In 1991, the victory of the US army during Operation Desert Storm (invasion of Iraq or the first Gulf War) not only was an easy victory over Saddam Hussein but also marks the beginning of a new era. The Pentagon can no longer find a match adversary. What is left of the Red Army has seemingly accepted American leadership for the establishment of a new world order. The new situation offers unlimited prospects and certain officers see the chance for interfering in political issues.

It is in this context that Parameters, the US War College Cadre magazine, decides, with the clear approval of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, to open a debate on the role of the army in society. The magazine, till then dealing only with studies, publishes in the winter of 1992 a fiction written by a US Air Force officer, Charles J. Dunlap Jr., describing the U.S. regime in 2012, headed by General “Brutus” after a military coup.

Charles Dunlap

The author is not a science fiction writer and his text does not talk about flying cars, interplanetary trips or persons under control, like George Orwell in 1984. The document is presented in the form of a letter from a senior military officer, graduated from the War College and imprisoned by “ Brutus” dictatorial regime. Referring to the « origins of the [true-false] American military coup of 2012 », the officer claims that the U.S. fascist trend was already latent in the early 90’s and there were clear signs of it: « it was amazing. Looking through my old [notes and clippings from our War College days] I realized that we should have seen this coming». Under his person of the future facade, Charles J. Dunlap Jr. denounces the existing militarist trend in the United States towards the end of George H. W. Bush’s term, a trend that, according to Dunlap, could lead to a dictatorship. This is preceded by a foreword trying to avoid offending the sensibility of the Pentagon: « It goes without saying (I hope) that the coup scenario above is purely a literary device intended to dramatize my concern over certain contemporary developments affecting the armed forces, and is emphatically not a prediction ». This fiction, that arose a great deal of interest at the time of its publication, has again become a topic for discussion among officers in recent months. There is good reason for it.

2012: General “Brutus” takes over

As in most coup d’état, it all began with the premature death of the U.S. President in office, in 2012. Taking advantage of the confusion, General Thomas E. T. Brutus « persuades » the Vice-President not to take the oath of office, and this prevents the latter from legally replacing the president. Amidst this « constitutional conundrum », “Brutus” succeeds in convincing everybody about the legitimacy to become « Commander in Chief of the Unified Armed Forces » in order to fill the “power vacuum”.

After this, the General declares martial law, « postpones » elections, gets the Vice-President to “retire” and moves into the White House. Congress backs the process and opponents -among which is the author of the text-are arrested. Imprisoned, the « false-true » author of the letter puts in writing his analysis of the events in order to «get the truth recorded before they rewrite history». « People need to understand that the armed forces exist to support and defend government, and not to become the government».

In his letter to a comrade-in-arms, the author places the origins of the problem back in 1992 (date of publication of the fiction). He writes that in those days, the situation in the country would not allow for public opinion to be concerned with the gradual militarization of Washington’s regime. In fact, «the economy was in the dumps, crime was rising, schools were deteriorating, drug use was rampant (...) and political scandals were occurring almost daily». Still there was some good news: «the end of the Cold War as well as America’s recent victory over Iraq».

Though he denounces a particularly decadent context, the author does not forget that the threat of a military coup did not arise at the end of the 20th Century. He thus recalls that, in his farewell address dated September 19, 1796, George Washington already counseled that “Overgrown military establishments (...) under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty and (...) are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty”.

But the threat was minimum while political power enjoyed the trust of those they governed. In fact, it could present itself as a legitimate counter-power against the military. A loss of that confidence since the 70’s, together with a growing opinion that the country was not following «the right track» weakened the power/counter-power relation system (checks and balances) strengthening the military.

The Military in rescue of «national security»

In this «democracy crisis» context, a crisis characterized by an increasing level of abstentions during the elections, the military gradually became a credible alternative to a government the confidence on which was decreasing by the day. Beginning in the 1980’s, the military was tasked with a variety of missions that traditionally belonged to the civil power, to such an extent that military power was integrated in the political decision-making process.

Till then, American institutions still guaranteed distance between military and civil powers. The Posse Comitatus Act, by which federal troops were to be restrained from any law enforcement activity in the southern States, at the end of the Civil War, was one of the main texts of reference for such distinction. That text even provided for criminal sanctions in case of improper use of federal troops in domestic law enforcement matters, a doctrine that was confirmed by the ruling of the Supreme Court in Laird v. Tatum, in 1972.

The highest institution in the country ratified with that ruling that Americans had a “traditional and strong resistance to any military intrusion into civil affairs”.

In the 1980’s, however, Congress accepted the use of « national defense » as a rationale to boost military participation in an activity historically the exclusive domain of civilian government: law enforcement. The aim was to involve the U.S. military in anti-drug efforts since Congress had defined drug abuse as «a grave threat to all Americans».

As a result, the members of Parliament drafted the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act, which stipulates the participation of the military in police work. The U.S. Navy patrolled Caribbean territorial waters, while National Guardsmen were searching for marijuana caches along the borders [1].

