Salvo 02.02.2024 5 minutes

America’s Border First

Soldier saluting

The Army should be protecting our nation’s sovereignty.

From the first moments of American history, our forefathers had strong thoughts on the matter of keeping a standing army in times of peace. Since the purpose of raising armies was to win wars, they thought that large armies in peace time constituted a great risk to a free people, equally willing to subjugate as to protect.

One of the grievances lodged at King George in the Declaration of Independence was that “A standing army has been kept in these colonies, ever since the conclusion of the late war, without the consent of our assemblies.” James Madison remarked at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger, have always been the instruments of tyranny at home.” Despite these warnings, the United States decided in subsequent decades to retain larger and larger military forces, culminating in what Dwight D. Eisenhower correctly labeled the military-industrial complex.

The first generation of Americans understood that standing armies have an inevitable way of finding conflicts abroad to be involved in. That has proven true in our time, as the defense contractor lobby has ensured that war is the top U.S. export, even as our own national security is under siege.

What is the purpose of the Army today? Its motto is “This We’ll Defend.” In the 20 years I served in uniform, not once did my duty directly relate to defending the U.S. homeland. Deployments were focused on U.S. foreign policy objectives. It was all about failed nation building abroad. Virtually every military training exercise I experienced as a soldier, and taught in as an advisor, was focused on supporting other nation-states.

The sole exception was one practice round of a maneuver planning drill that’s part of the curriculum at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. It was based on a scenario where we practiced defending an American city from foreign military invasion. I recall being shocked at the time. I took it for granted that our military wasn’t supposed to operate inside the U.S. in the post-posse comitatus age. The idea of our nation’s tool of national defense protecting actual U.S. soil seemed outright heresy given what I had been told in the ranks.

But subsequent reading of history made it clear that defending American rights from foreign aggression at home is the actual, original purpose of a standing army.

If defending from foreign invasion is the point of an army, then why is the Defense Department continuing to deploy units elsewhere in the world, as our own border is invaded by hordes of military-aged males? As noted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, at least six million people have entered the U.S. illegally just in the last three years. For context, six million is roughly 240 times the size of a U.S. Army infantry division. No U.S. military commander would have accepted those numbers coming over the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan; neither would those stationed in Poland accept those numbers coming across the border there. But we accept them here at home.

In the absence of a commander in chief who will fulfill his constitutional duty to secure the border, Governor Abbott is taking the lead to plug holes left by generations of U.S. presidents. In response, the Biden Administration sued, and the Supreme Court ruled that federal authorities can cut razor wire that Texas authorities had placed along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rather than suing to stop Texas, the federal government should be joining the cause. But alas, to the Left, the military is not for national defense. It is instead for the vague concept of “national security,” which always refers to something done overseas on behalf of their administrations, primarily in the interest of other nations and weapons makers. As the acclaimed political scientist Bernard Brodie noted in War and Politics, the term “security” is flexible in U.S. military policy. Protecting the U.S. from foreign invasion seems too narrow a definition for our elites. The nebulous term “national security” refers to a wider patchwork that includes financial security for the defense complex.

As former Defense Secretary Christopher Miller wrote in his autobiography Soldier Secretary, the idea that the U.S. military was never used in domestic matters is laughable. George Washington’s Continental Army repelled the British, then the most advanced, lethal military in the world. Subsequent Army forces were used to expand the western frontier. Even General George C. Marshall—the namesake of the military’s theoretical “apolitical” stance—led Army forces into Washington, D.C. to attack protesting WWI veterans known as the Bonus Army.

But since that era, the U.S. military has been almost solely a global police force, always looking at how to guard the lands of other people rather than our own. By joining military campaigns of foreign interests, America has fallen into the trap warned of by John Quincy Adams: “The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.”

It is fortunate that modern progressives did not hold the White House in 1812. They would have had the Army overseas and done nothing as torch-wielding British forces returned to town. The globalist mentality of the present keeps large U.S. Army formations deployed around the world, in places like Poland, Germany, Korea, and the Middle East, where our fellow citizens in uniform serve as target practice for Iranian proxies. Congress no longer declares wars. Yet the U.S. is now perpetually mired in military warfare abroad as a tradition. Military families keep sacrificing for questionable policy ends on behalf of a nation with near total disinterest in how the message of “freedom and democracy” rings through the sound of American war machinery.

Our national defense posture keeps the Army everywhere but here as this nation endures invasion.

Army recruiting is in a sustained three year slump of crisis proportions. The Heritage Foundation’s 2024 Index of U.S. Military Strength rates the Army’s capability as marginal. The force has been repeatedly rocked by failed leadership, the fall of Kabul, the wokening of the force, and marketing campaigns that would have easily been mistaken for satire just a few years ago.

To this I ask if the collapse of volunteers wanting to serve is a recruiting crisis or a crisis of manpower to feed modern militarism. Does the military exist for its own benefit rather than the safety of the nation? If not to protect the border of our own homeland, what does an army exist for?

The legitimate response is to ask what is being defended by our military men and women in uniform. Most join to defend the nation. But the mission they’re given is anything but today.

It’s time for Americans to ask what the Army’s purpose is beyond offering scholarship money. If the Army does not exist to protect American sovereignty, then it has outlived its usefulness. American security could be better protected by an active duty force no larger than 40 percent of its current size, comprised of a conventional rapid response corps, a Special Forces command, and a training force that services state-based, part-time defense systems of larger overall size. The dollars saved by reducing the gargantuan active-duty force can be better spent by the states to bolster their National Guard and state guard forces, which will be better led at the local level—undergirded by a philosophy of protecting this land rather than the territory of overseas nation-states.

That was the vision our founders had for keeping men ready for battle in defense of the nation. It can work just as well in our time. It’s time to use the Army to protect America or return that mission to the states.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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