The expanding cultural authority of the armed forces is a problem for U.S. democracy, writes William J. Astore.
By William J. Astore
When Americans think of militarism, they may imagine jackbooted soldiers goose-stepping through the streets as flag-waving crowds exult; or, like our president, they may think of enormous parades featuring troops and missiles and tanks, with warplanes soaring overhead. Or nationalist dictators wearing military uniforms encrusted with medals, ribbons, and badges like so many barnacles on a sinking ship of state. (Was President Donald Trump only joking recently when he said he’d like to award himself a Medal of Honor?) And what they may also think is: that’s not us. That’s not America. After all, Lady Liberty used to welcome newcomers with a torch, not an AR-15. We don’t wall ourselves in while bombing others in distant parts of the world, right?
But militarism is more than thuggish dictators, predatory weaponry, and steely-eyed troops. There are softer forms of it that are no less significant than the “hard” ones. In fact, in a self-avowed democracy like the United States, such softer forms are often more effective because they seem so much less insidious, so much less dangerous. Even in the heartland of Trump’s famed base, most Americans continue to reject nakedly bellicose displays like phalanxes of tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue.
But who can object to celebrating “hometown heroes” in uniform, as happens regularly at sports events of every sort in 21st-century America? Or polite and smiling military recruiters in schools? Or gung-ho war movies like the latest version of “Midway,” timed for Veterans Day weekend 2019 and marking America’s 1942 naval victory over Japan, when we were not only the good guys but the underdogs?
What do I mean by softer forms of militarism? I’m a football fan, so one recent Sunday afternoon found me watching an NFL game on CBS. People deplore violence in such games, and rightly so, given the number of injuries among the players, notably concussions that debilitate lives. But what about violent commercials during the game? In that one afternoon, I noted repetitive commercials for “SEAL Team,” “SWAT,” and “FBI,” all CBS shows from this quietly militarized American moment of ours. In other words, I was exposed to lots of guns, explosions, fisticuffs, and the like, but more than anything I was given glimpses of hard men (and a woman or two) in uniform who have the very answers we need and, like the Pentagon-supplied police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, are armed to the teeth. (“Models with guns,” my wife calls them.)
Got a situation in Nowhere-stan? Send in the Navy SEALs. Got a murderer on the loose? Send in the SWAT team. With their superior weaponry and can-do spirit, Special Forces of every sort are sure to win the day (except, of course, when they don’t, as in America’s current series of never-ending wars in distant lands).
And it hardly ends with those three shows. Consider, for example, this century’s update of “Magnum P.I.,” a CBS show featuring a kickass private investigator. In the original “Magnum P.I.” that I watched as a teenager, Tom Selleck played the character with an easy charm. Magnum’s military background in Vietnam was acknowledged but not hyped. Unsurprisingly, today’s Magnum is proudly billed as an ex-Navy SEAL.
Cop and military shows are nothing new on American TV, but never have I seen so many of them, new and old, and so well-armed. On CBS alone you can add to the mix “Hawaii Five-O” (yet more models with guns updated and up-armed from my youthful years), the three “NCIS” (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) shows, and “Blue Bloods” (ironically starring a more grizzled and less charming Tom Selleck) — and who knows what I haven’t noticed? While today’s cop/military shows feature far more diversity with respect to gender, ethnicity, and race compared to hoary classics like “Dragnet,” they also feature far more gunplay and other forms of bloody violence.
Look, as a veteran, I have nothing against realistic shows on the military. Coming from a family of first responders — I count four firefighters and two police officers in my immediate family — I loved shows like “Adam-12” and “Emergency!” in my youth. What I’m against is the strange militarization of everything, including, for instance, the idea, distinctly of our moment, that first responders need their very own version of the American flag to mark their service. Perhaps you’ve seen those thin blue line flags, sometimes augmented with a red line for firefighters. As a military veteran, my gut tells me that there should only be one American flag and it should be good enough for all Americans. Think of the proliferation of flags as another soft type of up-armoring (this time of patriotism).
Speaking of which, whatever happened to “Dragnet’s” Sergeant Joe Friday, on the beat, serving his fellow citizens, and pursuing law enforcement as a calling? He didn’t need a thin blue line battle flag. And in the rare times when he wielded a gun, it was .38 Special. Today’s version of Joe looks a lot more like G.I. Joe, decked out in body armor and carrying an assault rifle as he exits a tank-like vehicle, maybe even a surplus MRAP from America’s failed imperial wars.
