9.2. How Freedom Was Lost (Cont’d.)
Lessons from the Early Conflicts and Beyond
Considering what we’ve learned from colonial America’s early world war, the Feds’ response to America’s early tax revolts, and the clash between Lincoln and Taney, just stop momentarily and consider what freedom had been destroyed militarily just to this point. We have not even included the Civil War, but only the very beginning of it. Beginning with Washington’s appearance on the scene of American history—and really before—we have seen virtually every one of the biblical principles of war completely trampled. We have seen 1) wars started unnecessarily for corporate influence and profit, 2) wars waged by governments on their own people in order to impose taxes and prevent secession, 3) taxes imposed by military force in order to pay of war debts held by cronies in private central banks, 4) the creation of a standing army, 5) military conscription of every able-bodied male, 6) the suspension of trial by jury, 7) the unconstitutional opposition of Supreme Court order by the President backed by his standing army. At this point, it is helpful to recall the words of the political advocate of peace, James Burgh, whom we quoted before:
[T]here is no end to observations on the difference between the measures likely to be pursued by a minister backed by a standing army, and those of a court awed by the fear of an armed people. . . . No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the people.
Indeed, there is no end to the differences. In fact, there has been no end to the differences, as America continued down the path of more greatly centralizing its armed forces.
While it would take us too far afield to delve into the mess of Civil War scholarship, and considering the risk of sidetracking this study with the high degree of partisanship attending that focus, it is nevertheless necessary to mention the most important military sin of that War: Sherman’s and Sheridan’s doctrine and practices of scorched earth and total warfare. Against the biblical principles, mentioned earlier, of preserving the means of life— fruit-bearing trees, etc.— these Union Generals burned crops, destroyed livestock, destroyed property of all sorts, including innocent businesses, towns, churches, and infrastructure. Though one piece Sherman’s official written policy forbade much of this, it was openly disobeyed; Sherman was well aware of this and did nothing to prevent it. He would write that if necessary, he would “take every life, every acre of land.”1 The swath of devastation 50 miles wide and 285 miles long as by his own admission mostly unnecessary.
[get_product id=”1138″ align=”right” size=”small”]
[W]hen he reached Savannah he estimated that only 20 percent of the destruction “has inured to our advantage, and the remainder is simply waste and destruction.”2
Despite all we know and have heard of Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” there is no detailed scholarly study of the devastation and plunder by Union troops. There are commonly repeated stories but few footnotes for atrocities like wholesale burning of churches with people locked inside; neither are there too many detailed denials of such claims. One historian notes that any such detailed study of Sherman’s total war
would be a tale replete with wanton destruction, robbery, arson, rape, torture, and murder, with both blacks and whites as victims. Such atrocities, which Northern soldiers and newspaper reporters witnessed and described in detail, often took place with the tacit or, in some instances, explicit approval of Union officers.3
If this legacy of Sherman’s (and Sheridan’s as well) were not enough, what is far less told is their continuing influence in American politics well into the later nineteenth century. Their constant activism to increase the powers of the central standing army, to abolish the local militia system, and their eagerness to employ the national army in more creative ways stateside, are all neglected pieces of history. In short, these Generals became career military men, and career military men need continually to create new enemies and new battles to justify their existence. As a result, a large section of America became increasingly a militarized nation marked by a military mindset that reached first for a military solution to any major problem. American was on the verge of becoming, if it had not already, an Empire.
The Empire Strikes First
We read the anti-federalist “John DeWitt” earlier speaking of the danger of a standing army: “It is universally agreed, that a militia and a standing body of troops never flourished on the same soil.”4 During the Progressive Era, 1877–1920, when Democrats and Republicans alike were seeking to turn “exceptional” America into an empire—or a New World Order altogether—forging a single, strong, standing national army was a necessary ingredient to do so. During this time, the tension of which DeWitt wrote rose to its greatest expression yet. The resistance by this time was futile: the organizational efforts of the state and local militias did little except create a political structure—the National Guard Association—which actually facilitated the imperialists’ goal of centralizing the militias.5 In the end, the corporatists, industrialists, internationalists, and would-be messiahs combined to make America a military world-empire.
