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DO YOU KNOW WHO DECIDES ELECTIONS IN THE LAST RESORT? | 2000-11-18

National polls have been showing that if Gore was declared winner in the presidential race, about 85% of the population would accept him as legitimate. If Bush were the winner, only 74% would accept him.

Conservatives tend to be blindly loyal, but liberals have a hard and ruthless core.

When I was in graduate school, the very, very close Kennedy-Nixon race was recent history, so close elections were discussed a good deal. In seminar, we described more and more situations which were more and more difficult to decide. Finally, we got to one in which even the professor could not imagine how a clear choice could be made.

"So," asked a student, "Who would decide the election?"

The professor answered, "The Air Force."

Democratic politics is a substitute for settling things by violence, as is done in a police state. So if a solution within the republican framework cannot be reached, the whole question goes back to the original decision: who controls the means of violence?

In 1960, the officer corps in all services was overwhelmingly conservative. So, if it just came down to their preferences, a conservative would have been put in power by the military, as described in the 1960s movie "Seven Days in May."

But to show how divided this country is, there is no such certainty today. Army officers might be conservative, but their command is largely minority, and would probably go the other way. Officers in our day of affirmative action -- and after the experience of fragging in Vietnam -- could not force their troops to obey orders.

Besides, in our get-along-by-going along military, where you don't get promoted if you have strong convictions, there are no more MacArthurs or Pattons around.

The Army is largely minority, the Air Force is much more white, especially the pilots who control the weapons. Would we have the situation we have seen in many Latin American countries, where the Army is on one side and the Navy and/or the Air Force is on the other?

Anybody who thinks that the United States is one country these days has got to be on drugs.