Wednesday, 17 October 2012



Militarism is an integral part of the US from the colonial era when the European colonizers gradually eliminated the native population while expanding the African slave labor population, until the present when the 'war on terror' has necessarily replaced the Cold War as a justification for maintaining the imperial system on which the entire society maintains its institutions intact and imposes conformity at home and Pax Americana's hegemony abroad.

Contrary to some who argue that the US has become a 'crusader state' in the recent past, namely from the Vietnam War to the present, or since 9/11, a careful reading of American history shows that militarism was imbedded in isolationist politics of the 19th and early 20th century as well as in the multilateralism that follows after Cordell Hull and FDR redirected US foreign policy to reflect the new realities of Pax Americana. Clearly, the stronger the US was becoming economically, the more powerful it was becoming militarily. The correlation between economic ascendancy and stronger military notwithstanding, militarism, the persistence of resorting to military solutions first before allowing for a political one to exhaust all possibilities, entails a culture of militarism with a deliberate agenda ranging from commercial expansion to determining the geopolitical balance of power.

The history of American militarism has its roots in the legacy of British colonial rule. When the US became independent of the mother country the ambition of the political elites as well as segments from social and business elites was for America to emulate the mother country; in essence to become an empire. To achieve that goal, the US had to industrialize and solve the north-south integration issue over slavery. However, even before the Civil War, the US engaged in 'internal colonization', expanding from coast to coast while regimenting and 'pacifying' the native Americans, while at the same time having an eye to neighboring Mexico that controlled the territories north of the Rio Grande River before the war of 1846-48. During the era of early 19th century European colonialism, the US was engaged in internal and regional colonial conquest that solidified the foundations for late 19th century jingoism, a militaristic culture deeply imbedded across society and identified with the country's material success and quest for global competition.

Militarism can be found as much in the foreign policy of James Polk during the war against Mexico in the 1840s, as in the Spanish-American War (1898-1901) under McKinley, as in Wilson's missionary diplomacy, as in Reagan's and Bush drive to 'spread democracy' in the Middle East and the rest of the Third World. There is a sense of continuity in the history of American militarism not just in terms of its goals that were about commercial and territorial ambitions, but in terms of modalities, namely, the use of 'democratic' values concealing the reality of militarism as much in the 19th century as it does in the early 21st century.

Some have argued that the mentality, or obsession of 'endless war' as a way of life is something that emerged after the US lost the Vietnam War, or something that was in reaction to 9/11. In short, the militaristic mindset is really in reaction to self-defense, after the US sustained damage to its national security and reputation. Let me remind everyone that the people of Vietnam did not invite the US to carry out a war against them. As for 9/11, let us keep in mind that the US had a cordial relationship with the Bin Laden Islamic militants during the 1980s, but things turned sour in the 1990s for the former partners in guerrilla war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The militarist value system and national obsession, especially with a large segment of the political, economic, religious and social elites is indeed part of the 'Empire as a Way of Life' concept that has its roots in the 19th century. And it is not just the elites that share these militarist values, but a segment of the population that sees the military as sacred, something similar to the manner in which the military was values in ancient Sparta or imperial Japan and Germany from Bismarck to Hitler.Of course, the US did not invent militarism, and it is true that throughout history some societies have had militarism as a core value, while others did not. Moreover, there is the question of whether the events of history, the economic ascendancy of the US and the the two world wars for example, entailed that the political and socioeconomic elites would not embrace militarism as a core value.
Contrary to the claims of some writers who argue that militarism is an aberration of America's values as reflected during the early years of the republic, the historical record clearly shows that militarism is consistent with those values that have been broadly accepted in all institutions from secular to religious. No matter the attempts to justify militarism by arguing that military action is warranted to 'spread freedom and democracy', or to defense freedom and democracy at home by attacking another country across the planet, militarism is a core American value and one likely to become stronger as the economy weakens against global competition and people try to replace economic hegemony with the satisfaction of military hegemony.


The US has been (in the last six decades) and remains the world's largest defense spender and weapons merchant. In fact, the US spends almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, still possessing the world's most nuclear weapons, no matter its claims about Iran as a potential threat because it is constructing a nuclear power program. Amazingly, some US politicians, journalists, pundits and academics argue that countries with tiny defense spending in comparison to the US pose a threat to American national security interests at home and world-wide. A large segment of the American people believe that not enough is devoted on defense, and are surprised to discover that 95% of the foreign affairs federal budget is for the military, or roughly 20% of the entire federal budget.