The beginning of the 1990s saw the true advent of this doctrine. Commentator James Follows was one of the first to express it in an August 1991 article in Atlantic Magazine where he wrote: « I am beginning to think that the only way the national government can do anything worth while is to invent a [national] security threat and turn the job over to the military» [2].

Such reasoning, similar to that of many neo-conservatives, is based on the idea that most agencies of the government lack a sufficiently comprehensive vision about national general welfare as each of them is limited by its own powers and conflicts with interest groups. On the contrary, « the military, strangely, is the one government institution that has been assigned legitimacy to act on its notion of the collective good».

That is the reason why in the name of national defense, the military, as an institution, can do things (like training engineers or building highways) that long-term good of the nation or common sense cannot.

The involvement of the military in the daily life of the country is increasing. By 1992, combating drug trafficking was formally declared a « high national security mission » in which the military assumed supplementary tasks. That same year, the military was used to restore order in Los Angeles in the wake of particularly violent riots, a role it had already played in the 1960s [3].

Thus, according to Charles J. Dunlap’s imaginary dissident, the American public opinion became gradually acclimated to seeing military personnel patrolling the cities. Ideally positioned in many sectors, the military was able to guarantee a “close” support to the coup, since such involvement was rooted in an increasing sense of insecurity among the aged, increasingly higher in number and willing to sacrifice certain fundamental freedoms to ensure their own protection.

The Military Replaces the Patron State

But “Brutus” did not come to power only with the support of pensioners. He also had the sympathy of the poor sectors towards the military, since the latter guaranteed their medical assistance. The origins of this can also be traced back to 1992, when the Secretary of State for Veterans, Edward J. Denwinski proposed the use of veteran’s hospitals to provide care for the poor living in humble neighborhoods. This provoked such a protest that the project was abandoned [4].

But the idea did not die. It came back in the form of calls to deploy military medical assets to relieve hard-pressed urban hospitals. Later, Andy Tobias, of Time Magazine proposed to use military hospitals as drug rehabilitation centers for drug addicts. The military was also called to manage the cleanup of environmental hazards.

That same year the District of Columbia National Guardsmen (i.e., the federal capital) reaches an agreement with local school institutions for soldiers to teach scientific subjects, English, and Math in schools [5]. Thus, according to General “Brutus” opponent, «an entire generation of young people grew up comfortable with the sight of military personnel patrolling their streets and teaching in their classrooms ».

With the dismantling of the social State, the military had to assume law enforcement tasks as well as those inherent to the Patron State, becoming a full actor in governmental policy, a phenomenon that was reinforced by a continuous enhancement of the “national security” notion.

Under the Administration of George W. Bush, the military was called upon to provide air transport to regions affected by the bankruptcy of many commercial airlines, next they were tasked with the transportation of goods in ships belonging to the U.S. Navy to help out American exporters. Later on the crumbling of the country’s own infrastructures was also declared a “national security threat” and the military was called in to rehabilitate public housing, rebuild bridges and roads, and construct new government buildings [6].

This omnipresence of the military in sectors that were traditionally tasked to civil institutions, made officers become true actors in urban daily life and, consequently, political actions.

Concentration of Power and Military Defeat: the key factors for the coup

In his description of the takeover, Charles J. Dunlap Jr. Also takes into account the gradual concentration of power in the U.S. military, which he presents as one of the reasons for Brutus’ success. This was possible thanks, in the first place, to the adoption of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, which strengthened the powers of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and its team. Such an action, according to his character, would be a source of inspiration for the authors of the Military Plenipotentiary Act of 2005.

In fact, these would argue «that unity of command was critical to the successful management of the numerous activities now considered “military” operations ». In the existing regime prior to Brutus’coup, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff becomes the Military Plenipotentiary conferring more authority on him.

Always in search of efficiency, the different elements of the military were later unified in the Unified Armed Forces. Obviously, this is what would enable general Brutus to takeover. Once again, the imprisoned officer explains, political leaders forgot the lessons of the past.

In fact, he recalls that a similar action had been proposed already in the early 19902, due to economic reasons. But the idea had been rejected at the time to avoid concentration of all military powers in the hands of a single person.

What is now needed is a dramatic outcome that would justify power takeover by the military. Crucial developments would hasten the downfall of democracy. At the beginning of 2010, Iran launches a military offensive against several Gulf States. Busy for so long with exclusively civilian tasks, the American military is left unfit to repel an attack. Human losses are high. The death of the American president, in early 2012, also seals the death of the founding father’s democracy.

Prophecy or Warning?

The publication of that text in Parameters expresses the desire of a certain sector of the military hierarchy to alert about how the institution they belong to is straying from its traditional mission. As expected, the issue has undoubtedly provoked a lot of discussion. The text has been proposed for the “Strategic Essays” award organized by the National Defense University and enthusiastically welcomed by general Colin L. Powell, who later on awarded the author.

