One of the features I have planned for this blog is a series of items highlighting issues from the Early Republic that have come back or never gone away.
One of those issues is the drive to concentrate as much control as possible over the nation’s armed forces in the federal government and its military leadership. A perennial sticking point in this drive has been what used to be called the state militias, known in modern times (speaking broadly) as the Reserves and the National Guard. As both military officers and civilian officials, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were famously dissatisfied with their dependence on poorly trained and equipped militia troops, questioning the citizen-soldiers’ ability to stand and fight against regular troops, and, just as importantly, doubting their reliability when called upon to apply force to their fellow citizens in times of domestic unrest.
During the French war scare of the late 1790s, the Federalist Congress authorized President John Adams to call out 80,000 militiamen and create a 10,000-man Provisional Army in case of a declaration of war or foreign invasion. Nothing was ever done with this authority except the appointment of a few officers. Instead, Adams, Hamilton, and other Federalists struggled to create (with different agendas) a sizable Additional Army that, along with volunteer units who paid for themselves, would be usable “at the President’s discretion” whether there was a war or invasion or not. [The clearest explanation I have ever found of these matters is: William J. Murphy Jr., "John Adams: The Politics of the Additional Army, 1798-1800," New England Quarterly 52 (1979): 234-249.]
Admittedly I found the story several weeks ago, but I find it interesting, more than two centuries later, when Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed overseas for years at a time, and on regular basis, that the Pentagon feels that it still does not have enough control of state troops and also wants a greater role in policing what I guess we now have to call the “homeland.”
Pentagon control over Reserves, Guard proposed
By Philip Dine
POST-DISPATCH WASHINGTON BUREAU
Friday, Feb. 01 2008
WASHINGTON — More than six years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the nation’s plans for meeting the threats to the homeland are so thin they could be written “on the back of an envelope,” the chairman of a national military commission said Thursday.While the country has detailed contingency options for military action overseas, the capacity for responding to a terrorist attack or natural disaster within the United States is dangerously low, retired Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, said Thursday.
“You couldn’t move a Girl Scout unit” with the amount of planning federal officials are doing for domestic contingencies, he said, likening it to a disorganized “sandlot game.”
“You cannot do that in dealing with weapons of mass destruction,” Punaro said.
Among the shortfalls are a lack of equipment for the National Guard, with Missouri and Illinois particularly hard hit in some categories, according to the commission’s report released Thursday.
The panel called for a drastic overhaul of the military structure that would put the National Guard and Reserves under the direct control of the Army and Air Force and essentially integrate the nation’s “citizen-soldiers” into the military structure. The plan would include integrated training, pay, promotions, medical care and retirement — and improved resources and equipment.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon would be put in charge of homeland security, which would be carried out by the Guard and Reserves.
Those changes are necessary both to meet homeland security shortfalls and to allow the over-extended military to focus on overseas missions, commissioners said. Many can be implemented by the Pentagon while some require legislation by Congress.
The Guard’s current status made sense during the Cold War when it was “designed as a reserve force to be dusted off once in a lifetime,” but no longer when reservists are being used as a wing of the military, Punaro said. The current problems are heightened by the personnel limitations of an all-volunteer military, he said.
The commission, which was authorized by Congress, found that the only other alternative for dealing with a stretched-thin military — increasing the size of the active-duty component — is prohibitively expensive.
Adding the 600,000 active-duty soldiers that would be required for current needs would cost more than a trillion dollars, Punaro said. Beyond that, the military couldn’t recruit enough people to meet that target, he said.
Not only are there enough reserve forces to take over homeland security, they are highly skilled and are already in the states and cities, he said.