With nearly 1 billion people directly impacted by military conflict, and a world funding of war at $249 per person per year (12 times the amount the world spends on aid), an arms industry centred in the wealth nations, and their deployment in mostly poor nations, and refugees mounting at the rate of one every two seconds, what will it take to shift the monstrous war machine around, and bring it into port, silent, disarmed and museum bound? (Dr. Samantha Nutt, Founder of War Child, a philanthropic dedicated to alleviating the ravages of war on children, recently delivered a public address as one of the Ted Talks, seen on PBS, in the U.S.)
On Monday, the United States Memorial Day, major baseball teams wore military fatigue material in their caps, with some emblazoning their logos with the same material, a public and ubiquitous way of paying respect to the military personnel who have fought and died in wars in which America was a participant. Traditionally, the honour bestowed on veterans went something like this: “They paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be free!’ The implications of that hymn are that freedom was effectively purchased through the fighting, the wounding and the dying of soldiers, airmen and women, sailors, marines and peripherally the coast guard. It is a deeply religious and Christian motif: Jesus, remember, is said to have died to ‘purchase forgiveness’ for the sins of humans, thereby providing a freedom from shame and guilt, through his death, resurrection and ascension. For the American culture, military personnel, whether deceased, wounded, maimed with PTSD or any of several other psychological and emotional impairments, are still heroes. And the culture is deeply ingrained with an inordinate consciousness of and public celebration of anyone the community considers a hero. There is an aura of majesty and mystery in the various uniforms; there is a kind of idealism that accompanies most recruits’ enlistment, given their age and their careful inculcation into a culture that holds the military veterans almost in awe. Even university graduation, also a highly valued public celebration, dotting the American landscape in Spring, does not have the same universal application, given the large proportion of graduates come from the middle and upper class, with fewer from the poor neighbourhoods. There is a case that can be made that, for many in the ghettos, enlistment, boot camp, bright, clean, crisply pressed uniforms and highly polished boots that accompany a commitment of 3-5 years serve as a passport into the middle class, even though many of the parents of current enlistees admit they would prefer their young adult children not to enlist at a time when the nation is at war. And, at war, is where the Americans have been, at least since 2001, and previously, in Viet Nam, Korea, and in both World Wars. The current generation of recruits grew up while the nation was at war, even though they also grew up without a conscious awareness or even memory of the implications of the Cold War.
Fighting fascism, communism, the Viet Cong, seemed, at least to some in my generation, to have a level of importance and also of honour because those forces, while toxic and dangerous, had a veil of ‘state’ engagement, support and parameters. Today, in a time of asymmetrical war, the military is engaged with what are literally a band of thugs recruited from various countries, without a specific allegiance to a nation state, except the Islamic State they seek to create, at the expense of other failed states. People continue to shoot, bomb, ambush and kill the ‘enemy’ as the terrorists seek to reciprocate on their enemies. However, there is no predictable and national boundaried locus, although much of the current fighting occurs in Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia. Cities not formally at war are, nevertheless, still potential locations for terrorist violence, as are aircraft filled with civilian passengers and crew.
Underneath this ‘war motif’ and motivation, lies a monster, the private sector, profit-driven arms industry, as well as a “charitable trust” known as the National Rifle Association. Linked to both are a plethora of American elected officials whose political and retirement careers depend on their continued support of both. In fact, the political incest that infects the American political culture is heavily “armed” if you will pardon the pun. So “baked into the cake” of the American cake is the notion that guns are a solution even to the violence they generate and support. Of course, the NRA argues that “guns don’t kill...people with guns kill”. And they then go on to advocate for students to be able to carry guns to class, for the secret carrying of guns as an “American freedom” on which the country was founded. Unfortunately, the Second Amendment supports only the arming of a militia, should that be required in case of government over-step. The “armed” nature of the culture is also clearly and proudly (not ashamedly) evident in the rhetoric that pours from the mouths of faux political candidates like Trump. Anyone who even modestly disagrees with Trump is attacked, and the “army” of his followers are so hungry for this sugar-and-salt-laden diet of political rhetoric that they “eat it up”.
Obesity, whether of the ‘body’ kind based on the over-consumption of toxic foods, or of the national kind based on the voracious appetite and uber-consumption of toxic, irrational, dangerous and “war-based-and war-engendering” vocabulary is still obesity. For the former, there are pale, and often only short-term public programs to which most pay little to no attention. They will continue to eat the kind of diet which they bodies now crave, regardless of the level of their blood pressure, the risk of their cardiac arrest, or the effort it takes to breathe. Similarly, in a stubborn and seemingly frozen manner, the appetite for “battle”, (another example is the American media’s obsession with the horse race, while completely disregarding the substantive policy issues and debates) is not only allowed to dominate, it is absolute.