The awarded text is, by the way, a praise to Powell, the great general we should have listened to too save democracy, which leads to the thought that the text was drafted at the request of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff himself.

Obviously nor Powell nor Dunlap are anti-militarists. On the contrary, the both defend their strict concept of the military. They even question the mishmash of wars, at a time of rumors of Powell as a potential candidate for the U.S. presidency. And they find quick support among officers tired of humanitarian operations.

They also denounce a growing trend among officers, inspired on Samuel Huntington’s thesis The State and the Soldier. Huntington argued that military officers, graduating from the same academies are a separate, homogenous class, aware of the collective good, while civilians -divided in political parties-defend individual and conflicting interests. On this basis, Huntington advised a reconsideration of civil-military relations.

Civilians that would prove their capabilities for economic management, i.e. the multinational type of economic management, would be in charge of civil power. But in terms of defense and use of force to open new markets, they would have to abide by the decisions of a Praetorian Guard. A military adviser to Pinochet’s military regime in Chile and Videla’s in Argentine, Huntington has been able to prove the feasibility of his model. In 2004, he enjoys considerable influence among neo-conservative officers.

Reality on a par with fiction

If Dunlap’s fiction has become fashionable [7] it is because several decisions he anticipated in 1992 have indeed been taken. The process he described seems to have been put in motion and everything indicates that it is going faster than he foresaw. Would if continue at this pace, it would lead to a coup d’état sooner than in 2012.

Involvement of the military in police actions and the concentration of power in the hands of a single officer have become a reality. The only thing missing is an electroshock that should come in the form of a defeat and not a victory. The September 11 catastrophe accelerated the process but was not enough. A true defeat against an army, a « divine surprise » is needed.

In March 2002, in order to face a far-reaching terrorist attack, the establishment of a ghost military government capable of filling in a civil power vacuum was announced to Congress. Around 75 to 1000 officers confined in a bunker are kept abreast of all issues being discussed by the civilian power in order to be ready to replace it immediately, if necessary. This ghost government is probably at the Northcom base in Colorado Springs.

In April 2002, the North Command (Northcom), the Air Defense Command (NORAD), the Space Command (Spacecom), and the Nuclear Command (Stratcom) fused together to increase their response capabilities by eliminating all coordination procedures. General Ralph E. Eberhart became the super officer of the fiction.

In October 2002, the United States and Canada signed a new agreement on mutual defense. However, bearing in mind the existence of different texts in force, the agreement is not interpreted the same way by both signatories. According to former Canadian Foreign Minister Llod Axworthy, the document actually places Canada’s defense under the command of General Ralph E. Eberhart, an interpretation denied by Jean Chrétien’s government.

In January 2003, General Ralph E. Eberhart is in charge of security for the most popular event in the United States, the Super Bowl. The opening of the game included a military performance that reminds us of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games of 1936. During the game’s intermission medal award ceremonies for Afghanistan heroes were hold.

In September 2003, General Ralph E. Eberhart organizes the first Homeland Defense Symposium, with the participation of 600 personalities from the military-industrial complex. General Eberhart established a distinction between “homeland security”, which is a task for the civilians, and “homeland defense”, a more important task than the latter and under the exclusive command of the General himself.

In October 2003, General Ralph E. Eberhart holds an informal NATO summit at Colorado Springs base.
In November 2003, General Ralph E. Eberhart begins a wide campaign for satellite mapping of the United States, classification of citizens according to their political views, and assessing the risk that each of those citizens could pose for homeland defense. [8].

In March 2004, General Ralph E. Eberhart introduces a program for « deterrence, pre-emption and elimination of terrorism ». Good citizens are invited to equip themselves, free of charge, with the JPEN (Project America) computer program, which enables each of them to fill in a form denouncing any kind of suspicious activity [9].

Will the future confirm Charles J. Dunlap’s prophecies?

titre documents joints


A fiction by Charles J. Dunlap Jr., U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Parameters, 1992.

(WAV - 125.6 KiB)

[1In 1991, the Department of Defense spent 1.2 billion dollars a year for «the war on drugs»

[2“Military Efficiency”, by James Fallows, Atlantic, August 1991.

[3Field Manuals 100-19 FM - Domestic Support Operations, Department of Army, July 1st, 1993.

[4«VA partnership could result in landmark health care service», by Marilyn Werber Serafini, National Journal, January 14th, 2002.

[5“Arlington Schools Joint Forces with Defense Department Agency”, Washington Post, December 12th, 1991.

[6“Bush Orders U.S. Military to Aid Florida”, by Mary Jordan, The Washington Post, 28 de agosto de 1992.

[7«America’s military coup», por Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, Londres, 13 de mayo de 2004.

[8« L’armée établit une cartographie politique des États-Unis » (The Army draws a political map of the United States), text in French, Voltaire, November 24th, 2003.

[9« Délation assistée par ordinateur », text in French, Voltaire, March 10th, 2004.