Fear of  'the enemy' has been so well cultivated by the political class and pundits, from academics to clerics that many people are willing to permit 20% of the entire budget for defense, instead of their health and education. If we add the interest on the debt from previous wars and defense expenditures, as well as defense spending that comes under the purview of other departments like Energy, the percentage share of the military rises to about half of the entire US federal budget, or $1.3 trillion in an economy roughly $16 trillion. How long can a country sustain economic development and a strong middle class against tough global competition when it devotes roughly 10% of GDP on defense, foreign affairs and intelligence? The answer rests in the decline of the American middle class and living standards.

I suppose that militarism could make sense even to a pacifist if the US were a besieged country that had been periodically invaded or if it was surrounded by powerful and hostile neighbors, instead of Canada and Mexico. On the contrary, it is the US that has 761 military bases abroad (900 according to a higher estimate), and thousands of military installations/facilities intended to 'police' the world, to instill freedom and democracy at gunpoint to people that do not want an American presence; to help the host countries buy American products and services so that the US economy can remain number one in the world.

To question militarism would be unpatriotic for it is a core value and as sacrosanct as God and the flag. Having embraced militarism. the US is also spreading its militaristic values to the rest of the world, just as it is selling its weapons. With Saudi Arabia as the number one weapons buyer, the US holds the world's number one spot as weapons merchant. The amazing thing about the gap between reality and perception is that many Americans believe their politicians and pundits who try to convince them that the country is not sufficiently militaristic.


On 11 October 2012,  Arizona Republican senator John McCain stated in a London-based broadcast system that the US under Obama was not doing enough militarily to support the Syrian rebels and that it must show greater military resolve throughout the Middle East. When the reporter asked about US popularity in the Muslim world and the cost of military campaigns, the senator replied that the American people did not support the Korean War either, but everyone is glad that it took place. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his VP running mate expressed even more hawkish views, arguing that more militaristic policy was the solution, neglecting to mention the many negative consequences for the US, let along the targets of American militarism.

Remarkably, the militarists, set aside public opinion, a rational well-thought out foreign policy based on political solutions, hastily jumping into military solutions as the only option. Regardless of their impact on the budget, the economy and society, military adventures make people 'feel ' that their nation is strong when in reality militarism weakens it and it has permitted other nations, including China to emerge as major global players.

One of the most astonishing aspects of militarists is the level of self-deception they choose to immerse in as part of the price to pay for clinging to ideologue positions. Senator McCain actually stated with a straight face that 'the US is popular' among Muslims, especially in countries like Libya where Arab Spring uprisings have taken place. The obvious disregard of the anti-Americanism manifesting itself throughout the Islamic world in the aftermath of the anti-Islam film made in the US escaped the senator who may be so ideologically intoxicated that he really believes 'the US is popular' with Muslims, the same Muslims that are treated with suspicion at the very least and extreme prejudice with violation of their human rights in some cases. It is much more likely that the Republican senator and many other militarists, especially those linked to the Israeli lobby, are beating the 'war drum' because it helps to line the pockets of defense contractors while keeping Israel's war economy alive with the prospect of keeping Muslim neighbors weak.
But let us assume there was open season on Iran as many right wingers and Israel want. Let us assume also that Iran would not retaliate regionally and there would be no consequences in the Middle East or in the global energy markets. Let us further assume that along with its nuclear facilities, labs, and universities, the US and Israel take out most of the Iranian scientists and technical people. Let us finally assume that Iran has a new pro-US and pro-Israel regime, one that permits multinational corporations, the World Bank and IMF to come in, in the manner they are proceeding in north African countries that had an Arab Spring revolution. In this best case scenario, is there a single person on this planet with a modicum of knowledge about US foreign policy that believes this would mark the end of US militarism and militaristic adventures?

If more wars is not the solution to ending the culture of  militarism, then we must look elsewhere. Techno-fixes for militarism are not the solution, because the problem is political and only political solutions can solve them. Because there are very powerful entrenched interests, from defense and energy corporations to export companies wanting foreign market share, all of them pushing for more aggressive foreign policy, thus military solutions wherever possible, I am not optimistic that America's culture of militarism is coming to an end, or that it can be satisfied simply because Syria will have a new government, Iran will not have nuke facilities, etc. Militarism starts at home with interest groups that stand to profit from it, and therein rests the problem.  


Vernon Huffman said...

Thank you for your historical insight. I concur with your conclusions. I'd love to read a blog that translates these conclusions to practical activities through which a concerned US citizen could work to curtail and replace the military culture.

Anonymous said...

Start with Fenimore Cooper and delight yourself by using your imagination.

It is the American character at the heart of its culture, correct?

Then, go ahead. Feel free.
And then start your own blog.