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“Conventional wisdom” (to purloin a phrase from Galbraith) holds that interservice competition necessarily undermines economy, efficiency, and effective central control in the military establishment. The remedy is further unification, possibly even the merger of the services into a single uniform. The conventional wisdom also holds that political action by military groups necessarily threatens civilian control. The remedy is to “keep the military out of politics.” The pattern of American military politics and interservice rivalry since World War II, however, suggests that the conventional wisdom may err in its analysis of their results and falter in its prescription of remedies.
Service political controversy between the world wars had two distinguishing characteristics. First, on most issues, a military service, supported, perhaps, by a few satellite groups, struggled against civilian isolationists, pacifists, and economizers. The Navy and the shipbuilding industry fought a lonely battle with the dominant forces in both political parties over naval disarmament. The Army lost its fight for universal service after World War I, and throughout the Twenties clashed with educational, labor, and religious groups over ROTC and with other groups over industrial mobilization preparation. In the annual budget encounters the issue usually was clearly drawn between service supporters who stressed preparedness and their opponents who decried the necessity and the legitimacy of substantial military expenditures. To the extent that the services were in politics, they were involved in conflicts with civilian groups.