Generals over the White House: 1: THE NEW MILITARY THREAT


From the American Revolutionary War for Independence up until the Civil War, there was no serious military challenge to the civilian arm of the U.S. government.

Brushing aside occasional bureaucratic squabbles over disputed areas of authority or privileges and emoluments the military had never really made an attempt to alter the balance of powers in the capitalist governmental structure or directly change the form of state.


The military challenge that was first raised in the Civil War by General McClellan merits review today, after the sharp and sudden far-flung reversal of U.S. foreign policy as enunciated by President Carter in his State of the Union message in January. Carter's shift has all the earmarks of a surrender to the most serious military challenge since the days of Douglas MacArthur Carter has virtually embraced the criminal doctrinal prescription of the far-right faction of the military camarilla.

By his revival in his State of the Union message of the doctrine of military superiority over the USSR and the consequent torpedoing of the earlier doctrine of rough equivalence" or "parity," by his abandonment of detente as a stated objective, and by his virtual scuttling of SALT, he has put himself clearly in the camp of the military faction personified by Admiral Zumwalt and Generals Keegan and Seignious.

In the light of this ominous development, it is both relevant and necessary to examine the historical evolution of the struggle of the military against the civilian government.


The General McClellan challenge to President Lincoln during the Civil War provoked a crisis of the first magnitude, one which in truth threatened defeat for the North and well-nigh changed the course of the struggle. McClellan, it is to be remembered, was opposed to the anti-slavery movement as were a good many of the generals in Lincoln's army. Politically, he really belonged in the camp of the enemy.

As Frederick Douglass describes McClellan, the general "shamelessly gave out that in the war between the slaves [who were loyal to the Union] and disloyal masters he would take the side of the masters against the slaves -- when he openly proclaimed his purpose to put down slave insurrections with an iron hand. . . ."

Frederick Engels, who followed the Civil War and who was a military analyst in his own right, said of this pro-slavery general in the Union camp that "next to a great defeat he most feared a decisive victory" for the North. After a great deal of vacillation and hesitation Lincoln dismissed McClellan. It marked a turning point in the struggle against the slavocracy.

Lincoln signed the dismissal order as "Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy." In so issuing this order he thereby affirmed in no uncertain terms the constitutional provision of the supremacy of the civilian government over the military.


In recent years there has been an effort by bourgeois liberal historians to present the Truman-MacArthur crisis on a par with Lincoln's dismissal of McClellan. Truman is said to have boasted years after the MacArthur dismissal that he had given him "the McClellan treatment."

When it suits their needs, Democratic and Republican politicians alike often vie with each other in praising Truman (of course, after he was out of office and after his demise) for his forthrightness and decisiveness and for being a real slugger when the going got tough. Invariably, Truman's dismissal of MacArthur is presented as the act of a real warrior defending his constitutional prerogatives as President and acting as guardian of the civilian establishment against encroachments by the military.

The truth of the matter is that there is very little that speaks favorably for Truman in this analogy. On the contrary, it speaks altogether against him.

When MacArthur embarked on his provocative campaign in Korea in an effort to cross the Yalu River and invade China, he was in clear insubordination of the President. Truman did not then discharge him. For months, Truman had been polling the military chiefs and feverishly courting General Eisenhower, who had been Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army until 1948 and was at that time Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.


The dismissal of MacArthur came after Truman had obtained the full approval of the military chiefs, not before. It is one thing for a President to inform the military about a dismissal. It's something entirely different to first consult with them and obtain their approval. This is an altogether different relationship between the military and the civilian government than that of McClellan and Lincoln.

What really happened was that Truman had in fact aligned with the more moderate, less adventurist faction of the military, which was then headed by Eisenhower, Marshall, and Bradley against MacArthur. The Joint Chiefs opposed MacArthur's adventurism in Korea in going beyond the 38th parallel and crossing the Yalu River because, at the time, the Sino-Soviet Friendship Treaty was still in existence and they feared a united front between China and the USSR.

Furthermore, Truman had already realized long before Korea that the military was clearly in the ascendancy. In an effort to weld together the military with the rest of the capitalist establishment and avoid the dangers of the McCarthy period, which was already on the horizon, Truman had invited Eisenhower to run on the Democratic ticket. Eisenhower declined. He had already been approached by the big business community and the leading Easterners in the Republican Party to be their candidate.

