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HISTORY OF UNITED STATES MILITARY POLICY
ON RESERVE FORCES, 1775–1957
Under its constitutional power to provide for the common defense, Congress has the responsibility of determining how Armed Forces are to be raised and supported, and is also empowered “to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." Although there have been periods when the absence of enemy aggresion afforded peace to the Nation, the United States has had to fight eight principal wars, including the Korean conflict in which other members of the United Nations participated. The character of the enemy has changed from the time when each frontiersman armed himself against hostile Indians to the present danger of surprise attack by nuclear weapons; but the problem has remained the same-since we have no control over the plans of an aggressive enemy, what policies shall we follow in order to insure the Nation's preservation?
This question is complicated by new factors: total nuclear war would cause such devastation that victory as we have known it in the past would be impossible; the use of nuclear weapons in a surprise attack would allow no time to build up effective military forces afterward; and the complexity of modern weapons requires a considerable lead time in their production and in the training of men in their use. These factors have led to the concept of maintaining strong forces in being to deter war and to be militarily prepared if war should be forced upon us. To meet these objectives, larger standing forces are being maintained than in times past when our custom was to expand our Military Establishment in time of war and demobilize it immediately thereafter. Nevertheless, these forces in being must not be so large as to jeopardize the healthy functioning of our economy, and it is therefore necessary to have trained reservists and Reserve units to áugment the Regular forces during an emergency.
Although national defense is beset by new hazards, a survey of our past experience in raising Armed Forces should provide a background from which some lessons may be learned in estimating the probable repercussions of future military manpower policies. In the past, some policies have exacted penalties in terms of longer wars, more lives lost, more economic and social dislocation; others have increased local participation in democracy, controlled the possibility of corruption, and brought about an equitable distribution of the obligation for military service. Our historical experience in mobilizing manpower for military action lies in these wars: the American Revolution, 1775–83; the War of 1812, 1812–15; the Mexican War, 1846–48; the Civil War, 1861–65; the Spanish-American War, 1898; World War I, 1917–18; World War II, 1941-45; and the Korean war, 1950–53.
II. THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR PERIOD Each of the 13 American colonies had compulsory military training and service laws whose origin traced back to the English militia system. From early Anglo-Saxon days, the local defense forces of England consisted of the "fyrd," the shire's militia of freemen who were liable for military service from the ages of 16 to 60 years. They were required to furnish their own weapons and were not obliged to fight outside the realm.
The early colonists of America naturally brought with them this military institution which formed an essential part of frontier life. The necessity of defending themselves against Indian attacks and against other nations contending for land in the New World, caused the American colonies to adopt laws obligating all able-bodied males for military training and service. Men from 16 to 60 years were organized into "trained bands” similar to those in England, and these bands became the colonial militia. It was a democratic military insti. tution which made unnecessary a large standing army, but as a fighting force it had weaknesses which added to the difficulties of General Washington and lengthened the American Revolutionary War.
For fighting men to use in the War for Independence, it was necessary to depend upon the militia forces of 13 separate colonies, each of which was reluctant to give any power to a central government. The slowness of transportation and communication facilities made it difficult to mobilize men who lived in outlying areas; they could not be brought together for sufficient military training and discipline and for a long enough time to carry on a campaign. The inefficiency of the colonial militia was emphasized by various factors—untrained and undisciplined troops and officers were required to provide their own weapons, ammunition, horses, and equipment; enlistments were for short terms; and the men formed essentially a local defense force under the control of each separate colony. All these were factors which operated against the concept of an efficient Federal Army.
The Continental Congress could do little more than recommend, in its resolution of July 18, 1775, “to the inhabitants of the United English Colonies that all able bodied, effective men, between 16 and 50 years of age, be forced into companies of militia” and prepare for defense. Writing to the Continental Congress in December 1776, General Washington blamed short enlistments and “a mistaken dependence upon militia” as the cause of misfortune and accumulation of debt, and of the militia said that they "come in you cannot tell how, go you cannot tell when, and act you cannot tell where, consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last at a critical moment."i This wartime experience led Washington to conclude that a trained, well-regulated militia was essential for the defense of the country, a sentiment he expressed to Alexander Hamilton in 1783.
The British had, at most, about 42,000 soldiers, while the Colonies had a total engaged of approximately 500,000, a figure which included many reenlistments as can be seen from the fact that the estimated peak strength was 35,000. A continent could not be held with 42,000 men, and the persistent resistance of the Colonies finally gave them victory after 8 long years.
1 Palmer, John McAuley, America in Arms, the experience of the United States with military organization. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1941, pp. 14-15.
Following the war, the Armed Forces were reduced to 80 men. On June 2, 1784, the Congress
Resolved, That the commanding officer be, and he is hereby directed to discharge the troops now in the service of the United States, except twenty-five privates to guard the stores at Fort Pitt and fifty-five to guard the stores at West Point, and other magazines, with a proportionate number of officers; no officer to remain in service above the rank of captain, and those privates to be retained who were enlisted on the best terms: Provided, That Congress before its recess shall not take other measures respecting the disposition of those troops. By 1789, the estimated Army strength was 886.
To list the weaknesses of the manpower-mobilization policies of the Revolutionary War is to suggest the apparent remedies: that to be effective, troops should be required to serve for the duration of the war; that an adequate armed force cannot be built up by voluntary enlistments; and that militia troops under State control cannot be integrated to meet the defense needs of the National Government. However, the military-manpower situation remained unchanged under the Articles of Confederation, and it was not until the Constitution was adopted that the Federal Government was given powers which were coextensive with its responsibility to "provide for the Common Defense * * * "
III. THE CONSTITUTION AND EARLY MILITARY LEGISLATION
Most of the powers of Congress which relate to the raising and support of armies are to be found in article I, section 8, of the Constitution.
ARTICLE I SEC. 8. (1) The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the debts and provide for the Common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts, and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
Sec. 8. (11) To declare war, grant letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
SEC. 8. (12) To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
Sec. 8. (13) To provide and maintain a Navy;
SEC. 8. (14) To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
SEC. 8. (15) To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
SEC. 8. (16) To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress; * **.
Other pertinent constitutional provisions are:
SEC. 2. (1) The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; * * *.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.