The ringleaders in the build-up included Generals Sherman and Sheridan, backed by the intellectual firepower of West Point professor Emory Upton. As Reconstruction waned, less use was made of the military. The former million-man army had been reduced to 30,000 by 1870. One scholar notes, “When the Germans marched into Paris in 1870, America was firmly committed to a thorough demilitarization.”6 The forces that prevented this situation and spared Sherman’s dream from obscurity involved, as usual, big corporate interests—both domestic and international—including the ever-expanding railroads. But they also involved the more modern twist of increasing class conflict, as Marxist-fueled labor violence became a reality in America.7 Threats from organized labor and frontier Indians both drove many large businesses to favor military intervention, and the Shermanites, led by Sherman himself, were eager to respond.
The intellectual force came, as we said, from Upton, but it was not an American original: he had to import it. “[F]avored by Sherman, Upton was sent on a world tour in 1875 to report on the state of the art.” After viewing all the world’s military systems, he settled on Bismarck’s Prussia—the very nation that was centralizing and waging aggressive intrigues and wars while America was demilitarizing. In was, of course, a system which featured a centralized standing army, and thus Upton “called for the abolition of the militia system and [for] its replacement with an ‘expansible’ national organization.”8 This structure would preserve the careers and ambitions of the military professionals, and enshrine them with powers that were up to this point only available to them in times of war.
The plans, however eloquently and nobly envisioned, made little head way at first, even with the popular fears spread by the railroad strikes of 1877 and beyond, because of several entrenched American attitudes. Belief in States’ rights was still strong, especially in the South, and neither local militias nor State governors desired to cede military authority to a central power. It would still be some years before the full “Uptonian” centralization would come.
Immediately after the Civil War, Sherman adjusted his militaristic vision to the “pacification” of Indians—using force openly in service of the railroads. When Ulysses S. Grant became president in 1869, he instituted Sherman as Commanding General of the army with command over all ground west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rockies. Sherman immediately called for “the final solution of the Indian problem,”—a phrase later reapplied to Jews by Adolf Hitler. Sherman famously stated his agenda for the plains Indians in plain terms: “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children,” he wrote to Grant. For his troops: “During an assault, the soldiers cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age.” As a long-term policy, the Sioux should “feel the superior power of the Government,” until they “are all killed or taken to a country where they can be watched.” Indeed, “All the Indians will have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers.”9 When it was over and the Indians were either dead or herded onto reservations, Sherman pretended the railroads had done the Indians a favor. He called the fight “the great battle of civilization with barbarism” which did more for “the subjugation and civilization of the Indian than all other causes combined . . . in which I feel as much pride as for my share in any of the battles in which I took part.”10 But “civilization” of the Indian was hardly his original plan:
Sherman’s ultimate objective “which he did not quite achieve” was murder of the entire Indian population. Just before his death in 1891 he bitterly complained in a letter to his son that if it were not for “civilian interference” by various government officials, he and his armies would have “gotten rid of them all.”11
Partly due to this cause which was corrupt in the eyes of so many, desertion from the military reached historic highs during this era. The rate peaked at almost 32.6 percent in 1871, but between 1867 and 1891, a third of all army recruits fled service—a total of 88,475 men.12 This presented a problem for Sherman and company, whose missionary-military vision into the future depended upon the Bismarckian-style military Upton had described. But there remained enough political opposition to expansionism and nationalization to prevent these ultimate goals for the time being.
Corporate and banking forces provided the main push, as we noted, toward a powerful international military force. These never quit trying to find ways to leverage military power for their profit during this whole era. The overthrow of Hawaii by U.S. business interests is a classic case in point. A group of American businessmen and lawyers formed a secret society and led a coup against the sitting monarch in 1887. Intercepting a shipment of hunting rifles, they forced him to sign a new Constitution which greatly decreased his powers and favored an assembly dominated by the foreign business interests. Ultimately, they planned to have Hawaii annexed to the U. S. in order to avoid paying tariffs on their shipments of sugar, fruit, etc. Among the leaders of this movement was lawyer Sanford Dole whose cousin James would open a pineapple plantation there and establish what is today the Dole Food Company.
The sitting Queen Lili‘uokalani, however, soon gained public support for a new Constitution in 1893 which would have effectively disenfranchised the American conspirators. They responded by using the bureaucracy they had created to prevent her efforts with military force. The aptly named (in big-brother fashion) “Committee for Safety” called in American marines for support. The force and tactics were too great for the Queen to repel and she was forced to surrender before U. S. armed forces. A provisional government reigned for a few years before McKinley officially annexed the Islands in 1898. All the native Hawaiians boycotted the official flag-changing ceremony. In February of 1900, Sanford Dole was appointed governor. In 1901, his cousin James established his pineapple empire.
