The mounting tension in civil-military relations within our Government is made up of many factors—especially, perhaps, the tightening of civilian control and the postwar changes in the nature of war and of the military profession itself. The conflicts are reported almost daily by the Pentagon press corps, and the frustrations of the military are made evident in the writings of Generals Gavin, Ridgway, Taylor, Medaris, White and Admiral Anderson. It is not that these men question the principle of civilian control. Nor is the struggle simply a contest for power. What the military are principally reacting to is the implicit challenge to their professionalism.

Undoubtedly, there exist certain elements of a power struggle for the control of defense policy. A succession of Secretaries of Defense have discovered that it is no easy job to exercise control over officers accustomed to lead and command. The very fact that Mr. McNamara has sought to exercise a greater degree of direction than has any of his predecessors is certainly one cause of the conflict. Yet this fact alone is not sufficient to explain the extent of present tensions in civil-military relationships in Washington.

Although the American military have not always been submissive to the civilian controllers, they have never seriously challenged the right or the tradition of civil control. They have recognized that the ultimate decision- maker must balance military recommendations against other considerations. It is not too difficult for a military man to accept an adverse decision based on nonmilitary considerations. It becomes extremely difficult, however, for him to reconcile himself to an adverse decision by his civilian superior based on military considerations. This strikes at the very raison d'être of the military man. It challenges his military professionalism.

The maintenance of a high degree of military professionalism is essential to the preservation of our nation's security without sacrifice of basic American values. The challenge to military professionalism is reflected in each of what Samuel P. Huntington calls the essential characteristics of a profession: corporateness, responsibility and—especially—expertise.


A sense of corporateness is especially strong in the military profession. Like other professions the military has its community of interests, common experiences and common values which bind the profession together. But two additional factors make the corporateness of the military especially strong. First, the military man can pursue his profession only within his own national military establishment. Although he may transfer some of his expertise to other areas of endeavor, he cannot continue as an active member of the military profession outside the national military establishment. Second, the sharing of common danger, inherent in the profession, provides a unifying bond—and one which grows stronger as the danger becomes more immediate.

Prior to World War II there was a third factor which contributed greatly to the military's sense of corporateness—its isolation. Geographically, politically and philosophically the military profession lived its own life in a military society set apart from American society. A fundamental challenge to military corporateness today stems from the fact that the military are no longer isolated from the mainstream of American life. There still exist isolated military bases and long tours outside the United States on ship or shore, but the military have become intermingled with civilian society both within their local communities and in the nation.

It is undoubtedly desirable that the military be closely identified with the society they have sworn to defend. But in the intermingling process, many military officers have become less willing to sacrifice personal convenience and have become more concerned with the adequacy of military pay than when they were living on military stations isolated from the impact of the more attractive wages and hours of work of the civilian community.

These two factors—personal inconvenience and pay—combined with the policy which permits early retirement have caused many military men to think of their profession as just a job rather than as a lifetime career. At an early date many military men start planning for their second careers; in fact, many dedicated military professionals have felt that they could simultaneously have greater impact on military policy and receive greater personal rewards by leaving the military profession to work for industry, the "think factories" or even for the Defense Department in a civilian capacity.

Finally, the administrative fusion of the military services in the Department of Defense has not been accompanied by a fusion of their corporate loyalties, which remain attached to the individual services. More than that, emphasis on specialization has tended to splinter the sense of corporateness within the services so that Naval officers think of themselves as black shoe or brown shoe, while Air Force officers may classify themselves as SAC types or TAG types.


As compared to the inter-war years, the responsibility of the military has clearly increased, but their authority has been progressively eroded. As a result of the expansion of the unified command concept, the authority of the Service Chief as an individual has been supplanted by the corporate authority of the Joint Chiefs, while the authority of the Chiefs of Staff has been reduced through the creation of the elaborate superstructure for defense policy-making in Washington. At the same time the important responsibilities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have not lessened and exist whether or not they can agree on the actions to implement them. Their authority to act, however, depends on their reaching agreement.

