Friday, September 12, 2014

Air Power and Fighting the Islamic State

President Obama announced that the United States will begin stepping up the air campaign against the Islamic State. Depending on who one talks to, the new policy has been variously described as a "very significant counter-terrorism operation" or as a state of war. Regardless of what it might be called, significant air power will be used to attack the group. Apparently, France has agreed to participate, but Turkey has refused the use of bases to support these attacks.

The question is, will air power alone do any serious damage to the forces of the Islamic State? The short answer is no. Air power can hurt them. Air power can slow them down. The use of air power will cause them to change their tactics and procedures, but it won't stop them from their goals. In the words of retired General Michael Haydn, air strikes are like casual sex. It feels good, but no lasting effects are to be expected. While that comment may seem to trivialize a brutal action like bombing people from the air, he is right. Bombing will provide momentary satisfaction that we are doing something, but don't confuse that with real results.  At some point a sizable ground force will be needed. Where that ground force comes from is the real question.

There is little doubt that the group variously known as the Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL, is a menace. It is a menace to those in Syria and Iraq. It is a menace to the entire region from Turkey through Syria an Iraq, to Jordan, and the Levant. Any organization that thinks it is acceptable to routinely kill all males in a captured village and to then systematically rape and kill the women and behead children is clearly a group that has departed from humanity. Confusing its actions with the demands of an Islamic God marks the Islamic State as another Nazi Germany that must be confronted and destroyed.

What is most concerning is the apparent lack of concern by the local states, other than perhaps the Assad government in Syria. The countries with the capability of confronting them, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia have shown no sign of doing anything about them.

The Kurdish Peshmerga and the Sunni tribes in eastern Iraq may be ready to fight, but the government of Iraq remains uncertain as to what it can and should do. Saudi Arabia has an interest in destroying the Islamic State, but has taken no action, at least not publicly. ISIL has made statements to the effect that it desires the removal of the Saud family and to take over control of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

Thinking of the Islamic State as a foreign entity similar to any other country may offer some insight into how to attack it. While the United States and other states will be reticent to give the Islamic State the stature of a "state," to deny that it already has many of the qualities of a state can be helpful. The group claims territoriality, however contested. It claims a populace, however it may abuse them. It has an identifiable leadership and government with a foreign policy that controls a military force.

Therefore, attacking ISIL is unlike attacking an amorphous "terrorist" organization that can blend into the indigenous population. While what we have learned about countering insurgencies will be useful, also thinking about how to attack a country with defined boundaries and infrastructure will guide us well.

Still, we must avoid convincing ourselves that we can somehow successfully fight the Islamic State with air power alone. Our love affair with video games have led some to believe that warfare is little more than "servicing targets." If war was only a matter of destroying targets then it would be won when all targets are destroyed. If we have learned anything after millenia of wars, and especially our experience in the past two centuries, war is clearly more than "servicing targets."

So, what must be done to defeat the Islamic State? As former President Clinton recently said, ISIS can be degraded and defeated, but only if those who it is abusing decide to fight. He is correct. Without that component, air power will only slow them down.

First, redouble efforts to raise a real coalition that can provide serious resources to include military and economic power.  The coalition must include not only NATO allies but local forces. If Jordan and Saudi Arabia refuse to get involved, it will be tough slog. If Iraq can't get its act together, it will be a tough slog. If Turkey refuses to get involved, it will be tough slog. All of those countries have much to lose if the Islamic State succeeds.  That point needs to be made clearly and emphatically.  Such efforts may require bribes, threats, and dirty tricks, but it is necessary.

Second, the United States needs to actually declare war on the Islamic State.  While such a declaration brings with it a danger of offending certain parts of the Islamic World, it will make it clear to other countries that the United States is firmly on a path to destroy them. Getting a declaration of war will require a level of cooperation between the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats that has been hard to find in recent decades. However, without such cooperation and steely nerve, others, to include the Islamic State will perceive weakness and lack of will.

Third, the President needs to establish a firm national grand strategy that transcends the presence of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other offshoots. Fighting such groups is a necessary piece of a grand strategy, but to confuse that is to confuse tactics with strategy and strategy with grand strategy. What are the guiding principles upon which American strategic direction will be decided. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been bouncing in a reactionary mode from one crisis to another with no guiding principles.

Fourth, think the long game. Yes, we have been fighting a "Long War" for nearly a decade and half. One reason it has dragged on so long, however, is that we have been trying to get out of the war and thus never planned for a long operation. Thinking long will better prepare us to make the decisions that will permit us to plan for the end game. What will happen if we corner the Islamic State leadership and army. What will  happen in the even a power vacuum opens such as the one that opened in northern Syria that permitted the Islamic State to rise in the first place.

And fifth, the American people need to get over thinking that we can just ignore the Islamic State and withdraw onto our island continent.

War is nasty business. The Islamic State knows that. It has decided to use brutality and unrestrained force a means to their end. They are quite sure that the United States and its allies are incapable of fighting the long war. They are quite convinced that the United States has no will to fight. They are quite sure that they are on the right side of history and have a god that will support them. They are quite sure that the West stole their Islamic Empire from them and believe they will restore the caliphate. Those beliefs keep their fires burning and encourage young men, and now some young women, to join their cause.

So, sixth, we need to make absolutely sure that anyone thinking they might want to join the Islamic State has no delusions about what is happening. Brutal publicity of exactly what they are doing to people must be brought forth. Every means to showing that such brutality is far beyond anything humans ought to be doing to other humans.

And, seventh, whenever a country gets their hands on one of their citizens who thought it was a good idea to join the Islamic State, that individual will find that their citizenship has been rescinded and they will find themselves immediately in the legal system defending their actions. If Congress wants to do something, they need to provide the necessary legal provisions. We don't need any bills of attainder, but merely statutes that clearly state that citizens who take certain actions in support of entities like the Islamic State will find their citizenship in question.

We must not convince ourselves that merely dropping bombs on terrorists will win the day. We must not think that air power and special forces are somehow all that is necessary. If we are not ready to take the necessary actions we must steel ourselves for another Nazi-like regime with policies of brutality and ethnic cleansing and, ultimately a much larger and more expensive war.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Thank You For Your Service"

I hear this a lot. I appreciate it, but it always seems perfunctory. I never doubt that the person who says it means it, but, like Wes Moore, I now that they really don't understand what it was that I did for a living for so long.

Like Wes, I did not join the Navy to go to war. I did not join the Navy to fight or to kill people. I learned how to do all those things, though. I learned it well. I even learned how to lead Sailors and Marines into war and how to give them orders that might get them hurt or killed.

The Navy was hard work. The Navy was fun work. The Navy was rewarding work. The Navy taught me lots of things about people, both good and bad.

"Thank you for your service" is a phrase I began hearing shortly after 9/11. I appreciated the thought. Like Wes's experience, I wanted to talk about my experience. I wanted to share what I learned about the world and what I learned about people. But, they did not want to hear that. They didn't have time. It was like "How are you?" and not really wanting to know. It was perfunctory.

If you want to really thank someone for their service, perhaps you need to know that many of our military men and women carry wounds that will stay with them for life. Missing body parts. Missing memories. Missing friends. Missing relationships.

Those military people don't want your sympathy. They want you to understand them, what they did, and why they did it. It does not matter whether what they were asked to do is something you agree with. They responded their country's call. They responded to your call. They responded to our call. We owe them something for doing that and while a simple "thank your for your service" is perhaps better than nothing, it is insufficient.

This country will be paying for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Somalia, and Syria, and...) for decades to come. We will be paying for the injuries for a long time. With the draw down from the wars interest in supporting the Veterans Administration will decline. Interest in supporting the plethora of charities that support our Wounded Warriors will decline. The interest of our elected officials in such things will decline as the interest of the public declines.