Altogether forgotten is that MacArthur had no significant military faction behind him. His fate was sealed once the Eisenhower faction and the Joint Chiefs agreed that the time had come to punish him for his insubordination and adventurism. The net result from the point of view of the objective evolution of the struggle between the civilian and military arms of the capitalist establishment was that Eisenhower, the architect of the military-industrial complex, the man who had drafted a little-known memorandum on how to fuse the scientific and industrial apparatus of the U.S. with the military, would now become the chief executive of the capitalist state.


It was Eisenhower who in 1946, when he was Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, formulated a policy statement in the form of a memorandum which went to the chiefs of the armed forces and laid the basis for the continuing effort to fuse together the military, industry, science, technology, universities, and in fact all phases of social life. [See Appendix A.]

Although Eisenhower was the chief architect of the military-industrial complex and did more than any previous President to get the government infiltrated by the military, he was not unaware of the dangers this posed to the capitalist system as a whole. In his farewell address before leaving office he admonished the military, "In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought by the military-industrial complex The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

How true, how true! But this did not prevent Eisenhower from plotting the Bay of Pigs disaster precisely at the time he was making this prophecy.

The Truman era ended with a full-scale sweep by the military-industrial complex. While MacArthur's dismissal definitively ended a serious military challenge at the same time it accelerated the deep encroachments made by the military and its growing control over the vital arteries of contemporary life.

The gulf that separates the Lincoln-McClellan military crisis from the Truman-MacArthur crisis lies not so much in personality differences although they are enormous but in the nature of the different historic epochs.

Lincoln's victory over McClellan ushered in a period of tempestuous capitalist development, the so-called progressive epoch of capitalism. It was during that epoch that Marx saw the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism in the United States, precisely because the capitalist state in the U.S., unlike its European counterparts at the time, still lacked a standing army. It lacked, on a scale which was present in Europe, the bureaucratic military apparatus which makes a peaceful transition to socialism impossible.


The Truman-MacArthur struggle and the military crises that have followed, particularly President Kennedy's clash with the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban missile crisis period, take place in an era of the accelerating degeneration of monopoly capitalism. into state monopoly capitalism It is in this period of the decline of the capitalist system that the ascendancy of the military becomes more and more pronounced.

The more industry, science, and technology become fused with the military, the greater the danger of war becomes. By the same token, the military in pursuit of its ends constantly needs greater and greater resources of an economic, industrial, and technological character at its disposal.

The very progress of science and technology sharpens its appetite, makes its needs more urgent, and its propensity for further and further encroachments inevitable. This is totally at odds with any conception of a truly functioning bourgeois democracy.


The Carter administration had a unique advantage over its predecessors in that Carter came into office at a time when the country was weary of the Viet Nam war and the economy was sick with unemployment and inflation. It was objectively the most favorable opportunity to push back the military since the end of the Second World War.

Carter himself had proposed a cut in the military budget. There were few who opposed him even among the more reactionary elements in the capitalist establishment.

Even Gerald Ford had not campaigned against Carter on the basis of advocating increased defense expenditures. In fact, Ford had fired then-Defense Secretary Schlesinger, saying that Schlesinger was intent on seeking a larger defense appropriation. This conflicted with Ford's needs at the time to compete in the election campaign against Democratic nominee Carter.

In the light of his election victory, it would have seemed by all objective signs that Carter was in a much better position to slow down the further advances of the military, or at least to slow down its continuing encroachments.


A test of the Carter administration's position vis-à-vis the military came early when he began putting his Cabinet together. The military always moves in unobtrusively at first, that is, when the capitalist politicians, the guardians of civilian control either do not see the significance of this or that particular advance by the military or prefer not to see it which is more often the case. Thus, when Carter finally decided to nominate a director for the CIA, it was assumed that he would steer clear of the military.

Whether it was a ploy, an honest-to-goodness effort to appoint a so-called liberal, or some other complicated maneuver which only historians can unravel, Carter nominated Theodore Sorenson, a former aide to President Kennedy and a prominent bourgeois liberal with no apparent ties to the military. What happened thereafter still remains a mystery.

Whereas the Senate committee, which is supposed to confirm the appointment, ordinarily would welcome someone who had no military ties or former ties to the discredited CIA, this time, without even meeting formally, the committee passed the word that Sorenson would not be confirmed.

Whether Carter intended it that way or not cannot be confirmed, but his next nominee was Admiral Stansfield Turner. This was an unambiguous and undeniable tilt to the military. Carter had indeed shown his hand.

