Cart 0

What is the definition of the word “military?”

Posted by John Reed on

I have a question. I need the answer for my finishing my first novel The Unelected President.

The Unelected President novelWhat is the definition of the word “military?”

The dictionary definition is near worthless saying things having to do with war or soldiers, which begs the definition of war or soldiers. From 1789 through 1942, war was defined in the Constitution as something declared by Congress. But since then, over 100,000 American military personnel have lost their lives violently in combat against other countries and there have been no declarations of war. There have definitely been some military war-like things going on since 1945 in spite of the constitutional standard being unfulfilled.

Furthermore, even the last actual declarations in 1941 and 1942 were in response to the countries in question having already declared war on us so they were superfluous.


You would think I would already know this definition having gone to a college whose official name is the U.S. Military Academy. But I recall no definition when I was there. And I think if you’d ask all 4,400 cadets today, you would get some sort of tautology like the soldier/war thing or a thousand different non-tautological definitions.

A definition of military is sorely needed

The cadets and the Military Academy, the commander in chief in my book, and the American people need to know the definition of military. Indeed, I think agreeing on one would have a salutary effect on future use of the U.S. military.

In addition to a definition, I need to know what distinguishes the military from police, the judiciary, and expeditionary charity organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

I think the military is defined by its rules of engagement, by who its opponents are, and by where it operates. The military fights foreign enemies. It operates on or beyond our de facto borders like in the Mexican War or the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 (against Canada).

I say “de facto” borders because sometimes, most notably Gettysburg, the battle lines did not coincide with the lines on the map. On 9/11, the de facto border was the outer edges of the cockpits and forward fright attendant areas of the hijacked jets.

Defined quite inadequately in the Constitution

The U.S. military is defined not only by the Constitution—inadequately—but also by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. ( which basically says that neither the Army nor the Air Force can be used to enforce domestic policies within the U.S. I think they needs to be modified, and certainly would be interpreted, to reflect the fact that no one but the Air Force and Army have the capability to use force against manned or unmanned aircraft. The Navy/Marines are not mentioned because they are a salt water-only organization.

That Act says where it operates—on the borders or outside them—and against whom: not Americans. People who have gone over to the enemy like “Al Awlaki” or Bowe Bergdahl would not be considered Americans for this definition. The Posse Comitatus Act is actually a pretty good partial definition of the U.S. military. But I’m not sure I ever heard it mentioned at West Point—even in our two semesters junior year of Constitutional and military law.

Rule of engagement is paramount

That leaves the rule of engagement. The military’s rule of engagement is, or should be, destroy enemy military personnel, equipment, supplies, or infrastructure promptly, on sight, using the smallest munition that is adequate and available, without regard to hostages, human shields, or collateral damage.

I believe this was the rule of engagement used in World War II, the last war we won, albeit perhaps not having been articulated in precisely this manner.

And look at the words carefully. “Enemy” refers to foreigners who have declared war on us explicitly or implicitly by committing acts of war against us or who have declared their intention to harm us militarily. It’s certainly broader than those upon whom the Congress has declared war because Congress has not declared war on its own initiative since 1917 and politically shows no inclination to ever take on that responsibility again.

Furthermore, our enemies have gotten the bright idea that they can wage war on us—a super power—successfully, if they merely fuzz the edges of it a bit like claiming—before Tet—that the war in South Vietnam was a civil war between the ARVN and the VC.


The word “smallest” is the way the military, not a SWAT team, avoids collateral damage, the only way. Otherwise, avoiding collateral damage encourages the enemy to co-locate with hospitals, schools, and other civilian activities. We will never win another war if we hold our fire when there are hostages, human shields, or the possibility of collateral damage. Using hostages or human shields violate international law.


“Adequate” mean the munition is big enough to kill the bad guy. If you take fire from a house, you obliterate the house. It would be nice to just shoot the bad guy in the house, and you do so if you can, but we’re not going to get American military personnel killed by having them behave like SWAT teams as the Marines did initially in the Second Battle of Fallujah. Why did they do that? The brass did not want to “destroy the village in order to save it.” So we’ll destroy Marines in order to save houses instead!? Bull! The objective is to destroy the enemy ASAP, not to preserve houses.


“Available” works in concert with the word “promptly.” If the smallest adequate munition is, say, a tank high explosive round, but you have none, and you have jets with lager rockets, you use the larger rocket because waiting for a smaller munition may let the enemy get away.

How different from police

Now distinguish military from police. Police work INSIDE the U.S., DO enforce domestic policies, and do NOT disregard hostages, human shields, or collateral damage.


Now distinguish the military from the judiciary. The judiciary destroys or incarcerates criminals, but only after the accused receives DUE PROCESS which is well defined in the statutory and case law including the Constitution.

Expeditionary charity organizations

Now distinguish the military from expeditionary charity organizations. Basically, the military is not an expeditionary charity organization at all. The willingness of the military to go where ordered—and their equipment and training that allows them to move rapidly and far and create instant camps— creates a temptation to send them to do such work. People from, say, the State Department or FEMA would typically whine and complain and decline and request to come home after a brief period. The military won’t—at least officially.

The military’s willingness to obey orders should not be abused by turning them into all-purpose vote- or Nobel-Peace-Prize-buying operations. I agree that if the military is in the area and not busy with a war at the time, they can be an early responder to natural disasters and such. But that must be well-defined to avoid mission creep like nation building and such.

Scale differences

There are arguably also some SCALE differences. The military and the expeditionary charity forces are equipped for almost unlimited scale. The military has the draft, stockpiles of materiel, reserves, national guard. Police have riot and SWAT capabilities in larger communities, but the national guard had to be called out on occasion, and the active-duty military, as in Detroit black riots and Waco. The judiciary can only handle small scale, typically an individual defendant or a small group like the Chicago Seven.

Demanding that the military give due process to the likes of al Awlaki is one of the absurd manifestations of American not having an agreed-upon definition of the military. Al Awlaki could have had all the due process he wanted by simply turning himself into American authorities. He did not. And since he had gone over to the enemy, we rightfully killed him and his adult American colleague and his collateral-damage son who was also in the car in question.

So that’s my first take on it. Where am I going wrong?

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →