A nation defines itself by the kind of army it creates for its protection. By that standard, America at the close of the twentieth century is large, powerful, and technologically sophisticated. But it is also muscle-bound, confused, wasteful, and desperately in search of a mission. In The Minuteman, former Senator Gary Hart proposes a provocative and radical restructuring of America's armed forces, asking the questions that have gone unanswered for too long: Why do we have 1.5 million men and women under arms with no major threat to our security? Why is our military budget at the same level as during the Cold War? Why are we spending more money for fewer weapons? Why are the best service personnel taking early retirement? Why is it taboo even to question the structure of our bloated military establishment?
Drawing on his long experience as a leader in the field of military reform (including twelve years on the Senate Armed Services Committee), Hart proposes a return to the oldest principles of the republic, making an impassioned case for replacing the present Cold War military with a smaller standing army and a much larger, well-trained citizen reserve -- an "army of the people." The professional nucleus would be a rapid-response force responsible for dealing with immediate crises and low-intensity conflicts, while the larger army of citizen-soldiers would be called up when national interests required a larger, sustained military presence.
From ancient times to the present, the heroes of democracy have consistently upheld two principles: that it is dangerous to maintain a large standing army in peacetime; and that free people have a civic duty to participate in their own defense. Contemporary America, by contrast, has sunk into "Eisenhower's Nightmare," beholden to a powerful military-industrial complex embracing the armed forces, military contractors, unions, Congress, and military communities economically dependent on military spending. The only way to break this cycle of dependence, Hart argues, is to restore a citizen military -- a true militia, like the one that defended Lexington and Concord. If we reject this path, he warns, we risk being truly ill-prepared for the challenges facing our nation in the century about to dawn.