Wanted: The Moneybags Center for American Land Power

November 6, 2013

The Hudson Institute just announced the formation of a Hudson Center for American Sea Power.  Good for the Hudson Institute.  American naval strength is declining, will apparently continue to decline, and articulate spokesmen for regenerating our naval power are needed.

But what we really need is, say, a Moneybags Center for American Land Power.   The Navy, with its majestic combatant vessels and still-exotic image, and the Air Force, always going off into the wild blue yonder (whether in manned or unmanned aircraft) have few problems in capturing the imagination of the American public.  The Marine Corps, as we all know, is deservedly secure due to its tremendous fighting image and its unique function as a repository for the doctrine and capability of projecting military power ashore from the sea.  What doesn’t have a constituency, and desperately needs one, are the equally necessary ground forces of the U.S. Army.   Naval and air forces are essential and we do not have enough of them.  But while they can punish, strike, and provide forward presence, they can never substitute for putting the too-often criticized boots on the ground.  And Americans don’t like boots on the ground.  They convey permanence.  They convey a willingness to sustain heavy casualties.  They kill close up.  And deep down, Americans like to think that close-in killing can be avoided; that we can live in splendid isolation, occasionally lashing out at bad guys and then withdrawing back to our “city on a hill.”

There’s a social dimension to this.  The Army has a long history of by far being the most socially heterogeneous and diverse of our services.  From German and Irish immigrants in the 19th Century, to Eastern European ones in the early and mid-20th, to the “internal immigrants” of blacks and Hispanics and Asians, to the minorities du jour of women (who of course aren’t minorities per se), and now homosexuals, the Army has always been a polyglot bunch, more so than the Navy when the age of sail ended, and in some ways more than the Air Force.   Polyglot suggests involvement with the world; ethnic and racial and sexual uniformity suggests avoiding it.   There is also an essential element of mass in land power.  Too many Americans are infatuated with quality to the near-total exclusion of quantity.  They think that even if we have land forces, a tiny number of exquisitely trained special operators are all that we need.  Special operators themselves don’t believe this.  The public needs to be disabused of it.

So we need a Center for American Land Power.  We need people in such a Center to articulate why we need land power.  Why air and naval power, while indispensable, aren’t enough.  We need them to state that precisely because ground combat is messy, costly, and personal, it conveys a resolution and courage that stand-off and precision-strike weaponry don’t.  We need to tell the American people that human factors are at least as important as technology—men and women in ground forces know this.  For too long, the Army and many of its supporters have felt that virtue, in the form of land power, is its own reward, and that it is beneath the dignity of the Army to articulate coherent arguments why sooner or later boots on the ground, sometimes in very large numbers indeed, are necessary.

So cheers for the Hudson Center for American Sea Power.  Let’s get its Land Power sibling stood up.


Robert L. Goldich retired from a 33-year career in the Congressional Research Service in 2005. He was the senior CRS military manpower analyst when he left. Bob is currently writing a book on conscription in history, from the first human civilizations to the present.


Art Credit: “Battle of Bosworth” by Philip James de Loutherbourg