This was the era of all-out empire, and the McKinley administration was the incarnation of its spirit. What would take place under his watch would dwarf Dole’s little island coup. He would involve the armed forces in numerous international conflicts on behalf of the bankers and corporations, including the Spanish-American War and a consequent bloodbath in the Philippines. While trouble was brewing in Cuba, American businesses suffered volatile conditions. The uncertainty troubled them more than the threat of war, for at least with war one knows something of what to expect. A sharp decline in business in March of 1898 pressured the decision. These pressures from the business front increased after Senator Proctor of Vermont toured Cuba and immediately upon his return recommended a nation-building war to liberate the Cuban people from poor government. Business newspapers formerly opposed to war, at least in public, took the opportunity to turn. The New York Commercial Advertiser bent with the pretense of caution and the welfare of humanity: war should come, not for “conquest,” but for “humanity and love of freedom, and above all”—and here it would tip its hand—“desire that the commerce and industry of every part of the world shall have full freedom of development in the whole world’s interest.”13 The Wall Street Journal chimed in as well, as did others. Some welcomed the prospect for better stability; others saw a quick profit potential: the New York Tribune reported that war could provide a “speculators’ movement” with a “temporary flurry in American stocks.”14
[get_product id=”1138″ align=”right” size=”small”]
The administration maintained the same thin moral pretense despite the fact that it had already moved into ultimatum mode months before, and despite McKinley’s inaugural address declaration that “peace is preferable to war in almost every contingency.”15 Stewart Woodford, the Ambassador to Spain cited four reasons to restore peace in Cuba immediately; two of the reasons kept up the moral ruse, but the others shamelessly tipped the same old cards: First there was terrible suffering in Cuba, and second, sanitary conditions had broken down, threatening disease even to the U.S.; but more importantly, Americans depended upon Cuban sugar and commerce, and, Woodford told McKinley, “I emphasized the tremendous pecuniary loss which people of the United States suffer and must suffer until peace is restored.”16
The administration was not alone in the charade. During the same period, the banks were bolstering gold reserves in preparation for war lending while pretending they wished to avoid it. Bankers Magazine announced that “while not desiring war, it is apparent that this country now has an ample coin basis for sustaining the credit operation which a conflict would probably make necessary.”17
And despite his death in 1891, Sherman’s ghost still haunted the military build-up: his brother was McKinley’s Secretary of State. Despite its own willingness to go to war if necessary, and its pressures on Spain to restore peace in the midst of revolution, the administration opposed Spain imposing its own military force to subdue the island. Spain tried to one-up the Secretary but failed when it compared its concentration camps and scorched-earth campaigns in Cuba to Sherman’s “march to the sea”! It was no joke: Sherman’s invention was adopted as the standard throughout the world, and Spain was no exception.
The further intricacies of the road to war and the waging of its battles are less important here than the outcomes. The main one was the extension of the war into the Philippines, which spilled over after the 1898 Treaty which ended the war. Spain ceded her colonial territories including the Philippines which was also fomenting revolution at the exact moment. The U.S. inherited the problem and decided to turn cannons on it. After having attacked Spain for its inhuman herding of hundreds of thousands of Cubans into concentration camps and scorching their lands, crops, and farms, the United States employed exactly the same policy in the Philippines, exterminating somewhere between 200,000 and one million people in the process. Entire villages of women and children were killed, concentration camps maintained and detainees shot for sport if found outside after seven p.m. At the height of Progressive “American exceptionalism,” it was perhaps exceptional only for its wickedness.
“The most important national legislation in militia history”
The second important outcome was the use of the Spanish-American War as a justification for greater centralization of the old militia system. This had been, as we noted, the dream of Sherman and others for some time. But what Sherman and Upton could only dream of, Elihu Root—perhaps the most influential man in American history of whom most people have never heard—would steer dexterously through Congress with impressive success. The result would be the Militia Act of 1903 and 1908, leading to the National Defense Act of 1916—the final metamorphoses of the American military into a full standing army largely at the behest of an imperialistic federal government.