There is no prospect of weaning the American culture off war so long as the instruments that support and sustain the belief in its sanctity are the beneficiaries of so much financial largesse, based primarily on the emotion of fear/hubris, a two-headed monster that rules. Fear of a lowered reputation among world powers, fear our losing some dominance among the major powers, fear that another major power like China or Russia, even for some perhaps ever the European Union (although that prospect is highly unlikely) might increase in prominence, dominance and believing that the can and will only happen if the United States “isn’t great” again, the keepers of the nation’s good name, honourable status among world powers and leaders, have fallen into the trap set for them by other world powers, and also the terrorists. Both of the latter groups have set some of their sights on tarnishing the American “heroic” image, the one the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI and HSA are all programmed to not only uphold but enhance, if possible. China is engaged in a major initiative not only to increase its influence in the South China Sea, but also to engage in a vigorous cyber war against the U.S. while ISIS is, one can only ‘guestimate,’ is continually scheming to derail U.S. security apparatus, as well as hack into significant computer sites.
Hubris, not merely healthy national pride, stokes the fires of the United States political apparatus, as well as the fires of individual family pride in the legacy of their respective members who have already served in the military and have since retired, those currently serving, and those in junior ROTC programs nationwide. Also undergirding this hubris is the American determination to elevate competition, rugged individualism and winning at all costs, all of them marching at high school and college athletic events, at Memorial Day parades, for homecoming parades for returning war veterans, and for any other occasion deemed relevant to enhancing the citizens’ feeling of superiority, being special and continuing to exert an inordinate and highly valued influence around the world. Today, there are some 150,000 American troops serving in some 90 countries around the world, and that fact alone could serve, inadvertently, as a magnet to attract recruits to any proposal from any quarter that might seek to do American harm. Just think, for only a few brief seconds, of the enormous purchasing power that attends those 150,000 troops, their military bases, their intellectual, political, cultural and psychological tentacles stretching deeply into the regions where they are located. And back home, just imagine the impact of the thousands of new military recruits, both in boot camps, and also in military universities and colleges, returning home after even a single semester, to a hero’s welcome and another proud “party”, parade or celebration, as another favourite sons demonstrates his national pride, all the while puffing up the already well-established pride among the residents of those towns and cities.
And, while Bernie Sanders, and his pitch on behalf of ‘democratic socialism,’ an argument for which he would have been scoffed, if not arrested in the middle of the cold war, gather strength in many states, particularly on the shoulders of millions of millenials, the vast majority of American people are still strongly in support of an enhanced military machine, increased funding for the Pentagon, and the continued sanctity of the need for American veterans to have access to the best medical, social and employment opportunites the country has to offer. Yet, would all of those services be needed, or would that money have been and continue to be spent on foreign aid, on educating those military officers, not so heavily in global marketing and securing an inordinate financial future, and not so disproportionately on military training, (there is no single college or university in the United States for peace, reconciliation and global disarmament!)....perhaps the pshyche of the country would not be so bent in favour of guns, of war, of domination, of inculcating a culture of mutual interdependence, sufficient at least to leaven the fatuous cake being cooked and served with impunity to successive generations of American youth.
Schools are falling apart, neighbourhoods are decaying, drug lords control many streets in neighbourhoods where after school programs are begun to prevent those kids from being killed or maimed by street gun violence. Social programs are being cut, tuition fees are strangling millions of university students and especially graduates, while the costs of war continue unabated, and unmolested either by the media (incestuously sucking on the same power trip opportunities as the politicians) or by the majority of the public. In fact, for a single American citizen to public declare his or her open and outright support for restraining the combat impulse (and to call it anything less toxic would be dishonest) of the nation, he or she would be in danger, not only of serious internet maligning and likely libel, but also perhaps even physical violence, so deeply held are the convictions that drive the military culture.
Eisenhower is defeated; the forces advocating for a major shift in America’s way of being in the world toward peace, reconciliation, negotiation and especially to disarmament are relegated to the sidelines, gagged and stifled, in a much more violent and sustained manner than Archie Bunker attempted to “stifle” Edith.
And this national mind-set is not only deeply rooted in America; it is also a model for other nations seeking to grow their influence on the world stage. “If these approaches are appropriate for the world’s superpower, then why would they not benefit our little country!” you can hear tin-pot dictators muttering in capitals on every continent. We have all heard the same chorus from Vladimir Putin, as he emulates the American military conflicts to enhance his and his country’s status and reputation, at least in his own mind and for the benefit of his controlled public opinion polls. And, of course, those very dictators, along with the terrorists, are all able to have easy and too often not so expensive access to American guns, missiles bombs, and vehicles discarded from some foreign war already fought and lost (very few have been won in the last half century, but American political voices seem not to notice).And in the rest of the world we watch, and utter mute cries for change, without a hope of having our words, our thoughts or our hopes considered