How possible is a military-led coup in the US? - Jay Maynard

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009


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2043 - How possible is a military-led coup in the US?

I posted the following statement in a closed forum:

the US military is so thoroughly professional, and the culture of it being subordinate to civilian power (but only insofar as it is required to follow lawful orders and refuse to follow unlawful ones) so ingrained, that a coup run or supported by the US military is just about totally impossible.


...and got told I was being "willfully optimistic". I truly don't think so; I can see no set of circumstances under which a coup would be supported by the US military, much less led by it, that did not involve actions on the part of the President and/or Congress that would rise to the level of outright abrogation of the Constitution and would produce an armed revolt among the populace.

Those of you reading this who are closer to the US armed forces than I am, how optimistic is my statement?

location: 56031
current mood: [mood icon] surprised

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:thecanuckguy
Date: - 0000
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Not being "close" the the US Armed Forces by any means (though I was in the Canadian Forces for a time), I'm sure mine isn't the type of reader of your blog that you were looking for, but I'd completely agree with you. Hitherto, I thought that only right wing nut jobs thought the opposite (that the US military can and will pull off a coup), but since you're one of my right-wing friends I'm starting to retract that statement (you're also a nut job, but that's because you dress in Tron spandex for God's sake! (this was meant purely in jest, Jay!))
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From:sideband
Date: - 0000
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Besides, it's the left-wingers that want to subvert our constitution, not the right-wingers...
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From:thecanuckguy
Date: - 0000
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Not this left-winger (or any I know)!

(This is probably a classic case of each side accusing their enemies in their propaganda of things they don't do. But then, that conclusion is probably reached because I watch an inordinate amount of Star Trek (I can think of that plot device used in 3 different series))
From:sethb
Date: - 0000
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The nutcases/strong believers on both sides want to, they just want to cancel different parts of it (e.g. 2nd vs. 4th Amendment).
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From:howardtayler
Date: - 0000
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I'm of a similar mind, Jay, but I would throw out a simple caveat: If the military's current culture of submitting to the rule of law (the Constitution) and an elected Commander in Chief were somehow undermined then a military coup in the United States would be possible.

It reminds me of a discussion some friends and I had in 2006 about investing in real-estate. Paraphrasing "investments backed by real-estate are solid. We might see slow-downs, but the money will be there as long as real-estate retains value. If real-estate stops being valuable then the economy has bigger problems than us losing some money."

I lost some money.

My point, then, is that assumptions about outcome may be very, very well-founded, and also completely wrong when underlying conditions change.
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From:foolscap001
Date: - 0000
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I would agree with you... but OTOH, remember that Obama wants a civilian security force.

"We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded."

From:rbradakis
Date: - 0000
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From:sideband
Date: - 0000
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Were the people saying you were being "willfully optimistic" the same people who were convinced some emergency was going to be invented by Bush near the end of his term so he could declare a stay on the election until the "emergency" ended, then make himself dictator for life?

Because, yeah, that kindof sounds like the logic those kind of people use...
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From:jmaynard
Date: - 0000
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Yep, they were. This place is inhabited by European leftists who don't think there are any American leftists aside from the one avowed Marxist who also posts there.
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From:sideband
Date: - 0000
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But, we don't like leftists, at least not leftists that are THAT far left...

You know.. European Leftists who are pissed off because their lives suck, so they're going to put on the pretend "The Water Is Great!" face?

Kindof like the kid in elementary school whose mother took away his ice cream, so he goes out and punches all the other kids in the nose so they'll know how he feels?
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From:pokeyburro
Date: - 0000
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I do some work for the Defense Department, and I meet more than a few military on the Internet. Practically every armed forces member I meet carries a sense of being not only on the civilians' side, but even being civilians with a special job. They talk about their having to go on tour or to training as if its an extended business trip - granted, not business in the financial sense - and meanwhile are just as interested in their families, their car payments, their health benefits, and their decks.

