Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keeping a Standing Army

John Ruskin, On Art and Life, (Penguin Books, Great Ideas, p. 95-96)

"The argument brought forward for the maintenance of a standing army usually refers only to expediency in the case of unexpected war, whereas, one of the chief reasons for the maintenance on an army is the advantage of the military system as a method of education.

"The most fiery and headstrong, who are often also the most gifted and generous of your youths, have always a tendency both in the lower and upper classes to offer themselves for your soldiers: others, weak and unserviceable in the civil capacity, are tempted or entrapped into the army in a fortunate hour for them: out of this fiery or uncouth material, it is only soldier's discipline which can bring the full value and power.

"Even at present, by mere force of order and authority, the army is the salvation of myriads; and men who, under other circumstances, would have sunk into lethargy or dissipation, are redeemed into noble life by a service which at once summons and directs their energies.

"How much more than this, military education is capable of doing, you will find only when you make it education indeed. We have no excuse for leaving our private soldiers at their present level of ignorance and want of refinement, for we shall invariably find that, both among officers and men, the gentlest and best informed are the bravest; still less have we excuse for diminishing our army, either in the present state of political events, or, as I believe, in any other conjunction of them that for many a year will be possible in this world."


Father Hollywood said...

Outrage against standing armies is one of the major complaints of the American colonists that led to the revolution.

Whatever the perceived benefits may be of a standing army (giving boys something to do, etc.), the founders saw it differently, for example:

Jefferson: "Standing armies [are] inconsistent with [a people's] freedom and subversive of their quiet." (many more quotes here)

Madison: "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.... Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people."

Patrick Henry: "A standing army we shall have, also, to execute the execrable commands of tyranny; and how are you to punish them? Will you order them to be punished? Who shall obey these orders? Will your mace-bearer be a match for a disciplined regiment?"

Virginia Constitution of 1788: "... that standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided."

Pennsylvania's constitutional convention: "... as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up;"

After the revolution, Washington disbanded the army (following the example of Cincinnatus).

Maybe a better way to harness the power of youth would be to utilize them in some kind of voluntary civil service corps, rather than create something unconstitutional and at odds with liberty for the sake of social experimentation.

I believe we have already gone way too far in the direction of a police state. We live in a day and age in which liberty takes a back seat to raw force. In history, such societal prioritizations seldom end well.

Just my two cents!

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

It's good to hear from various perspectives. I think it makes a world of difference what one means by a "standing army" e.g. Sparta and Athens in the first millennium B.C. or Moscow and China in A.D. 2000.

The classical ideal of a sound body and sound mind was related to the "state" which was not a police state.

So where does the U.S. "standing army" fit in? If one admits of little possibility that it would, should or could be disbanded, then it should in any case be well-educated with the Athenian demos in mind.

Father Hollywood said...

Before the War Between the States, the states had their own militias which could be activated into U.S. forces during a declared war.

After the WBTS, the militias were essentially (and unconstitutionally) nationalized and taken away from the governors (today they are called "the National Guard" - even though the word "nation" was specifically rejected by the U.S. Constitution). The Northern states lost the war just as much as the Southern states. It was a victory of the federal government over the states, and the balance of power has been top-heavy ever since.

It got worse in 1913, and again during the Great Depression. After WW2 we have been descending even deeper into Socialism.

In the 20th century, ignoring or even contradicting the Constitution has simply become a way of life. The federal government runs roughshod over the states, the federal branches collude and enact unconstitutional legislation.

We have both a standing army and paper money - the two things the founders most feared (well, those things and "democracy" - a bad word during the founding, but almost a god today).

Unless the Constitution is amended, we should obey it. That means we disband the army unless we are actually at war, turn the militias back over to the states, and focus on defense instead of getting caught up in the "military-industrial complex" as we were warned against by Eisenhower. Military bases are often kept open not for strategic, but rather for economic reasons (i.e. job creation in districts of powerful congressmen).

This would require all the branches to get back in their constitutional boxes, Congress would be forced to declare war, the president would be required to give up his imperial powers, and the Supreme Court would need to stop legislating.

One often hears people say (whether to justify right-wing standing armies or left-wing gun grabbing) that the Constitution was written so long ago that things have changed. Well, if that's the case, then we should amend it, not just break the law and allow anyone to grab the reins of power.

We are ripe for an outright dictatorship if we don't start putting our government back in its box.