to say - not what they believe.

Military spending is also almost entirely political, not military. The military does not get what it wants - like body armor and armored troop transports - but instead congress spends money on their home districts building things the military does not want. The military is an excuse for porkbarrel spending, not the beneficiary of largesse.
 
 
Dec 1, 2012
Does every soldier in the army even know exactly what the constitution says?
If the majority of US soldiers have even read the constitution end to end, it must be the most erudite army in the world.
 
 
Dec 1, 2012
five push-ups in an hour ??
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 30, 2012
Another factor working against this scenario: I don't know about Annapolis and the Airforce Academy, but at West Point there has been a dramatic shift in emphasis. For decades the idea was to break down new cadets and rebuild them in the Army's image. For example: Step out of line during Beast (basic training) and you get smoked (push-ups until you collapse, etc.).

Discipline is still pretty rigorous, but there are new rules. They have been phased in slowly. Abusive yelling has been out for a while. New this year: You can't force new cadets to do more than five push-ups in an hour.

There are complaints - from upperclassmen who were under the harsher system - and who say plebes are showing less respect and are not in as good condition physically.

Others say it's much better. If you can't pass the physical tests you get cut anyway - so the cadets have an incentive to get fit on their own. If they don't, they're gone. Plus, the idea is to develop leaders who are capable of thinking for themselves rather following orders blindly. Really. There is a growing recognition that respect must be earned - and that while discipline and chain of command is still vitally important - so is individual initiative and critical thinking.

The military is moving to an era where it will be deploying smaller, more strategic forces -and the members of those teams need to be capable of assessing the situation and making good decisions on their own. It's a more resilient system - and, while it is not impossible to imagine having issues with a group that goes rouge - on the whole I believe it is less easily corrupted.
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 30, 2012
Why do I sometimes get email notifications of comments that don't show up on the web page?
 
 
Nov 30, 2012
@Anfauglir

[But are you REALLY telling me that every single new recruit there ever has, is, or will be, takes that oath exactly as seriously as you?]

He doesn't have to. If the number that do outnumber the number that don't by a comfortable margin-and we have every reason to believe that they do-then the army as a whole will act in the manner Phantom II describes and any general that tries to cross the line won't be able to get his troops to back him up.
 
 
Nov 30, 2012
@Phantom - "those of us who have served take that oath seriously, and always have and always will live up to it". I'm extremely pleased that you take that oath as seriously as you do - honestly, there's no sarcasm intended there at all.

But are you REALLY telling me that every single new recruit there ever has, is, or will be, takes that oath exactly as seriously as you? Even the ones who were subject to drafts to get into the military? Every single US soldier, sailor, airman ever?

I'd be over the moon if that were the case. But then, if that WERE the case, I'd not be able to point - ever - to any serviceman ever doing ANYTHING even slightly unConstitutional. Is that really the claim you are making?

- - - -

@hankfu: I love the way you emphasize how only "lawful" orders are the ones that will get carried out. I guess everything I heard about Vietnam was wrong. But more seriously - "lawful" only means "what we currently have said is the law".

Here in the UK, the Government tried to make changes to Union pensions. We took them to court, and the court told them "you can't do that - its illegal".

So they changed the law, so the changes they wanted to make were nice and legal.
 
 
Nov 29, 2012
I fear a police takeover, rather than a military takeover.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg proclaims himself "the leader of the (eighth) largest army in the world." (He said "seventh" but he forgot about citizens in areas that recognize the U.S. Constitution.)
Police, the FBI, DEA, BATFE, INS, etc. are trained to kill Americans.
The U.S. military is trained to kill foreigners.
I believe law enforcement would do fire upon Americans in a moment. (After all, their experience is that many Americans are lying, cheating, killing, stealing bad guys.)
I believe that a majority (perhaps almost all) members of the U.S. military would ignore the unlawful order to fire on Americans.
Imagine, 50,000 Americans dressed up a Revolutionary War Patriots, Union soldiers, WWI doughboys, WWII soldiers, and the like. All are armed with period-correct arms and skilled in their use.
None of the soldiers and Marines I know would fire upon American citizens. The NYPD would start shooting in a second. Fortunately, Generalisimo Bloomberg's army is poorly trained in the use of firearms. The confrontation would look like the final scene from The Patriot.


