What Causes Military Coups

While we have been fortunate not to have a tradition of military coups in the United States, in a world turned upside-down, the possibility of such a thing needs to be considered seriously, especially by our civilian leaders who may find themselves out of jobs permanently if they continue on the road to disaster that they-- not God or viruses or anyone or anything else-- have charted. In reviewing this possibility, what will be surprising to many is how dangerously close we are to military intervention, if not right now, then certainly up the road as the economic devastation and ruthless destruction of society caused by our civilian leaders becomes plain.

First off, we should note that military intervention is usually a last resort. Most people in the military don't aspire to lead governments. Their training doesn't prepare them for that sort of thing. Generals such as Dwight Eisenhower are more the exception than the rule. If military men wanted to run governments, they probably would have chosen different careers that make use of different skills. There's a big difference between running a civilian enterprise where negotiation and persuasion are necessary talents, and running a military operation where one simply needs to understand the chain of command, what resources are available to accomplish the required goal, and then issue appropriate orders. Anyone who has ever served in the military will surely understand that.

Nevertheless, three factors will typically force the military's hand (or possibly allow an ambitious military officer the wedge he needs to get away with a power grab). The first thing is a crisis of unusual proportions. Well, probably no one will argue that we have such a thing going on right now, though our argument here is that the crisis is more mental than physical. Regardless of how one views it, we do have a very real crisis (a pandemic of mental illness is just as real as a pandemic of physical illness). Deserted streets, shuttered businesses and churches, a stock market crash, and massive unemployment are all obvious indicators of the seriousness of the situation.

A crisis alone is probably not sufficient for military intervention, however. We've had crises before, but our civilian leaders have handled them if not perfectly, then at least competently and reasonably. Where they may have failed could be considered to be prudential judgment calls on which reasonable people could disagree. We've dealt with hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, and the like, but usually our leaders have done reasonably sensible things, and in the end, things go back to some sort of normalcy.

The second factor that causes military leaders to think at least privately about an intervention is a massive failure of civilian governments to deal with the crisis. That massive, utter failure is already plain as we see that in most places the incidence of disease could hardly be said to justify the insane response that our leaders have imposed on everyone. That massive, indisputable failure will become even more evident in the months ahead, when if all the anti-social executive orders are not immediately lifted, mass rioting is quite a likely possibility. Unemployed, hungry people with nothing else to do, particularly in inner cities, will eventually turn to violence if civil leaders ignore their pleas for help-- not government handouts, but simply to be allowed to work again, or at least to be given some hope that there will be jobs again. Right now, one has little reason for such hope.

Finally, a third factor that will give the military a reason to assume power is either an outright lack of legitimacy of a civilian government, or a perceived lack of legitimacy of civilian governments. In other words, what our constitution and laws actually say doesn't even matter if the populace thinks that the civilian government is illegitimate-- for example, if people think an election was rigged. With the rise of electronic voting, one can easily see a huge door swung wide open for people to question the legitimacy of an election, regardless of who is declared the winner in any given race. Once again, we have delegated an important task to "experts," as most ordinary people, even those such as myself who make a living off technology, are incapable of certifying that an electronic voting machine isn't somehow rigged or simply defective. With paper ballots, any citizen with half a brain could count the ballots to see that the count is valid.

The way things are going right now, we may not even be able to have a fair, free election in the fall if people are still observing anti-social distancing policies and are not allowed to congregate in a polling place. At that point, military leaders will have just as much legitimacy as anyone else to claim power, and they may well feel forced to do so for the good of the nation, just as Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeus corpus during the Civil War, in his belief that it would be better to hold the nation together that way than to let it fall apart while he upheld every last jot of the law. With governors and mayors across the nation resorting to government by executive fiat, government by military fiat may not seem a lot different, and military men at least may have the courage to order an end to the anti-social policies that have infected the world in the last few months. Lastly, whatever government we wind up having in the end is going to need lots of money to spend on economic relief-- money that could come from that saved on the salaries of governors, mayors, bureaucrats, and legislators who would get a taste of how having a "non-essential job" feels.

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