Do you have doubts about American wars abroad? Do you worry about their cost, the drain in American resources, the resentments they foster abroad, the death and destruction they bring on all sides? Do you have a sense that these are not truly consistent with the American spirit of commerce and friendship?
People who think this way are made to feel unpatriotic or even traitorous. It turns out, however, that this point of view has a long and glorious history in the United States. It is called the anti-militarist tradition. It grew out of the founding period when a small group of principled people fought back a giant military empire to win their independence.
No book has documented the history of the anti-militarist tradition like Arthur A Ekirch, Jr.’s The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Movement. Murray Rothbard called it “brilliant”; it showed him the way forward for much of his research. Critics everywhere heralded the book for unearthing a forgotten tradition, and for showing that peace was always valued in this country by some groups and writers. The antiwar sentiment has a noble history.
Ralph Raico writes a wonderful introduction to this new edition, pointing out what beautiful prose Ekirch writes in the course of his incredible scholarship. Ekirch shows the civilian supremacy was a fundamental value in the American colonies and after the revolution. The military was seen as something to be raised in a period of absolute necessity and then dismantled after.
The history begins in the founding period and continues until after the Second World War, showing how the rise of the warfare state always meant a diminution of liberty at home. He celebrates those who resisted at every step and demonstrates how their prediction all came true though their warnings went unheeded.
Perhaps the most valuable part of this book is its demonstration that the Second War World was not some kind of unusual exception in the history of American warfare; it was the fulfillment of the ambitions of an increasingly imperialist policy. He redeems the anti-war coalition from claims that it was unpatriotic and shows that they were right to warn and warn again against foreign entanglements and their consequences.
Ekirch was a great historian and this book provides an incredible wealth of knowledge and documentation to show that the anti-militarist tradition in the United States was and is robust, freedom-loving, and correct time and again. It is a tremendous accomplishment, a book for the ages.
Ever more Americans are fed up with the warmongering and they are right to be so. They also stand in a long line of great anti-militarist movements in our history. There is no separation between peace and freedom but rather co-dependence.
From the Foreword
As Ekirch presciently foresaw, even a peaceful resolution of the Cold War was not “sufficient to release the American people from the power of the Pentagon and its corporate allies.” Incursions of the armed forces occurred in Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Somalia, and elsewhere. Now the United States is involved in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, soon perhaps also in Iran.
Today there is no conscription, which caused too many problems for the militarists in the Vietnam years. But the American empire bestrides the globe. The United States has over 700 military bases overseas, plus some dozen naval task forces patrolling the oceans, with a multitude of space satellites feeding information to the forces below. Every year its “defense” (i.e., military) budget is nearly equal to those of all other countries combined. Does anyone doubt that for America there are more wars, many more wars, in the offing?
As Joseph Schumpeter wrote of the military in imperialist states: “Created by the wars that required it, the machine now created the wars it required.”
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