Standing Armies – A Constitutional Dilemma 18


As we observe another Memorial Day with the lives of the American military still being wasted on imperial folly, some thoughts occurred to me about the “Commander in Chief” meme, our “projected” military capacity and our founding documents.

The constitution is pretty specific about the military of our nation, who was in charge and how it should be set up:

Section 2 – Civilian Power over Military, Cabinet, Pardon Power, Appointments

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Not a lot of ambiguity.  The section says “when called into actual service.”  Meaning when Congress declares war the president gets to put on the commander in chief hat.  In that role, he commanded “the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.”

This is important only if you back up a bit in the Constitution and see what was written first about the Congress and its powers over the military might of the nation.

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

It very clearly says we should have state militias, funded and governed by Congressional mandate.  It also says the armies raised should be limited:  “no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.”

Pretty clear language about standing armies.  Makes a lot of sense, too, from a structural stand-point of a nation focused on peaceful aims.  It’s a lot harder to get 50 governors to lend their militias to imperial conquests beyond our borders.  We would never have had state militias in Japan and Germany for the last 60 years.

The Constitution clearly calls for a Navy, managed and controlled by Congress, to protect our borders.  Basically the mission the Coast Guard performs.  It clearly calls for state militias that are accountable at the local level and only under the president’s command when the nation declares war, via Congress who has that sole responsibility.

The entire way the military has been used since the end of World War II is unconstitutional.  Think of the cost savings if we did the way the Constitution demands.  No more multi-billion dollar war machine scattered across dozens of countries around the world.  Think of the credibility we would regain by closing every single base outside of our borders and pursuing a multi-national replacement in places like South Korea and Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s what this veteran of the US Navy would suggest as our national military strategy should anyone in President Obama’s ask once he is in a position to actually make that happen.

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18 thoughts on “Standing Armies – A Constitutional Dilemma

  • codegen86

    The nice thing about the Constitution is that it’s like the Bible, you know? Everyone can interpret it the way they like…

  • BevD

    Well, no. The use of the navy is to patrol and keep open sea lanes for trade – that is the historical use of the navy. Secondly, these provisions in the constitution have been codified and extended over the last 200 some odd years. Thirdly, the states do have militias the services of which are provided to the federal government from time to time, and by law can be called up by the commander in chief when he orders the call up. The federal government has always fielded a standing army, that is what the Old Guard is – the first standing army in the U.S. military.

    While I’d be thrilled to have this administration’s war ruled as unconstitional, sadly that is not the case.

    • JasonEverettMiller

      The war is unconstitutional as well. I am not saying how it is, I am saying how it was meant to be. It is clear that the founders thought a standing army would be abused. That is why Washington and Adams and Jefferson were so skeptical to start the army to begin with at Hamilton’s insistence and wanted it to be established only a short time. A standing army at the beck and call of a president is nothing short of a tool of empire.

      • BevD

        Jason, they don’t have to be amended – precedent, statute and law determine the constitutionality of the president’s powers as CIC. Miranda rights warning is a prime example – there is no constitutional amd. guaranteeing anyone to a reminder of their rights, but by statute and law the warning must be given.

        • JasonEverettMiller

          But that doesn’t change the underlying nature of those rights and is still grounded in the Constitution. Miranda is still in keeping with the spirit of the rights it is meant to remind is of.

          If a paradigm is unconstitutional, on its face, it makes no difference if it is a precedent or a statute or codified by tradition.

          It is clear to me that no good has come from our modern understanding of our military state, that includes the so-called commander-in-chief powers that are clearly meant to be constrained by Congress in ways they no longer are,

    • JasonEverettMiller

      PS: The provisions in the Constitution that specifically relate to what I am speaking about have never been amended. There is not a single amendment to the constitution that allows for our current military-industrial complex. If there isn’t an amendment to the constitution redefining earlier language and allowing these powers to belong to the executive branch and not the legislative then it is unconstitutional by definition.

  • Constantinople

    To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years

    All Congress has to do is pass a new budget every two years. Since it typically passes a budget once a year, that’s not much of a problem.

    Now please put on your cammies, go outside, get some fresh air and keep a look out for the black UN helicopters.

    • JasonEverettMiller

      This reply makes no sense and the spirit of the wording is that we shouldn’t be projecting power outside of our borders militarily.

      • Firstthingwedo

        I’m going to have to go with no, the spirit of the article is that Congress must pass a budget every 2 years, and there’s nothing in my reading of anything you posted that implies that we can’t have a standing US army, separate and apart from any militias (the National Guard). Also, there’s surely nothing that implies we cannot or should not have a powerful standing Navy, similar to the British Navy at the time of the Revolution.

