At one time or another in the 20th century alone, civilian control of the military has been a concern of democracies like the United States and France, of communist tyrannies such as the Soviet Union and China, of fascist dictatorships in Germany and Italy, and since 1945, of many smaller states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
As recently as ten years ago, military regimes ruled at least seventy of the world’s countries.
Concord is where “the shot heard ’round the world” was fired in , he suggests: “Read the Englishman’s history of the French and Indian wars, and then read the Frenchman’s, and see how each awards the meed of glory to the other’s monsters of cruelty or perfidy.” Then, he takes up his own challenge, and on , Thoreau is sometimes speaking of war with a pacifist idealism that I suspect his earlier self would have ridiculed: “Will it not be thought disreputable at length, as duelling between individuals now is?
I am curious as to how his opinions will change as the Civil War approaches. It’s not $481.4 billion, as the Defense Department is claiming.
They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Visit the Navy Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts, a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments…
…In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.
, too, his journal tweaks the Christian pacifists, in a poem that reads in part: [I]n these days no hero was abroad / But puny men, afraid of war’s alarms, / Stood forth to fight the battles of their Lord, / Who scarce could stand beneath a hero’s arms.
There is a mix of metaphor (“our lives should be A common and natural result of an undue respect for the law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences… or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?
, and surviving records of the Lyceum note that the subject came up many times in debates, discussions, and lectures.
Thoreau’s own views were very much influenced by these non-resistants, and are often confused with them even today.