A Pervasive Militarism Threatens American Democracy
It is a beautiful day in Sacramento. The freedom of wild wings, the flight of birds, bees, and butterflies blends with many colorful budding flowers to lift my spirits. It is difficult for me to believe that the world we live in is so fraught with violence and disaster. If it weren’t for my network of friends, my family, my wife, and my cats, it would be easy to lose my sanity and give up all hope for the fate of the planet and the foolish human species that seems determined to destroy it.
The news was dismal once again this morning. Associated Press reports that more troops will be sent to Afghanistan as part of an expanding counter-insurgency war effort there. Currently, we have 158, 000 American troops and over 100,000 American private contractors in Iraq. Another 30,000 soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan. The plan is to send thousands more to Afghanistan over the next year.
At the center of the violent whirlpool of the Middle East, the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks continue to flounder in the face of new Israeli settlement construction on the West Bank. Tensions mount in Lebanon threatening a new civil war, while Syria and Jordan struggle to accommodate the stream of millions of displaced Iraqi refugees fleeing into their countries. American supplied intelligence has helped Turkey bomb Kurdish sites in northern Iraq.
A greater violence threatens to erupt throughout the Middle East. Israel, for example, is talking about another military campaign against Hamas and Hezbollah. It is also threatening to attack Iran before it gets WMDs. Overall, it’s safe to say that the American Crusade in the region, with its state organized “terror from the skies,” the terrorist violence against Iraqi and Afghan civilians that comes from cluster bombs, B-52’s, and tomahawk cruise missiles, has destabilized the entire region and only beckons more “non-state” terrorist violence in response. Al Qaeda’s recruitment of new terrorists is up. Sadly, I see no end to this horrid cycle of violence in my lifetime.
The Bush administration has tried to sell the idea that “the surge” has been successful in Iraq, while Republican Presidential nominee John McCain talks about “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if it takes a hundred years. But there are signs that the whole devastated country of Iraq is likely to explode in violence independent of whether or not we leave. We should leave and try to get the international community to help forge a political settlement, but that is not in the cards. Our military occupation is unlikely to bring the peace.
The administration also continues its hostile rhetoric against both Venezuela and Iran, claiming the first is “a terrorist state,” and the second, already a designated member of the “axis of evil,” is building WMDs. While much of this may be rhetoric designed to alter behavior, there is not much evidence that either George W. Bush or pseudo maverick John McCain have learned anything from Iraq. With Israel pushing us for aggressive action, it is unlikely that either of the two Democratic Presidential contenders will be able to bring peace to the region. Once again progressives will be asked to vote for “the better of two evils.”
A Deeply Embedded Militarism
Like so many others, I see a pervasive and deeply embedded militarism in American life. Several recent scholarly works have reinforced that ominous perception.
Nick Turse’s book THE MATRIX: HOW THE MILITARY INVADES OUR DAILY LIVES, shows how the “unwarranted influence of the military/industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned against has expanded dramatically in American society sending its tentacles into every sector of the economy –the mainstream media, the university, the scientific community, the intelligence network, the entertainment industry, STARBUCK’s, the two dominant political parties, and the corporations, particularly the oil industry. The Department of Defense has gone from 22 thousand prime contractors in 1970 to 47 thousand in 2008. Many of these are big name retailers. Turse’s book follows a character named “Rick” through his daily life showing how dependent we all are on THE COMPLEX. Rick is against the war, but consumes numerous products that directly benefit the military/corporate complex. The pervasiveness of the military in /American life is amply demonstrated.
The “homeland security state” is also spying on Americans without warrant, detaining and torturing people without due process, and waging a continuous pre-emptive war against “terrorism” that has no clear objective, no boundaries, and no end. Naomi Wolf’s recent book, entitled THE END OF AMERICA: LETTER OF WARNING TO A YOUNG PATRIOT, has warned that we are moving to a new kind of fascism as our nation’s freedoms and civil liberties are being systematically dismantled and dissident speech criminalized. Wolf argues that America has already taken several steps toward fascism such as expanded surveillance, the development of paramilitary forces, the infiltration of citizens groups, the practice of Rendition and establishment of secret CIA “ghost prisons,” the arbitrary detention of citizens, increased press censorship, the open embrace of torture, and the targeting of key individuals to silence and make an example of.etc, etc. Wolf argues convincingly that we need a movement to save our democracy before it is too late.
