Chapter 8, “The Warlords,” briefly introduces the short history, especially the origin of military elites/warlords in the United States, and how the transition occurred since the Second World War. The people of America in its early period was born with the tradition of civilian authority over military forces, as well as the rights to bear arms, in other words the reality of decentralization of violence, since simply owning a rifle at that time means a sort of power against the authority which could hardly be ignored. Also, typical generals, as well as colonelcies and admirals, of the 1900s usually possessed little political and business ties, and most of them came without a college degree. Actually, before the First World War, the military field was only half-professionalized, and military men “were not in any important sense of the American elite of business and politicians” (183). However, things changed during the two total wars. Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor and the rising military threats of Germany, followed by the Soviet Union, at the first time in America’s history vivified the urgent needs of a strong military force, as well as marking the emergence of the U.S. as militarized capitalism, as it is referred to later. The result, simultaneously also the cause, of the core position of militia system is its own centralization, and professionalization. At The Point or The Academy, potential military men are trained in such way as to break up with early civilian values and sensibilities, and to be implanted with a military personality which honors hierarchy, obedience, and loyalty.
In Chapter 7, “The Military Ascendancy,” Mills primarily deals with contemporary involvement of military elites in state conducts in the U.S. As he says, “historically, the warlords have been only uneasy, poor relations within the American elite; now they are first cousins; soon they may become elder brothers” (198). How to access this military involvement in political arena? There are actually two tendencies, precisely between which unsolved tension occurs in Mills’ theory. The first one, as addressed above, is the increasing importance of military forces, accompanied by the central position of international and diplomatic affairs for the state. Meanwhile, it is Mills’ contention that military elites in politics usually do not have “a strong-willed, new and decisive line of policy,” as a result, “in a civilian world, the general becomes aimless and, in his lack of know-how and purpose, even weak” (199). With regards to the absence of political line and weakness, military elites have been much used by politicians for political purposes. In other words, for politicians, military interests become an ideal camouflage and help to justify political decisions which could hardly be accepted otherwise. However, this utilization of military justification often exposes military men to public criticism. To get out of such a situation, they tend to form alliance with political figures, thus intensifying the mutual penetration between political and military arenas. However, this argument does not seem to address the tension between military and political elites. On the one hand, the base of the alliance is the fact that military men are largely the instruments of political men, which presumes little autonomous political interests as well as little political leverage of military elites, and, from the same perspective, the rise of military elites is primarily due to the function of political manoeuver with respect to changing global environment. However, on the other hand, Mills emphasizes the process of professionalization in military course, with reference to the fact that a political figure could hardly argue effective with a professional military leader, since “they can really do little more than express general confidence, or the lack of it, in the (military) management” (211). Actually, it seems to me that the professionalization of military is a critical point made by Mills about the rising political importance of military elites. However, Mills does not give enough credits, which, based on his argument, could be easily made, to the autonomy of military elites in the U.S. He oversimplifies the tension between military and political elites by subordinating the former to the interests and manipulation of the latter, which actually remains an empirical, even historical, question. With the maturation of militarized capitalism, to what extent the military elites have their own interests and their own vision of the international community, as well as the global interests of the U.S. as a declining hegemony? Mills really touches on this issue, but just skip it swiftly, ignoring the complication of American military-corporation complex. Also, he ignores another potential interaction which apparently critical to access the state of the U.S. today, the interconnection between the military elites and the economic elites, which primarily would be the Pentagon and the large corporations having contracts with it. Definitely, these issues are better dealt with by latter research, especially by Hooks’ study on the rising of the Pentagon. From this point, we can have some sense of another problem with Mills’ access to military elites—if not the other two sorts of elites. As vaguely referring to “military men,” or “military elites,” actually Mills provide no clear picture of what is the population that are referred to: are they just the generals, colonelcies, and admirals? Or, do they include all “high rank military men,” which is no less vague? Or, do they include all the staff serving in military? Moreover, without addressing the position of very institutions in his theory clearly, Mills can hardly make concrete analysis of the interaction between the three groups of elites, except giving examples certain individuals’ reaction to elites from another camp. I guess the theory would work out in a much clearer if Mills could bring analysis of specific institutions and their interconnection, for example, the Pentagon and the Congress and president, or a leading armament corporation, in. Actually, without such a clear reference of institutional actors and the processing of their interaction along history, it appears to me that Mills does hardly beyond descriptive work of certain sorts of elite, and he makes little contribution to the definition of what is military elite, although even so this remains an inspiring piece to access the power dynamics in the United States.