        • JasonEverettMiller

          If you read the article, it is quite clear that we should not have standing armies and that our Navy should be used as a defense mechanism and not a tool of global hegemony.

          The founders were quite implicit in their writings and in the Constitution that we didn’t want to be another British empire. That was the whole point of founding the country in the first place. As has been proved over the years, a huge military being sent overseas to project power has been one of the main downfalls of this country.

          It is anathema to everything we stood for right up until World War II. We had zero troops stationed overseas prior to World War II. Now most of our troops are stationed around the world.

          You did nothing to counter the actual point of my blog which isn’t how have we always done things. It was: Has how we do things made us any better as a country? It is quite clear from the available evidence that it has not.

          Have you even served in the military or gone overseas as part of a forward deployed battle group?

          I have and it is an enormous waste of this country’s time and energy. Most of the countries we go to would rather we not be there, except for our tourist dollars. They are suspicious of our motives, as well they should be when a 5,000 person carrier parks off their shores with a full air wing and a battle group steaming behind.

          The military is huge waster of money and resources that could be better allocated elsewhere.

  • SPQR

    JasonEverettMiller wrote:

    the spirit of the wording is that we shouldn’t be projecting power outside of our borders militarily.

    I’m no hawk, but this sentiment, although noble, simply doesn’t acknowledge reality.

    In Gulf War I, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, America deployed its armed forces to the deserts of Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield. The mission was to defend Saudi oil fields. This projection of military power put our forces in position to execute Desert Storm, which I will characterize for the purpose of this argument as a successful war that achieved its objectives without leaving Iraq a total mess (cf. GWB 43, blunders).

    The US’s projection of military power throughout Western Europe is what saved millions of Berliners during the Airlift.

    The US’s projection of military power, especially naval power, kept ocean shipping lanes safe for the execution of the Marshall Plan during Reconstruction post WWII. It continues to keep shipping lanes safe today; and if you think there are no more pirates, visit the Straits of Malacca some day..

    Our naval superiority in the Pacific has given us more chips at the bargaining table with the oft-volatile regimes of Southeast Asia since WWII.

    The projection of military power also allows the U.S. to take a lead role in foreign disaster relief and other foreign aid projects.

    It also won us the Cold War, eventually. Without having fought the proxy conflicts of the Cold War, what would the world look like today? The Soviet Union might still be alive and well, which means many of the Central Asian nations would not; Taiwan would be a part of China, and Communist; Korea would be a unified Communist peninsula; Vietnam wouldn’t still be suffering the side effects of Agent Orange; and Afghanistan might be a secular part of the U.S.S.R., instead of a crumbling democracy-in-name-only – I will speculate, though, that radical fanatics would be trying to overthrow it no matter who was in charge, the U.S.S.R., NATO, or the U.S.

    We provide security to the world, in places where no one else is willing to do the job. In turn, trade and development can actually occur in those regions, instead of being stifled by chaos or lawlessness. I agree with you that security comes at too high a price, and that military budgets are chock-full of waste. I would stand next to you and argue that we spend way too much on our military, and that major cuts must come. But I can’t stand by you while you call for us to disengage militarily from the entire world. We need a strong navy. We need air power. What we don’t need to do is to spend more on our military than every other country in the world put together.

  • JasonEverettMiller

    You are citing examples where we had a huge amount of international support for our actions.

    I completely disagree that the way we did things is the only way it could have been done and that doing it another way wouldn’t have yielded better results. Some of our greatest presidents have deplored the notion of projecting American power beyond our shores. When we didn’t follow that edict, we have been every bit as much a destructive force in international relations as we have been a positive one.

    Pointing to the past as some sort of guide to determine how we operate in the future is the surest way to never change.

  • SPQR

    So now it’s ok to act beyond our borders when we have a huge amount of international support, but it’s not ok when we don’t? Make up your mind; your blog seems pretty unequivocal about disengaging. And what is the threshold for a “huge amount” of “support?”

    I also didn’t say that “the way we did things is the only way it could have been done,” so there’s nothing for you to “completely disagree” with. For instance: Vietnam was a mistake, but many of the proxy conflicts of the Cold War were not, i.e., Taiwan, South Korea, and the economic development of Japan into a competitive powerhouse to outburn the Communist economies of the region.

    “Pointing to the past as some sort of guide to determine how we operate in the future is the surest way to never change.”

