Air University Review, March-April 1985
Dr. Edward J. Philbin
IN preparing the review of the biography of Brigadier General John M. Palmer by Dr. I. B Holley, Jr., * Dr. Russell F. Weigley confessed to "groping in search of a theme" (p. 93) for his piece due to "difficulty of finding current relevance in General Palmer's main ideas." (pp. 93-94) I was bemused by Professor Weigley's difficulties because they contrasted so sharply with my own admiration of the contemporary relevance, to say nothing of the prescience, of Palmer's views when I first read the book in December 1982.1
*Dr. Russell F. Weigley, "Problems of the Thinking Man in Uniform," Air University Review, July-August 1984, pp. 93-96.
My experience in the Pentagon during the remaining eighteen months of my tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs did nothing to denigrate my admiration for the visionary nature of what Dr. Weigley refers to as Palmer's "profound and important . . . basic convictions and principal ideas." However, in contrast to Weigley's view that Palmer's ideas "seem attuned and proper for his own time, but not for ours," I revisited the Holley book many times subsequent to my initial reading to assure myself, with both amusement and chagrin, that the words and phrases then and presumably still buzzing about the conference rooms of the Pentagon, concerning all facets of the Total Force Policy and the "Force Mix Issue" were not novel but had indeed been uttered by Palmer, his supporters, and his detractors, with roughly comparable amounts of heat and light, decades before the present cast of adversaries had joined battle. In fact, the citizen-soldier controversy in which General Palmer played such an important role had its genesis in the American Revolution and seems destined to continue as long as our country exists.
Before considering a possible explanation for such a stark polarity of opinion, one might find it useful to summarize the basic concepts espoused by Palmer, a self-professed "hide-bound professional soldier," not only during his military career but throughout his adult life.
Palmer claimed that the "most important fruit" of his Regular Army experiences was "a set of convictions about the proper role of the military in a republic and the relationship of the civilian components to the regular forces." Palmer's conceptualization of that role and relationship was eventually promulgated by General George C. Marshall in War Department Circular No. 347 (25 August 1944) as the type of military institution that was to be the basis for postwar peace establishment planning. That basic military institution was described as a
. . . professional peace establishment (no larger than necessary to meet normal peacetime requirements) to be reinforced in time of emergency by organized units drawn from a citizen army reserve, effectively organized for this purpose in time of peace; with full opportunity for competent citizen-soldiers to acquire practical experience through temporary active service and to rise by successive steps to any rank for which they can definitely qualify; and with specific facilities for such practical experience, qualification, and advancement definitely organized as essential and predominating characteristics of the peace establishment.
Although General Dwight D. Eisenhower quietly rescinded Circular 347 soon after he replaced General Marshall as Army Chief of Staff, an examination of the current military structure of all the services under the Total Force Policy reveals a striking resemblance to that earlier "peace establishment."
Palmer's intellectual construct was composed of experiential bricks. For example, although the custom among Regular officers of the time was to take a patronizing view of summer soldiers, the courageous performance of these amateurs in battle led Palmer to the belief that an interested and alert citizen-soldier might very well know more about the profession of arms than an uninterested, time-serving professional. Notwithstanding the very real deficiencies of the militia of the time, General Palmer was convinced that citizen-soldiers were a splendid body possessed of great military potentialities, as well as a political potency unmatched by the Regulars. Thus, citizen-soldiers could be utilized not only to fashion an adequate national defense but to generate the public support needed to persuade Congress to appropriate the required dollars.
Palmer shared a basic premise with Marshal Foch: successful officers must be men of broad cultivation, and a citizen-soldier of wide experience and far-ranging outlook might be more effective in war than a highly trained but narrow Regular whose interests had been largely focused on military politics, the prospects for promotion, and the next assignment. Consequently, Palmer was absolutely opposed to a concentration of military leadership exclusively in the hands of a professional military elite.
Although Palmer and Marshall both vigorously sought to institute a program of universal military training (UMT) as the motive power of the peace establishment they envisioned, it was merely a means of implementation. The essence of Palmer's plan was not only to provide individual training for citizen-soldiers but also to train them to operate in organized units as an integral part of the nation's defense system, thereby making possible a reduction in the size of the Regular Army. He was a champion of every measure that would provide citizen-soldiers with secure membership in stable military organizations whose traditions, practices, and leaders were familiar; he had seen the alternatives fail in battle. His citizen-army was to be composed of organized units commanded and led by Reservist officers who knew and understood the character and outlook of citizen-soldiers.
