In addition, caving in to the demands of a handful of retired generals would establish a dangerous precedent that could threaten the entire relationship between the military and its civilian bosses, including the president’s constitutional role as commander in chief. That principle, above all others, has protected the republic and its democratic foundation from the “Seven Days in May” potential that has afflicted so many other nations. ~Dan K. Thomasson, Scripps-Howard News Service

I’m not going to rehash why I think the recent fears of military unrest in America are silly and overblown, which Kevin Drum bizarrely refers to as “something that has a bit of a sense of palace revolt against the civilian leadership of the military,” but I would like to say something more about the all-too-frequent references to a stupendously awful movie, Seven Days in May, which was supposed to depict the potential dangers of a military coup in the early days of the Cold War when the President pushes for nuclear disarmament (as we all remember, there was a lot of worrying about a military coup in the Reagan years!). I have actually seen this movie (not exactly Kirk Douglas’ finest production), and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in laughing at it as one of the goofier versions of the “It Can Happen Here” stories.

Those who want to worry about constitutional usurpation in this country have never needed to worry about military coups–the politicians have usually been far more expert and interested in subverting the Constitution than the entire officer corps combined (this is not surprising, since the pols are usually self-seeking windbags and the officers are basically trained professionals and patriots who actually believe in defending the Constitution, moot point though that may be).

The other day Fred Kaplan, a mainstream but nonetheless fairly sharp observer of the political scene, also quite seriously referred to this movie in conjunction with Dr. Strangelove (which can be viewed as a great satire of the absurdities of nuclear war and the warfare state, but which is so much more intelligent and realistic than Seven Days for being a satire and not an incredible po-faced moralistic tale of liberal hysteria) and the dismissal of Gen. MacArthur. I can only conclude that people who invoke this movie in a serious way are in the grip of a fear of military men; they may also be the sort of people who are deeply disturbed by the careers of men such as Pinochet and Franco, but find Hugo Chavez’s politics somewhat compelling and consider Eva Peron to be an inspiring figure.

When we start talking about Seven Days in May as some sort of serious political movie, rather than the liberal V for Vendetta of its day, we have ceased, in my estimation, to be serious political commentators. We may as well be taking practical political lessons from the historical nonsense that was Spartacus (Gracchus was looking pretty good for a dead man in that one, don’t you think?) with its none-too-subtle message in favour of the “people’s revolution.”

Not to harp on the point, but the people who made Spartacus and Seven Days in May were not people who had the preservation of American constitutional forms of government foremost on their mind; they rather preferred the main alternative at the time, and were doing their best to make their “side” appear to be the heroic tribunes of “the people” while making out the opposition to be butchers or trigger-happy lunatics. That’s good propaganda, if you can get people to buy it, but it is not a meaningful commentary on the relations between the civilian and military authorities in our country then or now.