    Has anyone ever told you to “Learn from your mistakes?” Pointing to the past can inform us what works and what doesn’t. It’s a great way to change. Ask any scientist.

    • JasonEverettMiller

      OK. Let me see if I can be a little more clear in order to avoid more condescending lectures from you.

      When the International Community is facing an existential threat, such as World War II, power projection beyond our borders in defense of the common good is worthwhile. Attacking Korea or Vietnam or Panama or Grenada or Iraq in 2003 is not worthwhile. It is counter-productive. We “saved” southeast Asia from communism and turned them into Islamic countries instead, a new “enemy” to justify more military action. Every foreign military action since the end of World War II has been unconstitutional and to our detriment. Most of our foreign policy was based on assumptions that proved to be drastically false or paranoid or naive – about ourselves, our allies and the Soviets.

      I have no problem helping to rebuild Japan and Europe following World War II or to respond to other humanitarian crises with a well-trained and forward deployable military, but permanent military bases around the world have been not only a huge waste of resources, but it has contributed to the militarization of the globe. We sell and buy more military equipment than the rest of the world combined.

      Eisenhower warned us about this shit and we didn’t listen.

      There is not a single thing our huge, forward deployed military couldn’t have done if they were instead a more local force of state militias supported by a strong US Navy to project power if and when it is needed.

      Wait. There is one thing state militias and a smaller Navy/Marine Corps couldn’t have done: Feed the military industrial complex.

      You aren’t advocating “learning from our mistakes” in order to make different plans. You are pointing to the past as justification for the way we are doing things now. That is a completely different argument. However, if you look to the past and think the only mistake we have made in the last 60 years of foreign military adventures was Vietnam, then, yes, I completely disagree.

      Having served in the military for ten years, I would say I have a pretty good idea of just how much justification exists for the military we have, absent some sort of contrived military adventure: zero.

      Until we draw back our military inside our borders and project peace instead, we will continue to add to the misery on this globe and continue to be the only imperial force currently operating. There is absolutely no reason to have any bases outside the US. Further, it is a betrayal of our local communities to close bases in the US to open bigger and better bases overseas. That money should stay in our local economies. There isn’t a single thing that shouldn’t be changed about our military strategies and posture in the world. We have caused way more grief than we solved.

      Declaring war should be one of the hardest things we do and it should be an enormous pain in the ass to get involved in a war. World War II is a good example of that. We had to turn the entire manufacturing capacity of the nation to get into that war. The shit wasn’t just laying around waiting to be used.

      I would have 50 state militias that operate as independent units inside their regions until needed by the nation. They can respond to natural distaste and such, train for war, give the gun enthusiasts some automatic weapons to play with and generally be a good thing for each state.

      I would support them with a much smaller Navy and Marine Corps on each coast that is available for rapid deployment overseas if and when needed.

      My military would cost around 10 to 20 billion a year to maintain. Our current military costs more than 50 times that and delivers and amazingly low return on investment. We need to pull our collective heads out of our asses and come up with some new and innovative ideas for the future.

  • SPQR

    I apologize for appearing to condescend.

    Every foreign military action since the end of World War II has been unconstitutional and to our detriment.

    There are millions of South Koreans who would disagree with you; our naval presence in the Western Pacific has probably kept Taiwan free. This statement REQUIRES A LOT OF SUPPORT. The amount of research you would have to do to prove this statement correct is far more than the amount of work I’d have to do to prove it wrong. It’s a negative statement. And I doubt you’d be able to convince any but the most fervent doves of its truth.

    However, if you look to the past and think the only mistake we have made in the last 60 years of foreign military adventures was Vietnam, then, yes, I completely disagree.

    I didn’t say Vietnam was the only mistake we’ve made in the last 60 years; I offered it as one example. I mentioned that Iraq was a mistake too; so was failing to finish the job in Afghanistan before getting involved in Iraq. I’ll mention the Bay of Pigs here too. There’s plenty more for you to find and expose, so feel free. I certainly agree with you taht there have been lots of costly and perhaps unconstitutional military actions taht resulted in failure and our detriment. But definitely not all of them.

    On military bases: I bet there’s an argument out there that we need a few bases overseas, for each of the major command regions. I’m not trying to disagree with you that there are too many overseas, and that too many represents a frivolous waste of resources.

    One reason taht many of them at home have been closed is because many of them are environmental disasters that have left behind a legacy of polluted groundwater and hazardous waste contamination. You’re absolutely right that their domestic closures have been harmful to local economies. Before I would want a bunch of them reopening here at home I would want some cleanup done at past contaminated sites and some guarantees that new/reopening bases will leave small environmental footprints.

