Let me pose for discussion a question that has interested me deeply for sixty years, and to which I do not even now have a satisfactory answer: What should be the military policy and associated level and composition of military forces of the United States? Among the questions that must be answered to address this issue are the following, by no means exhaustive:
Should the United States maintain a standing Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps? If so, should its mission be to defend the territorial United States from attack, to protect American citizens abroad, to defend American investments abroad, to intervene for humanitarian reasons in genocidal slaughters wherever they occur, to maintain some constellation of foreign forces in some area of the world, to advance and expand America’s sphere of influence, to seek world hegemony? If the United States should maintain a standing military force, how big should it be? Should it include nuclear weapons? Should it be a volunteer force or a force maintained by conscription? Should American station forces overseas? If so, where, in what numbers, for what purposes? If not, why not? Should America have allies with whom it has mutual defense treaties? If so, which ones, and why?
Why do I raise these questions? First, because they are clearly questions of the very first importance, to which I do not have clear, settled, carefully thought through answers. And second, because I find it tiresome and unhelpful to limit my comments on military policy to variations on the complaint that America has dirty hands and cannot claim the moral high ground when it comes to the use of military force. I am sure such observations are satisfyingly shocking when uttered at family gatherings or town meetings, but they really do not constitute any sort of answer to the questions posed above.
The only people I have ever met who had clear answers to these questions and furthermore whom I could respect were the pacifist Quakers with whom I formed an alliance of convenience in the old days when I was fighting for General and Complete Nuclear Disarmament. The Quakers were proponents of Unilateral Disarmament, and when asked how they would respond if Russia attacked America, they said that it would be better to be defeated or killed than to fight. I didn’t agree, but they meant it, and I respected them for it. Besides, they formed a sizeable portion of the tiny Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and I did not think it wise to insist on doctrinal purity.
Look. Suppose you were in charge. Would you want to maintain a military force that would be capable of intervening abroad to avert a genocide? I am not asking whether we can trust the present American administration, or any former administration, Democratic or Republican, to intervene wisely. That is a cheap and easy question. The answer is no. I am asking whether, if someone you totally trust were in charge [you yourself, Noam Chomsky, I don’t care], would you want America to maintain a standing Army capable of intervening on a moment’s notice for any purpose of which you totally approved?
Should the United States maintain a nuclear arsenal and associated delivery systems in order to deter other nuclear powers from launching an obliterating First Strike? If so, who should have authority to launch it? In what way, and with what military goal?
In Brunei, homosexual activity is now punishable by death by stoning. Should the United States intervene militarily to save the life of a gay or lesbian American citizen seized and prosecuted there? What about an American permanent resident who is not a citizen? What about a subject of the Sultan of Brunei?
And so forth and so on. These are all real questions which the people elected to control the government of the United States have been answering for my entire life. A very large part of the budget of the federal government is devoted to implementing their answers. It seems to me that I ought at least to know how I answer these questions, even though what I think will have no noticeable effect on what gets done.
What do you think?