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Review: Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the
State, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,
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The Soldier and the State is both a theoretical study of
civil-military relations and an analysis of these relations throughout American
history, beginning with the Constitution.
Samuel Huntington's main interest, as a political scientist, is in
developing a theory of military professionalism which he can then use to
critique American civil-military relations.
He starts by defining the characteristics of a professional officer
corps and proposing a theoretical framework to examine civil-military
relations. He posits the
"ideal" civil-military relationship to be what he calls
"objective civilian control."
He sees this as desirable because it maximizes military professionalism,
which he equates with military competence, while keeping the political and
military affairs of a state completely separate.
The Soldier and the State is not without its strong
points. Huntington presents a plausible
definition of the modern professional military, and his examination of the
"military mind" is useful.
His treatment of the American military from a political science
perspective is also valuable. He
locates a major turning point in the period between the Civil War and the
Spanish-American War, when the military began to develop a professional
character as a result of its isolation from the rest of American society.
Huntington's entire definition of
professionalism in the military is based on the Prussian model, beginning with
the reforms of 1806. This is
undoubtedly correct, but somewhere he makes the leap that this is the ideal
form of military professionalism. What
he calls "the concrete, permanent, and universal" military ethic (p.
89) would be more accurately described as the Prussian military ethic. As he shows, this was the basis for all
modern Western military ethics, so in some sense it has become universal. But he never attempts to explain how what is
becomes what should be. He
contents himself to showing how from 1870-1914, the German officers came close
to his ideal professional: not surprisingly, the Prussians were very Prussian.
In addition, Huntington's
understanding of Clausewitz is seriously flawed. He praises Wilhelmine civil-military relations because, following
Clausewitz's concept of the dual nature of war, "the scope of military
authority was strictly limited to military affairs." (p. 101) Clausewitz said exactly the opposite:
politics and war are inextricably linked, and it is foolhardy to try to
distinguish one from the other. It
would be hard to find a better example of this than the Schlieffen Plan, set to
roll against France no matter who Germany's grievance was with. The German generals' great failure was their
refusal to recognize the political implications of "strictly
Huntington clearly revels in his
self-appointed role as the lonely conservative voice of reason in the
"unchanging, monotonous, and all-embracing" sea of American
liberalism (p. 145). He makes the
astonishingly unhistorical assertion that American political ideology from 1789
to 1915 "was essentially the same." (p. 145) To suppose that Thomas Jefferson's and
Woodrow Wilson's views of the role of government were identical is simply
absurd. Here, as he often does
throughout the book, Huntington takes a small kernel of truth--that American
politics has generally been based on the liberal tradition without a
significant rival ideology--and expands it into a fundamental principle.
Like Walter Millis's Arms and
Men, The Soldier and the State was written in the apocalyptic
mind-set of the 1950s. Both Millis and
Huntington saw the Soviet Union as an unprecedented threat to the United
States. But Huntington advocates as a
solution what Millis feared as the greatest danger: the adoption by society of
military values. Huntington believed
that the present state of American civil-military relations was undermining the
ability of the armed forces to protect the United States, by preventing
"objective" civilian control which would allow the military to reach
the highest level of professionalization.
In a sense then, The Soldier and the State can be treated as a
"period piece," similar to Arms and Men.
But where only the final two chapters
of Arms and Men are really bound up in Millis's fears for the future,
Huntington's profound contempt for liberal American society taints his entire
book. Huntington describes how American
officers became estranged from society after becoming professionalized during
the late nineteenth century: "The years of isolation . . . had interjected
steel into his soul which was missing from that of the community." (p.
230) He closes with an unfavorable
comparison of a typical American town to the "ordered serenity" of
West Point, arguing that Americans "may eventually find redemption and
security in making [the military standard] their own."(p. 466)
Huntington's ideological viewpoint
would not be a problem, except that his argument seems to based solely on
ideological grounds. It is certainly
not based on historical evidence. He
never even attempts to make a case that the Wilhelmine model of civil-military
relations was something to be emulated, by showing how much better it protected
German national security than other forms.
He simply asserts that the Prussian model is the ideal, and goes from
there to different nations either approach it (which is good) or deviate from
it (which is bad). As a work of
political science, The Soldier and State may be acceptable, even
valuable. As a work of history, it is