Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations in the United States

AHA Session 67
Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Stevens C-5 (Hilton Chicago, Lower Level)
Richard H. Kohn, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Eliot Cohen, Johns Hopkins University
Matthew Moten, United States Military Academy
Kori Schake, International Institute for Strategic Studies

Session Abstract

To steal from a quip often attributed to Mark Twain (“everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it”), everybody does something about civil-military relations but nobody talks about it.

The subject involves two related connections: the relationship between the top civilian government officials, elected and appointed, and the nation’s most senior military officers; and the broader relationships between the nation’s military forces (active duty, reserve, retired, and veteran) and the rest of society.

Most of the scholarship that addresses civil-military relations directly has come from political scientists and sociologists (most prominently, Samuel P. Huntington [1957] and Morris Janowitz [1960]. historians have contributed to the field but usually in books and articles covering a war, in biographies of political and military figures, in special studies of particular incidents, or in longitudinal studies of the military policies and institutions, including civilian ones, involved.

Only in the last two generations have historians, and only a tiny few of them, focused on the subject, particularly the foundation of the relationship in the United States: civilian control of the military.

In this panel discussion, four historians explore recent civil-military relations at the top of American government within the context of four centuries of Anglo-American experience. Because the current presidential administration employs in high political and staff positions an unusual number of top generals (still in uniform or retired), the discussion the will concentrate on the relationship between the highest civilian and military officials. Is there cause for concern; is civilian control in jeopardy; does the presence of so many soldiers at the top warp foreign and national security policy; how does the relationship today compare to historical experience; how much have current relationships been shaped by the military’s role in American life since the end of World War II and even before, but particularly in recent decades; is this “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” or is it really different, and if so, how?

All four panelists served in national security positions in the federal government, either in the military or senior positions in the executive branch. All are specialists in the subject, have followed recent civil-military relations closely, and studied the subject historically.

See more of: AHA Sessions