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Kurt Kuhlmann


HST 351


Review:  Arms and Men, by Walter Millis


Arms and Men traces the military policy of the United States, and absence of it, from the Revolutionary War through the mid-1950's.  Although Walter Millis spent most of his life as a staff writer for the New York Herald-Tribune, he became the director of the Fund for the Republic's study of demilitarization in 1954, and he demonstrates a broad familiarity with the military issues he discusses in his book.

Millis does not aspire towards a scholarly work, as he admits in his foreword.  The book lacks footnotes, and although the bibliography is fairly detailed, it is for the most part drawn from secondary sources.  Rather than giving detailed accounts of military operations, he uses the flow of American and European military history to develop an understanding of the modern (1956) United States military structure.  As he asks in his foreword, "Is it possible, by retraversing the history of American military institutions in the light of newer attitudes, to shed any illumination upon the . . . military problems which confront the nation today?" (p. 7)

Although Arms and Men is focused on the present military problems of the United States, Millis bases his interpretation on a general model of Western military development from the 18th century, using five "revolutions" to chart these changes: democratic, industrial, managerial, mechanical and scientific.  I found this model quite convincing, especially his discussion of how the cumulative effects of the industrial and managerial revolutions allowed the mass armies of the democratic revolution to focus the energies of entire nations by the early 20th century.

Millis also successfully applies this model to the American military experience.  He does a good job of explaining the "organic" nature of the military, and how its connections with the past continue to affect it.  An example of this is the militia system, first established in the Militia Act of 1792.  It continued to form the basis of plans for military expansion in wartime up until World War I, although it had failed the actual test of every war from 1812 on.  Arms and Men also has an excellent treatment of the manner in which Americans became psychologically prepared to accept two significant changes in military policy: the massive American intervention in World War I and the "strategic" bombing of World War II.

Perhaps because he was writing in reaction to standard histories which dealt only with military operations, I found that Millis was weak in his treatment of the internal thinking of the military establishment.  This was especially evident in the lessons drawn from its wartime experiences and how they were applied in preparing for 'the next war.'  Millis focused primarily on the government's policies, which were usually to simply disband the army and forget about it.  The changes in thinking within the  military itself, however, are dealt with only in a peripheral way, mainly as to how prominent military theorists such as Upton and Mahan influenced government military policy.  Considering Millis's ultimate goal of understanding the broad modern policy dilemmas, this is only a minor weakness.

Although Millis claims that Arms and Men was intended to simply "shed illumination" on modern military problems, he does more than that.  The main conclusion of the book is that war has lost its one useful social function, the power of decision, and Millis persuasively explains the development of this impasse.  He does not offer any solutions to this problem, but just by defining the problem in clear terms he has surpassed his stated goals.

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