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Examiner
  • Michael Devine: President made military services more efficient

  • Shortly after he became president in April 1945, Harry Truman determined that the United States military needed to be reorganized into a more effective fighting force. He probably thought the Second World War might have ended earlier if the Army and Navy had given as much effort to fighting Germans and Japanese as they did to fighting each another.

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  • Shortly after he became president in April 1945, Harry Truman determined that the United States military needed to be reorganized into a more effective fighting force. He probably thought the Second World War might have ended earlier if the Army and Navy had given as much effort to fighting Germans and Japanese as they did to fighting each another.
    A captain of artillery in the First World War, the president knew there were problems. As a United States senator, Truman had chaired a committee looking into inefficiencies in the U.S. military machine. As president during the final months of the war, he had become increasingly aware of the counterproductive rivalries between the Army and the Navy.
    Truman wanted to organize the services in a rational and effective manner by placing all land forces in the Army, separating the Air Force out of the Army to create a new branch of the military, and assigning the Navy exclusively to duty at sea. However, his effort at reorganization proved to be much more complicated than anticipated. While the Army was willing to accept Truman’s plan, the Navy feared dismemberment – losing the Marines to the Army and its air wing to the new Air Force.
    The National Security Act of 1947 presented a compromise between the Army and the Navy that satisfied neither and failed to address fundamental problems. The act did create an office of secretary of defense (replacing the secretary of war) but gave the new secretary a small staff of only three administrative assistants and little power to control the ambitions of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
    The act also created a joint chiefs of staff, which would consist of the top uniformed officer in each of the three branches. In addition, the act established the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency. But the unified command of the armed forces Truman had envisioned did not materialize. Battles among the services over missions and budgets continued.
    In March 1948, the first secretary of defense, James Forrestal, met in Key West, Fla., with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They reached an agreement regarding a division of the air assets of the three services. The Navy retained its aircraft carriers and those combat aircraft needed for naval objectives, while the Army retained aircraft for reconnaissance and medical evacuation. The Navy was allowed to keep the Marine Corps, but strategic air assets, including responsibility for nuclear bombing missions, went to the new Air Force.
    In August 1948, Forrestal met again with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss remaining overlapping responsibilities and collaboration on issues not resolved at Key West. The following year, amendments to the National Security Act created a new Department of Defense, greatly strengthened the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and established a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to assist the secretary of defense in forcing unification efforts by the three services.
    Page 2 of 2 - Succeeding presidents modified the basic framework set in place during the Truman administration. In particular, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a directive in 1958 strengthening the ability of the president and his advisers to cause greater coordination among the armed services; and in 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act further strengthened the unified command of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
    In a world of rapidly developing military technologies, asymmetrical enemies (non-state adversaries such as al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations), perfect coordination among the agencies charged with our nation’s defense will be impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, the basic framework established by President Truman during his administration continues to serve us well.
    Michael Devine is director of the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum in Independence.
     
     
     
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