Andrew Bacevich gives speech about military elite

America no longer has a citizen military that is made up of a cross section of the country. Instead it has a professional, full-time army, according to Andrew Bacevich, author and professor of international relations and history at Boston University.

In a speech to a political science lecture series class, PS 495/595, Bacevich said America needs to reclaim its citizen army. He said citizen army, is where civilians  volunteer or are drafted for war, and the size of the army decreases during peace time.

Bacevich presented the lecture Monday to NMU students, staff and community members. He gave his speech, “Whose Army,” instead of the originally planned speech about military history dating back to World War II because this one is the subject of his next book.

In this lecture, Bacevich described a military leadership as elitist, which is controlled by a civilian elite made up of congress and the administration. Both have vested interest in maintaining an all volunteer professional military. Bacevich said the two groups will always be in disagreement.

“Elite civil military relations need constant policing,” Bacevich said.

Military expert Andrew Bacevich lectures on the benefits of having a military composed of civilian draftees or volunteers as opposed to one comprised of professional soldiers. Bacevich was originally supposed to present his lecture on military history since World War II, but he switched topics at the audience’s request. // Justin Key/NW

His main concern from this lecture was the civil military relations of the army and American society. Bacevich said the army and foreign policy today is all controlled by the military and political elites. He discussed previous wars in which the army was comprised of civilians rather than a professional army America has today and how the country needs to regain that civilian army to be more successful in war.

After World War II, the last time America had a true citizen army, Chief of Staff George Marshall commissioned a post-war civil military policy, now known as the “Military Establishment” document.  Marshall was an advocate of the citizen soldier army. He said the citizen soldier was a guarantee against the scheming misuse of power by the military elites.

Bacevich said with the way the army is set up now as a professional army, American citizens no longer have control of it. Using a sports analogy, he said most Americans are merely spectators in a game of war, rooting for our home team, the army, with no actual skin in the game.

“We, the American people, need to understand it is no longer our army and has not been for years,” Bacevich said.

He said that Americans would regain the civilian army by having a standing peacetime establishment and remain in a state of quasi-readiness. Bacevich said this is unlikely to happen since the model would require drastic changes, and few people in Washington D.C. are willing to think through foreign policy. There would also be a resistance to a draft for which all young men and women of age would be eligible.

NMU English graduate student Tom Rich called the speech thought-provoking.

“You don’t usually hear people advocating for any kind of compulsory service anymore,” Rich said. “He makes his case very well, I thought.”

A West Point graduate, Bacevich is an influential historian who has written several books on America’s political, military, and economics crises including: “American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy,” “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War,” “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism” and “The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War.”

His son, Andrew Bacevich Jr., died in the Iraq War in May 2007.

NMU President Les Wong, who introduced Bacevich, said his appearance helps fulfill one of the goals of the Road Map to 2015, NMU’s Academic Master Plan, to make an effort to bring national and international scholars to campus.

One Comment

  • Al Fracker
    October 28, 2010 | Permalink |

    As an Active Component enlisted man and officer for several years, a drilling ARNG MDay Soldier for 11 years, and an Active/Guard Officer for 14 years, I must question the veracity of COL Bacevich’s contention that we are not an Army comprised of Citizen Soldiers. Home town America is well-represented by Army National Guard and USAR Soldiers from large cities and small towns all over the US.

    Understand his advocating a smaller Army during peacetime, but I wouldn’t consider the past ten years a peacetime Army, even though we have not built troop strength as in past years while at war. Of course, the “military elitist” attitude may stem from those have been on the sidelines since 9/11 and accept the fact that we are an Army at war, not a nation at war. Having said this, it is BECAUSE we have Citizen Soldiers, and NOT military elitists representing the cross section of America, that so many citizens support our efforts, in spite of unclear guidance from the Commander in Chief.

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