In fact, much of this attack on our freedoms had been done in the name of the “war against terror” which in reality has been a “war of terror” as many civilians have died as a result of America’s attempt to bomb its way to an elusive victory against an ill defined foe that is found nowhere and everywhere. The ideology of endless war and of the need for increased national security has been woven into the very the fabric of American life in spite of the fact that polls show most Americans opposed to the war. Jeffery St. Clair, in his book GRAND THEFT PENTAGON, demonstrates the corruption and profiteering that accompanied the war on terror, how the manipulation of fear since the horror of 9/11 has been an essential ingredient of enhanced executive power and aggressive pre-emptive militarism. ST Clair shows how the Bush administration hired a team of marketing and PR executives to sell the war on terror to a compliant media and a panic stricken American public while at the same time refusing an offer by the Taliban to turn over Osama Bin Laden. Bush and his neo-con advisors wanted total war irrespective of the facts.
Andrew Bacevich’s THE NEW AMERCAN MILITARISM, argues that excessive militarism and a powerful defense establishment has become so deeply embedded in American society that elections will have no effect on it. Bacevich, a Vietnam Veteran, argues: “American militarism cannot be laid at the feet of a particular president or a particular set of advisors.” He adds that “no particular presidential election holds the promise of radically changing it.” Finally, Bacevich quotes James Madison who wrote in 1795: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midsts of continual warfare.”
This notion that American militarism is a threat to America’s Democratic Republic is one of the key themes in Chalmers Johnson’s book THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE: MILITARISM, SECRECY, AND THE END OF THE REPUBLIC. Johnson notes that we have over 700 American military bases around the world which allow for the projection of American military violence into every continent. He argues that both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are imperialist wars, and that America has become “a massive military power athwart an angry resistant globe.” Johnson sees imperialism and militarism as anathema to democracy. While he still has hope that our civil society is strong enough to reverse the trends, he concludes that at this late date “it is difficult to imagine how Congress, much like the Roman Senate in the last days of the Republic, could be cleansed of its endemic corruption.”
While most Americans say they oppose the war, they don’t want to talk about it or lift a finger to end it. A “post-modern” lethargy and apathy is fed by the mainstream media which has created a literal blackout of antiwar news such as the recent testimony of American atrocities committed in Afghanistan and Iraq by the 2008 “WINTER SOLDIERS.” This apathy and sense of hopelessness is a poisonous acid eating away at the American social body. Meanwhile, Congress continues to fund the wars and write the Pentagonians a blank check to the tune of over five hundred billion a year as America prepares for new overt and covert wars (eg: Iran, Venezuela ?) and modernizes its nuclear arsenal in an effort to maintain its tottering empire.
Meanwhile, as the war drags on endlessly, the American economy is on the brink of bankruptcy with a financial and housing crisis causing serious hardship for thousands of Americans. Thousands have lost their homes and a majority of economists argue that we have already entered a recession. Some economists link the tailspin in the economy directly to the war, with cost estimates running as high as three to five trillion dollars before it’s all over. The war has boosted oil prices from 25 dollars a barrel to 110 dollars a barrel, and this has generated a wave of inflation throughout the American economy as higher gas and transportation costs are translated into higher costs for American consumers at the grocery store. Now the politicians are saying we don’t have enough money to maintain Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as they vote for increased military spending each year.
All of this is, frankly, rather depressing. It augurs a dismal and dark future for the American people. Our only hope is that a new social movement for real change will arise to take up the challenge of deconstructing the corporate “complex” and ending its militarism. Although the prospect of such a wide scale social movement developing soon seems bleak, I continue to hope. We have to save America from the dark authoritarian forces that are threatening to engulf it.
Meanwhile, when we can, we must take time to love and smell the flowers and not allow the Pentagonians and their empire to destroy our humanity. We have to risk standing up for our civil liberties and our right to dissent before it is too late, before there is nothing worthwhile to defend.