Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Militaristic Society

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an interesting article recently that took American Foreign Policy to task. The article is a review of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War by Andrew J. Bacevich, a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, and professor of international relations at Boston University. The author of the review, Ivan Eland, wrote

Whether a president has been a leftward-leaning Wilsonian like Clinton or Lyndon Johnson, or a rightward-leaning Wilsonian like Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes, U.S. policy has been fairly consistent: an activist overuse of the powerful U.S. military to intervene in the affairs of other nations.

As the quotation suggests, Bacevich lays the blame for our failed foreign policy standard at the feet of Woodrow Wilson. Eland states that most foreign policy now operates

on a century-old set of principles derived from Christian missionaries sent abroad to save savage peoples from themselves. Those notions were first incorporated into U.S. government policy during the presidencies of William McKinley, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. During the Spanish-American War, McKinley wanted, at least ostensibly, to bring Christianity to the Philippines even though the islands were already predominantly Catholic. Wilson, the son of a minister, converted this overtly religious quest into a more secular version of saving implicitly inferior peoples. He believed U.S. military power should be used overseas to fight the "war to end all wars" (World War I) and to teach other peoples to "elect good men" (during his military meddling south of the U.S. border).

According to Eland, Bacevich notes that this foreign policy theory erodes freedom at home.

Bacevich sees what few in the establishment seem to -- that militarism abroad leads to the erosion of the precious and unique freedom that Americans enjoy at home. He includes a powerful quote from James Madison to show the suspicion that almost all of the founders had of standing armies and foreign military interventions:

"Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. ... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

Look back on the 20th century and think for a second. When have we been truly at peace? When have we been satisfied not to fight, or at least not to be preparing to fight? Hell, when we get bored we invade Granada, Panama and the Falkland Islands. No sane person can deny we have become a militaristic society, though some "invasions" may be founded on altruistic principles.

Some may say that we live in a unique time, and that, while Bacevich's theory may have been true regarding "traditional" wars, the war on terror is different. "How," some may ask, "can we afford to demilitarize when we are assailed on all sides by terrorists?" In a compelling argument, he states

the excessive use of U.S. military power abroad breeds resentment in the form of terrorist reprisals. Instead of asserting, as President Bush blithely does, that terrorists attack the United States because "they hate our freedom," Bacevich cites Osama bin Laden's writings to show that two main reasons that he attacks the United States are U.S. support for the corrupt monarchy in Saudi Arabia and the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf. Bacevich's implication is clear: If the United States had a less militaristic foreign policy, there would be less blowback terrorism and American citizens would be safer. He correctly notes that expanding the American "defense perimeter" does not make U.S. citizens safer or freer. Empire enhances neither our security nor our liberty.

Am I calling for a Pat-Buchanan-like isolationist foreign policy? No, that is not possible in today's world. However, maybe it's time to start treating other nations the way we want all interpersonal relationships to be treated. One of the new phrases I hear drop from parents' lips when children are acting out is "Use your words." In other words, try to work it out verbally, in a civilized manner. Maybe that would be a good foreign policy paradigm. I know my views may be considered naive, but I can't imagine Americans enjoy being in a perpetual state of war. Something must be done, because I believe James Madison was right.

Our militaristic society is leading to an erosion of freedoms that Democrats and Republicans alike find discomforting. Maybe the key is to suspend our missionary, militaristic zeal.


Anonymous said...

This country was built on war. We are a super power today because we were on the winning side of WWII. We use war analogies in sports, movies, business and elsewhere. We have had I believe 14 major wars in our young history. Do the math and you'll figure out that just about every US generation has been affected by a war somewhere in the world.

Want to get slapped with an NC-17 rating if you're a director? Put too much sex in your movie. But you as a director can include any kind a violence and never get an NC-17. Especially if the violence is about a or con. Ever wonder how the networks get away with showing Shindler's List uncut during sweeps? Very violent...but no sex. However, Janet Jackson flashes a titty (nipple covered up and it was a 3 second occurance) during a very violent sports halftime show...and the country freaks. Why? Easy...religion legilates the personal taste in this country.

Bottom line is that this Christian country loves war and always seems to have an "enemy"...real or made up.


Jake Dunkin said...

When you look back on our history as a nation, or even as an English colony, it is clear that Americans have never gained any dominance or position by peaceful means. Only by waging war or using the threat of war… but most flag-wavin’, “Support Your Troops” Americans want to look at the big picture. They’re mantra will always be, “Hey, they started it… but by God, we’re going to finish it!”

The other factor that must be considered is the nature of Christianity. The religious belief that our nation was “founded” on. (but not really, ‘cause the Constitution specifically stated that there was to be no national religion… but that’s just the Constitution talkin’) In the history of humanity, more ultra-violent, unspeakable evils were done onto our fellow man in the name of Christianity. We’ll… like the bible says, “An eye for an eye”. WRONG. That’s not in the Bible. Hmmmm. I wonder what else they got wrong.

