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The Soldier and the State:

The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations

Bibliographic Content

Samuel P. Huntington


The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Kindle, Hardback and Paperback (560 pgs), Audible (19hrs:45min)

Synopsis from Author

In a classic work, Samuel P. Huntington challenges most of the old assumptions and ideas on the role of the military in society. Stressing the value of the military outlook for American national policy, Huntington has performed the distinctive task of developing a general theory of civil–military relations and subjecting it to rigorous historical analysis.

Part One presents the general theory of the "military profession," the "military mind," and civilian control. Huntington analyzes the rise of the military profession in western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and compares the civil–military relations of Germany and Japan between 1870 and 1945.

Part Two describes the two environmental constants of American civil–military relations, our liberal values and our conservative constitution, and then analyzes the evolution of American civil–military relations from 1789 down to 1940, focusing upon the emergence of the American military profession and the impact upon it of intellectual and political currents.

Huntington describes the revolution in American civil–military relations which took place during World War II when the military emerged from their shell, assumed the leadership of the war, and adopted the attitudes of a liberal society. Part Three continues with an analysis of the problems of American civil–military relations in the era of World War II and the Korean War: the political roles of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the difference in civil–military relations between the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, the role of Congress, and the organization and functioning of the Department of Defense. Huntington concludes that Americans should reassess their liberal values on the basis of a new understanding of the conservative realism of the professional military men.

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The Soldier and the State, Samuel P. Huntington, war is my business

Summary of Book from War Is My Business

If the subtitle of this book didn’t give it away The Soldier and the State's primary focus is on the relationship between a government, its people, and the military that provides its security. The book, however, goes into more than just how they related to one another, but in how they shape each other in their functions; for better or worse. I would say that this represents one of those foundational works to which all future arguments on civil-military relations reference to some effect. It is well researched and beautifully written, and studying its chapters will strengthen your ability to comprehend topics on civil-military affairs.

Huntington, by necessity, begins by discussing how the military is a profession, similar to other professions, with its own unique characteristics. He discusses the profession's rise within Europe as the armies and navies of their countries slowly found the value of dedicated professionals trained in the art of warfare whose primary concern was for the security of the state. They were abandoning the past emphasis on officership being the sole domain of the aristocracy, which itself saw service as a way for personal honor and prestige. The new system was based on the education and training of those of all classes of society whose concern was for their state.

The author then sets the stage for the beginning of American military professionalism or lack thereof. For you see, for the longest time, the United States Government and people had a great distrust and animosity towards its own military.
  • Prior to the American Civil War, the animosity was rooted in the old perspective of aristocratic military officers and an army as an instrument of oppression. Hence the founders’ heavy emphasis on a limited standing army and heavy reliance on militias and momentary patriotic fervor to save the Union in times of national emergency.

  • After the civil war and before the World Wars, the perceived threat of aristocratic oppression was supplanted by the perceived wastefulness of a military that drains the nation's budget without producing anything in return. One such example of this thinking that you can see now is the justification given to the US Army Corps of Engineers in the construction and administration of many of our dams and waterways - finding some non-military reason for their existence during times of peace.

  • After the Second World War, with America established as a global superpower and all the security concerns that that status entails, only then did they see the value of a professional and robust standing army, navy, and air force. Not to mention businesses and industry profiting from such a powerful customer with an insatiable appetite for equipment and munitions.

Huntington later goes into a great deal about the American military's position within the power dynamic of the American Government. The military prides itself on staying out of the political machinations of Washington and relegates itself to merely providing military advice to the President and Congress. By necessity of our professionalism, we stay out of their politics as our sole and ultimate focus is on the security of the state. We can never obtain a perfect level of professionalism since our senior military leaders are forced to work within the United States Government's system of checks and balances - the separation of powers. For example, the President, as the Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately in charge of the Armed Forces, but Congress controls the military budget. Congress is the one that declares war, but the President can deploy military forces for short durations in times of emergency. When the executive and legislative branches fight, or when the legislative branch fights itself, our senior military leaders are sometimes forced to pick sides based on military imperatives.

The Soldier and the State for Business

The Soldier and the State by Samuel P. Huntington has its well-established roots in civil-military discussions. There is value to be found for businesses in this work, and there are three I would like to mention here:

1) Safeguarding or Compromising Professionalism

One of the most prominent warnings that Huntington states within this book are the importance of maintaining military professionalism in spite of all the governmental issues that can infect it. For the military, staying out of politics was the most critical aspect as, by its nature, politics requires debate, negotiation, compromise, and protest. Since the primary mission of the military is to provide for the security of the state, then it can't effectively compromise on something so vital. National policies can be flexible; sovereignty and survival are non-negotiable. Having the military engaged with getting what it needs, politicking alongside the politicians would be detrimental to the singular focus of a military.