So, do you really want to thank them for their service?

Then, don't forget them. When you see a veteran of the wars - and not just the recent ones, but all of them - sit down and talk to them. If they will let you, ask them what they did. Ask them what they learned. Ask them why they valued their service. Ask them what they think about their comrades in arms.

We who spent time in the military have a conceit. We don't think anyone without such experience can ever really understand us. We don't think that those without military service really know what defending the nation is all about. You can break through that, though, with patient conversation with those one or two veterans of war that you probably know. 

Don't offer sympathy. Offer an ear. And, if you are really serious, listen and don't forget. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

INCSEA Reprise with the Chinese Navy (CUES)

Back when the Soviet Union was still doing its thing, we had a series of encounters at sea that necessitated an agreement between the US Navy and the Soviet Navy.  That resulted in the 1972 U.S. - Soviet Incidents and Sea Agreement (INCSEA). (See 

We are now heading down a similar road with the Chinese Navy with the Conduct for Unplanned Encounters at Sea.  (See

War, Air Power, and Repeated Mistakes

The opinion piece below raises a point that we have forgotten many times in the past. War cannot be won by air power alone. Too many times we have mistakenly assumed that we can somehow make war "clean" by using precision (some use the term surgical) air strikes to win without our own side.

This mistaken idea comes largely from the strategic bombing folks of the first half of the 20th century, beginning with Douhet, who presumed that once air power became involved, war was too horrible to contemplate.

So, as the good Commander below reminds us, air power cannot defeat ISIS in Iraq. What needs to be added to this piece is another reminder about war that Clausewitz told us of in the early 19th century. "In war, the result is never final." (On War, Chapter 1, section 9)

As Iraq and Syria Islamic State (ISIS) insurgent forces advance on Baghdad, some American political leaders, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have urged that the United States begin airstrikes immediately to stop the growing unrest in Iraq. Although air power may be the only expedient and politically acceptable option, there are several reasons why that all-too-familiar impulse to use our asymmetric advantage in airpower will not defeat ISIS.
In fact, history is almost devoid of examples of air power—when used alone—achieving anything resembling a decisive result. The 1999 NATO punitive bombing operation against Serbia stands as one of the only successful uses of air power alone in achieving a stated political objective.
History’s one example of such success embodies two lessons that can be drawn for comparison with the situation in Iraq/Syria. First, in the self-declared ISIS there is no recognized government that can be coerced into negotiation. That suggests that complete annihilation of the group will be necessary to return control to the Iraqi government. Which leads to the second point: Even if air power can achieve a measure of success, securing the peace after ISIS forces are defeated will require boots on the ground. Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, stated on National Public Radio’s 16 June evening news program that “Iraq does not want, or need U.S. boots on the ground. . . . Iraq will provide the soldiers.” He went on to say that what Iraq needs to prevent what would be “one thousand [Osama] Bin Ladens” setting up camp in Iraq is U.S. “air supremacy, training, and assistance.”
The ISIS insurgents probably do not care that the United States moved another carrier strike group (CSG) into the Persian Gulf. If the United States can sort out the complex situation and actually determine what targets to hit in the dense ISIS-ontrolled urban territory, the mufti-clad insurgents will only hug the civilian population closer. Sorting out the bad guys will be a daunting task from 10,000 feet.
Our regional allies and the American public may appreciate the gesture of an extra CSG, but lawless insurgents are concerned only with local optics. Back to Kosovo, it was only when NATO realized that stopping a few Serbian military forces in Kosavar villages armed with cans of gasoline and a pack of matches was a tough mission for an F-15 that they began picking off important economic and infrastructure targets. It was then that the Serbian government agreed to negotiations. One must wonder of the wanna-be nation of ISIS: What are the economic and infrastructure targets that matter to a terrorist-led group that longs for the good old days of A.D. 900?
Finally, the most popular counter-factual argument being voiced by pundits is that if the United States had left a counterterrorism task force in Iraq, then crisis either wouldn’t have happened (because the insurgents would have feared the U.S. military), or the insurgents could have been easily defeated. If that is valid, then why is the flow of foreign fighters and motivated insurgents still a problem in Afghanistan? And why did it remain a persistent problem throughout our seven-plus years in Iraq? We have total air supremacy in Afghanistan and had it in Iraq, but that did not yield a decisive victory in either conflict. Air power alone did not win those wars—why then would it win this one?
The urge for the United States to apply some measure of expressive power is understandable, and assuming it can find someone or something worth blowing up, that is arguably the correct response. However, if the United States and its allies wish to preserve the shape of the world as depicted in the map that Sykes-Picot drew in 1916, a much larger and far more costly commitment to defeating ISIS will be required. Perhaps our ability to provide responsive air power is the best way to buy time for the reeling Iraqi government and security forces to catch their breath and prepare for the counteroffensive.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Samsung Chromebook 2 13.3 inch Reaction & Review

I don't usually put technical issues in this blog, but this time a device appeared that actually helps in managing this blog and providing an easy way to keep my research and writing handy.

A Samsung Chromebook 2 with the 13.3 inch screen arrived yesterday. I had been researching Chromebooks for the past couple of years and had been holding off purchasing one until the new series arrived on the market.

Right out of the box I was impressed with the quality. It is made of plastic, but it feels good in the hand, solid, and weighs very little (3.06 lbs). Plug it in immediately, then turn it on. It will find your wireless network and then will load the latest version of Chrome to get you started. There is nothing tricky about the setup - just answer the questions.

With 4GB of RAM, the machine is quick and responsive with the only delays I have noticed being due to the internet.  As with all Chromebooks, once you log in with your Google account, it sets up exactly like you have it on your desktop Chrome browser complete with Web Apps and Chrome extensions. The Chromebook adds a few more apps, some of which are free or low cost offers.

This machine comes with an amazing screen. Advertised as a 1920 x 1080 HD screen, it actually has a 2150 x 1215 resolution available. While that is is entirely too tiny for the 13.3 inch screen, since the Chromebook has an HDMI port, that resolution becomes handy for hooking up to an external monitor.  In 1920x1080 resolution, the typeface is amazingly clear and easy to read.

Be sure to ask for the additional 100 GB of Google Drive space. You get that free for two years and will be handy.

In short, this is a nice machine that will be useful for years to come.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Voting and the American Military

With the presidential election campaigns beginning to ramp up in the next year, we thought it time to bring this posting front and center.  It was first posted to CivMilBlog in 2009 and was published by the Overseas Vote Foundation.  Additionally, it has gained some interest by several journalists resulting in several hours on the phone and considerable time answering emails about it.

I will be updating this information and, ultimately, expanding the entire story about getting the vote to American military personnel.  I recently began the process of more in-depth historical research and locating anecdotal experiences with soldiers voting. A book is envisioned to tell the entire story of the military and overseas citizen absentee voting.

So, here it is, again.  Your comments are welcome.


Voting and the American Military

Underlying our research project, here at CivMilBlog, into the political attitudes of American military enlisted personnel, and particularly at issue in it, are long-held assumptions about the voting behavior of the American military. The interest in how military personnel vote, however, is not matched with reliable data. To establish what is known at present, we will review the history of American military voting behavior and issues related to absentee voting. We begin by looking at the role the American Civil War played in the development of absentee voting for military personnel. Then follows, to the extent to which information is available, a more general examination intothe identification of military personnel with political parties and their participation in electoral matters during the century between the Civil War and the Vietnam War. We will conclude with an examination of legislation regarding military and overseas voting, with particular emphasis on two specific issues related to military voting: (1) the Federal Voter Assistance Program (FVAP) and how it has affected military voter turnout, and (2) military absentee balloting.