Militarism in the USA
Besides TV shows, movies, and commercials, there are many signs of the increasing embrace of militarized values and attitudes in this country. The result: the acceptance of a military in places where it shouldn’t be, one that’s over-celebrated, over-hyped, and given far too much money and cultural authority, while becoming virtually immune to serious criticism.
Let me offer just nine signs of this that would have been so much less conceivable when I was a young boy watching reruns of “Dragnet”:
- Roughly two-thirds of the federal government’s discretionary budget for 2020 will, unbelievably enough, be devoted to the Pentagon and related military functions, with each year’s “defense” budget coming ever closer to a trillion dollars. Such colossal sums are rarely debated in Congress; indeed, they enjoy wide bipartisan support.
- The U.S. military remains the most trusted institution in our society, so say 74 percent of Americans surveyed in a Gallup poll. No other institution even comes close, certainly not the presidency (37 percent) or Congress (which recently rose to a monumental 25 percent on an impeachment high). Yet that same military has produced disasters or quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere. Various “surges” have repeatedly failed. The Pentagon itself can’t even pass an audit. Why so much trust?
- A state of permanent war is considered America’s new normal. Wars are now automatically treated as multi-generational with little concern for how permawar might degrade our democracy. Anti-war protesters are rare enough to be lone voices crying in the wilderness.
- America’s generals continue to be treated, without the slightest irony, as “the adults in the room.” Sages like former Secretary of Defense James Mattis (cited glowingly in the recent debate among 12 Democratic presidential hopefuls) will save America from unskilled and tempestuous politicians like one Donald J. Trump. In the 2016 presidential race, it seemed that neither candidate could run without being endorsed by a screaming general (Michael Flynn for Trump; John Allen for Clinton).
The media routinely embraces retired U.S. military officers and uses them as talking heads to explain and promote military action to the American people. Simultaneously, when the military goes to war, civilian journalists are “embedded” within those forces and so are dependent on them in every way. The result tends to be a cheerleading media that supports the military in the name of patriotism — as well as higher ratings and corporate profits.
- America’s foreign aid is increasingly military aid. Consider, for instance, the current controversy over the aid to Ukraine that Trump blocked before his infamous phone call, which was, of course, partially about weaponry. This should serve to remind us that the United States has become the world’s foremost merchant of death, selling far more weapons globally than any other country. Again, there is no real debate here about the morality of profiting from such massive sales, whether abroad ($55.4 billion in arms sales for this fiscal year alone, says the Defense Security Cooperation Agency) or at home (a staggering 150 million new guns produced in the USA since 1986, the vast majority remaining in American hands).
- In that context, consider the militarization of the weaponry in those very hands, from .50 caliber sniper rifles to various military-style assault rifles. Roughly 15 million AR-15s are currently owned by ordinary Americans. We’re talking about a gun designed for battlefield-style rapid shooting and maximum damage against humans. In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, the hunters in my family had bolt-action rifles for deer hunting, shotguns for birds, and pistols for home defense and plinking. No one had a military-style assault rifle because no one needed one or even wanted one. Now, worried suburbanites buy them, thinking they’re getting their “man card” back by toting such a weapon of mass destruction.
- Paradoxically, even as Americans slaughter each other and themselves in large numbers via mass shootings and suicides (nearly 40,000 gun deaths in 2017 alone), they largely ignore Washington’s overseas wars and the continued bombing of numerous countries. But ignorance is not bliss. By tacitly giving the military a blank check, issued in the name of securing the homeland, Americans embrace that military, however loosely, and its misuse of violence across significant parts of the planet. Should it be any surprise that a country that kills so wantonly overseas over such a prolonged period would also experience mass shootings and other forms of violence at home?
- Even as Americans “support our troops” and celebrate them as “heroes,” the military itself has taken on a new “warrior ethos” that would once — in the age of a draft army — have been contrary to this country’s citizen-soldier tradition, especially as articulated and exhibited by the “greatest generation” during World War II.
What these nine items add up to is a paradigm shift as well as a change in the zeitgeist. The U.S. military is no longer a tool that a democracy funds and uses reluctantly. It’s become an alleged force for good, a virtuous entity, a band of brothers (and sisters), America’s foremost missionaries overseas and most lovable and admired heroes at home. This embrace of the military is precisely what I would call soft militarism. Jackbooted troops may not be marching in our streets, but they increasingly seem to be marching unopposed through — and occupying — our minds.
