Every now and then an email comes my way warning about the day when the government unleashes the military against its own citizens. This day isn’t likely to come because for one thing the current regime is not particularly fond of the military.
The Obama Administration isn’t inflicting massive cuts on the military, cutting their health care and pushing veteran officers out the door because it likes the military as an institution. It doesn’t. And it won’t until it remakes it into a fully politically correct institution dedicated to promoting tolerance and fighting global warming. Progress has been made on that front, the Navy is cutting ships and spending money on Green Energy. The Marines are celebrating gay marriage. Any day now the Air Force will be announcing its first wheelchair pilot. But it’s still a poor fit with the culture of the left.
If Obama has to have any kind of military, he prefers the kind where young men with college degrees sit in a room, push buttons and kill people thousands of miles away from remotely controlled aircraft. That kind of military is a closer cultural fit with a campaign that is in love with technocratic solutions and always looking for shortcuts to avoid the dangerous and dirty hard work that has to be done. It’s also much less dangerous.
Unleashing the military on a civilian population carries a price. Once you call out the troops to protect your regime, one of two things happen. Either the troops don’t do it and your government is done. Or they do it and your regime now lives or dies by the support of the military. Within the last few years the use of the military in Egypt and Iran turned generals into the arbiters of political succession. To the left, the idea of the people they despise deciding who should run the country and how is their biggest nightmare. It is one reason that we still have a democracy.
The more that a country depends on its military, the more likely it is to be run by the military. After the United States kept the Union together through a civil war, the first elected President after Lincoln was General Ulysses S Grant, the man credited by many with winning the war. His successor, Rutherford B. Hayes was a another general and a Civil War hero. As was Hayes’ successor, James A. Garfield and his successor, Chester A. Arthur. Democratic draft dodger Grover Cleveland briefly broke the pattern, but then the Republicans were back with Benjamin Harrison. From 1869 to 1893, America was ruled by the Republican victors of the war who had at one time been able to put the title of general in front of their name. And that’s in a democracy.
Popular wars have led to generals becoming presidents. The Revolutionary War gave us Washington. The War of 1812 gave us Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor. The Spanish-American War gave us Teddy Roosevelt, though he was only a Colonel. WW2 gave us Eisenhower. The Gulf War nearly gave us Colin Powell. The current war may yet give us Petraeus. But the Civil War gave us the largest amount of generals in the White House because it was an internal conflict.
Israel, another democracy which is heavily dependent on the military, has seated three generals in the Prime Minister’s chair since the 1990’s and far more who are involved in politics. The leader of the opposition is a general and there are five generals in Netanyahu’s cabinet. This is a direct result of the elevation of the importance of the military as an institution. The more important the military is to the welfare of the country, the likelier it is to become a career track to prominent positions in the business world and in politics. And that’s in a democracy. Imagine the situation in a dictatorship that depends on the military to stay in power.
The Soviet Union did not depend on the Red Army, it did depend on the secret police. And the KGB took over. The KGB nearly seized power after Stalin’s death and had to be suppressed by the Red Army. In 1982, power fell to an actual KGB Chairman. Today Russia is run by former KGB officers, including a fellow by the name of Vladimir Putin.