The armed forces have frequently become involved in national politics throughout history. Generals have become indispensable deputies of rulers. They have had access to both the influential members of society and at the same time have commanded loyalty in the military services. This has made them both the perpetrators and targets of court intrigues and put them in the position of being the suspected rivals of leaders. Historically, there have been rivalries between military leadership and civilian leadership, often leading to extended periods of direct military rule. In order to prevent the military exploitation of the government, many techniques have been employed on a constitutional basis to maintain stability. This included the automatic merging of the military and civilian governing infrastructures to avoid rivalry over leadership, or the granting of permission to officers to enter the civilian political scene. Societies where war is a constant issue see the prominence of military officers retained even after their military service, leading to their obtaining of political office.
Many contemporary studies focus on how civilian institutions and leaders can maintain control over the military as an arm of the people and government, rather than permitting it to take direct control by use of force. After the end of World War II, the decline of European colonial powers opened the way for unstable governments. In many cases the military intervened and took over the government.
The political threat presented by the military has always been a concern of civilian governments. This is the same both in democracies and authoritarian regimes. While dictators might have assassinated potential or real political rivals and garnered support from the military, Western democracies in the 20th century took a different strategy. Following World War II the risk of sociopolitical unrest led governments to massively reduce the size of the military. The expansion of industry spurred tremendous economic growth and the incorporation of a culture resonant of military discipline in the United States workforce, continuing to this day with employment of techniques akin to military strategies in the workplace.
Samuel Huntington (1927-2007) developed a theory that in order to maintain a balance between civilian government and military leadership, it was necessary to maintain a professional military corps who would be second to the civilian government. He saw a trend of conservativism in the military versus a more liberal society at large. This trend is apparent in other societies, particularly Turkey where there have been a number of coups to protect the secular nature of the state from religious politicians.
Huntington's theories at the onset of the cold war foresaw the need for American society to accept more conservative ideas in order to justify and accept the extended military or security regime needed to defend the country against the Soviet Union. Some political theorists validated his views by citing societal shifts to the right since the Great Depression. Huntington is known to have argued that the transition from a period of intense military activity to one of relative peace can cause issues of civil-military tension. The onset of the cold war imposed the pressures of a potential war on a society emerging from World War II, hence the emergence of the idea that conservative ideas in society might mitigate the potential of civil-military tension.
Morris Janowitz (1919-1988) suggested that the possibility that society would experience a mobilization trend and be subsumed by the military was just as likely as the possibility of the military being subsumed by society. His theory reflected the founding premises of military sociology. An example of this can be found in almost any country where a universal or near-universal draft is in force, such as the United States during World War II or Israel today. He encouraged the maintenance of a reserve corps of officers and the active recruitment of different sectors of society, including academics and students, to ensure a "convergence" of military and civilian cultural trends so as to minimize the potential causes of conflict between the two sectors and their leaderships. As summarized by John Allen Williams, "The military reflects the society it serves in important ways, and the military's sympathy with the values of society makes it a more willing servant."