A further challenge to the responsibility of the military is inherent in our form of government. Because of the separation of powers between the Executive and Congress, the individual public servant may justifiably be confused as to where his responsibility lies. This is especially true for the military. As a result of the increased importance of military affairs in our national life, questions of defense policy have been added to the political issues in the continuing power struggle between the executive and legislative branches. Congress took pains specifically to grant to the Chiefs of the military services the right to appeal to Congress—a right which President Eisenhower once described as "legalized insubordination." There remains, too, in the military profession a sense of responsibility to the people and to the Constitution which transcends the more immediate responsibility to Congress and the Administration. When beset by frustration, the military man tends to satisfy his need for a feeling of responsibility by turning to this ultimate loyalty.

Finally, the concept of responsibility is also challenged when the expertise of the military profession is put in question. When the political decision-maker asks for and accepts the opinion of an expert, he can hold him responsible for the adequacy of such advice. When he refuses to accept his advice because he challenges his qualifications, he can no longer expect to hold the expert responsible. Certainly the expert's sense of responsibility also suffers as a result.


The challenge to military expertise is the most important aspect of the challenge to military professionalism, because expertise is, after all, the very basis of any profession.

Military expertise encompasses strategy, tactics and administration. Generally speaking, military expertise in tactics and administration has not been seriously challenged. The reason for this, according to Bernard Brodie, is that: "There is no doubt that tactics and administration are the areas in which the soldier is most completely professional. The handling of battles by land, sea or air, the maneuvering of large forces, the leadership of man in the face of honor and death, and the development and administration of the organizations that affect these purposes are clearly not jobs for amateurs." In the area of strategy, however, Brodie asserts as a "basic fact" that "the soldier has been handed a problem that extends far beyond the expertise of his own profession."[i] In similar vein Joseph Kraft argues that "the professional soldiers—not through any fault of their own, but on the contrary in consequence of their virtues—are ill-fitted for high-level strategic thought."[ii] This is indeed ironic when we consider that originally the word "strategy," derived from the Greek strategos, meant simply the art of generalship.

Even before World War I, however, wars were usually considered too important to be left to the generals—unless the commanding general was also chief of state. Since World War II, the political leaders have become more concerned than ever before with the problems of war, strategy and military affairs in general. War is no longer a question merely of victory or defeat on the field of battle. With the advent of nuclear weapons and strategic delivery systems, we have reached the stage where peacetime preparedness is likely to determine the outcome of a major nuclear war. Thus not only war but also peacetime defense becomes too serious a matter to be left to the generals.

At the same time that technology has forced political leaders to concern themselves with military affairs, it has operated to make the military man less of an expert. The development of new weapons has always been of great importance in the history of warfare. In earlier times, however, the military professional was able to assimilate the military impact over a period of years or even generations, and if he was not necessarily the creator of the new technology, he was almost invariably its exploiter. Today, however, technological developments come so thick and fast that it becomes difficult to keep abreast of their existence, much less assimilate their impact on military problems. Furthermore, the professional has a much smaller role in the creation of new weapons because their complexity requires the specialized services of the scientist and engineer, and their magnitude generally requires that they be produced by industry rather than government.

Thus in the continuing technological race for new and better weapons, the scientist, the engineer and the industrialist become partners with the military man; and he becomes dependent on them in the pursuit of his profession. By no means silent partners, they may be in a position to insist successfully that a particular project of great interest to the military is impractical. It may, in fact, be impractical, but it may also be that the scientist or engineer for one reason or another personally thinks it undesirable. In any ensuing dispute the military man frequently finds himself at a disadvantage. The scientist probably has more technical knowledge of the subject; and if, as is probable, the dispute involves new weapons requiring new military techniques, the military man will have little experience on which to rely. Furthermore, to the extent that warfare has advanced toward the push-button stage, there is increased emphasis on peacetime pre-planning at the expense of decision-making and military judgment during the heat of battle—the peculiar province of the military professional. Thus, the nuclear scientist can say that he knows more about nuclear physics than the military and that, after all, the military man hasn't had any actual experience in waging nuclear war, in which there isn't much need for military judgment anyway.

