A Reflection on the Importance of Citizen Soldiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am pre-posting my blogs for the coming week as I will be in Germany for the Oktoberfest as well as to visit Nuremberg and the site of the War Crimes Trials, and the Concentration Camp at Dachau. This is a section of my Gettysburg text that deals with the importance of citizen soldiers.

This will be posted about the time I get to my hotel and after the trip to Dachau. If I get a chance to post something new during the week I will.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

“As soldier and citizen, today’s armed forces officer is a champion of both the nation’s defense and the principles upon which the nation was founded. Taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution means swearing to uphold the core values that define the essence of American citizenship; the armed forces officer is first and foremost a citizen who has embraced the ideals of the nation—only then can he or she defend those principles with true conviction.” [1]

The human dimension of war is the most important, regardless of the technological changes inherent in it. The British military theorist Colin S. Gray wrote: “Notwithstanding the vast and really untraceable complexity of the workings of war, peace, and strategy, by far the most, important among them is the human. This has always been the case. It is true today, and no grand design for the transformation of military power or no radical change predicted in the character of war can alter the eternal merit in this dictum.” [2] In this chapter we look at the tradition of the citizen soldier and military.

Carl Von Clausewitz, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and product of Classical German Liberal thought noted in his masterpiece of military thought On War, that “Any complex activity, if it is to be carried on with any degree of virtuosity, calls for appropriate gifts calls for appropriate gifts of intellect and temperament. If they are outstanding, and reveal themselves in exceptional achievements, their possessor is called a “genius.” [3]

Within the U.S. Army the example of Joshua Chamberlain at the Battle of Little Round Top has occupied a prominent place in Army leadership manuals including FM 22-100 and its successor FM 6-22.  However, that being said even those that learn about Chamberlain from this seldom delve deeper into his character, development as a leader and significance, at Little Round Top, Appomattox and after the war. Likewise the examples of both Warren and Vincent which are key to Chamberlain and his regiment even being on the hill are ignored in that publication.

It is important to discuss Vincent and Chamberlain for more than their direct contributions to the battle. Those are widely known and in a sense have become part of the myth that is our understanding of Gettysburg. While discussing those actions it is also necessary to put them into context with the character of both men, the cause that they fought. Likewise it is important to address in this age of the professional all volunteer force the importance of Citizen Soldiers in any kind of democracy or representative republic, a sociological question that military professionals as well as our elected officials and citizenry would do well to revisit.

This is particularly important now as various elected leaders, think tanks, defense contractors and lobbyists are all questioning the economic “liabilities” of the All-Volunteer force as well as the disconnect between the broader military and society at large. This means that there will be efforts to determine how the military will be manned, trained and employed, and if military leaders are ignorant of our history, the vital connection between the military and the citizenry and the contributions of Citizen Soldiers then we will be caught flat footed and unprepared in the coming debates. If that happens those decisions could be made by “bean counters” with little appreciation for what military professionalism and readiness entails, as well as think tanks and lobbyists for the defense industry who have their own motivations for what they do, often more related to their profits, power and influence than national security.

The armies that fought the Civil War for the most part were composed of volunteers who of a myriad of reasons went off to fight that war. Gouverneur Warren is a character whose life and career before and after the Civil War was much more like currently serving regular officers and to some extent the much more professional and hardened by war officer corps of the Reserve Components of each of our Armed Services, in particular the much active and deployed Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

The reserve components still do reflect much of the citizen soldier tradition but that being said between deployments, other activations and required schooling, those assets are much more on par with their active counterparts than they ever have been in our history. The reserves now, contrary to General Creighton Abrams desire to use them “to shield the regular army from misuse by feckless policy makers” were depended on for essential support functions, which in Abrams view would “preclude Washington from waging large scale war without first making the politically difficult decision to mobilize,” [4] are an integral part of how the nation conducts war without mobilizing the people, that key element of Clausewitz’s “paradoxical Trinity.” 

“American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mix force of professionals and citizen soldiers.” [5] Gouverneur Warren and many like him at Gettysburg, including men like John Buford, Lewis Armistead, Winfield Scott Hancock, George Meade and Robert E. Lee represented what until the beginning of the Cold War was the smaller pillar of our pluralistic military institution; that of the long term professional. Many others at Gettysburg represent what Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain, John Gordon represented the volunteer citizen soldier who enlisted to meet the crisis.

Until World War II and the advent of the Cold War these dual pillars existed side by side. Following the Second World War along with the small-wars that went along as part of it the world changed, and the wars that occurred, such as Korea and Vietnam “occurred on a scale too small to elicit a sustained, full-fledged national commitment, yet too large for a prewar-style regular army to handle.” [6] Because of this “military requirements thus became a fundamental ingredient of foreign policy, and military men and institutions acquired authority and influence far surpassing that ever previously possessed by military professionals on the American scene.” [7] General Anthony Zinni noted that the foreign policy results of this transformation have resulted in the United States becoming “an empire” [8] something that no American living in 1863 could have ever contemplated.