In 1901, Teddy Roosevelt filled the presidential saddle, adding to McKinley’s imperialism a fresh zeal for warfare. His first annual message to Congress, delivered in December, Roosevelt called for greater centralization of the army and especially a strengthening of the navy in order to protect American commercial interests.18
Elihu Root was connected to countless big business, law, and banking interests.19 He was an internationalist, would later be involved with the League of Nations, and sit as President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1912–1925. He was also Roosevelt’s Secretary of War. One night over dinner the bombastic Teddy ended a random disagreement with, “Oh, go to the devil, Root!” The Secretary raised his glass of champagne with the toast: “I come, Sir, I come.”20
There was little the two disagreed upon. Even before he began his most important legislative efforts, Root found a legal loophole for the President to begin without Congress. In 1901, Root advanced an executive order—“General Order 155”—which established the Army War College. Ostensibly a training facility for officers, it was a precursor to the professional General Staff envisioned by Upton twenty-five years earlier.21 The effort of centralizing military education aimed at eventually imposing central requirements for education upon all military, including State militia. This step was made purely by the Executive.
But the Legislative soon followed. Roosevelt’s State of the Union gave momentum to the army cause. Along with Ohio Congressman, General Charles Dick, Root maneuvered the Militia Act of 1903 through Congress. The Act essentially centralized the State militias under a two-tiered National Guard, allowed the President to determine minimum enlistment numbers for the militias, placed them all under his command in case or war, insurrection, or to enforce federal laws, and any soldier who refused to answer the call could me court-martialled.22 James Parker, assistant to the Army Chief of Staff at the time, wrote in summary: “Under this bill, the National Guardsman becomes at the outbreak of war virtually a United States soldier” who “must in future be ready to turn out at a moment’s notice.” He was relieved that “there no longer seems to be the danger that (as was done in 1898) the militia regiments will be converted into United States Volunteer Regiments.”23 He anticipated a force of 150,000 guardsmen ready within 24 hours of the President’s call.
The act was a drastic move away from biblical freedom and toward the humanistic Warfare-Welfare State. The military’s own historical account laments the fact that prior to the Act, local militias were simply too voluntary: a compulsory standing army was needed. State guardsmen “were under no legal obligation to volunteer, and a significant number refused either because of fears over how their unit would be treated by the Regular Army or from concern over hardships that volunteering would impose on their families.”24 In other words, before the Dick Act—as it was called after the Congressman—the State militias were closer to a biblical model. Moving away from this empire-hindering system was, in the words of a military historian, “the most important national legislation in militia history.”25
To persuade the States—which had formerly been staunchly opposed—to acquiesce to the loss of control, the Feds bought them off. Appropriations were given the States to pay for new arms and ammunition, and to pay for the increased training measures State guardsmen would now have to endure. It was a classic “don’t take the cheese” moment, and the States bit. The Feds did agree to a maximum time in which guardsmen could be forced to serve the President—nine months—but this would be short-lived.
The nationalizers’ aim was clearly to support empire, and however vehemently they denied it, they almost in the same breath betrayed their real agenda. While claiming to preserve “State sovereignty,” and repeating Washington’s dictum that “any measure that prepares for war tends to prevent war,” Parker clearly anticipated that the militias would be put to action: “That the time will come when they will be needed cannot be doubted.” And why would they undoubtedly be needed? The answer should be obvious by now. American business interests—the expanding American empire—would require it:
The United States, a nation of nearly a hundred million people, is determined to exercise its legitimate influence in the world’s affairs. It cannot, with the blood of the American in its veins, adopt a Chinese policy of exclusion and isolation. And so war is foreordained.26
Indeed, war was foreordained, but it would not come too soon before two more Acts could build on the centralizing foundations of the Dick Act. In 1908, the Militia Act was amended. The nine-month limit was abolished, and the President could determine the length of service at his whim. Also, the new form allowed for a more truly international force. The former Act prevented Guard units from being forced to serve outside the U.S. The amended version abolished that restriction. Now, the President could order State militias anywhere in the world to fight, and they would face court martial if they resisted. In return for selling their soldiers back into the slavery of Egypt, the States received increased funding from the Feds.27
But even this was not enough. The real centralizers did not consider this arrangement “a truly national militia force that was a ready reserve for the Army.”28 In 1916—still before American involvement in WWI—the National Defense Act picked up where the 1908 amendment left off. The military historian notes,
This law completed the work of the Root reforms in determining the Guard’s role in national defense and asserting federal control over state military forces. The act doubled armory drill requirements and tripled the length of summer training. . . . Guardsmen had to take both state and federal oaths and could be drafted into federal service. Moreover, the Regulars obtained federal reserve forces of their own, both officer and enlisted, and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. In return, the size of the Guard was to be expanded to 430,000; the annual federal subsidy was replaced by an annual budget to cover most Guard expenses; . . . In exchange for continued existence and the hefty increase in federal funding, the Guard had lost most of its autonomy and much of its fraternal character so prized by state soldier. Most Regular officers continued to view the Guard with disdain. And while the Guard’s authorized strength had been greatly increased, it would find itself in the coming world wars submerged within a multimillion-man force composed mainly of federal draftees. ((Donnelly.))
