Some Thoughts on The New American Militarism

Andrew J. Bacevich

Some Thoughts on The New American Militarism

Why quit our own to stand on foreign ground?

George Washington (214)

I was taught in the sixth grade that we had a standing army of just over a hundred thousand men and that the generals had nothing to say about what was done in Washington. I was taught to be proud of that and to pity Europe for having more than a million men under arms and spending all their money on airplanes and tanks. I simply never unlearned junior civics. I still believe in it. I got a very good grade.

Kurt Vonnegut

More than America’s matchless material abundance or even the effusions of pop culture, the nation’s arsenal of high-tech weaponry and the soldiers who employ that arsenal have come to signify who we are and what we stand for.

Andrew J. Bacevich (1)

We do not deserve these people. They are so much better than the country…they are fighting for.

Thomas Friedman (29)

From what I’ve seen of these men and I have to agree with you that the people I’ve met in the military are astonishingly capable and superior. There is a feeling of calm that comes over you when you really get to know the men and women that are serving.

Jon Stewart speaking with JCS Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, Jan. 6, 2010

The striking thing about that final quotation is that it sounds like something Ronald Reagan might have said. But when the closest thing we have to an Official Spokesman for the Counterculture feels the need to preface his gingerly-worded questions to the man in charge of so much mindless carnage with a paean to the competence of our troops, it’s obvious that we’ve come a long way since the 1970s when war was generally regarded to be a bad thing. (The results of the Afghanistan War are at least as bad as anything, say, Jim Cramer ever did, but Stewart wasn’t about to admonish his guest: “Ten Years of senseless war and no end in sight! WTF, Admiral?”)

The problem with fetishizing our young men and women in uniform like this is that it tempts us to send them out into the mad, bad, dangerous world in search dragons to slay instead of thoughtfully addressing our problems and carefully negotiating our place among nations. For the past three decades, we have ignored a plethora of real problems at home–a massive trade imbalance, the hollowing out of our industrial capacity, growing economic inequality, and the collapse of our infrastructure, to name a few. And a pathetic brand of military triumphalism often seems to be all we have left. As historian (and West Point graduate) Andrew J. Bacevich notes in The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, we have come to a sad state of affairs when “military might–rather than, say, the trade balance, income distribution, voter turnout, or the percentage of children being raised in two-parent families–become the preferred measure for gauging the nation’s strength” (109).

Unlike many commenters, Bacevich does not simply credit George W. Bush and his hapless cohorts for turning our nation into a brainless war machine. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Ever since we elected a president in 1980 who offered simple, painless solutions to all our problems, Americans have chosen to live with our heads planted firmly in the sand. (Why struggle to solve our energy problems by working to find new, cleaner sources of energy when we can just send more soldiers to the Persian Gulf?)

Despite getting over 200 of our marines blown up in a foolhardy mission in Lebanon, Reagan was able to tap into a national appetite for greatness via flowery rhetoric:

“Showering soldiers with praise and celebrating soldierly values provided a neat device for deflecting attention from blunders directly attributable to the White House. Reagan understood the political utility of this device and exploited it to the hilt”

But promoting the New American Militarism was not strictly a governmental enterprise. Bacevich demonstrates how an influential group of thinkers broadly categorized as “neocons” played a decisive role in creating the climate which allowed such reckless American militarism. Bacevich adroitly explains how the neocons utilized think tanks and publications like the Weekly Standard as well as groups like The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) to sow the seeds war. A major player in this effort was Robert Kagan, a man afflicted with perfervid dreams of military possibilities.

For neoconservatives like Kagan, the purpose of the Defense Department was no longer to defend the United States or deter would-be aggressors but to transform the international order by transforming its constituent parts….For the younger generation of neoconservatives, instructing others on how to organize their countries–employing coercion if need be–was not evidence of arrogant stupidity, it was America’s job (85).

One indication of the macabre times in which we live: despite his perpetual endeavor to discover new nations for America to bomb, the bloodthirsty Kagan remains on the board of the Carnegie Endowment for International PEACE.

After our debacle in Vietnam, Americans again learned the lessons of WWI: War is “inherently poisonous” and it should only be considered as a last resort (15). However, subsequent presidents have bamboozled the American people into war by “contriv[ing] a sentimentalized version of the American military experience and an idealized image of the American soldier” (97).

Such schoolboy dreams of warfare have devastating consequences when played out in the real world. The countless people in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been displaced and killed by the fever dreams of a nation which wishes to see its president as an Action Hero are not the only casualties. Our very survival as a democracy is at stake. As James Madison warned: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare” (7)

by Richard W. Bray

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2 Responses to “Some Thoughts on The New American Militarism”

  1. Famed American Virtue « Laughter hope sock in the eye's Blog Says:

    […] these days of the true ramifications of this monumental dereliction of duty. We prefer to exalt and fetishize our troops instead of facing up to ourselves and what we’ve done. If we just keep telling ourselves that […]

  2. An Effective Title-Writing Strategy for Academic Papers « Laughter hope sock in the eye's Blog Says:

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