The Militarization of America: How the Military Mindset Is Permeating Our Political Culture and Society
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Sensible and logical, yes, but such arguments have been made -- and roundly ignored. They aren’t given the time of day among serious policy types in Washington, where to question the efficacy and legitimacy of the forces and tactics being used is simply not acceptable. Sharing one brain and one ethos means being incapable of grasping one’s own militarized rigidity or truly recognizing the perils that have been unleashed on this nation.
There’s a word for this disease, even if after all these years it remains remarkably foreign to American ears: militarism. When Americans think of that word, they tend to conjure up images of fanatical jackbooted Nazis or suicidal Japanese kamikazes, and so the concept seems eminently dismissible. But militarism also describes a situation in which a country’s civil society and political culture are permeated to the point of dominance by military attitudes and values -- an undeniable fact of life, I would argue, in America today.
Militarists see war as productive, as offering solutions rather than posing problems. They see it as heroic. (President Bush famously waxed poetic about the “exciting” and “romantic” nature of fighting in Afghanistan.) When wars are romanticized as action-packed tests of a nation’s warriors, cuts to war spending are naturally seen as perfidiously unpatriotic -- as kneecapping those same heroes. Hence our ever-growing “defense” budgets, even as a sledgehammer of a national debt hobbles America’s economic vitality and social security.
The end result of this militaristic mindset is a garrison state, constantly girding itself for national security crises, real or perceived, as in the last decade’s open-ended and frantic “war on terror.”
A singular danger of such a mindset, as pointed out by Laurence Radway in a telling article on “militarism” in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, is that militarists, unable to select means appropriate to true defense needs, end up jeopardizing the very national security they say they’re seeking to safeguard. By exaggerating threats, defining all responses to those threats in military terms, dismissing dissenters as weak and deluded (even when they prove right), and being incapable of questioning their principles, they repeat the same mistakes again and again.
Until Americans turn away from militarism and learn again how to “support our Constitution” more than our troops (and don’t worry: those troops swear an oath to that very Constitution), until we return to a broader vision of national security that deemphasizes a garrison mentality, we will continue to wound, perhaps mortally, a once great republic.
And that’s no fairy tale, it's a fact.
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), now teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. His books and articles focus primarily on military history and include Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism (Potomac Press, 2005). He may be reached at email@example.com.
Tom Engelhardt, editor of Tomdispatch.com, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's .
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