The Civil War and the Soldier Vote 

An historical review of American military voting cannot go far without mentioning the impact of the Civil War. For the first time since the end of the American Revolution, a national election was carried out while large numbers of soldiers and sailors were away from their home states. When the war began in 1861, the regular U.S. Army consisted of only 16,367 officers and men. The Navy listed just 9,057 officers and men on its rolls. By July 1, 1862, the Union Army had grown to 186,751 men and by the end of that year its numbers had reached more than half a million (527,204). By the time of the November 1864 general election, the Union Army consisted of approximately one million men in uniform, most of whom were stationed outside their home state. In the last year of the war, the Navy had about 59,000 personnel, nearly all of whom were assigned to ships at sea (Soley, 1887; Davis, 1973; Welcher, 1989; Geary, 1991; Hagan, 1991).

The election of 1862 was the first electoral contest in the history of the United States to raise widespread questions about the voting rights of soldiers and sailors. Before then, with a small regular Army and an even smaller Navy, few local government officials were concerned about absentee voting issues, it being expected that all citizens would simply vote in their local precincts. Many state constitutions restricted voting to locations within state boundaries. Such limitations effectively made voting by soldiers assigned to locations away from their home state illegal. Some state constitutions permitted voting from locations away from the home precinct if the voter was away on official state or federal business. Soldiers, however, were generally excluded from that provision (Benton, 1915; Winther, 1944).

By the election of 1864, steps had been taken by most states to ensure that their soldiers in the field could vote. Some states permitted soldiers to vote by proxy, with vote choices sent home to an individual who would cast votes on the soldier’s behalf. Wisconsin was the first state to legalize absentee voting in 1862, and some states went so far as to send election commissioners to their state regiments in the field to monitor the proceedings.

Support for such measures was not uniform, however, with Democrats generally in opposition on the assumption that soldiers would vote for the Republican Party candidates. The Illinois state legislature, controlled by Democrats, refused to pass a law permitting soldiers to vote by absentee ballot. Indiana refused to permit any soldier to vote. In September 1864, Abraham Lincoln wrote to General William T. Sherman, who was at that time in Atlanta, Georgia, encouraging him to permit Indiana's soldiers to return home to vote in the state elections (Lincoln, 1894). This pattern of partisan support for military absentee balloting, based on expectations of which political party such measures would support, would be repeated in the future.

Despite provisions by most states, efforts by the Democratic Party ensured widespread disenfranchisement of Union soldiers. Only about 150,000 of the army's more than 1 million soldiers were able to cast absentee ballots from the field in the 1864 general election. However, many soldiers were able to return to their home states to vote in that election and thus did not submit absentee ballots. No record was kept of the number of soldiers who voted in their home states. Of those soldiers who were able to cast an absentee ballot, 119,754 (or 78 percent) voted for Abraham Lincoln, while only 34,291 (22 percent) voted for McClellan, the Democratic Party candidate (Zornow, 1954; Campbell, 2006).  

Party Identification and Political Participation 

Information about the party identification of military personnel during the century following the American Civil War is fragmentary. However, there are clues to be found by examining veterans’ organizations and the legislative actions taken by the Republican and Democratic Parties with respect to military voting, and by exploring the assumptions made about which party would most benefit from encouraging the military vote.

Shortly after the Civil War, in 1866, a group of northern veterans formed the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The first modern veterans’organization, it essentially functioned as part of the Republican Party by supporting the campaigns of former Union soldiers running for political office. Following a decline in membership which began after 1872 and reached a low of about 26,000 in 1876, the GAR shifted its emphasis to supporting appropriate pensions for veterans and widows of veterans. By 1890, membership had surged to 409,489 and the GAR's influence and support of the Republican Party remained as strong as ever. The group claimed it had saved the Republic and condemned the Democratic Party as Copperheads, traitors who had been against the war and who would have permitted the southern states to secede from the Union (Dearing, 1952; McConnell, 1992).

While veterans of the American Civil War, as represented by the Grand Army of the Republic, were strongly Republican, the party identification of active-duty military personnel during the late nineteenth century is not as clear.  Officers maintained close relationships with members of Congress and state governors, but such behavior was mostly geared to acquire rank or obtain positions within the small Army of the post-war years.  There is little evidence to suggest that officers publicly expressed any particular party identification, but since most were Civil War veterans, they were likely to be sympathetic to the Republican Party.  There is evidence, however, to suggest that enlisted personnel were largely apolitical, not participating in any partisan activity and likely not voting.

A large percentage of active-duty enlisted personnel during the late 19th century were recent immigrants, comprising as much as a quarter of the Army and even more in the Navy (Gould, 1869; White, 1972; Harrod, 1978; Valle, 1980; Kohn, 1981). While immigrants were often permitted (and even recruited) to vote in the large cities and tended to identify with the Democratic Party, soldiers had little access to the electoral process because they were assigned to remote posts in the American West, fighting in the Indian wars (Rickey, 1999; Campbell, 2006).  Most enlisted personnel during the later 19th century were undereducated, came from economically deprived backgrounds, had criminal records, or were running from the law. With soldiers generally considered to be social outcasts, there was little public or political interest in supporting measures to enable soldiers to vote. An October 1866 editorial in The Nation argued that soldiers were not worthy of the right to vote and should not be granted suffrage as they rarely had opportunities to read or to educate themselves on electoral matters and argued further that allowing them to vote would open up new avenues for election fraud. Most worrisome to the editorialist was that the soldier harbored a “spirit of despotism” which would be “incompatible with the preservation of free institutions” (Ought Soldiers To Vote?, 1866, October 25). The combination of these factors ensured that the enlisted man in the decades following the Civil War had little opportunity to participate in elections, regardless of his desires in the matter (Utley, 1973, personal interview April 8, 2008).

Since the end of the Civil War, American military personnel had generally been apolitical, not only in terms of public support for one political party or another but also in terms of whether they voted at all. The Spanish-American War did not involve long-term or large-scale military deployments and the brief 18-month involvement of U.S. troops in World War I encompassed only the 1918 mid-term elections and thus did not involve a presidential vote.

Between the Civil War and the years following World War I, the nature of the American military had not changed significantly. Despite short-term increases in size during the Spanish-American War and World War I, by the 1920s the Army and the Navy were once again relatively small organizations, with most soldiers and sailors assigned to remote outposts or kept onboard ships, largely isolated from society and uninvolved in political activity. The apolitical nature of the military continued through the 1930s, with usually less than30 percent of the officers voting, indicating their lack of involvement in partisan politics as well. General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff from 1939 until 1945, evenopenly questioned whether it was ethical for a military officer tovote for a presidential candidate (Pogue, 1963; Clifford, 1991), and General Dwight Eisenhower apparently never voted until after he left active duty, believing that the military should maintain a strict distance from politicians (D’Este, 2002). There is no data on enlisted voting during that period, but is assumed to have been ateven lower ratesthan for officers.

The rate of voting by soldiers declined further during the war years of 1942 to 1945 and remained low until the early 1950s, when participation began gradually to increase. The officer voting turnout, however,had reached only 40 percent by 1956 and the enlisted turnout rate was probably even lower (Van Riper & Unwalla, 1965; Alvarez et. al., 2007). Military personnel likely did not vote for a reason long common to the armed forces: soldiers and sailors were often stationed at remote bases or overseas with limited access to mail. The stationing of individuals away from home and out of communication resulted in their paying less attention to electoral matters at home and made access to voting procedures problematic at best.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program and Military Voter Turnout

The apolitical nature of armed forces personnel meant that interest in assuring the military could vote remained low to non-existent for quite some time. The ability of the soldier or sailor to vote remained in the hands of the individual states. Although most states had enacted laws permitting military personnel to vote during World War I, the varying state laws made it difficult for military personnel to cast a vote. By 1940, most states required registration to vote, but in 18 of them, registration had to be in person and soldiers were subject to that rule. Adding to the barriers to voters, most southern states also had a poll tax, with only Mississippi and South Carolina exempting soldiers from having to pay it. Some states had constitutions that did not permit absentee voting, and of those that did permit the practice, some specifically prevented soldiers and sailors from taking advantage of the provision. Other restrictions that made it difficult for military personnel to vote included the requirement to obtain affidavits sworn before an officer or to obtain a proxy. Further complicating the matter for deployed troops were the varying deadlines for filing absentee ballots.

