Wednesday, April 05, 2006

An American Coup D’Etat

An American Coup D’Etat

The April 2006 issue of Harper’s contains an article entitled “American Coup D’Etat, Military thinkers think the unthinkable”. This article is essentially a forum conducted by Bill Wasik, a Harper’s editor and the following panelists:

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University and the author, most recently, of The New American Militarism. He served as an officer in the US Army from 1969 t0 1992.

Brig. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., staff judge advocate at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. In 1992 he published an essay entitled “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.” Harper’s adds that his views “are personal and do not reflect those of the US Department of Defense.”

Richard H. Kohn, chair of the curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and editor of the book The United States Military Under the Constitution of the United States, 1789-1989, among others.

Edward N Luttwak, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of many books, including Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook.

I read Mr. Luttwak’s book “The Pentagon and the Art of War” when I was stationed on Okinawa, I also read BGEN Dunlap’s essay ( after reading this article. I think you will note it strikes a very similar tone despite having been written 14 years ago.

My first major bone of contention with this article is the selection of the panelists. I don’t know Mr. Bacevich’s background in the Army, but it appears that the are no line officers represented in this forum. There are also no NCOs or junior officers. This is important because line officers command the divisions, squadrons and ships that would be necessary to carry out a coup, and the junior officers and NCOs are the individuals who would have to carry the orders, “the Boots on the ground” so to speak. It would be interesting to have their perspective.
Second, the opening paragraph of the article seems to question the fact that the military is loyal in it’s support of the constitution. In response to this I would refer everyone to the professional reading lists of the Army and the Marines:

note that at the lowest level of both services is “The Constitution”.

In general the article says that a coup would not be possible because the general population would not support it, the lower ranks would not support it and probably most of the senior leadership would not support it. At this time I agree.
The article then goes on to list all the danger areas that these experts see as problematic. Most specifically they complain about a professional standing army that is becoming isolated from society as a whole, and is not representative of that society demographically, and is becoming increasingly politically active. They use examples of the military fighting off budget cuts and fighting against gays in the military as their examples, and initially it is easy to dismiss their claims.

Although politically active militaries have a poor history (i.e. the Jannisarries and the Praetorian Guard) one of the major differences in our society is the decentralization of leadership and the idea of civilian control. Previously most militaries swore allegiance to the sovereign. In our system we swear allegiance to the document which defines our system itself. That may seem a small point, but to people who take such things seriously it is a major one.

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