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It was in this climate that MacArthur began to challenge Truman's conduct of the war through public statements which were not submitted for the required clearance from Washington. In taking this approach, MacArthur was feeding the flames of virulent criticism of Truman's policies by congressional Republicans. The crisis came when Truman notified MacArthur he was preparing to propose peace negotiations before considering any further significant drive above the 38th Parallel. Four days later, MacArthur released, without clearance from Washington, what he called a military appraisal of the war, but what was really an ultimatum so insulting to the Chinese that it effectively scuttled any possibility of China accepting Truman's proposal. The appraisal declared that China:
... lacks the industrial capacity” for “the conduct of modern war”....Its troops had displayed “an inferiority of ground firepower.” Even under the inhibitions which now restrict the activity of the United Nations forces” China had "shown its complete inability to accomplish by force of arms the conquest of Korea. The enemy, therefore, must by now be painfully aware that a decision by the United Nations to depart from its tolerant effort to contain the war would doom Red China to the risk of imminent military collapse." Therefore he stood "ready at any time to confer in the field with the commander-in-chief of the enemy forces in the earnest effort to find any military means whereby realization of the political objectives of the United Nations in Korea, to which no nation may justly take exception, might be accomplished without further bloodshed."
(American Caesar, page 634) Truman then unceremoniously relieved MacArthur of command. The public furor caused by this act and MacArthur's subsequent return to the United States was high drama. The Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees of the Senate held two months of hearings on MacArthur's dismissal and Truman's foreign/military policy. In the end, the committees did not issue a formal report. Most significant about the hearings, and in fact about the entire MacArthur dismissal crisis, was that while many criticized Truman's conduct of the war and his judgment in dismissing MacArthur, no one seriously questioned his right, as Commander-inChief, to act as he did. Thus, due to the deeply ingrained belief in the constitutional prerogatives of a civilian President, what could have been a grave constitutional crisis for the country became simply a political crisis for the Truman Administration.
f. Vietnam War
The most recent example of the military exceeding the bounds set by civilian authorities was that of General John D. Lavelle during the Vietnam War.
General Lavelle was the commander of the Seventh Air Force who in 1971-72 stretched the “Rules of Engagement” governing bombing North Vietnam to the point where "Protective Reaction Strike” became in fact “Pre-emptive Strike.” The Rules of Engagement would not permit pilots to engage certain ground targets unless the targets had first fired on or engaged the planes. The operational reports on these unauthorized bombing raids, of which there were no more than 28 in all, were falsified by the General's staff to include the key criteria of “enemy reaction" to the planes' presence over North Vietnam, when in fact the planes had not been engaged by the enemy.
The falsification came about because General Lavelle's Director of Communications misinterpreted a comment the General made to the effect that his pilots must not report "no enemy reaction" to their presence. The Director of Communications thus set up a system of falsifying the mission reports. The system lasted only a short time because a sergeant could not square it with his conscience and wrote his Senator, Harold Hughes, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Armed Services Committee launched an extensive investigation of the matter, during which Lavelle's military superiors testified they believed Lavelle had exceeded a reasonable interpretation of the bombing Rules of Engagement. Lavelle testified that in a meeting in December 1971, Secretary of Defense Laird advised him to take full advantage of the authority at his disposal and assured him the Department would support him. This is what Lavelle believed he was doing. The key factors that led to the Lavelle incident were:
Ambiguous rules of engagement that also proved to be unresponsive to the increasing demands for protection of U.S. Air Force pilots;
Faulty judgment on Lavelle's part in deciding to bend (break) the rules on "protective reaction” strikes in the absence of formal authority from higher levels and on the basis of equivocal statements by Secretary of Defense Laird and other senior level officials; and
Negligence on Lavelle's part in issuing ambiguous instructions on reporting procedures and, then, failing to detect the falsified reports. (A Brief History and Analysis of Civilian
Control of the Military in the United States, page 8) But in sum, whatever Lavelle's faults, they did not include a deliberate intent to subvert the constitutional principle of civilian authority. D. ANALYSIS OF U.S. CIVIL-MILITARY RELATIONS
As can be seen from the foregoing historical review, the military has never posed a serious threat to civilian control in the United States in terms of the three traditional threats to civilian control.
During two centuries of American history, numerous military leaders possessed substantial personal authority and charisma and had wide public support. Yet, none posed the threat of a “man-on horseback.
Generals Washington, McClellan, and MacArthur are probably the best examples. However, each of these generals eschewed any temptation to wrest control from civilian authorities. The cases of the rebellious generals - McClellan, Fremont, and MacArthur -illustrate the fundamental difference in perspective which has renVered “the Man on the White Horse” an improbable event in the United States. The crucial distinction lies in these commanders' attitude towards their civilian superiors. They were undeniably contemptuous of the particular civilians they served under, but not of the principle of civilian supremacy. It is revealing that each of these generals was allied with the political party out of power at the time, and each desired to be elected as a civilian to the Nation's highest office. In fact, McClellan and Fremont did run unsuccessfully for President.
Thus, all significant conflict between U.S. military commanders and their civilian superiors has taken place within the context of the American political system rather than as a challenge to the system.
This is all the more remarkable when one considers that although Americans possessed an innate distrust of standing armies, this distrust was not, for a century, coupled with adherence to a policy of keeping the armed forces free of the influences of partisan politics. The national attitude towards military participation in politics has changed substantially as U.S. governmental institutions have developed. In the Nineteenth Century, it was not unusual for officers to participate in politics. This was due to the "spoils system” approach to Federal hiring, both civil and military. However, by the turn of the century, a civil service employment act had been adopted and the tide began to turn against politically active soldiers as well.