In 1941, the beginning of direct American involvement in World War II, no coordination of access to voting for military personnel existed at the federal level. The War Department required that “everything possible” be done “to enable the personnel of the Army to exercise their right to vote” but did little more than direct soldiers to “write to the Secretary of State of their home state requesting information under the laws of that state." Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed his doubts: “I am not at all certain that much can be done about it,” he said. He suggested that the Army and Navy “remind the boys by posting notices…summarizing the laws in each state" (Anderson, 2001). Apparently, few soldiers were able to negotiate the complex steps required to cast a vote and in November 1942, the first mid-term election conducted during World War II, only one-half of one percent of the five million active-duty service personnel voted (Should Soldiers Have the Vote, 1943).

The first attempt by the national level of government to increase military voter turnout came in July 1942, when Rep. Robert L. Ramsay (D-WV) introduced a national military voting rights bill, which called for special elections on military bases to be supervised by the Secretary of State in each state in which the base was located. The War Department and the National Association of Secretaries of State opposed the bill, as it was introduced. Major changes were made to the bill and provisions were ultimately made for the Army and Navy to provide postcards for each military voter to send to their individual Secretaries of State. The state secretaries, upon receipt of the card, were required to send the soldier a ballot with the names of those running for federal offices. Included was an oath, to be sworn in front of an officer, that the applicant was a qualified voter under the laws of the particular state.

The bill was opposed largely by southern members of Congress because it was said to violate states' rights and it included a provision to eliminate poll taxes. One southern Congressman argued that voting was not a matter of right, but rather a privilege solely within the purview of the state (Anderson, 2001). Despite significant differences within the Democratic party, largely splitting along regional lines with the southern members of Congress voting against it, the Soldier Voting Act of 1942 (P.L.712-561) passed both houses of Congress on September 16, 1942, and was signed into law by President Roosevelt.

As the 1944 general election approached, some Democratic Party leaders saw an opportunity to benefit from the military vote and pressed for more aggressive military voter legislation. Simultaneously, Republican leaders believed that a reduced military vote would bring advantage to their party and, in a move opposite of that taken by the party in the Civil War, opposed changes to the Soldier Voting Act. The Democratic Party was able to overcome Republican resistance and amendments to the 1942 law were passed and became law on April 1, 1944. The amendments consisted largely of recommendations to the states in the form of requests to ensure all soldiers and sailors were provided with an opportunity to vote. There was little in the form of substantive requirements, but it did include a provision for a limited federal ballot (APSA, 1952; Anderson, 2001).

Of about 9.2 million voting-age personnel on active duty in 1944, 4.4 million requested ballots for the 1944 general election and about 2.6 million returned them, a 29.1 percent voting turnout rate based on the then-minimum voting age of 21. In the same year, the turnout rate among eligible civilians was about 60 percent. The military absentee vote comprised about 5.6 percent of the total popular vote for president. No data exists on the voting patterns of military personnel who happened to be in the United States and in their home precincts (APSA, 1952).

While no data was collected by the government regarding military voting in the 1946, 1948, or 1950 elections, it was generally assumed that military voter turnout had decreased after the 1944 election. In 1951, President Truman asked the American Political Science Association to convene a special committee to examine service voting and make recommendations for legislative and administrative action. The report, published in 1952, resulted in passage of the Federal Voting Assistance Act of 1955 (P.L. 84-296), which provided for voting support not only for overseas-based military personnel but for overseas-stationed civilian government employees as well.

This law also required the President to designate the head of an executive department as the coordinator of federal functions described in the law. President Eisenhower designated the Secretary of Defense, who subsequently delegated authority to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, as coordinator of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). The Director of the FVAP was responsible for ensuring that all overseas citizens, whether they are military personnel or employees of the federal government, are provided with the necessary information to be able to vote in all elections.

In 1975, drawing on 20 years of experience, including the Vietnam War, Congress passed the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act (P.L.94-203)which repealed and updated the 1955 law to clarify reporting requirements and procedures. It also guaranteed absentee registration and voting rights for citizens outside the United States regardless of whether they maintained a U.S. residence or address. Since then, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA) (P.L. 99-410) has further updated the earlier acts of Congress and ensured certain rights for overseas citizens as well as military and other government personnel assigned overseas, including the unrestrained ability to vote. It specifically directed states to provide overseas personnel with the ability to vote in all elections, including general, primary, special, and runoff elections. Within the 1986act was a renewed requirement thatthe President report to Congress on the effectiveness of the program following each election.

Military voter turnout did not immediately change following the FVAP’s inception in 1955. However, as the 1976 law was passed, with renewed interest on the part of Congress, which required reports by the Secretary of Defense on the effectiveness of the program, voting participation bymilitary personnelhasincreased dramatically. The turnout rate by military personnel in 1976 was less than 40 percent, some 15 percent lower than the civilian turnout rate, but by 1984 the voting turnout rate by military personnel reached 55 percent which, for the first time, exceeded the national voter turnout rate. By 1992, the military voter turnout rate was 67 percent. A decline in military turnout was noted in the 1996 election (64 percent), but the U.S. turnout rate also dropped significantly that year, to 49 percent from 55 percent in the 1992 election.

The required report to Congress following the 2000 general election showed that 69 percent of all military personnel cast ballots, as compared to 54.2 percent of voting-eligible civilian population. In 2004, the military percentage increased to 79 percent, with 72 percent of overseas personnel and 76 percent of those within the continental United States voting, while the turnout rate among civilians that year was 60.1 percent. Slight increases in both the military and civilian voter turnout are expected in the 2008 general election, and the gap between military and civilian voter turnout rates will probably continue to increase somewhat. 

Absentee Balloting

A large body of literature exists describing the changes in absentee voting laws, beginning with the flurry of activity during and immediately after World War I on the part of individual states to grant their soldiers an absentee voting capability. The subsequent writing on the subject was descriptive in nature, generally concentrating on the general processes within each state and on legal and constitutional issues, with little directly relating to military access to absentee balloting (Ray, 1914, 1918a, 1918b, 1919, 1926; Steinbicker 1938). The experience of granting absentee voting rights to soldiers during World War II resulted in some additional comment about procedure and discussion of the congressional partisan infighting that occurred in producing the 1942 bill and the 1944 amendment (Winther, 1944; Martin, 1945). As mentioned above, the American Political Science Association produced a report in 1952, at the request of President Truman, describing the process and for the first time in detail presented some of the barriers preventing soldiers and sailors from actually being able to execute a vote by absentee ballot (APSA, 1952; Keyssar, 2000).

More recently, research has concentrated on methods to increase absentee voting, primarily by reducing the administrative and practical operational barriers to voting, but the unique problems in accessing the overseas military community have not been discussed in detail (Dubin & Kalsow 1996a, 1996b; Oliver 1996; Patterson & Caldeira 1985).

