Del Spurlock: The US Army, The US Constitution, & US Society

Civil Society, Cultural Intelligence, Ethics, Government
Delbert J. Spurlock Jr.
Delbert J. Spurlock Jr.

1986 Speech: Army Days

San Francisco, CA

Armies are not inherently disciplined, nor responsive to the will of the people in whose name they purport to act.

Armies are not innately well led, nor representative of the societies from which they spring, nor humane in the treatment of those, within or without their ranks, subject to their power.

Yet all of these characteristics have become accepted norms of performance, duty and responsibility for our Army. When there is deviation or perceived deviation from those norms, it is known to the world, and not simply within the platoon.

This is as it should be for an Army exercising the will of a free people. In this, our Army sets the standard.

Even our allies, among the freest people ever to walk the face of the earth, due in no small measure to our own efforts, are sometimes aghast at the high standards to which we hold our Army. They think we engage in needless selfflagellation in exposing, criticizing and sanctioning our military.

The difference is that even though in large measure we spring from them, our system of government, and our relationship as a people to our Army, and our two centuries of nurturing have been quite different from anything they have experienced.

We are now in the bicentennial of our Constitution. How it was born and its relationship to our Army is crucial to understanding us and our Army.

The Constitution’s Preamble provides the six purposes for its adoption:

  • To form a more perfect union;
  • To establish justice;
  • To insure domestic tranquility;
  • To provide for the common defense;
  • To promote the general welfare; and
  • To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

These are not simply purposes of the American people or its government. These have been and are the ultimate mission of the United States Army.

Our Republic was born of struggle and the decisive factor in that struggle was our Army. What sustained it was extraordinary leadership and the quest for “freedom” so succinctly defined in the Preamble to the Constitution.

No greater proof of the values that sustained our Army was the vision of those men who led it. Of the 40 men who signed the Constitution, 23 served in the Army, Washington foremost among them. And embodied in Washington’s example was the deed that gave life to those Constitutional purposes. Here was a soldier who could have been emperor, but who renounced personal power for the checks and balances of a more perfect union.

Washington and his fellow soldier-signers demonstrated their commitment to a new vision of man’s relationship to his government and to the role of the military as a servant of the people. Their vision enabled them to structure a government which has come as close as any to the universal purposes for which the Constitution was established. But as they knew and we all learn, the formation of a “more perfect union” is a never-ending challenge. And it is upon one aspect of that challenge that I would like to focus now: the structure of the Army.

The active Army now numbers 780,000 troops. We have almost 480,000 National Guardsmen and over 300,000 Reservists. We also have 410,000 civilians in the Army family.

Now, for the first time, each component of our Army is so interrelated that our active forces cannot fight effectively in a major conflict or even deter major conflict without credible participation by our Reserves and civilians. The active Army did not seek to be so reliant upon the other components of our structure. It was required by budgetary constraints, by a no-draft policy, and by the American people’s historical aversion to large standing armies. But the stakes are high when, as now, the preparation time for support to our principal allies is nonexistent. In truth, we must be ready today if we seek to deter war next month.

Our leadership, military and civilian, are making the best of this situation. Indeed the “Total Army” (AC, RC, NG, CIV) has come to mean something more than sloganeering. All components are working together as never before. Indeed for a host of reasons, today’s Army is the best peacetime Army in our history. But there are constraints and there are some who refuse to see our Reserve components as deserving anything but the antiquated “weekend warrior” shibboleth. Those days are long past.

True, our National Guardsmen have significant state responsibilities. No effort will be made to curtail them, but if the Governors of the several states chose to deny the Nation the sacrifices of their National Guardsmen in the projection of American power and influence, benign as that may be in other parts of our hemisphere or more distant locales, their constituents will end up paying higher bills for national defense, one way or another.

But a price tag for national defense is not what this issue is all about. It is really about freedom and nation building, and giving our neighbors a chance to enjoy the fruits of the kind of government we seek for ourselves in the Preamble.  I mentioned power projection as possibly being a benign act. Sometimes quizzical looks are occasioned by that connection. In the case of the Army the connection is deserved. [Ask the German people, the Italians, the Japanese. Ask the people of the Philippines, Korea or Austria.] In two cataclysmic wars this century the United States Army has been that institution most responsible for restoring to these peoples, their freedom and dignity and in some large measure their economic well-being–all at tremendous sacrifice to the men and women who served.

Make no mistake about it. The men and women of our Reserve forces who train in Central America and around the world are soldiers first. But the civic action, the road building, the well drilling, the school refurbishment including sanitary and food facilities, the bridge building, the medical treatment and, yes, even the airfield maintenance are all contributing to the development of domestic infrastructure and health care systems that we as a nation have too long neglected in our neighbors.

In all of this the Army is where it has always been: seeking the establishment of justice, domestic tranquility, in this case for our neighbors, and promoting their welfare.

It is important to recognize this facet of the Army’s character at these San Francisco Army days. Not only because you are among the most compassionate of American cities, but also because you are our most cosmopolitan city. You have struggled long and hard to turn the splendid diversity of your people into an asset, and so has the Army. We have each succeeded to this point because of the sanctity with which our citizen-members hold each life, whatever its color, national origin, or sex. This, too, is the promise of the Constitution. This is also the necessity of our times!

The threats to us and to world stability will in the future come as much from the Third World as from the Warsaw Pact, and a large part of it is on our doorstep. Because of our diversity and our history, no other nation is better equipped than we are to lead the Third World through an era of rapid change and increased complexity. But, make no mistake about it; our diversity will either be a blessing or a curse to our ability to maintain leadership in the world and to win adherents to our values. As bluntly as I can put it, America is going to have to learn to use all of its people, each race, each nationality, both sexes and all who can contribute, or we are going to lose together. We cannot promote ordered liberty abroad if we cannot ensure “domestic tranquility” at home. The choice is and will be ours alone.

The United States Army and the City of San Francisco throughout this century have learned to use their diversity as have few other institutions in our nation. So for that reason alone, this celebration is warranted.

But there is another reason, one related to the ideals and the spirit of our nation’s formation. On this occasion you renew an original promise of our nation’s founding: the union of our citizenry and its army. True, we have always been “ONE” in time of great peril. Indeed. No greater embodiment of the unity and interdependence of our people and the Army exist than Maxine Andrews. She and her sisters’ dedication, untiring devotion, and courage in supporting our troops during World War II make them legends. Their presence soothed, buoyed, humanized and emboldened soldiers whose duty sometimes drained them of their hope of survival and the meaning of their sacrifice. The Army and the entire American people are deeply indebted to the Andrews Sisters for their contribution.

So too, are we indebted to the people of San Francisco for continuing the association and dialogue which strengthens the relationship between the Army and those it serves in times of peace as well as war.

Now, in appreciation of the magnificent contributions made by the Andrews Sisters to the defense of our Nation throughout the years, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Lt. Col. Charles J. O’Brien who will read the citation.

Del Spurlock, a Washington attorney, was assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs from 1983 to 1989.

Phi Beta Iota: The Honorable Delbert Spurlock was also General Counsel of the Army and Deputy Secretary of Labor under President Ronald Reagan.

See Also:

Can Donald Trump Wage Peace with An Army of 3 Million, All Overseas Bases Closed, and More…?

Robert Steele: Reinventing the US Army at 3 Million Soldiers — and Everything Else Including an Inter-Agency Development Corp