The Decay of Democracy
As Americans embrace the military, less violent policy options are downplayed or disregarded. Consider the State Department, America’s diplomatic corps, now a tiny, increasingly defunded branch of the Pentagon led by Mike Pompeo (celebrated by Trump as a tremendous leader because he did well at West Point). Consider Trump as well, who’s been labeled an isolationist, and his stunning inability to truly withdraw troops or end wars. In Syria, U.S. troops were recently redeployed, not withdrawn, not from the region anyway, even as more troops are being sent to Saudi Arabia. In Afghanistan, Trump sent a few thousand more troops in 2017, his own modest version of a mini-surge and they’re still there, even as peace negotiations with the Taliban have been abandoned. That decision, in turn, led to a new surge (a “near record high”) in U.S. bombing in that country in September, naturally in the name of advancing peace. The result: yet higher levels of civilian deaths.
How did the U.S. increasingly come to reject diplomacy and democracy for militarism and proto-autocracy? Partly, I think, because of the absence of a military draft. Precisely because military service is voluntary, it can be valorized. It can be elevated as a calling that’s uniquely heroic and sacrificial. Even though most troops are drawn from the working class and volunteer for diverse reasons, their motivations and their imperfections can be ignored as politicians praise them to the rooftops. Related to this is the Rambo-like cult of the warrior and warrior ethos, now celebrated as something desirable in America. Such an ethos fits seamlessly with America’s generational wars. Unlike conflicted draftees, warriors exist solely to wage war. They are less likely to have the questioning attitude of the citizen-soldier.
Don’t get me wrong: reviving the draft isn’t the solution; reviving democracy is. We need the active involvement of informed citizens, especially resistance to endless wars and budget-busting spending on American weapons of mass destruction. The true cost of our previously soft (now possibly hardening) militarism isn’t seen only in this country’s quickening march toward a militarized authoritarianism. It can also be measured in the dead and wounded from our wars, including the dead, wounded, and displaced in distant lands. It can be seen as well in the rise of increasingly well-armed, self-avowed nationalists domestically who promise solutions via walls and weapons and “good guys” with guns. (“Shoot them in the legs,” Trump is alleged to have said about immigrants crossing America’s southern border illegally.)
Democracy shouldn’t be about celebrating overlords in uniform. A now-widely accepted belief is that America is more divided, more partisan than ever, approaching perhaps a new civil war, as echoed in the rhetoric of our current president. Small wonder that inflammatory rhetoric is thriving and the list of this country’s enemies lengthening when Americans themselves have so softly yet fervently embraced militarism.
With apologies to the great Roberta Flack, America is killing itself softly with war songs.
A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, William J. Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is “Bracing Views.”
This article is from TomDispatch.com.
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I always wonder why we need to establish our background of who we are related to or who we respect before we can have an opinion on a subject. Do I need to tell everyone I was in the military before I criticize our illegal wars? It sounds like you’re asking permission to tell the truth? Saying that your related to a policeman or fireman berore you rip them is a form of self censor!
I agree with those who say ‘the draft’ would reduce the number of wars the government gets the country involved in. I agree even more with the author that “the draft is not the solution, reviving democracy is.” The US has never been a democracy but I agree with the sentiment.
Marine corp Major General Smedley Butler spent his career making life easy for US corporations in South America and China. He had a change of heart as everyone on this website knows. In the 1930’s in an interview with one of the womens magazines he proposed a Peace amendment to the constitution:
” 1. The removal of the members of the land armed forces from within the continental limits of the Unites States and the
Panama Canal Zone for any cause whatsoever is prohibited.
2. The vessels of the United States Navy, or of the other branches of the armed forces, are hereby prohibited from steaming,
for any reason whatsoever except on an errand of mercy, more than 500 miles from our coast.
3. Aircraft of the Army, Navy and marine Corps are hereby prohibited from flying, for any reason whatsoever, more than
seven hundred and fifty miles beyond the coast on the United States.”
Apparently Butler was a general who thought that the best defense was a good defense.
A Butler-like amendment or legislation would not make the US a democracy but it would be a highly democratic republic. In today’s world Butler’s amendment would have to provide for the defense of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. And provide that nuclear submarines could roam the oceans without limitation, until the nuclear countries negotiate the end of nuclear weapons.
There wouldn’t be much opposition from the enlisted ranks judging by a 2016 survey conducted by the Military Times and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and military families. According to the ArmyTimes.com (dtd 10.3.16 page 21 ) 39.8% of enlisted personal planned to vote for Trump, 36.1% for libertarian Gary Johnson, 14.1% for Clinton. Maybe they are as tired of imperial war as the public.