Following the 2000 general election and the attention generated by the handling of absentee ballots in Florida, the specific problems with balloting by military personnel came into the spotlight and prompted detailed recommendations and analysis of alternative methods of casting votes, including various electronic methods (Alvarez et. al 2007, 2008; Hall 2008). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) launched its own investigation, and in a statement before a congressional subcommittee on military and overseas citizens’ absentee voting, David M. Walker, the Comptroller General of the United States, reported that multiple difficulties were posed to absentee balloting by the wide variation in state laws, complex election laws, and different deadline requirements (GAO 2001, May; Hall 2008). In response to some of the GAO's observations and recommendations, the FVAP developed an electronic registration and voting experiment in time for the 2004 election, but the system was not used due to concerns raised about the system’s security (GAO 2006, September).

Some have argued that military personnel have not and do not face difficulties invoting (Mazur 2007). However, studies conducted since the 2000 general election show that both civilians and military personnel living overseas have a more difficult time casting absentee ballots than those casting absentee ballots in the United States. Citizens living overseas report having difficulty in registering to vote and in meeting deadlines. Furthermore, evidence from studies on absentee balloting in California shows that overseas ballots were twice as likely not to be returned and three times more likely to be challenged as compared to non-overseas absentee ballots. For example, about half of the UOCAVA absentee ballots sent to overseas personnel were not returned. Of those cast, just fewer than 10 percent were challenged and not counted, principally because they arrived after the deadline (Cain et. al 2008; Alvarez et. al 2005, 2007). However, there appears to be little partisan connection with respect to the UOCAVA voters who fail to return their ballots or which ballots are ultimately counted (Alvarez et. al 2007).

The numerous problems posed to overseas voters by the myriad state laws and restrictions have not gone unaddressed by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has enforced UOCAVA by bringing suitsagainst various states in federalcourt. In 2006 alone, lawsuits were filed against Alabama (United States v State of Alabama, 2006), Connecticut (United States v State of Connecticut 2006), and North Carolina (United States v. State of North Carolina, 2006) based on complaintsabout how each handled election deadlines, transmittedballots to overseas voters, and establisheddeadlines for receiving absentee ballots (DOJ 2006, June 8).

In the Alabama case, the United States filed a Notice of Dismissal once Alabama enacted legislation to extend the time between primary and run-off elections to 6 weeks, and allowed UOCAVA voters' ballots to be received and counted until noon on the seventh day after the run-off election. In the Connecticut case, a stipulated agreement between the DOJ and the state resolved the issue by permitting the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by UOCAVA voters and allowed extra time for the receipt and counting of ballots. The agreement also required the Secretary of the State of Connecticut to work with the DOJ to develop procedures to ensure compliance with UOCAVA in future elections for federal office. In the North Carolina Case, the DOJ and the state initially entered into a consent decree in time for the May 2006 primary elections. The two parties eventually agreed to a dismissal of the consent decree after North Carolina enacted legislation to provide permanent relief for future elections by expanding the time between primary and run-off elections from four to seven weeks and extended voters' opportunity to send and receive absentee ballots via facsimile to all categories of voters protected by UOCAVA (DOJ 2008, July 25). Despite these agreements between the federal and state governments, problems for overseas voters continue to surface (Hall 2008).


Voting participation by American military personnel has been minimal for most of the history of the United States. The primary reason is wide variances in state laws that present legal and practical barriers to remotely stationed military personnel and serve to restrict access to a ballot. Coordinated action on the part of the federal government to reduce those barriers began during World War II but only became effective with the enactment of the Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986. The passage of legislation previously enacted by Congress during wartime years exhibited strong partisan differences, apparently based on views about which political party the law would benefit electorally. It was only when legislation was considered during peacetime years, as with the Federal Voting Assistance Act of 1955, that legislators acted in a more non-partisan manner. Other than during the Civil War, there is little evidence to indicate that the American military’s preference for one political party or another was any different from that of the general population.

The primary result of federal absentee voting legislation and enforcement action by the executive branch has been to increase military voting participation dramatically. While historically, the military turnout rate has been significantly lower than that of the civilian population, in recent years military voting exceeds that of the general population by more than 15 percent.

End Notes:

[1] Voter Age Population (VAP) obtained from United States Election Project, George Mason University. Data retrieved 12 January 2009 from Military voter turnout rates were obtained by personal correspondence from the Federal Voting Assistance Program, Department of Defense on March 2, 2009.

[2] Federal Voting Assistance Program, Seventeenth Report, October 2005. The data for the FVAP reports to Congress are generated by a survey conducted by the RAND Corporation. Voter turnout is self-reported and so may be inflated to some extent; however, even taking into account such over-reporting, it is apparent that the military as a whole votes at a significantly higher rate than does the general population, even in mid-term elections.

[3] Voter Eligible Population (VEP) obtained from United States Election Project, George Mason University. Data retrieved 12 January 2009 from Military voter turnout rates obtained from Federal Voting Assistance Program, Department of Defense.

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Cain, Bruce E., Karin MacDonald, and Michael H. Murakami. 2008. Administering the Overseas Vote. Public Administration Review. 68, 5: 802-813.

Campbell, Tracy, 2006. Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, An American Political Tradition, 1742-2004. New York: Perseus Books.

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Dearing,. Mary R. 1952. Veterans in Politics: The Story of the G.A.R. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

D’Este, Carlo. 2002. Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life. New York: Henry Holt & Company.

Dubin, Jeffrey A. and Gretchen A. Kalsow. 1996a. “Comparing Absentee and Precinct Voters: Voting on Direct Legislation.” Political Behavior. 18, 4: 393-411.

Dubin, Jeffrey A. and Gretchen A. Kalsow. 1996b. “Comparing Absentee and Precinct Voters: A View Over Time.” Political Behavior. 18, 4: 369-392.

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Geary. James. W. 1991.  We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War.  DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press

Hagan, Kenneth J. 1991. This People’s Navy: The Making of American Sea Power. New York: Free Press.

Hall, Thad. 2008. UOCAVA: A State of the Research. Working Paper. CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project Working Paper #69, September 15.

Harrod, Frederick S. 1978.  Manning the New Navy: The Development of a Modern Naval Enlisted Force, 1899-1940.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

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Patterson, Samuel C. and Gregory A. Caldiera. 1985. “Mailing in the Vote: Correlates and Consequences of Absentee Voting”, American Journal of Political Science, 29, 4: 766-788.

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"Should Soldiers Have the Vote? They Say Yes Congress Maybe." 1943, December 6.  The Nation, Newsweek. 54.

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Steinbicker, Paul G. 1938. Absentee Voting in the United States. American Political Science Review. 23: 898-907.

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White, Bruce.  1972.  "Ethnicity, Race, and the American Military, from Bunker Hill to San Juan Hill," in Major David MacIsaac, ed., The Military and Society: The Proceedings of the Fifth Military History Symposium, United States Air Force Academy, 5-6 October, 122-25, 129-30;

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18 U.S.C. § 609 (1948).

Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act of 1975 (P.L.94-203) (42 U.S.C. 1973dd et seq (repealed 1986))

Soldier Voting Act of 1942 (P.L.712-561) (50 U.S.C. § 301 to 303 (repealed 1955))

Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-410) (42 U.S.C. § 1973ff to ff6) 

Federal Voting Assistance Act of 1955 (P.L. 296-656) (42 U.S.C. 1973cc (repealed 1975))

List of Cases

United States v State of Alabama, (M.D. ALA, May 1, 2006) (No. 2:06-cv-392-SRW). (Accessed March 12, 2009).  

United States v State of Connecticut, (D. Conn. Aug 2, 2006) (No. 3:06-cv-1192). (Accessed March 12, 2009).

United States v State of North Carolina, (E.D.N.C. Mar. 20, 2006) (No. 5:06-cv-00118H). (Accessed March 12, 2009).


This material is based on material previously published by Donald S. Inbody.  Original source is available at:  All rights are retained by the original author and may not be republished in any form unless fully attributed to the author, Donald S. Inbody.

