Ramblings & ephemera

America, a militarized society

From Tony Judt’s “The New World Order” (The New York Review of Books: 14 July 2005):

[Andrew] Bacevich is a graduate of West Point, a Vietnam veteran, and a conservative Catholic who now directs the study of international relations at Boston University. He has thus earned the right to a hearing even in circles typically immune to criticism. What he writes should give them pause. His argument is complex, resting on a close account of changes in the US military since Vietnam, on the militarization of strategic political thinking, and on the role of the military in American culture. But his conclusion is clear. The United States, he writes, is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.

Why does the US Department of Defense currently maintain 725 official US military bases outside the country and 969 at home (not to mention numerous secret bases)? Why does the US spend more on “defense” than all the rest of the world put together? After all, it has no present or likely enemies of the kind who could be intimidated or defeated by “star wars” missile defense or bunker-busting “nukes.” And yet this country is obsessed with war: rumors of war, images of war, “preemptive” war, “preventive” war, “surgical” war, “prophylactic” war, “permanent” war. As President Bush explained at a news conference on April 13, 2004, “This country must go on the offense and stay on the offense.”

Among democracies, only in America do soldiers and other uniformed servicemen figure ubiquitously in political photo ops and popular movies. Only in America do civilians eagerly buy expensive military service vehicles for suburban shopping runs. In a country no longer supreme in most other fields of human endeavor, war and warriors have become the last, enduring symbols of American dominance and the American way of life. “In war, it seemed,” writes Bacevich, “lay America’s true comparative advantage.” …

For Bacevich’s deepest concern lies closer to home. In a militarized society the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks. Opposition to the “commander in chief” is swiftly characterized as lèse-majesté; criticism becomes betrayal. No nation, as Madison wrote in 1795 and Bacevich recalls approvingly, can “preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”[12] “Full-spectrum dominance” begins as a Pentagon cliché and ends as an executive project.

Comments are closed.