Excellent article WJA! I believe you currently write the best critiques of US militarism that I’ve come across… thanks for your incisive work!
Just a quick observation, last I knew the military did not have carte blanche to go and do what ever they wanted where ever they wanted. So the over use issue is one that needs to sit squarely on our politicians shoulders. As for over militarization of law enforcement, I can attest to that simply because I spent my career there. Back in the day training at any law enforcement academy consisted of Constitutional Law, crisis intervention, verbal judo and de-escalation techniques with the occasional PT. Go to any academy now and they look like mini Quanticos, uniforms, marching, PT, more PT, defensive tactics, and how to assert authority. While working Patrol I spent time de-escalating situations, solving problems. Now they’re taught give the command once, if they don’t comply taze them, cuff them and stuff them. That’s not solving problems, it’s making more. Military service is an honorable profession. But the expansion of militarization into our daily lives has got to stop.
It would be interesting to hear from Professor William Astore (and others) his views on global economic warfare, exemplified by controversial Magnitsky Act legislation, and as described by Lucy Komisar in her powerful October 29 and previous Consortium News article(s).
It is a very rare occurrence in human history where a scandal of world proportion leads otherwise intelligent, logical, moral and law-abiding men and women to (near unanimously) self-silence in fear of certain, severe retribution from those responsible for planning and perpetuating the scandal – in other words, the individuals and groups who might embody the general conception of “Ultimate Power” or the “Top of the Pyramid” on Earth.
The Browder-Magnitsky scandal is precisely one of those very rare historic occurrences. How much longer before this immeasurably important, profoundly consequential for humanity and future generations scandal finally, righteously, and thankfully blows up and collapses?
As others have said, excellent peroration, Mr. Astore. The one thing that you left out was that the only clear excuse for using the military is to respond to a physical attack on the US. We haven’t had one of those since Pearl Harbor. 9/11 doesn’t count since it was not perpetrated by a nation state. I suspect that you’ve already read Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. More Americans need to read that book.
A very good article Mr Astore.
I’d like to add just a comment or two. In this land of ours where ‘money talks’ I think people forget the article from the Business Insider in 2015 concerning the money NFL teams were receiving for their ‘paid patriotism’
The tax payer money given to 14 NFL teams amounted to 5.4 million dollars. It wasn’t out of love for the flag or some patriotism the NFL showed, as it was for pure profit motives. As a result the viewer was bombarded with Love of Country and the Flag ad nauseum.
In 2019 the DoD paid just shy of a million dollars for the Super Bowl because an aired 30 sec spot was asking for 5 million per. They got around this high figure by putting their ads on the streaming version of the game, saving money. But the ads were there nevertheless.
Personal story: I worked sports TV for 30 years and we never, ever, covered the Nation Anthem (we ran a commercial) until after the 9/11 tragedy where people were forced into a form of patriotism by their anger.
I watched the expensive ads during the Super Bowls and they are roughly all the same theme about heroism, bravery, see the world, love of country etc. The kicker was seeing a flock of Black Hawks landing in some foreign wasteland and the soldiers were all carrying Care Packages on their shoulders to emphasis how altruist the military is. There was not a gun in sight.
What was once a more subliminal message of killing has now become a common sight. When was the last movie you saw that didn’t have a gun in it? Or a weapon of some sort (swords come to mind) in the poster ad for a movie? This messaging has made guns and killing a part of the US culture, and this is why there is less ‘push back’ from the citizens. They just accept it and some yearn for their own heroism by using one against another human being. The military has representatives on every movie set that relates to the military to show it in a good light, without flaws. It’s no wonder the younger generation doesn’t see the pain, and mankind at their worst nature. It’s all masked over.
I agree wholeheartedly. Hollywood now beats the war drums, Amazon battles Microsoft for massive contracts with the DoD, network/cable entertainment viewing nearly always includes heavily armed police breaching a doorway in a low income apartment.
The normalization of armed violence, and imperialism in foreign (oil rich) poor nations the norm, and proper.
I truly believe the founders included the Second Amendment in the BofR as a genuine adversity to the ideas of:
A standing army, and
A centralized police system.
Remember, “ police” were virtually a brand new thing in 18th century, and Empires used their armies to dominate and suppress the lower classes.
Were the citizens assured of their right and responsibility to protect themselves and fellow citizens, there would be no need for a centrally authorized law enforcement system, only a fair and honest judicial system.