Donald S. Inbody

Department of Political Science

Texas State University

601 University Drive

San Marcos, TX 78666

Congressional Influence on American Naval Policy

U.S. Atlantic Fleet 1907 (Credit: Wikipedia)

(One of our longer pieces. The references are not done correctly, but we will update when we sort it out.)

Congress has had and continues to have significant and even overriding influence on the nature of American civil-military relations and in naval policy.  More specifically, particular members of Congress established themselves as experts in naval matters and brought strong influence to bear on policy decisions.  While the relationship between civil and military authorities in the United States is the subject of much research and there is little disagreement over the notion of civilian control of the military, most of the work concerns the relationship between the military and the Presidency or perhaps the Secretary of Defense.  Little is written on the nature of the relationship of Congress with the United States Navy.

An Early Case. In 1785, American commercial shipping began falling victim to depredations along the Barbary Coast of northern Africa.  Two merchant ships, Dolphin and Maria, were taken by Algerian pirates.  The crew was taken to Algiers and held for ransom at $3,000 per head.  Many countries had been dealing with the Barbary States for years, finding that paying tribute was easier than countering the attacks by force.  The United States, having dissolved its Navy following the Revolutionary War, had little choice but to pay the ransom.?

The problem was manageable for the next decade or so, but in July 1793, eight American merchant vessels were taken over a three week period.  Of the over hundred sailors, seven were to die while in captivity.  Despite calls for action, strong resistance to the establishment of a standing Navy remained.  The resistance was fueled by a feeling that such action would anger the British who would not want to see the fledgling United States threaten their long-standing dominance of the seas.

The resistance was strong.  No less a figure than James Madison, aided by William B. Giles of Virginia advocated “assigning a sum of money to buy a cessation of hostilities from the Regency of Algiers.”  Giles predicted great problems brought about by establishing a Navy.  “There is no device which facilitates the expense and debts so much as a Navy,” he said.?

Coming to the support of establishing a Navy was William Smith of Maryland and Fisher Ames of Massachusetts.  Taking the resistance on fully, they argued that the United States was “peculiarly fitted for a navy: abounding in all kinds of naval resources…”  They argued that to pay tribute to the Algerians was “shameful” and that if action were not taken in the form of creating a navy, “we may very soon expect the Algerines on the coast of America.”?  When the bill to authorize the construction of six new frigates came up for a vote, it passed by a narrow margin and was signed into law by President Washington on 27 March 1794.  No naval officer was involved in the decision, other than voicing a public opinion.?  The entire issue was a partisan political argument.  Congress established the first naval policy of the new country.?

Theoretical Background. The most recent civil-military theoretical work, Peter Feaver’s Agency Theory, discusses a two-way relationship between a principal and an agent.  The theory is generally used to explain a principal-agent relationship between the President and/or the Secretary of Defense and the Military.  While it is possible to use the theory to understand a Congressional principality, little has been done along those lines.  No work has been done to explain a dual principality whereby both the Executive and Congressional branches exert influence, advice, and pressure and the military.?

Very little work has been done exploring the relationship between Congress and the U. S. military, especially with respect to initiating and effecting policy within the organization.  Even less has been done with respect to the United States Navy.  Most work on the development of the Navy concentrate on the major proponents within the service or perhaps the Secretary of the Navy.  Congress, if mentioned at all, is often seen merely as the necessary step one must take in order to achieve ultimate success.  There is a tendency to deal only with the military leaders of change or policy and to assume they were able to achieve success by their own effort in an apolitical environment.  If politics were mentioned, it was often with a view that such political involvement was obstructive.

This essay will explore the involvement of Congress with the United States Navy, specifically with respect to establishing and influencing naval policy.  It will examine episodes across American history generally dividing into those events which occurred prior to World War II and those after. 

Prior to World War II, the general consensus is that Congress was the dominant political power in Washington politics.  Woodrow Wilson, writing in 1885, described a government in which “unquestionably, the predominant and controlling force, the centre and source of all motive and of all regulative power, is Congress.”?  Following World War II, with the threat of the Cold War, the conventional wisdom is that the President and the Executive Branch have been the center of policy and regulative power.  The term “Imperial Presidency” has crept into the lexicon, describing a political world in which the President of the United States extended his powers beyond those understood to be within the intention of the framers of the Constitution and the relative power and influence of Congress has faded.?  In the last decade of the twentieth century, some discussed the possibility that civilians may not actually have control over the military, or at least not have control over the details of how the military operates, what it purchases, or have any significant influence over other policies.  They are convinced of some sort of civil-military crisis.?

However, despite the conventional wisdom of the latter half of the twentieth century, Congress continued to impact military and particularly naval policy to an extent not generally understood.  Members of Congress have established themselves as naval, experts, exerting incredible influence on the nature of naval policy.  The pattern, which was established during and in the years following the American Revolution, continued through the nineteenth century and continues today with only slight modification.
Review of the Literature. Scholarship exploring Congress’ role in naval policy is limited.  The majority of the writing concerning the United States Navy concerns specific operations or biographies of significant individuals.  These works concentrate on the inner workings of the Navy or the details of battles and the decisions, primarily by naval officers, surrounding them. 
Not until the early twentieth century was much accomplished exploring the involvement of political forces in the establishment of naval policy.  Most of that completed is good, but is concerned principally with either the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the post-Revolutionary War/Early National period (1785-1827) or the years following the American Civil War (1865-1889).  Very little is written of the early twentieth century and almost none concerning post-World War II. 

The development and operations of the United States Navy during the years of the American Revolution are particularly well documented.  William Bell Clark edited a multi-volume collection of documents pertaining to the naval portion of the war.  While it is but a collection of primary sources with little or no analysis, it provides a look into the details of personal opinions concerning naval policy and operations and includes specific documentation of the direct involvement of the Continental Congress in naval matters.?

Charles O. Paullin was among the first to begin writing about the political origins of the Revolutionary Navy.  Writing in the years following the prolific output of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the preeminent naval strategist of the late 19th century, he began a detailed look into the origins of the American navy.  For the first time he explored the administration of the Navy, specifically looking into the relationships between the Continental Congress and those charged with carrying out policy.  The naval committee was the earliest demonstrated direct involvement of Congress in naval policy.?
The first work taking into account the role of the United States Congress in shaping naval policy was the seminal study into the development of American naval power by Harold and Margaret Sprout.  Disciples of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the first of the notable American naval strategists, Sprout and Sprout followed up in a study of how the American Navy’s rise to eminence by the end of World War I was in Mahan’s tradition.  Most notably, they carefully noted where the leaders in the Navy interfaced with civilian leaders, especially those in Congress and others who had direct impact on the establishment of naval policy.?

The Sprouts followed up a year later with what was essentially a second volume, further exploring the naval development of the United States following World War I.  Again, much attention was placed on political interaction, especially with Congress.?

The intervention of World War II slowed further scholarship and it was not until the late 1950s when Marshall Smelser began to write about congressional involvement with the United States Navy.  A prolific historian, Smelser explored the origins of the Navy.  He observed astutely that historians who had ignored the political issues surrounding naval policy were avoiding an important issue.

The result of these approaches to the study of American naval history has been the writing of a good deal of apolitical narrative, with emphasis on strategy, operations, technology, heroism – even patriotic slogans – but with very little on what the nation expected of the Navy and how the judgments on its mission were arrived at….The making of naval policy is not merely ministerial but is political and therefore inevitably partisan.?

Continuing in the tradition of studying early naval policy, Craig Symonds explored the debate between what he described as the navalists and the antinavalists.  Those early American politicians who supported the establishment of a Navy were in direct conflict with those who were not convinced that the United States ought to even attempt to enter the venture.  The antinavalists argued that a navy would anger the British and bring on another dangerous war.  The navalists believed that since the United States was dependent on maritime commerce, a navy was absolutely necessary.  The entire discussion was political in nature and rarely involved naval officers.? 