It is not only the natural scientists and engineers who cast doubt on the expertise of the military; it is also the political scientists and those whom David Lilienthal calls "the methodologists."[iii] The military services had of course used the techniques of operations analysis during World War II, and subsequently their application was expanded within the military services to include the determination of desirable characteristics and uses of new weapons and the development of new tactical and strategic concepts. The services also created a variety of nongovernmental think factories. Thus, we find the RAND Corporation working primarily with the Air Force, the Research Analysis Corporation with the Army, the Operations Evaluation Group at M.I.T. with the Navy, and the Institute for Defense Analysis with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Department. In addition, there are some 350 other non-profit corporations, some 300 college research centers, and 1400 industrial companies, as well as various private foundations and scientific advisory committees—all involved in some degree in the business of thinking about military problems.

Unquestionably, these think factories have performed a valuable service to the military professional in his search to adapt technology to military problems. But on occasion they have further complicated this search, and they have undoubtedly challenged his professional expertise.

Here once again, the professional military man frequently finds himself at a disadvantage in comparison with a member or "graduate" of the think factories. First, the very independence of a think factory tends to lend its findings greater prestige than if the same conclusions were reached by the government agency which employed it. This independence also gives the think factory the opportunity to approach other agencies in an attempt to persuade the government as to the correctness of its findings. Similarly, the individual "academic strategist" who has graduated from a think factory may move back and forth among other think factories, universities and government. If his ideas on military strategy and policy are not well received by one organization, he may be more successful through one of the other avenues.

The strategist in uniform, on the other hand, finds himself constrained both by the hierarchy of the strategic planning organization and the military discipline of subordination to higher authority, which make it more difficult to take issue with accepted policy. Nor can he publicize his views through magazines or books as easily as the lay strategist can. Writing for publication is an important element of the academic rather than of the military profession, and the academician is much more likely to be granted time and financial support for his research. Even when the military man combines both the opportunity and inclination to write for publication he finds himself more severely constrained by rules of military security and government policy review. These circumstances partly explain why most of the influential books and articles on military policy and strategy published since World War II have been written not by professional military men but by civilian academic strategists, many of whom have been associated with the think factories. But the cause lies also in the failure of the military colleges to "stand on the frontiers of knowledge."[iv]

Thus, since the end of World War II there has gradually developed an increasing number of civilian experts on military policy. This growing body of academic or lay strategists is being used more and more to challenge the views of the professional military man. In fact, Joseph Kraft maintains that "the Academic Strategists emerge as a key factor in the maintenance of civilian control over the Armed Services. . . . Their generalizations provide civilian officials with a useful yardstick for judging rival service claims, and for keeping the whole defense establishment in line with the nation's strategic goals." On the other hand, he notes that "without the Academic Strategists, the basic decisions about how defense monies were spent would be thrust upon the professional soldiers."[v]

The growing influence of the lay strategist has been accentuated and accelerated by the so-called "Whiz Kids" who were brought to the Pentagon by the present Administration and who personify the new civilian experts. Unquestionably a brilliant and gifted group, they nevertheless—in Stewart Alsop's words—"display occasionally the intellectual arrogance that is the chief failing of the overintelligent."[vi] At its extreme, this results in the assertion that there is no longer any need in nuclear warfare for military judgment because the outcome of nuclear campaigns can be predetermined by precise mathematical computations. In many ways this is reminiscent of the eighteenth-century "scientific" approach to strategy based upon a system of complicated and carefully calculated geometrical movements and angles of attack. Since the occupation of key geographical points was designed to make victory almost mechanical, it might make actual fighting unnecessary.