Thus the revolution of the army was complete: it had gone from something closer to a biblical model, to the epitome of a centralized warfare State, empire-ready, standing army, funded by a large general treasury—everything the Bible forbade civil governments to engage in.
It would be only months before these measures—which as Parker admitted were designed for future world wars—were put into action. “The mobilization for World War I demonstrated the triumph of federal control over the Guard that the Root reforms had brought.”29
“Triumph of federal control.” Let the phrase ring with all its glory for a moment.
[get_product id=”1138″ align=”right” size=”small”]
Now, recall the warning of the antifederalist writer Centinel some 128 years earlier:
in the character of a [national] militia, you may be dragged from your families and homes to any part of the continent, and for any length of time, at the discretion of a future Congress: and as a militia, you may be made the unwilling instruments of oppression, under the direction of government; there is no exemption upon account of conscientious scruples of bearing arms; no equivalent to be received in lieu of personal services. The militia of Pennsylvania may be marched to Georgia or New-Hampshire, however incompatible with their interests or consciences;—in short, they may be made as mere machines as Prussian soldiers.30
Or, the militia of any State may be marched to Germany, or Normandy, or Iwo Jima, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, or true, once again against American citizens on American soil in our own day. Once the interests of the central State—of the federal government—trump the biblical standards of freedom, all is lost. The Warfare State becomes a Total State—just like Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Samuel 8 warned against—as we shall see. . . .
- Quoted in Ludwell H. Johnson, North Against South: The American Illiad, 1848–1877 (Columbia, SC: The Foundation for American Education, 1993), 187.(↩)
- Johnson, 187.(↩)
- Johnson, 188.(↩)
- Storing, 4:37.(↩)
- Stephen Skowronek, Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877–1920 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 93ff.(↩)
- Skowronek, 87.(↩)
- Skowronek, 87.(↩)
- Skowronek, 91.(↩)
- See Thomas J. DiLorenzo, “The Birth of American Imperialism,” September, 22, 2011, http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo215.html (accessed Dec. 21, 2011).(↩)
- Quoted in Eugene C. Tidball, “General Sherman’s March through Montana,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 44/2 (Spring 1994): 49.(↩)
- Thomas DiLorenzo, “The Feds versus the Indians,” The Free Market 16/1 (January 1998), http://mises.org/freemarket_detail.aspx?control=99 (accessed Dec. 21, 2011).(↩)
- “Desertion,” The Oxford Companion to American Military History, eds. John Whiteclay Chambers and Fred Anderson (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999), 211.(↩)
- Quoted in Walter LeFeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860–1898 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963), 391.(↩)
- Quoted in LeFeber, 393.(↩)
- LeFeber, 334, 335.(↩)
- LeFeber, 394.(↩)
- Quoted in LeFeber, 404.(↩)
- Theodore Roosevelt, “State of the Union Message,” December 3, 1901, http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/speeches/sotu1.pdf (accessed Dec. 21, 2011). See also Skowronek, 215.(↩)
- Philip H. Burch, Jr., Elite in American History: The Civil War to the New Deal (New York and London: Holmes and Meier Publishers, Inc., 1981), 141–2.(↩)
- Quoted in Philip C. Jessup, Elihu Root: Volume I, 1845–1909 (Archon Books, 1964), 254.(↩)
- Skowronek, 215.(↩)
- James Parker, “The Militia Act of 1903,” The North American Review 177/566 (Aug. 1903): 279.(↩)
- Parker, 285–6.(↩)
- William M. Donnelly, “The Root Reforms and the National Guard,” http://www.history.army.mil/documents/1901/Root-NG.htm (accessed Dec. 21, 2011).(↩)
- Parker, 286–7.(↩)
- Donnelly, emphasis added.(↩)
- Storing, 2:160–161.(↩)