The CIA had been investigated for many months and its former directors had been discredited mostly as a result of conducting paramilitary operations abroad and illegal spying and sabotage at home. The expectations were that the CIA would move away from paramilitary operations and be made an information-gathering agency. As such it would naturally be under civilian control (were it ever to be possible!). Even during Dulles' tenure in office the agency as such was at least nominally under civilian control.


The difference between civilian and military control does not derive from any fundamental class difference Both the civilian and the military wings of the capitalist government are securely in the hands of the ruling class. There is, however, a basic difference in this very important respect: the more the military encroaches, the more it erodes every conceivable element of what remains of bourgeois democracy.

The military in the imperialist epoch organically tends in an anti-democratic, totalitarian, if not fascist direction. Wherever the military lays its hands, the more it invests its field of operations with repressive, anti-democratic and totalitarian measures. Nothing escapes their long, grasping reach.

A decisive victory of the military in the struggle with the civilian wing of the capitalist administration spells the doom of bourgeois democracy. It must always be remembered that even in the best of times, the military is the most removed from popular control.

Viewed from this vantage point, the question of whether the CIA director would be a civilian or from the military was truly important as a clue to the direction in which the Carter administration was orienting. It was impossible for the Senate committee and the capitalist press not to know this.

Moreover, viewed in the light of the struggle between the military and the civilian arms of the government, the appointment of Admiral Turner clearly meant a further encroachment over the levers of government authority in the new administration. Instead of bringing this issue to the fore, none of the senators dared raise it. Instead they discussed and argued about the extent of covert operations to be pursued, which in light of the fact that the CIA was under military control was a foregone conclusion.


Whether the Turner appointment was the first cave-in by Carter, or whether he was eager to do it is not important. But his embrace of the military did him no good when he received a challenge from General Singlaub on his proposal to make some minor cuts of infantry troops in Korea. Although Singlaub was reprimanded and then retired, the more important aspect of the Singlaub incident was that Singlaub won his point on the Korean withdrawal proposal. Carter dropped it Moreover he was forced to go through a so-called reappraisal of the south Korean puppet regime's military needs, and he increased U.S. forces there.

Carter's position on SALT in the days when he was apparently fighting for it had its unpublicized but very significant military aspect. Lt. Gen. Rownie, the U.S. military representative at the SALT talks, was known to be opposed to it in the first place. Since he had been appointed in 1973, it was Carter's prerogative to appoint a new representative when he took over as President.

On the eve of the SALT II treaty signing in Vienna, Lt. Gen. Rownie announced his opposition to the treaty (and promptly announced his retirement at age 38, so as to facilitate his political struggle against the government). This was a tip-off that a substantial section of the military in the service, as opposed to those in retirement, was opposed to the treaty even though they said they were for it.


The almost total absence of any discussion in the capitalist media about Rownie's premature retirement around the time of the signing of the SALT II treaty showed that the bourgeoisie was fearful of provoking an open struggle between the military and the proponents of the SALT treaty, both in the Carter administration and in the capitalist establishment generally.

Rownie's opposition to the SALT treaty could only have meant that a substantial section of the military in the service was opposed to the treaty and ready to scuttle it. When Carter appointed Seignious to succeed Rownie, he was appointing a McClellan to fight the war to which he was opposed. Seignious utilized his post in the service to strengthen the opposition to it rather than to win ratification for the treaty.

The problem is not, however, just the Zumwalts, the Rownies, the Seigniouses, the Keegans, and so on. It is the fact that the military establishment, or to be more precise the military-industrial complex, is inescapably drawn in the direction of imperialist wars and adventures. When the Joint Chiefs opposed MacArthur, it must be remembered that this was during the period when China and the Soviet Union were united in their opposition to imperialism. The defection of the current leadership of China into an alliance with U.S. imperialism has immeasurably emboldened the military and encouraged them in the direction of adventurism. This explains much of the severe pressure exerted upon Carter by the military.


Perhaps more than any other event, the open letter by 170 admirals and generals, which appeared in the New York Times and other capitalist newspapers on January 21 [1979], indicates the scale of the military threat and the ready capitulation of the Carter administration. It indicates the danger the military poses from the point of view of retaining any semblance of bourgeois democracy against its continuing encroachments.

This letter was a virtual ultimatum to no less than the President. It opposed SALT, it demanded a furious pace of rearmament, and called for military superiority over the Soviet Union. Carter embraced all three.

If one is to understand Carter's State of the Union message a year later, which was presented as a response to the Afghanistan events, one must read this letter from the admirals and generals. [See Appendix B.] Carter fully embodied its demands in his State of the Union message, and this constituted a reversal of the earlier stated policy he had been pursuing until then.

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