This was part of a revolution in military affairs far more important than the application of technology which brought it about, the Atomic Bomb; it was a revolution in national strategy which fundamentally changed American thinking regarding the use of the military instrument in relationship to diplomacy, and the relationship of the military to society at large. Russell Weigley noted: “To shift the American definition of strategy from the use of combats for the object of wars to the use of military force for the deterrence of war, albeit while still serving the national interests in an active manner, amounted to a revolution in the history of American military policy….” [9]

The policy worked reasonably well until Vietnam and the inequities of the system showed its liabilities and brought about a change from politicians. Lieutenant General Hal Moore wrote of the Vietnam era: “The class of 1965 came out of the old America, a nation that disappeared forever in the smoke that billowed off the jungle battlegrounds where we fought and bled. The country that sent us off to war was not there to welcome us home. It no longer existed.” [10]

The debacle of Vietnam and the societal tidal wave that followed brought about the end of the selective service system, by which the large army needed to fight wars was connected to the society at large and the creation of the All-Volunteer force by President Nixon in 1974. The ethos that every citizen was a soldier was destroyed by Vietnam and even men like General William Westmoreland who warned that “absent “the continuous movement of citizens in and out of the service,…the army could “become a danger to our society-a danger that our forefathers so carefully tried to preclude.” [11]

This cultural shift is something that none of the professional officers of the small ante-bellum army like Warren would have ever imagined much less men like Vincent or Chamberlain who were true citizen-soldiers. Thus for currently serving officers it is important to recognize this key change as it applies to American military strategy as well as the place the military occupies in our society.

This makes it important to our study as we examine the actions of Vincent and Chamberlain outside of myth and legend.  We must see the implications that they can have not only on the battlefield but in our relationship to the American citizenry and society. It is to put in in classic terms a return to understanding the relationship between the military and the people so powerfully enunciated in Clausewitz’s concept of war being a “paradoxical Trinity” of “primordial violence, hatred and enmity,… the element of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy….” [12] In Clausewitz’s understanding these are the people, the commander and his army and the government.

While Warren represents the professional officer; Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain and thousands more like them, just men who served in the Civil War represented an important part of our military tradition that no longer exists in such a form. An exception to this might be in example of young men and women that volunteer to serve in the reserve components and leave after they complete their service obligation. Honestly, we no longer have a system that allows, nor do we actively encourage men like Vincent and Chamberlain to leave lucrative civilian employment or academia to serve alongside the professionals in positions of responsibility leading regiments or brigades or serving as senior staff officers unless they are already part of the military in our reserve components.

The examples of Vincent, Chamberlain and so many other citizen soldiers demonstrate the profound of this important legacy, which was for so long one of the twin pillars of our national defense. While this is still to some extent carried on by the reserve components of the United States military service, we no longer provide the opportunity for outsiders such as Vincent and Chamberlain to serve in that manner. While it is true that a great number of citizen soldiers did not perform to the level of Vincent or Chamberlain during the war, the same can be said of some of many of the Regular officers who served alongside of them and often failed miserably, examples of who can be found throughout the Battle of Gettysburg.

That being said, in the coming years military professionals will have to engage lawmakers and the bureaucracy of the Pentagon as the shape of the future military, especially the land components is debated and decided upon by politicians. Thus, it is of the utmost importance of revisiting the tradition of the citizen soldier and how it can be renewed in the coming years. In fact General Stanley McChrystal said in 2012 “I think we ought to have a draft” because a “professional military necessarily becomes “unrepresentative of the population” and “cannot properly represent the country as a whole.” [13] That will be a question for policy makers to debate and for military professionals to consider.

While warfare may have grown more complex, at its heart it remains a primordial art, where true leaders learn the trade and excel in battle or in staff work. The American naval warfare theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, son of Dennis Hart Mahan who was so instrumental in the education of so many of the professional officers who served at Gettysburg wrote something that while directed toward naval leaders is applicable to our discussion here: “Historically, good men with poor ships are better than poor men with good ships; over and over the French Revolution taught this lesson, which in our own age, with its rage for the last new thing in material improvement, has largely dropped out of our memory.” [14]

The question that military professionals, politicians and those who determine policy must ask regarding the future military is whether we will re-enliven this tradition outside of the established reserve components and provide opportunity for men like Vincent, Chamberlain and so many others who throughout our history have demonstrated the aptitude necessary to become models of leadership and military competence without having grown up in the military system. It is a question that is certainly worth debating as we go forward in an era of military cuts and potential changes in how we man, pay and train our forces for the challenges that will most certainly arise.

Chamberlain’s words about the men that he served alongside like his commanding officer, Strong Vincent are a fitting way to close.

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.” [15]

Notes

[1] _______. The Armed forces Officer U.S. Department of Defense Publication, Washington DC. January 2006 p.2

[2] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.93

[3] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.100

[4] Bacevich, Andrew J. Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their Country Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2013 Amazon Kindle Edition p.105

[5] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.xii

[6] Ibid. Bacevich, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their p.50

[7] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.345

[8] Zinni, Tony. The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose Palgrave McMillian, New York 2006 p.4

[9] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.367-368

[10] Moore, Harold G. and Galloway Joseph L We Were Soldiers Once…And Young Harper Perennial Books New York 1992 pp. xix-xx

[11] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.58

[12] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.89

[13] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.121

[14] Mahan, Alfred T. The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire 1793-1812 Little Brown and Company, Boston 1892 p.102

[15] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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