Is Liberty Threatened by the Rise of Military Power in America?: News Releases: The Independent Institute

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News Release
July 6, 2010

Is Liberty Threatened by the Rise of Military Power in America?
Book Traces the Antimilitarist Tradition Rooted in America’s Founding

In 2011, federal defense-related expenditures are expected to surpass one trillion dollars. In fiscal year 2010, defense spending accounted for 28% of estimated tax revenues. These numbers are a far cry from the days of the American Revolution and the antimilitarist tradition that has been an important part of the American heritage from its beginning in colonial times. This tradition, with its emphasis upon civil rather than military authority, is an essential element of American freedom and democracy.

In the reissue of The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition (May 27, 2010 / The Independent Institute) by Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr., a founding Member of the Board of Advisors of the Independent Institute, the question of the military’s proper role in relation to civil society is explored through the lens of America’s eras of peace and times of war. This edition features a new foreword by Ralph Raico, Professor Emeritus of History at Buffalo State College and Associate Editor of The Independent Review.

Ekirch, a professor of American intellectual history who taught at Hofstra University, American University, and the University at Albany, writes that, “Though involved in numerous wars, the United States has avoided becoming a militaristic nation, and the American people, though hardly pacifists, have been staunch opponents of militarism,” which is “the permeation of civil society by military institutions, influences, and values.” In his book, Ekirch argues that subordinating the armed forces to civil rule is essential to the survival of freedom. As Raico explains in his new foreword, The Civilian and the Military traces the “portentous transformation” of the United States from a republic leery of maintaining its own standing army to “the world’s greatest military machine and sole imperial power.”

The antimilitarist tradition was defended staunchly during the Revolution, but the War of 1812 subverted this sentiment as it spread American nationalism and laid the foundation for permanent taxes and military establishments. The Civil War further separated America from its antimilitarist roots when it was placed under what amounted to a military dictatorship. However, with the surrender of the Confederacy, Americans regained their wariness of militarism.

Unable to resist the call to arms for long, however, the Spanish-American War and later World War I saw an increase in defense spending to unprecedented levels, and many advocated conscription and mandatory military training in schools. The state of total war induced by U.S. involvement in World War II significantly undermined the antimilitarist tradition. Most aspects of civilian life were made subservient to the needs of the military, which came to be viewed as a key tool to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals. As Ekirch presciently foresaw, even a peaceful resolution of the Cold War was not “sufficient to release the American people from the power of the Pentagon and its corporate allies.”

Since World War II, the U.S. has involved itself in numerous military conflicts overseas—usually in the name of peace and democracy—and resources at home are increasingly allocated toward supporting these crusades. Ekirch’s book warns that “the inability, or refusal, of the world to recognize the existence of this militarism. . . . imperils the future of both liberalism and democracy.”

With the reissue of The Civilian and the Military, a new generation of readers can discover the antimilitarist tradition as it has played out from the Founding Era to the Cold War. Faced with a costly “War on Terror” that has been perpetuated far beyond initial projections and has metastasized to affect nearly every aspect of federal policy, as well as civilian life, understanding the significance of antimilitarism and restoring its value in the minds of Americans is vital to the renewal of peace and to the preservation of individual liberties.

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