The modern version of a uniformed police is indeed new at the end of the 18th Century. Just ran into a very clear book by Lizzie O’Shea (“Future Histories”), an Australian human rights lawyer and activist. She nicely runs a straight line of history, tech and sociology. Worth a read.
Anyway, to get to the point, the first uniformed police were formed on the London docks (the Marine Police Office, or Thames Police) by merchants to stop what they decided was pilferage. Up until then dock workers may or may not be paid something but taking a share of the goods they handled was considered as part of the exchange. This is at the dawn of modern capitalism.
So, increasingly they wanted to stop the practice and they got together to create a uniformed police system to stop the new definitions of pilferage and to oversee workers (make them keep working / think also new concepts of vagrancy) and they even handed out the new wages to these workers.
By 1800 the merchants got the government to pay for their police force. And they started exporting the system to the colonies. By 1829 Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan Police (Bobbies) along the same lines.
Note that the rich used their police to protect themselves from the poor. Note also that this new policing practice required defining concepts of crime for actions which had not previously been crimes. In short they changed the terms of the “contracts” as a matter of law and punishment. The “justice” system. The real shape of “our” justice system.
Oppressing the poor, making sure the poor are in their proper places and not acting up is in the institutional DNA of the police. Not that it hadn’t been that way before with rich and poor, it was just codified in this uniformed police practice.
Consider also the endless, frequent recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Are we all suspected of possible treasonous activity and must constantly prove our allegiance? Actually, the ruling class has a lot to fear about our “allegiance” to them.
Let’s not forget the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem, a lousy piece of music celebrating a close call in the war of 1812, a war we started, one big goal being to capture Canada! Francis Scott Key, a lawyer in DC and the author of the verses, represented slave owners who wanted their fugitives returned. Nice guy. The third verse of the anthem is overtly racist.
A personal experience: A few years ago, I attended a performance of an opera at Opera Roanoke. The conductor opened with the anthem! My wife and I, somewhat uncomfortably, sat it out–the only ones in the audience not standing. Opera is an intensely international art form. I and another friend wrote a letter to the opera company, expressing our extreme displeasure.
A few years went by without the offense, but just a month ago, I attended a performance of “Pagliacci.” Same conductor, same opening! I couldn’t believe it, and for an Italian opera. I called the company a few days later and insisted on a refund for the Spring 2020 performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” one I haven’t seen and was looking forward to. I’ll get my opera elsewhere.
This is such an honest, factual article about the elephant in our national room. The military has been fetishized to such an extent in our culture that we don’t quite recognize it for what it is. We worship military figures heedless of their actual role in promoting the American Empire abroad. This is who we have become. This article was well-worth the time it took to read, and the comments by readers were good, as well. Thank you, Bill Astore.
In 1984 as the supervisor of a police SWAT type team, i fought constantly to get my members negotiating skills only to be over ruled by those that wanted bigger guns and training in killing.
Retired and disabled Vets + Their families cost over 150 Billions a year and cost grow, along with number of vets covered around 5% per year.
The pay of active duty married with 1 child is a higher income than 40+% of working familys income, and that does not include their subsidized health and death insurance, job placements in both government and civilian employ, educational of they spouse and child, up to a yearly tax free 14,400 USD if married and living off post in a higher cost environ, vacation pay, moving expenses , up to a 40,000 sign up bonus after completing training, half then and other half divided into per month added to pay grade.
Doctors and nurses not in military get to pay off thousands of per short stints of student loans by spending part of time upon military hospitals doing no more than administration and minor medical task, even counciling.
Enter a retail establishment during Thanksgiving or Christmas and the clerk that works part time minimum wage ask if you will donate to veterans and active military, when those ,especially active, earn far more a year than they.
Veterans discounts are tax deductible to places that offer them, and non profits that reward mightily to administrators run gamut from shoes, toys nails, autos, homes,any item they sell.
Military active, retired or seperated get home and auto interest rates not available to general public, even have zero down on home purchases.
Our National guard and enlisted reserves in many of our poverty pockets find weekend pay or month service is far higher than day wage or monthly earnings in civilian sector.
The Care Giver Industry pays a worker who attends a vet or civilian a minimum or slightly above part time, and then charges both military and Social Security Medicare on average 4-5 x their wage cost.
An average partial disability check for no more than 20% , very minor very minor 275 USD monthly but the average is around 50-75% disabled, play the games, at a rate of USD higher than what is paid a fully disabled or retired workers SS, and the military also can collect SS ON TOP of that.
