Emory Upton was an important driver of American military thinking in the 19th century and into the 20th, too. From innovations in battle (the attack on entrenched positions at the Spotsylvania Court House in 1864) to, more significantly, his books and, above all, a report, which was still incomplete when he died, entitled “The Military Policy of the United States from 1775,” Upton’s ideas drove many aspects 20th century US military policy.
Major General Upton was convinced that American politicians were careless of their military; he, for his part, saw the military as a “tool” and, in his mind, a skilled craftsman always took good care of his tools … his political masters, he felt, starting with George Washington, were less than “skilled” craftsmen by that measure.
Thus, it is not surprising that he said:
It’s a message that too few politicians ever heard, much less listened to. We saw the impact in 1914-18 when hasty mobilization and a lack of “professional” depth in the army obliged young Canadians to pay a too high price for the mistakes of generations of politicians … ditto for 1939-45. Prime Minister Louis St Laurent, uniquely amongst Canadian political leaders, heard it, he listened (mainly to Dwight Eisenhower) and he understood what he heard and read. Follow-on Canadian leaders, beginning with Pierre Trudeau who detested the idea of professional armies, and including Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper and, now, Justin Trudeau, may have heard but none listened. All shared an Elizabethan aversion to war because of its expense. Now, Eisenhower shared that view … he hated war for other, human, costs, perhaps as only a soldier can, and he wanted to use the nation’s financial resources to build a happier, safer, better educated and more prosperous country; but he understood, as did St Laurent, the need to have a good, effective, combat capable, combat ready, efficient military … just in case, and just in time.
I would hope that some Liberal MPs, like Andrew Leslie, Marc Garneau and Karen McCrimmon and Conservative MPs like Erin O’Toole would remind their colleagues of Major General Upton’s simple truth: no one likes spending on the military but the “costs” of not spending (just enough) is too high. It’s a fairly simple concept and history, alone, should tell us that it’s a political truism … except, of course there are two truths in there, and the first one, “no one likes spending on the military” tends to be in the driver’s seat in our political process.