The proliferation of lay strategists has been accompanied by an expansion of civilian influence and a decrease in military influence in the councils of government having to do with national security policy. Thus there is no military representation on our highest military policy-making body, the National Security Council. Although the Joint Chiefs of Staff are designated as advisers to the N.S.C., they are also advisers to and subordinate to the Secretary of Defense, who is the principal adviser to the President in all matters relating to defense. And as a matter of practice the Joint Chiefs—other than the Chairman—are rarely invited to attend meetings of the National Security Council. Furthermore, between the military Service Chiefs and the civilian Secretaries, there have grown up new ranks and hosts of individuals—mostly civilian—without any corresponding decentralization of authority; in fact, taking full advantage of modern communications and computer techniques, the decision-making authority has become more centralized. As a result, the military professional faces many more roadblocks—more people who can say no and fewer who can say yes.

The invasion of the area of military strategy and policy by the lay strategist has been facilitated by the military professionals' sallies forth into nonmilitary areas—in pursuit of what Huntington calls the theory of political-military fusion. "This theory started from the undeniable fact that military policy and political policy were much more closely interrelated in the postwar world than they had been previously. It went on, however, to assert that it had become impossible to maintain the distinction between political and military functions at the highest level of government."[vii]

One aspect of this theory was that military leaders were expected to incorporate political, economic and social factors into their thinking. This gave rise to situations in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff defended the importance of political considerations while the State Department was concerned with military arguments. The fusionist theory also gave impetus to the heavy emphasis in the senior war colleges on nonmilitary subjects. Most recently, it has stimulated professional and popular interest in problems of cold war and counterinsurgency which require successful fusion of a wide variety of military and nonmilitary techniques.

A second result of the fusionist theory was the heavy demand for military leaders to undertake nonmilitary responsibilities. Because of their wartime popularity, prestige and experience, professional military men were called upon to fill influential positions in politics, in industry and in government. Some of the governmental positions required the exercise of military as well as political functions, but others were filled by military men not because of the relevance of their experience, but because of their prestige or general executive ability and the comparative lack of experienced and available civilians immediately after World War II. Once the military professionals had breached the wall between military and nonmilitary affairs the route was widened into a two-way street, so that the military professional found himself challenged both on his own ground and on nonmilitary grounds as well. Meanwhile, the application of the fusionist theory forbade him to retire from the nonmilitary field to his former sanctuary.

In addition to political-military fusion, World War II set the stage for the fusion of the military profession itself—a fusion, however, which has not been completed. The Unification Act, born of World War II experiences pointing up the need for coördinated military actions on land, sea and air, established a coalition of the military services rather than a fusion. The military profession has not yet successfully met the challenge posed by even this much change. It requires the development of broad-gauged military professionals who can speak with authority on a full spectrum of military matters rather than a collection of individual experts in air, land and sea warfare. The more specialized expertise is still needed, but the military profession must also develop the generalists who can fuse together the particular competence of the specialists. This does not necessarily mean that the specialists themselves or their organizations must be integrated into a single service but that their individual points of view must be fused into a more broadly professional military expertise.

The singular failure of the military profession to meet this challenge has provided the lay strategist the occasion to invade the area of military affairs. In fact, the conflicts within the military profession have made it imperative for the civilian to step in to reach decisions. To avoid making purely arbitrary decisions, the informed expertise of the lay strategist has, with justification, been relied upon. In fairness to the military profession, however, we should note that the failure to develop professional generalists has been abetted by some civilians who have not wished to see the military services develop a common profession—who felt that a policy of divide-and-conquer was the surest way to maintain civilian control.