Children in grade school write letters and send gift packages to overseas military, and are Pavlovian trained when they see a person in uniform to say,” Thank you for your service”,
Police in US are so militarized they act no differently than our military occupation forces towards civilians of thosebnations.
80,000 SWAT Style home invasions yearly with 7% wrong addresses and cause can be as little as parking tickets for failure to appear and child welfare cases.
Police shoot and kill, by DOJ records that are not mandatory to report incidences, between t0 and 75 homeowners pets daily, and in 5% of those cases a child has been in direct line of fire.
The Supreme court ruled that no one can Bring suit against a cop or department for pets killed, it is solely left to cops discretion.
Yes chihuahuas and pekinese, parrots and in Florida a pet iguana were shot by cop fearing for their lives.
We non cops or not in military within US are called Civilians by police who are Civil Servants????¿¿¿?
We are also numbered as collateral damage by police and courts when cops do bad.
Bill Astore – let me change the question above ever so slightly, and your answers fit just perfectly. Here goes:
A fair question – why do I watch realistic war movies and news footage, when I know about injuries, death and destruction, all of which cause permanent damage?
1. Because I’ve watched war movies since I was a kid (habit) and I enjoy the drama.
2. Because I put my mind in neutral and just enjoy the action (a form of denial).
3. Because, like so many Americans, I get caught up in the spectacle of it all, its ritualistic nature.
4. Because it’s often unpredictable and real in a way that “reality” shows are not.
Yes. I was thinking that when I answered the original question about football. Sports and the military — there is a lot of overlap there.
Of course, sports are increasingly militarized, which I’ve written about on the HuffPost and at WBUR.org.
“Support Our Troops!” – through the ages.
Genghis Khan – “support our troops.” Napoleon – “support our troops.” Adolf – “support our troops.” Westmorland – “support our troops.” Each & every American president – “support our troops.”
I think there might be a subtle lesson here if only we are willing to think about it a moment or two.
So what you are basically arguing here is that the U.S. is on the highway to becoming a ‘not free’ state, to use a euphemism employed by Freedom House. If that is the case, wouldn’t it be a good thing if the public is armed with modern weapons? The founders of our republic apparently thought so, and included the 2nd amendment in our Constitution. Some argue this amendment was included so that we could have the privilege of joining government-controlled militias (sort of odd that we would need a the ‘freedom’ to do that, since even the British monarchy granted colonists that right BEFORE the revolution), or so that we could hunt or target shoot or protect ourselves from criminals. A quote from the Declaration of Independence might shed some light:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
Like any sane person, I would much, much, much, much rather see us ‘alter or abolish’ our corrupted and authoritarian government at the ballot box, but what if the government decides to stop holding free and fair elections? What if it uses its fearsome mass surveillance capabilities to target political activism and dissent? What if it uses its militarized police forces, FBI agents and army of informants to round up its political opponents? Hundreds of thousands of us could peacefully march on Washington, or on our state capitals, but what if the order is given open fire on the marchers? Are you sure you want law enforcement and the military (which now includes the federalized National Guard) to have a monopoly on modern rifles? The point is clearly debatable, and I respect the right of others to disagree. Presumably they are HOPING, against the evidence of history, that such a terrible future could never actually become a reality in our exceptional United States. But the framers were not such optimists and their intention that the public remain armed seems clear.
Thank you Mr Astore for this piece.
As in my reply to Mr Chuckman, I would disagree over the “timing” of the militarization of American culture. From what I have read over the years, the militarization has always been present, perhaps less overtly for the paleskinned among the country’s population, but certainly not so covertly for the Native Americans who have suffered (and continue to, if to a less bloody degree) genocidal ethnic-cleansing at the paleskinned invaders, colonizing settlers hands (in order for us to steal, illegally, that which is not ours – just like Syria’s oil), or for the African Americans, first as slaves then once “freed” under Jim Crow (de facto as well as de jure) and after the official ending of Jim Crow (the de jure form) the maintenance of the de facto rank discrimination, poverty, and militarized policing. This reality for African Americans, particularly, continues as we speak.
The fact that Americans in general – probably the majority of the population – don’t care about the killing, destruction and chaos creation that this country engages in far from these shores and has engaged in for well over a century (speaking of beyond the borders), may have something to do with the fact that, aside from bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor (a naval base after all not a major city within US continental borders), and the explosions and deaths in 2001 in NYC, this country has *not* been invaded, bombed, shelled or suffered any destruction or chaos by any other country for over two hundred years.
