The Civilian and the Military
The Civilian and the Military

The Civilian and the Military

A History of the American Anti-Militarist Tradition


380 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Paperback

Paperback, $19.95 (US $19.95) (CA $21.95)

Publication Date: April 2010

ISBN 9781598130355

Price: $19.95


Presenting a new perspective on the influence of the military complex on U.S. society, this account follows the rise and decline of the antimilitarist tradition—rooted in fear of dictatorship—that has been an important part of the American heritage from colonial times until the 1950s and even today. In addition to providing a documented historical survey of notable issues and landmarks that have affected the role of the civilian and the military until the mid-1950s, the volume also offers ample background for an understanding of the complicated problem of militarism in the last century, including principles and dynamics that are relevant in the 21st century. Bringing to light new materials and making use of archives and papers that ground the analysis in actual events, this compelling examination will excite controversy among pacifists, militarists, and anyone interested in history, U.S. military policy, and trends in current events.


"The author develops the story of antimilitarism concretely, not only in terms of periodic wars, but also in terms of peacetime debates over military appropriations, the size and nature of the armed forces, and the role of the military in civilian affairs. He traces the preference for civil supremacy to England, shows how it was reinforced by colonial experience, and how it became part of the fundamental law of the land. So far so good. But from the time of the War of 1812, as Professor Ekirch sees it, the advocates of militarism had a downhill run, through the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the three wars of the twentieth century. In our day the line between the civilian and the military has been completely obliterated; militarism is everywhere, in government, industry, education, even in scientific research. We now have a garrison state with the entire population either directly or indirectly enrolled in some military capacity. To Professor Ekirch this heralds the end of our free society, for he agrees with David Starr Jordan that 'as militarism grows democracy must die.' . . . Even those who disagree with Professor Ekirch will commend him for calling attention to the problem of civilian-military relations, and for reminding us that this juncture of our history of the democratic implications of our antimilitarist tradition." —Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"An excellent, thorough chronological account of American opinion, pro- and anti-, regarding the place of military organization and military ideas . . . as a valuable contribution on a topic of much current interest." —Public Opinion Quarterly

"This is a well-written history of the anti-military tradition in the United States. It is a useful corrective to current tendencies in American political and historical scholarship: for instance, it is well to be reminded that military fervor played an important part in Andrew Jackson's popular support and that, however commendable and timely was Theodore Roosevelt's interest in world affairs, one of its motive forces was a romantic passion for things martial. Professor Ekirch has chronicled American attitudes about military institutions from pre-Revolutionary times—with an 'Anglo-American heritage'; of anti-militarism—to the Eisenhower Administration. With few exceptions, whatever he has included in his chronicle he has presented dispassionately. And he has done enough digging to make his work valuable for general scholarly reference. His book is a significant addition to the growing literature on American military affairs. . . The author has done some thoughtful and careful work." —The American Political Science Review

"This book deals with the plowshare, rather than the sword....He finds the origin of [the antimilitarist tradition] in our Anglo-American heritage and traces its effect from our colonial days to the present." —Military Affairs

"One upon a time, Republican presidents worried about deficit spending and were reluctant to be talked into unnecessary defense expenditures by lobbyists inflating threats. Large peacetime military establishments were considered risks to American democracy and security. President Dwight Eisenhower shared these concerns sufficiently to warn in his valedictory address about the 'unwarranted influence' of 'the military-industrial; complex'—warning that reflected his background in industrial mobilization and his experience in office. . . . A companion piece from the same period is a reprint of Ekirch's 1956 book The Civilian and the Military. Scholarly in its research and scope, the book also celebrates that antimilitaristic tradition, with its hostility to standing armies and conscription, warmongering by 'merchants of death,' distorted budgetary priorities, and the subversion of individual freedom in the name of national security." —Foreign Affairs

"Extensive research in contemporary sources went into the preparation of this volume. From colonial times to the present, proposals to train the militia more effectively, to enlarge the standing army, or to build naval vessels are treated as examples of expanding militarism. " —The Journal of Politics

"This book deals with the plowshare, rather than the sword. The sub-title, A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, accurately describes its contents. The author defines the antimilitarist as one who accepts wars and armies as a sometimes necessary evil, but regards a large military establishment and conscript armies, even when needed, as a threat to the preservation of civil institutions of government. He finds the origin of this feeling in our Anglo-American heritage and traces its effect from our colonial days to the present. By quoting from a variety of published sources he documents the influence of this tradition in keeping our military establishment small until we were actually at war. He finds that some of our wars, notably the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, were unpopular with many Americans because of our antimilitarist tradition. Much resistance to the Union and Confederate governments during the Civil War was motivated, he believes, by the force of this tradition. Similarly, he shows that our antimilitarist traditions have been responsible for the rapid demobilization of our military establishments at the close of each of our wars. The concluding chapter of the book describes the current state of our antimilitarist tradition. The author states that the events since World War II gave the American people 'little hope of any sudden return to real peacetime modes of living,' and that this has modified the antimilitarist traditions of the American people." —Journal of the American Military Institute

"Mr. Ekirch, professor of history at the American University and author of other works on different phases of the intellectual history of the United States, has contributed a careful survey of antimilitaristic thinking throughout American history. . . . He is content to summarize the record of antimilitarism, which he is careful to distinguish from absolute pacifism. . . . Professor Ekirch writes as an uncompromising antimilitarist, although he grants that the typical one 'has opposed expansion overseas on intervention in world affairs'. The story he tells shows clearly enough that Jefferson and others who have been of the author's general persuasion when out of power have changed their minds when charged with the responsibilities of office and forced to deal with the facts of international political life. . . . [H]e has generally written with fully professional competence. He has undertaken to summarize the record of American antimilitaristic thnking and he has produced a readable and useful digest." —The American Historical Review

Author Biography

Arthur A. Ekirch Jr. was a professor emeritus of history at the State University of New York–Albany, a Guggenheim fellow, and the author of dozens of articles and 10 books, including The Decline of American Liberalism. He also served as vice chair of the Conference on Peace Research in History, later renamed the Peace History Society.

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