In this century, regulations were adopted which forbade active duty military personnel from engaging in political activity. Echoing the MacArthur incident, but occurring in peacetime, two recent examples of disciplinary action against generals demonstrate that public political action or speech is not permissible in the U.S. armed forces. In the first instance, General Edwin Walker, USA, commander of the 24th Infantry Division in West Germany, was admonished by the Kennedy Administration for distributing rightwing propaganda to his troops and for publicly criticizing Administration policies. He subsequently resigned his commission. In 1978, General John Singlaub, USA, Chief of Staff of the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command, was removed from his position after publicly condemning Carter Administration policies. He subsequently retired from the Army following a second similar incident.
2. Benign, Objective Takeover
Similarly, the American approach refutes another major theory of civil-military relations: the benign, objective military takeover when the civilian government's inability to govern has thrown a country into crisis. Even in the gravest national emergency faced by the United States, the Civil War, there was not a serious threat that the military would take over the government. Furthermore, in those instances in which Federal troops have been used to enforce civil laws, such as the veterans march on Washington in 1932 or, more recently, in the civil disturbances of the 1960's, the forces have always remained under civilian control and have surrendered their responsibilities to civilian law enforcement authorities when ordered to do so.
3. Commander Taking Actions on His Own Initiative
Popular though the Dr. Strangelove image is, instances of American commanders overstepping the bounds of their authority have been rare. General MacArthur's actions in Korea come close to such action and, in that case, his actions were more insubordination than exceeding his authority. Indeed, the most prevalent occurrence is that of a senior officer who voices an opinion on a political subject, such as Generals Walker and Singlaub. None of these examples pose any serious threat to civilian control of the military.
The greatest threat, of course, is that an officer could initiate armed action on his own. This threat runs all the way from the rifleman on the East German border, to the Captain of a nuclear armed submarine, and to more senior commanders. The assurance against such action is discipline and an ingrained sense of the subordination to civilian control. In the realm of nuclear weapons, great security precautions have been taken to prevent anyone other than the President from initiating a nuclear attack.
Thus, from Washington to Lavelle, throughout American history, an inculcated belief in the right of civilians to control the country's armed forces has triumphed over threatening circumstances and individual egos. As the Steadman Report on the national military command structure in 1978 concluded:
We find that the concept of civilian control over the military is unquestioned throughout the Department. It is a non-issue. Our military forces are fully responsive to the command and control of the duly constituted civilian authorities; the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Deputy Secretary.
(page 40) The historical review supports this conclusion.
The current attitudes, both in the society at large and in the military, were framed by the experiences of World War II. As discussed above, President Roosevelt gave the military extraordinary power during World War II and, although he retained absolute control, he was physically able to make only the very largest decisions. All of the lesser decisions, including ones related to diplomacy and economics -areas usually reserved for civilians —were left to the military. It is therefore no surprise that the early proposals of the Joint Chiefs for the postwar organization of the Department of Defense preserved for the military great responsibility and direct access to the President. In enacting the National Security Act of 1947, Congress rejected these proposals in favor of the National Security Council, a Secretary of Defense and firm civilian control. r But the attitude of many military men that they should have very broad responsibility and authority in the national security field is still seen. Indeed some of the current writings on DoD organization suggest that the balance between military and civil authorities should be shifted in favor of increasing the authority and responsibility of military officers at the expense of civilians. The argument is made that civilian authorities are not competent to deal with many of the technical questions of national security which should properly be left to the military.
On the other hand, many people have criticized President Roosevelt's decision-making authority because it gave too much authority to the military, particularly in areas such as diplomacy. It is sometimes said that "we won the war but lost the peace". This view is that the military, particularly in Europe, did not take adequate cognizance of the political considerations which would govern postwar Europe. Subject to particular criticism are the failure to move further east with our forces and the failure to establish a land corridor to occupied Berlin. Some have suggested that if a civilian diplomat had been present during the final negotiations for the arrangements governing Berlin, the civilian might have foreseen the need to have guaranteed land access to Berlin. The absence of such a provision permitted the Soviets to blockade Berlin in 1948 which was broken only by a massive American airlift. (See e.g., Robert Murphy, Diplomat Among Warriors, pages 262-263)
But these arguments go to the relative balance between civil and military authorities, not to the underlying principle that, in the end, civilians control the military.
There are a number of other trends in civil-military relations which affect the degree to which civilians are able to control the military. Chief among these is the blurring of military and civil relations.
The United States' role as a world power has created international commitments and interests which have blurred the division between civilian and military responsibilities. Several factors have led to increased civilian involvement in what were formerly areas left to the military in peacetime, and vice versa.
The advent of nuclear weapons has placed greater requirements on civilian control than have been necessary at any time in American history. The dangers and responsibilities of nuclear forces, combined with modern communications, both require and enable civilians to exercise minute control of crises around the world. The Cuban missile crisis was a prime example of such micro-management. (See Chapter 5 for a discussion of the Cuban missile crisis and how some elements of the military resisted detailed questions from Secretary of Defense McNamara.) Some critics feel that civilian direction pursued to this extent represents an unwarranted intrusion into the realm of military responsibility and expertise. However, the President is within his rights as Commander-in-Chief to exercise or delegate such control. Furthermore, the complexity of modern international politics and the potential for distant incidents to escalate into major international crises compel civilian political leaders to be more actively involved than would have previously been necessary.
In addition, strategic military considerations have come to carry unprecedented weight in peacetime planning and policy decisions. Yet, some critics have expressed concern that civilian officials are not devoting adequate time and attention to reviewing military contingency plans. They allege that, as a result, when contingency plans are reviewed during crises, they are often not realistic because they do not reflect the political realities which the civilian decision-makers must confront.
While it is true that political considerations impinge on military prerogatives in the modern world, it is also true that many so