What happens over *there* doesn’t affect the vast majority of the population in any *apparent* way at all (of course, the obscene levels of military funding do, but that can safely be ignored by those who benefit, one way or another, from the way the US conducts itself in the world at large and at home and those most affected are also those too busy trying to survive against many odds that they don’t have the means, wish, interest, time to devote to caring about what we are doing abroad). Generations of Americans have grown up, lived and dwelt without ever having to worry about warfare being visited upon them at home. We have always visited warfare elsewhere, devastated other lives, environments. Shrug of shoulders.
Then there is the horrific fact that not only do we flog so much military hardware abroad – immoral, unethical to an unimaginable degree – but not a few people’s comfortable lives (nice pay packets, houses, holidays, education, medical care and so on and on) derive from working for these atrocious, immoral, unethical companies.
One of the things that bugs me is that they now sing “God Bless America” in most parks instead of (the traditional) “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch at ball games. I guess it’s not enough we have to endure the national anthem prior to the game, now we have to have that thrown at us too? Talk about piling it on. I mean, can’t they give it a rest for once? It’s a sporting event! What relevance does any of this have to a sporting event? I half way expect somebody to come over the loudspeaker and announce that “war bonds are on sale in the lobby.” And I have to say, if the intent is to generate more unquestioning support for nationalism/militarism, I think it probably backfires on most people. If anything, it creates resentment that they’re trying to cram it down our throats.
Of course, I realize singing that song isn’t in itself a direct example of “militarism,” which is what this article is about, but it does seem excessive… nationalism/chauvinism — and by extension militarism. Particularly when taken in context, you already have the national anthem performed before every game, and then they will often times trot out a military honor guard to hold the flag during the anthem, or they’ll even have a service member perform the anthem, and on special occasions they’ll do a flyover of military aircraft — now, on top of all that, you have to have this song sung at every game? It’s overkill… if you’ll excuse the expression.
Well done. As to a revival of the draft, I’ll remain a supporter, not necessarily for the military, but for public services, forestry, environmental facilities etc. rather than using our financially strapped children as cannon fodder for the MIC and its corporate news service cheerleaders.
I’m of the age that stood on the federal courthouse steps in a South Texas city in the late 60’s and read the names of our dead brothers who died in RVN, (mostly Latinos from low income families)
We should all act locally ( as well as nationally) to de-militarize the law enforcement, and resist the entertainment industry’s glorification of murder.
Having gone through the draft for ‘Nam in the early 70s and the last year was a ‘lottery’ I witnessed the distress such an idea caused, for the youth of this country and their parents. To escape into drugs and flowers was a psychological response of not getting killed.
It’s a shame to say that the further the parents are away from the madness and destruction the better they can ignore the news…. ostriches all.
A draft will personalize the killing for a whole new crop of people who now turn a blind eye to the killing machine since VN. An argument not yet in place will present itself immediately upon a draft. That is, why are we sending our youth and treasure somewhere where the US was not attacked, and the push back would be extreme.
The US has not been attacked since WW2 and yet we are in endless wars, against all rules and agreements in Geneva or international treaties spawned out of the trials in Why?
We would soon have a new definition of Patriotism I think, phrased as “ not my child, and not my sibling” and I think the Dept of Aggression knows this well since ‘Nam.
They would rather hire mercenaries and contractors (one in the same) to sanitize the killing since it doesn’t effect the entire population, but the few who will join as they bite the hook of all the benefits they will receive if one joined. We, as citizens, don’t even know the contractor count. If there are 2,000 troops in Syria how many contractors are there as well. It’s difficult to get numbers and out Corp media certainly won’t help in posting actual numbers.
But you did qualify your comment by saying “not necessarily for the military” which is good. But if one were to join this undemocratic whore house killing machine, would they have a choice of where they would ‘serve’. I think not.
Left out of this intelligent article is the militarization of police forces across the country including federal agencies like ICE created from 9/11 fully armed with military weapons used against unarmed civilians. Trump just announced more militarization of national police forces to contend with a non-existent crime wave. The true use of such policing forces is to quell all dissent as the glaring example in North Dakota where maximum military force was used against unarmed dissenters against private economic predators – Oil Pipeline. Claiming dissent as riot, the declared emergency activated militarily armed and dressed police forces throughout the surrounding states including armored personnel carriers. Instead of protecting the dissenters, the Obama administration hid in cowardly fashion as they allowed this injustice to continue against indigenous people the federal government was, by treaty, supposed to protect. Recent murders by police of unarmed people reveals the new, or not so new, SOP of shoot first and worry about it later. Police acting as judge, jury, and executioners without consequence. Disgusting.