In Chapter 17, “Toward a New Equilibrium” Huntington states,

“A political officer corps, rent with faction, subordinated to ulterior ends, lacking prestige but sensitive to the appeals of popularity, would endanger the security of the state. A strong, integrated, highly professional officer corps, on the other hand, immune to politics and respected for its military character, would be a steadying balance wheel in the conduct of policy.”

The crux of his argument is not that politicians shouldn't make compromises, they will inevitably have to in some instances, but that they need to get unfettered and unfiltered military advice from those whose sole job is to master the art of warfare. Those military professionals should put forth that advice that is precisely what they determine to be necessary for achieving military objectives, something crucial to the nation. Similarly, there are elements of a business that are crucial in their own way to its survival and longevity. You can negotiate things like salaries, budgets, marketing and distribution operations, and a multitude of other elements, but there may be some elements that you wouldn't want to compromise on.

If you were the executive officer or owner of a major corporation, you wouldn't want your legal advisors providing half-truths or tailoring their objections and suggestions based around what people want to hear in an effort to gain favors. They should be speaking cold and uncomfortable truths from the lawyer's perspective as violating them could subsequently bring down the entire company. Skirting around the law runs many risks, and though you may gain an edge if you cross that line, it could spell doom. You want to know that your legal team will warn you well ahead of time of the reality of your actions, and hopefully, they can prevent you and your team from progressing into dangerous scenarios. Giving them the autonomy to act in the best legal interests of the company will empower them to speak up before things become problematic.

Additionally, you could give professional autonomy to other elements if their expertise was essential to your overall objectives. Such as keeping your public relations and marketing teams out of the interoffice politics so that they can focus on developing and providing guidance on the delivery of desired company messages. For example, you may have an opportunity to engage in an activity that earns great profits, but that same action may damage the credibility of your branded messages.

2) Geniuses and Supermen

There is something appealing in having men and women of great skills and foresight that they are able to assume the duties of a position and revamp their departments in new and innovative ways. They are able to see the big picture, how everything works and flows like the organs of a creature, and find ways to make them better, stronger, and provide higher outputs with the same resources as before. I have seen people of such genius that they can create three-hours of value from one-hour of work by simply adopting collaborative systems. Reducing waste, improving morale, and job satisfaction, increasing value, and improving safety without requiring much more than a differing outlook on how to carry out their tasks.

What happens when they leave? It is a compliment to call someone indispensable, but if that is indeed the case, then we should all be worried. You may lose people to headhunters, retirement, family issues, injury, and even death. While death is an ever-present reality in military service, even in the private sector, we are all mortals. Illness and accidents can take even the best of our people. Regardless, we must prepare not to have the people that made our organization function, and the way we do that is through education, systems, and processes.

At the turn of the 18th Century, this concern started to manifest in the armies and navies of the European powers. It started with the reorganization of the Prussian Army after their defeat at the hands of the French during the Napoleonic Wars. The Prussians didn't have any charismatic figureheads to shape their personnel system, so by necessity, they needed to learn how to shape average people into expert managers of violence.

In the second chapter "Rise of the Military Profession" Huntington states,

"To oppose the genius of Napoleon and the talents of his marshals selected for their ability in a haphazard but effective manner, the Prussians developed a collectively competent body of officers who triumphed through superior training, organization, and devotion to duty. In the long run, it was advantageous to Prussia that no natural leader appeared to rally the nation in her defeat. This deficiency caused the Prussians to resort to the systematic training of average men. As the most militarily insecure major power in Europe, it was hardly surprising that Prussia pioneered in creating a professional officer corps."

"Probably the most revolutionary aspect of the Prussian system was its assumption that genius was superfluous, and even dangerous, and that reliance must be placed upon average men succeeding by superior education, organization, and experience."

So from this perspective that Hungtington provides us, there is danger in the reliance on military leaders who by themselves dictate the success of organizations, as opposed to something inherent to the organization itself. Has such a perspective been voiced in the civilian world? Yes, in the form of Peter F. Drucker's "supermen."

From the first chapter of The Effective Executive called “Effectiveness Can Be Learned,”

"We certainly could use people of much greater abilities in many places. We could use people of broader knowledge… But we are not going to breed a new race of supermen. We will have to run our organizations with men as they are."