 
 
Nov 29, 2012
Scott,

I think you're forgetting that we've already walked this path. Remember the Civil War history and President Ulysses S. Grant? We've already seen what the military can/will do when taking over a presidency. I don't think this is a significant issue right now. You may be right about the possible risk of a military coup - but I think it FAR less likely in a democracy (no matter how broken) than in any other style of government.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 29, 2012
Let me also point out the British Army institutionalized the higher standard of living of its officers as a way distinquish officers from ordinary soldiers and they have not had any military-led coups. The closest the Brits came was the war of the Roses but even that was really an argument between Parliament and the Crown with military units taking sides on who to follow.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 29, 2012
As a former member of the military, I have seen firsthand how some high-ranking generals and officers care more about their careers than the lives of their men. History is filled with examples of leaders more interested in personal advancement than the welfare of their country/men (i.e. Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, etc. etc.). With that said, let me lay out the reason why I do not think this is even plausible.

Upon joining the military, you swear to defend the Constitution and follow the lawful orders of your leaders. Also during orientation and in basic training, you are explained that lawful order are just that...lawful. Orders such as "go kill everyone in the village to include unarmed combatants"...are considered unlawful and therefore you do not have to follow. In this scenario, an order to disobey civilian leaders and to hold the populace under arrest would be clearly unlawful. No general has ever crossed that line and even the hugely popular General McArthur was fired from his post for overstepping his authority.

Unlike other countries, we as Americans are an ornery bunch and don't take to dictators well. This includes the members of the military itself. In other countries where the military is powerful and they don't really have a long tradition of democracy (for all its faults), and the civilian leadership is corrupt (makes Congress look like alter boys) there is a tradition of military coups. France's Legionaire Etranger (French Foreign Legion) attempted a coup as everyone in the Legion is not French. The coup failed and as a result the Legion is no longer stationed on French soil.



 
 
Nov 29, 2012
@ Phantom II said:

[The reason we have never had, nor will we ever have a military dictatorship is because the military's loyalty is to the Constitution and what it demands of us. Yes, it's true that the Constitution seems to be pretty much overlooked these days by people in both political parties, but that doesn't change the fact that those of us who have served take that oath seriously, ]

Let me start by saying thank you for your service.

However, I believe your statement actually adds MORE credence to Scott's argument, rather than less. The military has an oath toward the Constitution, and no obligation to any people or party. Therefore, when "both political parties" are overlooking/ignoring/abusing the Constitution, this would provide the ultimate cover for the military to swoop in and sweep out the politicians. While the act itself would be un-Constitutional, it would be likely be justified as a temporary measure to restore Constitutional rule. I am not saying that would be a valid justification or that it is a likely outcome, but I think your statement supports the possibility at least as much as it refutes it.
 
 
Nov 29, 2012
[ In a democracy, the job of government is to serve the public, right? ]
Heh. Heh-heh. Heh-heh-hee-hee-hee-he-ho. Hee-hee-ho-ha-hahaahah... whew. That was the best laugh I've had in weeks, since the election happened and everybody pretended like it made a huge difference who won. That, and the piano-playing dog video.
 
 
Nov 29, 2012
@namenotavailable

[Hasn't this already happened?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_Plot]

...Umm...it doesn't count if its unsuccessful. And the general in question doesn't go along with it.
 
 
Nov 29, 2012
@Phantom II, MTBob

In addition to what you said, MTBob, I would like to add that being unable to discuss the possibility of a military dictatorship would make the slide to becoming one harder to notice and, therefore, likelier.
 
 
 
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