Colonel Dunlap's Coup
A fictionalized essay that has been circulating within the Pentagon offers a blunt warning on several fronts.
by Thomas E. Ricks
It is the year 2012. The American military has carried out a successful coup d'etat. Jailed and awaiting execution for resistance to the coup, a retired military officer writes to an old comrade, explaining how the coup came about.
So begins a treatise entered last year in the National Defense University's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategy Essay Competition. Titled "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012," and written by an active-duty Air Force officer, the essay went on to be selected as one of two winners of the competition. The author, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dunlap, was honored by General Colin Powell at the awards ceremony.
Looking back from a vantage point supposedly twenty years in the future, Dunlap writes that after years of being handed the tough jobs the rest of the government seemed incapable of handling, the military simply decided to step in and run the show. Like all science fiction, Dunlap's essay is really about the present. His coup entices the reader to his real subject: the worrisome drift of the U.S. military into civilian affairs.
"Faced with intractable national problems on one hand, and an energetic and capable military on the other," Dunlap's condemned prisoner warns, "it can be all too seductive to start viewing the military as a cost-effective solution. We made a terrible mistake when we allowed the armed forces to be diverted from its original purpose." The prisoner sees a kind of inevitability to the coup. Amid rising crime, failing schools, a stagnant economy, and a gridlocked political system, the can-do U.S. military stood out in a no-solution society. Having remade themselves in the aftermath of Vietnam, the armed forces emerged from the Gulf War as "America's most--and perhaps only--trusted arm of government."
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