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
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.