The author did not leave out the militarization of domestic police, noting especially
the heavily-armed “Pentagon-supplied police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014”.
Agreed that military draft is always a very shaky place to stand. Though I also remember that once the draft was abolished, the anti war movement ended.
Only if a right of refusal, as Conscientious Objector were established and a simple matter of claiming that right would I support conscription.
(The ideal situation would be a dismantling the military completely, I doubt that as a viable situation.)
Our citizens who join the military today are, in many cases, from the lower class in an attempt to access higher education.
Free college/ trade schools would certainly alleviate that incentive.
Perhaps a return by the Democratic Party to a people’s representative organization will present an opportunity for solutions.
“The expanding cultural authority of the armed forces is a problem for U.S. democracy”
Where has this writer been?
The military cultural authority in the country reached new heights years ago. It’s sick.
But that’s just how it is at the center of an empire.
And U.S. democracy?
Are you kidding?
Indeed, Mr Chuckman and Mr Astore, I would suggest that the USA has, from the very beginning in Jamestown and in Massachusetts when the English invaded these shores, this country’s culture has been based on some form of militarism, imperialist killing, starting, but not ending, with the indigenous inhabitants of these lands in order to grab those lands (the Strumpet makes the US’s intentions blatantly, rudely clear; and they have *never* been any different: what’s yours is mine, and what’s mine’s me own).
Mr. Astore, I am asking a sincere question of you. If you can answer it, it may be helpful in understanding why many people like war. You write: “I’m a football fan, so one recent Sunday afternoon found me watching an NFL game on CBS. People deplore violence in such games, and rightly so, given the number of injuries among the players, notably concussions that debilitate lives.” So in your case you know harm and even harm which is irreparable is happening right before you but you still like watching this happen to others. Why so you like doing this?
In my experience there is near universal acceptance of war but a difference, by class, as to who is to be sacrificed. I cross class a lot so I have been around so many wealthy people who love war but only want poor children in those wars. I believe this stems from the general contempt of other classes held by the wealthy. So one thing I believe would help is to start mixing classes again somehow.
It is really horrific to see the “virtuous wealthy” shopping at the food co-op then go to a book group and saying things like this: “I don’t really care because some poor person’s child is the one who is going to be killed. Those are the parents that send their kids to wars. My kids won’t go. They know better. ” I thought that was depraved the first time I heard it, but I’ve heard it more frequently since 2015.
I live in a very law enforcement rich environment. This is where the best jobs are in the area. People have some rights as employees that they don’t have under other employers. There is still ambivalence within this community as people do resent the intrusion of enforcement into daily life (I didn’t say LAW enforcement for a reason!). People are afraid that their family members will be killed on these jobs and that is a reasonable fear. People are in general easily terrified and I believe that has been done purposely by the government. More enforcement is always the answer. There is a lot of hatred of immigrants by both anglo and hispanic people so CBP is not questioned much even though they are often really violent, use military equipment, etc. At the same time, most people don’t like the 100 miles from the border checkpoints with cameras, dogs, guns, etc. Still, again, this is a good job in our area. So again, class enters the picture. Poor communities need good jobs and it would be great if they weren’t all in enforcement/military. So a good part of my answer is to address class and lack of jobs.
A fair question — why do I watch football when I know about injuries — that they can cause permanent damage?
1. Because I’ve watched football since I was a kid (habit) and I enjoy the sport.
2. Because I put my mind in neutral and just enjoy the action (a form of denial).
3. Because, like so many Americans, I get caught up in the spectacle of it all, its ritualistic nature.
4. Because it’s often unpredictable and real in a way that “reality” shows are not.
The NFL is doing a slightly better job of limiting risk and long-term damage (concussion protocol, better helmets, tighter rules), but much remains to be done.
I know this answer is imperfect, but I’m doing my best to be honest.
Hello Jill, The wealthy who want others to serve in their offspring’s place need to be under the Old Roman system. Those wealthy led the armies and fight from the front. As the Spartan Mothers have a phrase that goes something like this to their sons “carrying your shield or be carried on it”! Nex the sport of Football. It is a sport with many injuries. A second sport with many injuries is Boxing. This is a one on one sport. There are as many if not more injuries, in boxing, on a per capita basis. Each and every sport has a different degree of danger. Golf is probably one of the least dangerous sports yet there are still some injuries.