Civilian Control of the Military
The United States military is one of the most important and celebrated institutions our country has. Opinion surveys have shown that Americans have more confidence in the military than in any other institution. Former rampant hostility toward the armed services during the Vietnam era, as well as periods earlier in American history, has faded. The courageous “can do” military has won the empathy and hearts of our nation far and wide, especially in light of the recent assassination of the professed mastermind behind the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attack, Osama Bin Laden. A June 2011 Gallup poll found that 78 percent of Americans have a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in the military, 35 percent have faith in the presidency and only 12 percent have any confidence in Congress (in a December 2010 Gallup survey, Americans' assessment of Congress had hit a new low, with only 13 percent saying they approved of the way Congress was handling its job. The 83 percent disapproval rating was also the worst Gallup had measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performances). Inasmuch as the U.S. military is highly esteemed, it should be understood that ultimate military authority rests in the civilian chain of command. Civilian-military relation is a concept the framers of the Constitution knew was fundamental to democracy. Therefore, it is important to understand the role of the military in democracy. Consequently, there are dangers to the erosion of civilian control over the military.
Most Americans don't realize how special the civilian-military relationship is and how it has contributed to the country. The framers of the U.S. Constitution labored to make sure the military would be under civilian control. The colonies had just fought a war for freedom from Britain where the king controlled the British military, and the framers did not care to duplicate that system. When they wrote the Constitution they divided the responsibilities for the military, strongly placing the responsibilities in civilian hands. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states that Congress shall have the power "to raise and support Armies …" and "to provide and maintain a Navy." In addition, Congress must provide for the state militias when they are called to federal service. Article II, Section 2 states, "The President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States when called into the actual Service of the United States." Hence, the civilian chain of command has ultimate military authority. The president is the highest in the chain of command and is known as the Commander in Chief. The president oversees many matters of national policy therefore the Secretary of Defense has an essential responsibility in the oversight of military actions. The Secretary of Defense answers to the president. These two lines of authority guides military action.
The U.S. Department of State says, “Democracy is government in which power and civic responsibility are exercised by all citizens, directly or through their freely elected representatives.” Americans are fortunate to live in a democracy and an important facet of democracy is leadership. It is paramount in any democracy to understand where the power lies. The military must understand its role in a democracy. Its chief position is to defend society, not define it (Kohn). Military leaders advise our civilian leaders, however it is the decisions of our civilian leaders that are carried out by the military. It is not to determine policy from the cocoon of the Pentagon, but to do what any administration tells it to do (Smith). Civilian leadership ensures that our country's values, institutions, and policies are the free choices of the people rather than the military.
In addition, the military is not purposed to represent or support any social...
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