    I’m not well-versed in our military capabilities, so I’m going to have to take your word for it that a 10-20 billion/yr military (which is less than our foreign aid budget?!) would be able to respond effectively to the fires we might be asked to put out; will that amount of money even be enough to reopen any of our domestic military bases? You didn’t mention what you think is an adequate amount of air power, either. But at least let me register my doubts about your military on the cheap. I’d hazard to call $10-20 billion a year unrealistically cheap. I wouldn’t mind spending $100-150 billion a year, an 80-90% cut of the current budget.

    thanks for your thoughtful response, and there’s no amount of thanks I can deliver for your 10 years of service.

    • JasonEverettMiller

      Thank you for the thoughtful response as well. Being passionate in our beliefs or opinions can sometime lead to misunderstanding tone or intent. The internet doesn’t help in that regard either.

      I guess what I am proposing is that we stop being the world’s police force and start promoting a multinational force that can respond to these emergencies. I think it is about time we stop footing the bill for solving the world’s problems alone. By spreading the responsibility for our common global security equally, we can drastically cut our military budget in the short term and move to a much slimmer force in the future that perhaps has other things as its primary mission than kicking ass and taking names.

      I know the military was pretty damn proud to have come to the rescue of Miami following Hurricane Andrew.

      As such, I don’t argue that we have done some good, but I feel the same (or more) good could have been done within the context of a more powerful United Nations or some other multi-national context that spread the responsibility among nations rather than investing it all in the US. Likewise, it would diffuse some of the criticism we get about being imperialistic in our aims. Our military as largely been an arm of our corporate and political strategies rather than being an option of last resort.

      I am not really a military budget analyst nor do I know what the final make-up of that force might look like or what it would cost, but since the Cold War is over I suggest we stop trying to start a new one with “Islamic Terrorism” as our perpetual enemy vice the Soviets.

      I think we could have four carrier battle groups, two on each coast, and be able to respond quickly to an emergency where we were requested. We could even have ships forward deployed on good-will cruises and the like. We currently have 11 that cost us billions and provide no noticeable value unless we plan on fighting two Iraq wars at the same time. I would like to change the idea that we should ever be capable of fighting two wars of choice at the same time without a huge amount of national sacrifice as we saw in World War II. No threat of lesser proportion should demand such an overwhelming response from American military forces.

      I don’t even think being a strict constructionist about the constitutional make-up of our military is the answer, but it is clear we have gone far afield of what the framers originally intended as the proper use of military forces and the separation of powers between Congress and the President with regards to the military.

      I would love nothing better than to revisit the entire notion of how our military is composed, what will be its 21st Century mission and how does that become melded with our overall vision as a country.

      Barack says he would like to change the very mindset that sent us to war in Iraq. I think a drastic reduction in our military forces is a good place to start that evolution of thinking.

      I appreciate the thanks and the debate, though. I hadn’t really thought through the obvious objections to such a change in direction, so sparing a little with you has certainly clarified some of my thoughts on the subject and raised other questions.

      At the end of the day, it will probably be a two-fold change with the US beginning to change its military stance in bits and spurts while the rest of the world comes together more often to confront international challenges. I think we will never begin those conversation, though, without the United States, admittedly the world’s leading death merchant, changing its military posture first.

      Our current military strategies all but say we are prepared to kick anyone’s ass at any time for any reason whether the international community agrees or not. This is compounded by our economic policies that allow for a behemoth defense industry that basically keeps the entire world armed to the teeth. We aren’t the only ones supplying the weapons to be sure, but we are by far the biggest.

      Hard to advocate for peace and cooperation with such national priorities as those.

  • SPQR

    Hey, you’re one of “The Ones That Got Away,” on the main Cafe page. Congrats. Hoping more discussion is generated.

    • JasonEverettMiller

      Thanks again.

      I would love to see blogs such as these become ongoing discussions of how we can flip our national paradigm in bold and innovative ways.

      Given the wide variety of progressive demographics at sites like these, it would make a nice, one-stop shop for administration researchers looking to measure the pulse of the nation. Likewise, the trolls would provide the talking points that need to be countered from the bully pulpit of President Obama.

      As smart as they have been so far, I can’t see his administration letting resources like TPM and the like go to waste. With a little active intelligence gathering on the web, Barack’s presidency would seem almost prescient in its policies and communications strategies.