The extent of the conquest is, I think, aptly illustrated by the following commentary by Huntington on the influence of the military professional on military policy between 1945 and 1960: "It is not surprising that military leaders played a key role in implementing policy and that they seldom actually made important decisions on policy. Perhaps more striking is the relatively unimportant role which they played in proposing changes in policy. In no case did military leaders initiate major new policies and in no case did they effectively prevent changes in old ones."[viii]


Huntington's analysis of military professionalism leads him to conclude that "the requisite for military security is a shift in basic American values from liberalism to conservatism. Only an environment which is sympathetically conservative will permit American military leaders to combine the political power which society thrusts upon them with the military professionalism without which society cannot endure."[ix] Another proposed solution is to divide the problems of national security into total war and limited war, with specialists for each. The limited war specialists would retain the traditional "heroic" characteristics of the old military profession. Huntington, in effect, would solve the fundamental problem by changing the environment which creates it. The other approach would solve the problem by dividing it in two, by ignoring the more fundamental half, and by turning the clock back to solve the other.

Either response would, of course, help to resolve the frustrations caused by the current challenge to the military profession. But the first seems to be an extreme solution unless it is the only way to preserve our nation's security; and the second does not really solve the problem.

To meet satisfactorily the challenge to its professionalism, the military must first of all become more professionally expert. Under today's conditions the military profession can meet this requirement only by developing an expertise which transcends that of the individual service. The military profession must develop strategy, tactics and techniques which can deal with the entire spectrum of organized conflict from total war to guerrilla war, in all its media—land, sea, air and space.

The development of an all-around military expertise would be aided by greater mobility of personnel among the services. This should be something more than the occasional opportunity to transfer from one service to another. More intensive use should be made of the existing exchange programs, with particular emphasis on areas of military management, especially at higher staff levels—rather than trying to make a single individual into a submariner, an infantryman, a pilot, a ship's captain and a missile expert.

The development of greater expertise will not be enough in itself, unless it can be effectively communicated to the political decision-maker. This will require a flexibility in adapting to changing political administrations and the ability to explain military concepts in the particular language of each administration. It will also require a special skill in mastering the techniques of the think factories in order to evaluate the efforts of its own thinkers and to compete successfully with the independent lay strategists.

If the desired professional military expertise is ever to be achieved, the military school system—especially the senior military colleges—will have to assume a key role. The average military man probably devotes a larger proportion of his career to formal schooling than any other professional. If the military schools are to fulfill their function adequately, the best of them must encourage original thought, research and publication comparable to that of our leading universities. In the course of study the military aspects of national strategy should be emphasized anew with the objective of developing new strategic concepts and doctrines. Politics and economics need not be ignored, but the curriculum should focus on military subjects. The courses should also develop a general knowledge of contemporary military technology and a competency in the techniques of operational research.

A prerequisite for the re-creation of military expertise is the abandonment of the fusionist theory whereby military and non-military factors are so entwined that a separate expertise in the military aspects of national security is simply impossible. Obviously there is an intimate interrelationship between military and nonmilitary factors; but there is a difference, and we need to reëstablish the concept that the problems of national security can, in fact, be broken into various aspects even though they interact on each other. The statesman needs sound military advice; the military professional needs firm policy guidance. Each must, of course, understand the problems of the other. The military man should be aware of the political, economic, social and other factors which affect national security, but it is not his business to evaluate them. He should limit himself to a consideration of the military aspects which are within his area of competence. The civilian authorities, both executive and legislative, should assist him in exercising self-restraint by not requiring his comments on nonmilitary matters. Similarly, the statesman who is concerned with a political problem must recognize that it may have important military implications but he should refrain from making military analyses. He should use the results of the analysis of the military expert as one of the factors bearing on his total problem.

The separation of a national security problem into its various aspects does not mean that the military man and the statesman should work independently of each other. A military analysis may well depend on the particular political, economic or psychological assumptions which are made. The establishment of these assumptions should be the task of the statesman. The military man can contribute by pointing out how various ranges of assumptions may materially affect the military estimate.

