Thomas Sowell Pines for A Military Coup
A “random thought” from Thomas Sowell:
When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.
Steven Taylor, who studies Latin American politics for a living, is not a fan of military coups, although he allows in the comments as to how a Babylon 5 scenario might be an exception.
Having spent a good part of my life in and around the military, I can see as to how a coup might improve the degeneracy situation. (Although I hasten to add, the military is not a degeneracy-free institution.) It would, however, come at the cost of virtually all freedom. Not to mention consent of the governed and various rights deemed “inalienable” by the Founders.
UPDATE: I agree with my colleague Steve Verdon and several other commenters that it is unfair to Sowell to suggest he wants a coup. Sowell has a sufficiently long track record that I’m confident that he’s not a “militant anti-democratic extremist.” This is likely just a one-liner by a frustrated man. Still, it’s a pretty silly thing for a man of his intellectual caliber to write — especially in the context of lamenting “degeneracy.”
Steve Bainbridge, who is firmly anti-coup, is nonetheless intrigued by the “alternate history” feasibility angle. Like me (and I suspect, many of you) he’s seen “Seven Days in May” and thinks the plot far-fetched. Not only would it be logistically problematic because of the separation of the military into numerous Services and Reserve/Guard components but the media would be hostile. And, he hastens to add, it would be anathema to the very culture of the United States military.
I agree completely.
Still, Air Force colonel (and JAG) Charles Dunlap pondered this very question in a classic article for Parameters in 1992 called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.” The piece is fiction, starting from the perspective of an old War College graduate looking back from a post-coup future and reflecting on the events that led us there. It is a warning against the politicization of the military he saw rising in the early 1990s as well as some social sentiments that are reflected in Sowell’s random thought.
If we’re ever going to get our freedom back, we’ve got to understand how we got into this mess. People need to understand that the armed forces exist to support and defend government, not to be the government. Faced with intractable national problems on one hand, and an energetic and capable military on the other, it can be all too seductive to start viewing the military as a cost-effective solution. We made a terrible mistake when we allowed the armed forces to be diverted from their original purpose.
Americans became exasperated with democracy. We were disillusioned with the apparent inability of elected government to solve the nation’s dilemmas. We were looking for someone or something that could produce workable answers. The one institution of government in which the people retained faith was the military. Buoyed by the military’s obvious competence in the First Gulf War, the public increasingly turned to it for solutions to the country’s problems. Americans called for an acceleration of trends begun in the 1980s: tasking the military with a variety of new, nontraditional missions, and vastly escalating its commitment to formerly ancillary duties.
Though not obvious at the time, the cumulative effect of these new responsibilities was to incorporate the military into the political process to an unprecedented degree. These additional assignments also had the perverse effect of diverting focus and resources from the military’s central mission of combat training and warfighting. Finally, organizational, political, and societal changes served to alter the American military’s culture. Today’s military is not the one we knew when we graduated from the War College.
This, too, is not a stretch:
Furthermore, well-meaning attempts at improving service life led to the unintended insularity of military society, representing a return to the cloistered life of the pre-World War II armed forces. Military bases, complete with schools, churches, stores, child care centers, and recreational areas, became never-to-be-left islands of tranquillity removed from the chaotic, crime-ridden environment outside the gates. As one reporter put it in 1991: “Increasingly isolated from mainstream America, today’s troops tend to view the civilian world with suspicion and sometimes hostility.” Thus, a physically isolated and intellectually alienated officer corps was paired with an enlisted force likewise distanced from the society it was supposed to serve. In short, the military evolved into a force susceptible to manipulation by an authoritarian leader from its own select ranks.
Now, for reasons Bainbridge highlights, I think a coup is vanishingly unlikely. But the isolation of the military from society, the fact that most of our elites, including politicians, have never served, and the military’s sense of itself as a bastion of decency and honor in a country going soft and corrupt is not a welcome trend.