Stacy said...

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Exodus 21 v. 24. The way I read that passage it has to do with hurting a pregnant woman.

It is clear that many atrocities are committed in the name of Christianity. We can't dispute that. I consider myself a "Christian" in the sense that I believe in Christ, and try to follow His example; however I often shy away from using the label “Christian” due to its negative connotation.

Now back to the issue at hand. I don’t for a second believe we need to be the saviors of the world. Whether it be, as the author suggests, “…a century-old set of principles derived from Christian missionaries sent abroad to save savage peoples from themselves”, I don’t know. I’ve racked my brain trying to dispute his assumption, but I can’t as of yet. It may very well be something burned into our psyche.

I’ve had a few too may IPAs to think clearly anymore. Ciao!

MC said...

I think there are several books that explain how blowback was inspired by the unintended cosnequences of American foreign policy (see Chalmers Johnson's "Blowback" for examples). Furthermore, I can't see a reduction in foregn occupations of unstable lands, because the government is comitted to stabilizing the areas where we import our oil (i.e. the middle east, especially Suadi Arabia, Central Asia, etc...). It would require changing a paradigm in thinking about energy, foreign policy, and America's role in the world. Most politicians are too short sighted. Especially Bush, who chose not to ratify the Kyoto Protocal, and wants to secure oil rights and open the Alasakan Wildlife Reseves for oil exploration, rather than search for more new energy sources or start to reduce our addictionto oil.

I think wars often have been sold as something they were not, whether it is saving our little brown brothers in the Philipines(the missionary analogy), or freeing the people of Iraq, there have always been other factors to conisder (acess to resources-military presence in Asia to protect those interests/stabilization of an unstable region-access to the second largest oil reserves in the world). "Blood and Oil" by Michale T. Klare gives a well-researched argument about how our quest for energy drives much of our foreign policy and offers legitimate suggestions on how to subvert this policy.

Jake Dunkin said...

Not to get of subject, but the phrase, "Eye for an Eye" actually come from From the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was King of Babylon, 1792-1750BC. The code survives today in the Akkadian language. It is from this that we derive the notion that for every wrong done there should be a compensating measure of justice. NOT the bible. Stacy is right about Exodus. The entire thing goes like this:

Exodus 21:22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

My point was that many Christians themselves are often use the prase as reasoning for retaliation against an enemy, but too soon do they dismiss the words of Jesus himself from Matthew 5:38...

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.


Karyn said...

Wow, you guys are really smart. I mean it, I really love reading your responses. Very interestng...

Stacy said...

You guys are smart. I enjoy reading this as much as Karyn. It gives me food for thought, and since I live in a world of "conservative" mindset, different well thought out views are refreshing.

I agree with you Jake, many Christians are far too eager to cast stones, or more accurately, bombs.

Jake Dunkin said...

Here is a quote that I find fits neatly into our discussion.

"Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
-Thomas Jefferson 1781 - 1785

Even in its infancy, it was clear that America would be a country of contradiction. Personally, I am continually baffled by the political right wing’s unholy marriage of religious zeal and a policy in which the few are rewarded in the name of the many.

Jake Dunkin said...

OH... there was another society that went through a bit of a militaristic phase. They elected a leader that appeared strong and charasmatic. (although there was questions about his election win.)
In a move to protect his beloved country from foriegn threat, he used his military to seek out those threats and destroy them. Remember Post WWI germany and the rise of Hitler?

Anonymous said...

Jake Dogg,

Now, there are some parallels between the rise of Hitler and GWB and his gang of overeager Neocons...but I hope you're not comparing Hitler to Bush. Hitler had a trend-setting moustache and could actually flourish in public speaking...kidding of course.

There is one parallel that is apparent. After 9/11 and with the threat of "a foe" that would stop at nothing to destroy us because "they hate our freedom", the idea of checks and balances went right out the window. Congress and just about any authority on a state level gave away their collective powers to El Presidente...and what did he and his band of merry Neocons do with all that unchecked power? Why do you think the saying "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" is still around today.

On a side bar, it seems that we forget that Osama dealt us a blow on 9/11 to get the US in multiple wars OVER in the mideast where he would fight us on his turf. He new exactly what the Neocons were all about and this administration took the I once said years ago...Sook, Line and Hinker.

Funny thing...when I mention the word Neocon to a (D) they will instantly engage me in a deep and intriguing conversation. Mention the word Neocon to a (R) and they just look at me with a blank stare and say..."What's a Neocon?"

The followers of the Grand Old Party have NO idea who they voted for...and voted for twice no less!


Jake Dunkin said...

You posted the shit outta that one, Shug!