A traditionally military—and perhaps also American—response to most problems is to reorganize. While this predilection should not lead us to expect too much, it is apparent that certain organizational changes in the Department of Defense would help the military to exercise their expertise and make them more responsive and more responsible to civilian control.

First of all, the organization and procedures of the Joint Chiefs of Staff need to be streamlined so that they can act more quickly and be more responsive to the Secretary of Defense. The host of special committees, councils, assistants and groups should be realigned to report through staff directors with increased stature and authority. The Joint Staff should exercise effective direction over the various defense agencies. It would be highly desirable for the Chiefs to use the Joint Staff as their primary advisers and to give the Joint Staff officers increased stature and authority in their relations with the Service staffs. Finally, the Joint Staff should be given greater authority to act on certain operational matters within established policy. This would make it possible for the Chiefs to fulfill their responsibilities without having personally to consider and agree on all matters for which they are responsible.

A second major effort should be to improve the working relationships between the J.C.S. and the staff of the Secretary of Defense. These staffs ought to be coöperating rather than independent and competing staffs, and some realignment of functions is desirable to achieve that end. Serious consideration should be given to opening up the "closed system" of the J.C.S., whereby lateral communication is prohibited and access to its studies is only by way of the Secretary of Defense. If this system could be altered, perhaps the J.C.S. would fill the proposed position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans and Operations with some of its existing functions and personnel distributed to the various existing offices of Assistant Secretaries of Defense.

A third measure would involve organizing to encourage self-criticism on the part of the military profession itself. The military professional must be able to produce new ideas and concepts if he is to compete with the lay strategist. It is perhaps too much to expect that the military, with its emphasis on discipline and the chain of command, can ever achieve the same degree of academic freedom enjoyed by the lay strategist. It should be possible, however, to encourage more original military thinking without sacrificing the traditions of obedience to higher authority. One possibility, for example, would be the creation of small groups charged with long-range planning and new conceptual thinking and made directly responsible to the military service chiefs. This system would make it possible for a new idea to be aired at the highest levels without having to follow the tortuous path of military command which tends to reject concepts not in accord with previously approved policy.

Taken together, these measures would respond to the challenges to the responsibility as well as the expertise of the military. Its sense of corporateness could also be strengthened by measures to re-create the prestige and attractiveness of a military career—without, however, trying to return the military to its prewar state of isolation. Especially effective would be the resurrection of the traditional fringe benefits of the military. Similar personnel policies within and among the individual services would also contribute. This does not require uniformity in personnel matters, ignoring differences in requirements and problems, but it does mean the elimination of conflicting policies based on historical differences which are no longer relevant.

A fundamental obstacle to achieving the various responses which have been outlined is likely to be the continuing fear of military power and the traditional anti-military bias of the liberal ethic. To the extent, however, that the suggestions made here are nonpolitical and encourage professional expertise and responsibility, they should, in fact, lead to more effective civilian control. If civilian control seems reasonably well assured, perhaps military professionalism could be acceptable without necessarily substituting the conservative for the liberal ethic. Surely the United States is strong enough to allow Americans to choose their political philosophy—whether liberal or conservative—on grounds other than national security alone.

[i] Bernard Brodie, "Strategy in the Missile Age." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959, p. 15-16 and 9-10.

[ii] Joseph Kraft, "The War Thinkers," Esquire, September 1962, p. 148.

[iii] The New York Times Magazine, September 29, 1963, p. 23.

[iv] John W. Masland and Laurence I. Radway, "Soldiers and Scholars." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957, p. 436, 509.

[v] Kraft, op. cit., p. 149.

[vi] Stewart Alsop, "Master of the Pentagon," Saturday Evening Post, August 5, 1961, p. 46.

[vii] Samuel P. Huntington, "The Soldier and the State." Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957, p. 351.

[viii] Samuel P. Huntington, "The Common Defense." New York: Columbia University Press, 1961, p. 114.

[ix] Huntington, "The Soldier and the State," p. 464.

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