"The Paradox of Professionalism: Eisenhower, Ridgway, and the Challenge to Civilian Control, 1953–1955" by A. J. Bacevich, in The Journal of Military History (Apr. 1997), Society for Military History, 910 Forbes Rd., Carlisle, Pa. 17013.
No Seven Days in May coup has ever taken place in the United States, and none appears in the offing. Nevertheless, contends Bacevich, executive director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, the "edifice of civilian control" has become so "rickety" that "a highly politicized military establishment" feels free to enter "the partisan arena." An example: the Pentagon’s "virtual insubordination" early in the Clinton administration over the prospect of overt gays in uniform.
Never as apolitical as Americans have liked to imagine, the senior U.S. military has become highly politicized, Bacevich says, as the result of events that have undermined the basis of the traditional concept of military professionalism. One of the most significant of these was a titanic—and often misunderstood—struggle that took place in the Eisenhower administration.
In the fall of 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower, needing to make major budget cuts and believing that nuclear weapons had rendered a large military establishment for fighting conventional wars superfluous, decided on a new U.S. strategy: Soviet aggression would be met by "massive retaliation" with nuclear weapons. Eisenhower also worried that maintaining a large standing army might turn America into a "garrison state."
Eisenhower had consulted the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but army chief General Matthew Ridgway felt that Ike had peremptorily adopted a policy with possibly calamitous consequences.
Often dismissed as merely a product of "interservice squabbling," Ridgway’s opposition was actually inspired by much deeper concerns, Bacevich contends. "In jettisoning the principle that war was necessarily a contest between opposing armed forces, massive retaliation presaged the demise of the military profession.... Worse, this new reliance on nuclear weapons to defend America on the cheap appeared to legitimize the targeting of civilian populations for wholesale destruction," and to raise the specter of a preventive nuclear strike against them. In effect, the president was demanding that the army’s leaders carry out a policy that rendered the traditional tenets of their profession obsolete.
For the next 18 months, Bacevich writes, Ridgway and the army "obdurately" fought the new doctrine, carrying the campaign to the press and to the Council on Foreign Relations. Finally, in 1955, Eisenhower forced Ridgway to retire. But army resistance continued, and Ridgway’s successor, General Maxwell Taylor, would angrily leave active duty and publish his famous indictment, The Uncertain Trumpet (1960).
Far from affirming civilian control, the struggle between Eisenhower and his generals accelerated the politicization of the senior military leadership, Bacevich writes. "No longer able to claim that warfare provided the basis for their role in society and was the wellspring of their authority, neither would they be able to claim to be the authoritative source of advice on military matters." They were cast adrift. The "tragic dénouement of this process," Bacevich says, would come when American involvement in the Vietnam War grew, yet top officers sacrificed their professional judgment of the military situation to the exigencies of civilian politics.