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The American Army in Peacetime The end of the Cold War is bringing about significant reductions in the military budget, with the resulting base closures and, ultimately, force reductions. For more than four decades, the presence of an obvious potential enemy focused military thinking and kept military spending and strength much larger than in other periods between wars throughout American history. Besides, there were two rather largescale wars in the past forty years that brought about sizable buildups and partial demobilizations. As planners look to the future, however, it should be of value to know how the army has coped with the problems of decreased budgets and strength in the past. The factors that influence the size and shape of an army are: • The national ethos. • The domestic and foreign environment, including natural resources and geographic location, as well as the changing foreign and domestic situations. • The evolution of technology. The continuous, ever-changing interplay of these factors is complex and, as any historian should be the first to admit, makes predictions tenuous. Nevertheless, one can determine the natural resources and industrial base readily enough and posit that a nation’s military ambitions should not outstretch those or that country risks disaster and inevitable decline. Nor is it difficult to follow the evolution of technology and the record of a nation’s ability to take advantage of technology’s military possibilities, its resources, and industrial base under the pressure of a threat. When the domestic and foreign situations present no major threats, a people will probably not push hard to exploit their technology or to derive as much military power as they can from their resources. Then too, even during wartime, the nature of the war—major or minor—will govern the demands a nation will make on itself. Of course, an ambitious authoritarian ruler 14   The Embattled Past may manipulate the political or diplomatic situation in order to create military power beyond the realistic needs of his nation. But he and his nation will suffer the consequences if his ambitions outstrip the limitations of national resources. In peacetime, the national ethos—the traditional attitudes and customs of a nation—is apt to play a more important role than other factors in establishing the limits and conditions that frame the shape of a military force. This ethos also plays a role during war; but when there is no menace large enough to bring about a sense of emergency, hence urgent need for military power, the army is not the focus of national interest and is more subject to the attitudes and customs of the people it serves. The two aspects of this ethos that have been particularly influential in U.S. history are the traditional prejudice against professional soldiers and a Standing Army generally and the concept that if wars came, civilians, not Regulars, would save the day. It is not the purpose of this article to answer the questions of how pervasive these beliefs are in the 1990s and how much they affect the current Congress in its deliberations about the future of the army. Indeed, they are unanswerable in specific terms because individuals themselves may not be fully aware of the historical baggage they carry that influences their thinking and actions. We do know, however, that this ethos kept the U.S. Army in peacetime very small in relation to the armies of other nations throughout the approximately 160 years between the War of Independence and World War II. During that lengthy period, the five wars separated many “old armies,” as the veterans who bridged from one peacetime to another would always remember the army they knew before the last war. There were differences in those old armies as these men were quick to point out; but from the vantage point of 1992, we can see that there were essentially two major divisions—a frontier constabulary with the primary mission of controlling the frontier, which lasted from the 1780s to the 1890s, and from 1898 to 1941 an army to cope with the responsibilities and problems of a world power, specifically to garrison Carribean and Pacific colonies, as well as to maintain a continental defense force. Then, following The American Army in Peacetime   15 the nation’s rise to superpower status in World War II and during the long years of confrontation with the Soviet Union, there was the Cold War army. Frontier Constabulary As the War of Independence drew to a close, George Washington cautiously advanced the...


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