The next historical period that brought about serious scholarship concerning the politics of naval policy was the years following the American Civil War, particularly the 1880s.  Most of that work is in unpublished PhD dissertations, although a few managed to emerge as books or chapters within books.  Slightly different than the earlier body of work about the Revolutionary and Early National periods, the emphasis in the post Civil War period is primarily descriptive in nature, concerning itself with the technological aspects of decisions as well as some of the more controversial characters.  Congress is mentioned, and research was accomplished into some of the details, but little in the way of process was completed.?

Two distinct bodies of scholarship, that of the Revolutionary/Early National period and that of the post-Civil War years represent the near totality of scholarship on the influence of Congress on naval policy.  Some later works touch on the subject, but only as part of a biography? or of a specific event.?

Another Historical Example. The beginning of serious writing on American naval strategy was with Alfred Thayer Mahan.  A Captain of long sea service in the United States Navy, he was asked by Commodore Stephen B. Luce, the President of the newly established Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, to teach naval history.  Following a year studying in the New York Public Library, he began his teaching project in 1885.

The Navy at that time was in serious decline, having been badly neglected since the end of the American Civil War.  Naval Officers had been interested in reforming the Navy, but despite several attempts, little had been achieved.  The establishment of the Naval War College was one of the few successful initiatives, although from the beginning was itself the target of much opposition from naval traditionalists.?

Mahan collected his lecture notes and in 1890 published his most famous work, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783. ?  With this well-received and highly acclaimed book, events favorable to the U. S. Navy appeared to begin moving the right direction.  Conventional wisdom has it that Mahan’s book so impressed naval leaders that it was almost inevitable that a new and more modern navy would be built and sent to sea.?

However, decisions made over a decade prior to the publishing of the book involving men who were not naval officers and who did not know Mahan actually began the process of rebuilding the Navy.  These events are demonstrative of a pattern of political dynamics that had occurred previously and would occur again and again.

At the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the United States Navy was the largest in the world and arguably the most modern in terms of the use of rifled guns, steam power, and use of armor plate.  Despite such technological advances, within months of the end of the war, the Navy had been reduced to a handful of operational ships, all primarily sail-powered and retaining the use of muzzle-loaded smoothbore cannon.  Many of the ships were literally rotting at piers in various under funded naval shipyards.  Standing Navy orders to Captains forbid the use of steam power and required using red ink in the ship’s log to highlight when he found it necessary to raise steam and start engines.?

Congressman Benjamin W. Harris of Massachusetts, first a member and later chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs, had been pressing since the late 1870s for a fundamental review of naval strategy with an eye toward taking advantage of the newly developing technologies of steam and rifled guns.?  Strong resistance by Navy Admirals kept forward progress at bay for some years.   Some of the Admirals, famous from Civil War exploits, were tremendously influential in keeping the Navy from moving beyond sail power into the steam age despite strong support by junior navy officers.?

President Chester A. Arthur named William E. Chandler to be Secretary of the Navy in 1882.  With his appointment began the most forward reaching reforms to date.  He quickly named Admiral Robert W. Shufeldt as chairman of the Naval Advisory Board.  Chandler and Shufeldt then began to work with Congressman Harris and the Naval Affairs Committee which, after an extensive investigation, concluded the Navy needed to change its nature and move into the future.  Congressman Harris went on record for the “immense moral value in a 15-knot ship,” and that the United States needed “all the moral power which can be crowded into iron and steel.”  In March 1883 a bill was approved by Congress appropriating funds for four steel warships to be built of American steel. ?

Thus the pattern first seen in the establishment of the first American naval policy was once again observable.  Initial proposals of change were met by intense reactionary obstruction.  The obstruction was effective until strong civilian “champions” were found, in this case the Secretary of the Navy and the Chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee.  With the civilian leadership in place, particularly in Congress, the early resistance fades and the proposals of change are achieved.

The Dynamics of Policy Change.

Since the earliest days of the United States, individuals in the Navy and Navy Department have attempted to modernize or otherwise enable major transitional change within the Navy, often due to new technological advances.  It also appears that not all such attempts were successful, despite active "championship" by senior naval officers.  A cursory review of history indicates that strong involvement on the part of Congress, particularly certain influential members, was significant in ensuring change actually took place.  The influence of Congress appears to be so important that it is possible for changes in the Navy to be initiated by Congress without any desire on the part of the service for such change. 

The work of encouraging and implementing major transitional change in any organization requires the effort of individuals who are personally dedicated to the issue.  These individuals, termed “champions” in this study, are critical to the success of initiatives.  In the case of the United States Navy, most significant change required the presence of a civilian or civil “champion.”

Observation 1:  In order to initiate and implement major transitional change within the United States Navy, e.g., a significant new strategy, operational capability, or major technology, and to ensure acceptance within the naval service, a “civil champion” from either Congress or the Executive Branch must be present to start the change.

              As critical as the civil champion might be, a protagonist from within the Department of the Navy is never the less required.  This person, often a naval officer, is necessary to guide the technical and administrative details necessary to implement the desired change.

Observation 2:  For a significant new strategy, operational capability, or major technology to gain acceptance within the naval service, a senior officer or officers must become the “military (or naval) champion” of such change.

Change will find enemies.  The inertia of the status quo will nearly always ensure that when a major transitional change is advocated, strong resistance to such change will immediately appear.  This resistance will emerge even in the face of effective, early, and powerful advocacy by the champions.  The primary source of the resistance is likely to be from within the ranks of senior naval officers, as well as some within the senior civilian leadership.

Observation 3:  When new strategies, operational capabilities, or major technology appear, despite the “championing” of senior individuals, there will be immediate strong resistance to the change from within the ranks of senior officers.

With sustained support and advocacy on the part of the naval and civilian champions, and particularly the congressional champion, resistance can be overcome and the goal of change achieved.


Observation 4:  In order to overcome the strong resistance to change, advocates must engage Congress early, and a congressional champion must emerge.

Writing about the American military, Samuel P. Huntington notes, “..despite widespread belief to the contrary, [the United States Constitution] does not provide for civilian control.”?  He goes on, though, to describe a system, in spite of the Constitution, in which military services are firmly under civilian control.  Civilian control of the military in the United States is so firmly in place that a major change in the military services cannot occur without a civilian advocate or “champion.”  Even in the case in which a “military champion” does exist, significant progress is not possible without the “civil champion” instigating or at least permitting the change to begin.  The civil champion is critical to ensuring the existence of an environment in which the change can be maintained even in the face of inevitable organizational resistance.

Instigating and maintaining major change in large organizations is difficult at best.  Rarely does such change occur quickly and most requires a period of years to reach fruition.  Stephen Skowronek, looking at the period on either side of the turn of the twentieth century, describes a system of governmental revision beginning with what he calls “patchwork” and ending with reconstruction.  Patchwork is the method the bureaucracy uses in the early stages once it is understood that change is required.  The leaders begin to make small, incremental changes with parts of the process or organizational structure.  Eventually, it becomes necessary to redesign the organization, a process he calls reconstruction.  His description of such reconstruction shows a system in which various political powers struggle to determine the best outcome.  The struggle typically results in a fundamental change to the organization’s structure.  This process suggests that in order for change to become systemic, a fundamental change in the organizational structure is required.?  Organizational research into the methodology and theory of change in large complex organizations reinforces this notion.?

The emergence of new technology will instigate a need for change.  Jan Bremer, writing about the influence of technology on change within the Navy, argues that while politics and culture are factors that cannot be ignored, “…the logic implicit in technological developments may have the power to override both.”?  The rise of a significant new technology, particularly the introduction of the practical application of a significant new technology for the United States Navy, requires a major transitional change effort, despite organizational, cultural, and political resistance. 