I won't claim this is the entirety of the military experience. I rarely get to see combat troops and spec ops people, for example. And I can see where some of the fear arises. Combat military are necessarily sequestered with other military for long periods for intensive training, and then frequently are put onto isolated battlegrounds; it is natural that they will see things differently from civvies after a while. (I saw this firsthand in a friend of mine after he returned from an eight-month tour in Uzbekistan.)

However, the fact that they have families is probably one of the biggest factors supporting your claim that a coup is impossible. I think professionalism isn't what drives it. Professionalism is what makes them good fighters - focused, disciplined, fit, and talented. What makes them naturally loyal to the people over the state, is frequent contact with their families and friends who aren't in the military. There is a solid tradition of getting the mail to the troops, and getting mail from them back stateside, and encouraging more of that. We've long ago learned that this steeled troop morale like nobody's business, and made for more effective fighters.

In fact, this threatens to turn your main point sideways: I would not see the military side with the state, but I could see them side with the people - say, some well-respected general (think de Gaulle) overthrowing the establishment with popular support. That popular support would translate into support from the enlisted. Each private, airman, and seaman would feel as if he were doing this not just for his country, but for the sake of his daughter, parents, siblings, or classmates back home.
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From:thecanuckguy
Date: - 0000
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Keep the troops happy and they won't turn on you. It's been done. :)

I don't think "families" is the main thing keeping them in line, though. It's happened countless times that the military has turned on the government in a coup in other (usually 3rd world) countries. It's highly unlikely none of those soldiers in any of those coups had families.

To run with your last paragraph, if they feel a coup will better the world for their children, they will do it. Just as they feel now that keeping the status quo (in the US government, of course, one reason they do what they do is to change the status quo overseas) betters the future for their children.
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From:pokeyburro
Date: - 0000
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In the scenario you cite (typically 3rd world countries), it stymies me greatly to imagine how an officer could bring himself to turn against his own family during a coup. I'm quite sure that for any human culture, the less organized (advanced, civilized, pick your adjective) it is, the more more tribal it is; its people will feel their loyalty to family first, then to gradually increasing sizes of local community. It's an undercurrent even in America. Many of us would die for our families, would tighten our belts for our hometowns, and have to get pretty worked up to bring ourselves to the aid of another state.

The exception would be if that officer spent so much time immersed in his corp that it became his family. Same for the footsoldiers of that movement; additionally, they can be intimidated into joining. That means only the top brass require the mindset necessary to take that step.

In our case, it's too unlikely, because they're kept in contact with home. That's why I quite agree with you that they WOULD coup, if they had enough reason to believe it was better for their loved ones. Chiming with Jay, however, it'd have to be indeed solid; their discipline demands it.

I know this sounds armchair, and you might be right after all. I still don't understand what makes so many people likely to walk into a public place with a bomb wrapped around their bodies. Still, it's exceedingly hard for me to entertain such a mindset being pervasive in an organized, long-standing army.
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From:selenite
Date: - 0000
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Some generals taking the initiative to toss out elected officials? No, no matter how bad it gets they'll probably sit tight and wait for another election to fix things.

Generals supporting politicians in unconstitutional acts? Fairly likely, they tend to get pretty political at that level and some will support the policy justifying the change. They'll have trouble getting full cooperation from their troops. Anyone uncomfortable with the moves will become very incompetent at his job. Desertion will be more common than mutiny.

Getting the military eager to be involved in domestic affairs would probably require an outbreak of political violence, ie opening stages of a civil war. But that wouldn't be a "coup."
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From:ekatarina
Date: - 0000
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The only thing that would be concerned about is the small knots of extreme fundamentalists within the American military. There have been some worrying reports about a few units with shades of cult-like Christian fundamentalist views. "Kill all non-believers" sorts of things.

I do have faith that these small groups will not "take over" the whole of the military, but I wouldn't doubat that a few of them would like to try.

Ekatarina

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