Palmer's battle cry in the doctrinal wars was for complete harmony of American military policy with the social and political institutions of a democratic people. Therefore, he believed that the Old Army doctrine, synonymous with the name of General Emory Upton and calling for an expansible standing army, had no congenial place in this country not only because of philosophical incompatibilities with societal values but also because political realities made such an army impossible. Palmer was certain that a peacetime nucleus large enough to anchor an effective army expansion for a great war saddled the taxpayer with an unacceptably large peacetime force of Regulars. Yet a peacetime nucleus small enough to; be realistically acceptable to the Congress would be too small a war army, unless one assumed a rate of wartime expansion that was absurd. His solution was to maintain a small Regular Army and to mobilize a preexisting citizen Reserve organized in units, which could be provided further post-mobilization training. Such a plan, he believed, would not only be in harmony with the national spirit and traditional American military policy but would also be economically and politically feasible.
It was this vision to which Palmer clung throughout his life, albeit with variations of detail in its proposed implementation. His advocacy was in opposition to the Old Army Regulars who, ignoring Palmer's research on George Washington's views, parroted Emory Upton's Military Policy of the United States on the virtues of an expansible Regular Army and the evils of reliance on civilian components with the object of relegating the militia to the role of local constabularies, if not to the devil.
Palmer never faltered in his view that the central problem of a democratic military policy is the determination of the proper relationship between the full-time and the part-time soldiers, a still lively subissue of the Total Force Policy known under the rubric "Force Mix." He preached that the Regular Army did a great disservice to itself in its refusal to recognize and make effective use of the widespread and abiding interest in national security extant in many segments of civilian society.
It was an article of Palmer's faith that his type of military would provide maximum defense at minimum cost and would also ensure the nation's freedom with a military institution suited to the "genius of a democratic people." Recognizing that the cost of comparable units declined drastically as one went from reliance on Regular to reliance on National Guard and Reserve units, he said:
In forming the peace establishment . . . no organization should be maintained in a higher price category if it can be safely maintained in a lower priced category and mobilized therefrom in time to meet the requirements of an emergency.
Always aware of the political dimensions of military institutions, he was convinced that it was economics, not foreign policy, which would determine the real character of a peacetime military establishment. His distrust of the motives behind the Uptonian expansible army concept made him ever wary of any military structure that could relegate citizen-soldiers to the role of cannon fodder in an army designed and controlled by Regulars.
Despite the successful and ever-improving performance of the Total Force Policy for over a decade, the citizen-soldier debate continues. Although the Reagan administration has been unswerving in its adherence to that policy, as evidenced by the current DOD guidance, there, are unbelievers, both military and civilian, who would geld or garrote the Total Force Policy and the All-Volunteer Force.2 Proposals are heard for both a massive expansion of the standing forces and a return to massive conscription in lieu of reliance on a strong National Guard and Reserve. Suggestions to limit non-Regulars to company-grade ranks and to use Guardsmen and Reservists solely as fillers for active-duty units rather than to organize them in units of their own are seriously, if quietly, discussed. Fears exist that, if called, Guardsmen and Reservists will not appear; that if they appear, it will not be in time; and, if in time, they will be found wanting in élan or competence. Another popular bęte noire guaranteed to cause military insomnia, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, is the alleged unwillingness of any U.S. President to mobilize the Guard and Reserve, regardless of the national need, for fear of the domestic political consequences.
Admittedly, detractors of the Total Force Policy, and the All-Volunteer Force are few in numbers, at least in the public arena; but they are active, whether from pure or parochial motives it is impossible to determine. Such disagreements come as no surprise to readers of General John M. Palmer, Citizen Soldiers, and the Army of a Democracy. Indeed, the genesis of the current arguments was in debates between Washington (promilitia) and Hamilton (antimilitia). What is astounding is that the arguments were not stilled by the evidence in Palmer's time, nor have they been in ours. Weigley's discovery of the relevance of Palmer's insights into military politics and conservatism and the role of a serving officer who dissents from official policies of superiors is extremely well espoused in "Problems of the Thinking Man in Uniform." His inability to find similar relevance in Palmer's citizen-army concept is probably due to too heavy a focus on the Palmer/Marshall crusade for universal military training, certainly made irrelevant today by cost considerations and the massive planning complexities entailed, to say nothing of the lack of need. However, UMT was merely a means of implementing Palmer's larger vision, the citizen-army peace establishment, which, I submit, is as relevant as today's newspaper and tomorrow's Pentagon conference.
1. I. B. Holley, Jr., General John M. Palmer, Citizen Soldiers, and the Army of a Democracy (Westport, Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1982, $35.00), 726 pages.
2. See, for example, Philip Gold, "What the Reserves Can--and Can't--Do," The Public Interest, Spring 1984, pp. 47-61.
Dr. Philbin is Commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission.
Out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace. No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.
Will and Ariel Durant
Lessons of History, p. 35
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
Air & Space Power Home Page | Feedback? Email the Editor