The introduction of the new technology will enable new operational capabilities and naval strategies.  For major transitional change to be successfully integrated into the military organization, civilian leadership, whether in Congress or in the Executive branch, must act to cause the military leadership to make the organizational changes necessary to engender the new operational capabilities and strategy. 

A Twentieth Century Case: Carl Vinson and the Navy.

I simply don’t like the idea of Congress being thought of as a kindly old uncle who complains but who finally, as everyone expects, gives in and raises his hand in blessing, and then rocks in his chair for another year, glancing down the avenue once in a while wondering whether he’s done the right thing.?

Carl Vinson, Congressman from Georgia since 1914, Ranking Minority member of the Naval Affairs Committee since 1923, Chairman since 1933, and then Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee since the unification of the services, had established himself as the patriarch of the Navy and then the armed services.  He never submitted to the authority of anyone in the Executive branch or in the military and always appeared to make up his own mind as to the correct thing to support.?

In the years following War II, the newly established independent Air Force began to push for approval of the new intercontinental bomber, the B-36.  The Navy was firmly against the program and was pressing for authorization and funding of a new super aircraft carrier, the USS United States.  Despite strong support by the Admirals and the civilian leadership within the Navy Department, Vinson was convinced that the Air Force offered the best line of defense against the Soviet Union.  Carl Vinson led Congress to support cancellation of the USS United States in favor of the B-36 despite the protestations and resignations of Admirals and the Secretary of the Navy.  Once again, despite the desires of the naval administration and senior officers, Congress decided on major issues of naval policy.?

A Joint Case.


This legislation would cripple the Joint Chiefs of Staff with serious consequences for the nation’s security….This bill would rob the service chiefs of their proper authority, denigrate their role, and complicate their administration of the services.?

              The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Wickham, was not alone when he made the statement above to the Senators Barry Goldwater and Sam Nunn at a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon on the impending Goldwater-Nichols.  The proposed law would increase the authority of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and make the holder of that office the sole military advisor to the President of the United States.  Additionally, the legislation would require the services, the most recalcitrant of which was the United States Navy, to ensure that all officers would have experience on Joint Staffs prior to being considered for flag or general rank.?   Resistance among senior officers of all the services and within the Department of Defense was powerful.

              Sam Nunn was the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  A protégé of fellow Georgian Carl Vinson, Nunn was considered a defense expert by other members of Congress.  Joining with the ranking minority member of the committee, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, he began a process that would take nearly five years to shake up the Pentagon organization and shape policy within the military.  All this he would do without any serious support by senior military officers or officials of the Executive Branch.

              Provincial arguments among the four services in the Department of Defense had nearly stalled any possibility of real progress in thinking about national defense.  None of the services would ever consider backing down from a preferred course of action nor would they be likely to defer to another services plan over one of its own.?  In private conference following the explosive confrontation with the Joint Chiefs, Senator Goldwater exclaimed, “If the Pentagon is ever going to be straightened out, the only hope is for Congress to do it.  The services are so parochial and powerful, there’s no way the executive branch will ever get it done.”?

              Over the next months, despite strong and uniform resistance on the part of senior flag and general officers, the Secretary of Defense, and even other members of Congress, Nunn and Goldwater were able to garner unanimous support from the Senate and a 406-4 majority vote in the House.  On October 1, 1986, President Reagan signed the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 into law, ending a process that took four years and 241 days.?  Congress, and more specifically, a few dedicated champions within Congress, forced policy upon the military despite active opposition.

A Potential Case of Failure.

Network Centric Warfare was the term applied to a new concept of warfare drawn on recognition that the platform, that is the ship or airplane, was the central object in conducting warfare.  The chief proponent, Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, began arguing for this concept during the 1990s as he watched the massive growth of computers and computer/information networks.  Resistance to his idea was immediate, as it threatened major shipbuilding and aircraft production programs in favor of a new and different way of conceiving of warfare.?

Donald Rumsfeld was appointed Secretary of Defense in 2000 and immediately embraced the network centric concept, embarking on a major program of modernizing and transforming not only the Navy but the entire armed forces of the United States.  He appointed Cebrowski as his Director of Force Transformation and directed a major new program of changing the way the Navy and the other services thought about warfare and how they fought.  Resistance to Rumsfeld’s plan was immediate and powerful, with some of the strongest language against him coming from senior military officers.

Rumsfeld has also had difficulty convincing members of Congress that his vision of transitional change is the best course of action for the United States.?  The Director of Force Transformation, Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, while stating that there is “general consensus that transforming our military is a good thing,” is concerned that “there is less agreement on the details of where we should go and how fast we ought to get there.?  Analysts question the existence of a strategic need for transformation and argue that transformation is neither a requirement for winning the global war on terrorism nor required to maintain American military dominance.?  Other researchers show that despite the rhetoric of transformation, an analysis of the defense budget shows “business as usual.”? 

              To date, no single member of Congress has taken up the mantle of champion on behalf of Rumsfeld’s vision.  As a result, while small gains are being made along the path to ultimate fruition, the predictable resistance remains firmly in place.  Such resistance at least slows progress and may completely stop it.              


Conclusion and Observations.

              Resistance to change is normal, expected, and the subject of much research and discussion.?  If the advocates of change within the Department of the Navy (or Department of Defense) are to be successful, they must engage Congress early in the process and develop support.  The involvement of Congress on issues of import, especially those that rise to the level of major transitional change, require more than passive permission.  An active proponent from within the ranks of Congress must arise in order to engage other members of Congress and convince them that the proposed change is both necessary and possible.

A traditional method for an organization’s members to resist change is to wait for those who are attempting to impose the change to leave or lose interest.  Since it is not uncommon for the champions to depart the organization prior to full actualization of the change, a useful and apparently required method for ensuring the change is fully incorporated and internalized is to make a significant organizational change.  In the case of the Department of the Navy, such change often requires Congressional legislation.

A corollary to the problem of champions departing the organization is unless such action as mentioned in the paragraph above has taken place, the early resistance to the proposed change will re-emerge, possibly even stronger than before, and will significantly reduce the probability that the change will be successful.

Congressional influence is powerful enough, particularly if an individual member of Congress is personally involved, to initiate a major transitional change within the Navy even without the existence of a proponent from within the Department of the Navy.  The Congressional champion can impose sufficient political pressure to create a naval champion where none existed and to foster the change through to completion despite any resistance to such change.

Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia was the last of the great naval or military champions.  An apostle of Carl Vinson, he carried on as the protégé of the patriarch.  By recognizing a necessary change in the fundamental organization of the American military he single-handedly pressed a law into being against the strongest of resistance and without any serious support on the part of the military itself.? 

              Without congressional support, the greatest and most well thought out ideas will founder.  Donald Rumsfeld has discovered that his ideas of transforming the military into a new, twenty-first century force utilizing the latest in information technology has been slowed by lack of strong support within the ranks of Congress.  One senior official in the Department of Defense observed that a principal reason Rumsfeld may be having trouble with Capitol Hill is that he failed to engage with Congress early in his administration.?

              Another possible reason for his difficulty, other than the intervention of the war in Iraq, could be the lack of a strong congressional leader with the same influence as earlier “champions.”  Currently, no member of Congress has the same prestige in military or naval matters as did Carl Vinson or Sam Nunn. 

              Congress has had, does have, and will continue to have considerable influence on the nature of naval policy in the United States.  The pattern begun during the American Revolution continues to this day and, despite much of the writing, is recognized by those in the seat of power.  Secretary of the Navy Gordon England was quite clear in his understanding of the relationship when he said, “If dollars are not put on the line by Congress, then it does not matter what we want.  It will not happen.”?

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