Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The world's war capital

On his blog, Dennis Mangan conducted a lively discussion about today's American military and nationalist sentiment. He tells how his views on the military have altered over time, as this country's "foreign military adventure has become the American military's main mission." He writes:

The great swath of red state supporters of "our troops" have become dupes in our government's mission of forever being at war abroad, with little discernible national interest involved. On the contrary, I'd say the war in Afghanistan, for example, actively hurts our national interest.

Patriotism, said Johnson, is the last refuge of a scoundrel, and in the U.S., the scoundrels have decidedly taken refuge in it, and have co-opted the real patriots' support of the military into support for their endless wars abroad. One needs to distinguish between the military as a bulwark of the American nation and as a tool of the government, and too many Americans can't make this distinction.

Like most Americans, I've supported the military and had a positive attitude toward it for most of my life, but in recent years I've come to think that the majority of wars that we've fought in our history have been huge mistakes, actions of the government that furthered its own interests, not those of the nation as a whole.
In this same spirit, Brad Birzer, reviewing Tom Engelhardt's book, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, for The American Conservative magazine, claims that the relaxation of the Cold War during Ronald Reagan's tenure should have offered the West "some breathing room," that is, "a time to rethink the purpose of our nation and reinvigorate republican ideals."

Instead, Birzer maintains, "the past two decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, have revealed America and the West as morally and spiritually bankrupt. Plunder and torture best symbolize the bloated American Empire of the last 20 years, a force that exists merely for the sake of self-perpetuation." He further observes:
• • •

When voters elected Barack Obama in 2008, his supporters acclaimed him higher than a prophet; he was messianic. ... What the Obama administration has delivered, of course, is not only the continuation of the policies of the previous three administrations but a profound exaggeration of them. If anything, we suffer more violations of our privacy and civil liberties now than at any time during the Bush administration, all in the name of a national-security state that keeps the populace in its place while perpetuating war abroad. ...

[In his book], Tom Englehardt probes deeply into the war culture of Washington, D.C. As Englehardt writes, when it comes to conflict overseas “however contentious the disputes in Washington, however dismally the public viewed the war, however much the president’s war coalition might threaten to crack open, the only choices were between more and more.” More drones, more troops, more nation-building. So much for campaign promises and the new messiah who would end war and poverty permanently.

The first military budget Obama submitted, Engelhardt notes, was larger than the last one tendered by the Bush administration. “Because the United States does not look like a militarized country, it’s hard for Americans to grasp that Washington is a war capital, that the United States is a war state, that it garrisons much of the planet, and that the norm for us is to be at war somewhere (usually, in fact, many places) at any moment.” ...

As further evidence of our degeneration into a martial empire, the U.S. sells 70 percent of the weapons in the international arms trade. In almost every way, Engelhardt contends, the United States precipitates the militarization of the globe.

How far and fast we’ve fallen since the relatively peaceful days of the Reagan era. Four interventionist administrations later, we find ourselves as the leaders of international vice and terror. What happened, Englehardt asks, to the republic our Founders bequeathed to us? What have we done with and to our inheritance? ...

Engelhardt develops the fascinating argument that the history of the past 11 decades is the history of the airplane and our use of it for war, from the Sopwith Camel to the drone piloted remotely out of Las Vegas. In rather Chomsky-like (or perhaps Orwellian) fashion, one of Engelhardt’s later chapters explores the perversion of words in the English language to make the idea of war more palatable for the public and keep perpetual conflict “hidden in plain sight.” Engelhardt claims the Bush administration redefined patriotism and American identity, polarizing the country. Anyone who challenged the war, the Bush line went, must either be a “wuss” or a traitor.

Read complete article here.

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