Democracy is messy and prone to political gridlock. For example, critics of the U.S. government complain that the rivalries between Democrats and Republicans, and between the president and Congress, mean that nothing seems to get done. With so many challenging issues to solve, wouldn’t it just be better to let a stable and efficient military take charge, perhaps for just a while?

Even those willing temporarily to give up important freedoms like free speech would be disappointed if military generals ran their countries, says Lawrence Wilkerson, a professor of government at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

For Wilkerson, a veteran of 31 years in the U.S. Army, history shows that the military cannot deliver the jobs, economic prosperity and other essentials that people want. “Military, no matter how many times in history it has taken over governance, has failed and will fail. It simply can’t do it,” he concludes.

The United States military is under civilian control. (© AP Images)

Like other rulers who are unaccountable to voters, military regimes inevitably become corrupt and prone to line their pockets, says Wilkerson. As it becomes more entrenched in a country’s economic system, a military will be less willing to relinquish its assets and walk away from power.

What people expect from political leaders is “more than just liberty and freedom. … It’s a good job. It’s a reasonable degree of security. It’s the ability to think and speak your mind,” says Wilkerson. “But that’s not the military’s culture,” which is focused on following orders and fulfilling the mission at hand.

For some countries, it takes time and institution-building to finally escape military rule. But, as frustrating as democracy can be, Wilkerson concludes that people’s interests are best served by a government they have freely and fairly elected.