And from the second chapter of Concept of the Corporation called “The Corporation as Human Effort,”

"No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under leadership composed of average human beings."

The military had understood this requirement well before the perspective of Drucker, but both are fundamentally the same tenet. You mustn't rely on individuals for continued success. It must be inherent to the organization itself. The ability to produce competent and skilled people to carry out your proven systems and processes will ensure success, even when all you're given is mediocre people. It removes single points of failure to the longevity of companies.

3) Understanding the Mind of Veterans

America, as is any other country, is a unique culture with its own customs and values. Within it, many more sub-groups and communities have their own defined ways of life. The military, however, is significantly different than its nation in what it sees as desired and valuable to its members. Americans generally value liberal concepts, such as self-determinism and the various freedoms protected by and from the government. America's military is much more conservative in nature. Much more collective and restrained in its spirit.

The problem is not one of different people having inherently different values instilled in them from childhood, which may be the case for some, but the shift in viewpoints necessary in the military profession as they seek to carry out their duties.

As Huntington states in the third chapter “The Military Mind,”

"The responsibility of the profession is to enhance the military security of the state. The discharge of this responsibility requires cooperation, organization, discipline. Both because it is his duty to serve society as a whole and because of the nature of the means which he employs to carry out this duty, the military man emphasizes the importance of the group as against the individual."

"The military 'opinion must never be coloured by wishful thinking… the military man will be dealing with military fact, hard figures, grim realities of time and space and resources.'"

Their conditions shape their perspectives on how organizations should function and help determine which values, conventions, and institutions they prefer. A question posed by Huntington back in 1957 is an issue that is still raised today: “How can a liberal society provide for its military security when this requires maintenance of professional military forces and institutions fundamentally at odds with liberalism?”

His preferred solution was one of understanding. “The tension between the military and society could be lessened if society adopted a more sympathetic understanding and appreciation of the military viewpoint and military needs.” He isn’t necessarily saying that the rest of society needed to change its own individualist and liberal perspective, but instead needed to simply understand where the military was coming from in their collective and conservative perspective. In a sense, that is what we are doing with War Is My Business, helping to develop a shared understanding of military theory, principles, and tenets and shaping it to business.

When working with Veterans, you can see why they emphasize structured organizations, get frustrated when others don't comply with rules and regulations, and expect others to not only do what they say but go the extra mile to accomplish team objectives. These are expected in the military since everyone is expected to go above and beyond what is asked for the benefit of the organization. The military does have its share of lazy members (shammers), but even they are generally small in numbers and are quickly reformed through multiple counselings, or are released from service for failure to adapt to the military environment.

A discussion about this civil-military gap found in the chapter titled “Thanks for Your Service” in the book Warriors & Citizens: American Views of Our Military put forth two possible reasons for the divide. The first is non-exposure to the military life or no social or familial relations to members in our military. The second, and what we are concerned most about deals with a difference in the perspective mentioned above:

The argument is that military training, organization, and experience produce certain attitudes, either through habituation or through a deeper understanding of the issues at stake (for example, with regard to decisions about the use of force).

So if you employ or work with Veterans, you may notice significant frustration as they attempt to integrate into a new work environment. It isn't for failure to understand how civilian life is, but instead, it is simply a problem adjusting to a new organizational culture. There are different observed behaviors and different shared values between the military and private sector organizations, just as they can be different between one office environment and another. The benefit for you is that the more you study the culture of the military, the more you can tap into what made your Veteran employee or colleague an effective servicemember. Their objective-based and group-focused mentalities work well with any team-oriented organization where collective outputs are more prized than individual production. The longer they have been in the service, the more leadership positions they have held, the more effective their ability to lead teams and manage departments will become.


I could spend a decent amount of time discussing Huntington's perspective on civil-military affairs, but for the sake of time, we need to finish this review. The Soldier and the State by Huntington is quite a read, and it really digs into the issues between our liberal society and that of the more conservative military. Again it isn’t based on current concepts of liberal versus conservative, but the more traditional sense of preference towards liberty of the individual versus conservation of the state and the conflict of perspectives that those two positions entail.

The reality is that for many organizations, they desire to produce a scenario that is inherently conservative for the business. They want group-focused individuals that will sacrifice for the company while maintaining a high level of professionalism and problem-solving capabilities. Military values are about shaping individuals into valuable and trusted team members, and what private-sector organization wouldn't want that? This book is about how that inherently came to be in regards to military professionalism, and its lessons can be applied to businesses as well.

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