A Military Made by War: Power, Politics, and Personality in the Making of the United States Military

AHA Session 287
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Steven Casey, London School of Economics and Political Science
William Alan Taylor, Angelo State University

Session Abstract

The papers in this panel identify the ways power, politics, and personality influence both the function and the form of the U.S. military. In a 2013 lecture at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, argued “those who neglect the congressional role in American civil-military relations are missing an important element.” Scholars have begun to address this gap – most recently Colin C. Campbell’s and David P. Auerswald’s edited volume Congress and Civil-Military Relations, published in 2015. Building upon this work, these papers explore the impact and meaning of congressional debates over and decisions about military policy on the servicemembers, American citizens, and military leadership they most directly affect. They furthermore emphasize the dialogue between Congressmen and their constituents and the diverse ways those constituents sought legislative protection for their military members.

Friot’s “Promoting Morale: Prisoner of War Legislation and the Problem of Surrender in the U.S. Military” interrogates the nature of discussions regarding prisoner of war policy, especially promotion of captured personnel, and what those conversations reveal about the significance of surrender to the strength, vigor, and patriotism of the American military.

Gates’ “Reducing Duplication and Overlap: The Process of Military Unification in the Second World War and After,” examines the impact of World War II on the American military system. Gates argues Congress recognized the impact of intra- and inter-service conflict on the ability of the nation to wage war, and as a result, military and civilian leadership worked in the postwar years to eliminate barriers and create a more unified armed service.

Packard’s “An Invaluable Partnership: The U.S. Marine Corps Unique Relationship with Congress, 1946-1979,” explores the ways the Marine Corps used its political connections to preserve its organization and heritage and maintain its identity as an independent service in the midst of increasing pressures to unify armed service branches in the wake of World War II and the intense political and military demands of the Vietnam War.

Each of these papers examines the relationship of civilians to their military members at various levels and scales of personal impact and political clout. Though many of the issues discussed at the Congressional level reflect anxiety over policy, command structure, and military preparedness, the contents of those debates reverberated among citizens and servicemembers alike. Each panelist uses Congress and the lessons of World War II as a springboard to investigate the ways Congress has shaped the American military and its standing in popular society.

This panel will appeal to a wide variety of scholars – military, political, cultural, and social historians, as well as those who study public policy, American government, and civil-military relations.

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