Tuesday, November 4, 2008

America the Militarized

Like Rome of old, our country has degenerated from a free republic into a militarized State. We are not yet a full blown military dictatorship, but Fred Reed observes we are heading there:

In practical terms, the checks and balances in the Constitution no longer restrain the Commander-in-Chief, and thus not the soldiery. (The Supreme Court has become a mausoleum. It might be replaced by a wax museum without anyone’s noticing.) The Pentagon is now the private army of any president who chooses so to use it.

Our foreign policy has been militarized. This is not just a matter of countless alliances and bases abroad. A few days ago, the military attacked Syria. This, an act of war, was a result not of national but of military policy. So far as I know, the attack was neither ordered nor authorized by Congress. The soldiers do as they please, and we find out about it later. This is not civilian control.

Such occurrences are inevitable when the military controls policy. Soldiers are truculent by nature, think quickly of military solutions, and need enemies to justify both their existence and their budget. Among recent consequences: attacking Syria, occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing Pakistan, bombing Somalia, threatening Iran, threatening North Korea, encouraging Israel to bomb Beirut, arming Georgia, and aggressively expanding NATO to encircle Russia.

Ominously, we now accept that the behavior of the armed forces is none of our business. Note the years of expectancy as we waited to see whether the Commander-in-Chief, a de facto six-star general, would attack Iran.

I suspect that few realize how militarized the United States itself has become. The transformation has been inconspicuous. The Pentagon avoids undue attention. Quietly it has expanded its reach.

Particularly astute is Reed's assessment of the professional soldier's worldview and temperament, which are alien and even hostile to the American tradition of liberty. He ought to know; he is a combat veteran who served in Vietnam:

We would do well to bear in mind the dangers of excessive military influence in national life. Professional soldiers have little in common with the rest of the country. We like to think of them as Our Boys in Uniform, the brave and the true and the patriotic, defenders of democracy, and so on. It isn’t so. The officer corps is authoritarian to the roots of its soul, has little use for democracy, and prides itself on blind obedience. Soldiers do not readily distinguish between dissent and treason. Further, they regard civil society as an unworkable anarchy of weaklings who lack the will to fight.

The gap between military and civilian consciousness is huge. The ideal officer goes to a service academy where, in late and impressionable adolescence, he learns to walk in squares, always obey, and regard the polish of his belt buckle with insane concern. Thereafter the only answer he knows is “Yessir.” To a civilian, the conformism, the lack of independence and, yes, the pride in the lack are incomprehensible. Then, for thirty years, the soldier spends most of his time with similar people and comes to believe that it is not just a reasonable but the best way to live. Like cops, soldiers tend to socialize among themselves because they fit awkwardly into civil society. Watch a colonel at a civilian cocktail party. He isn’t sure whether he is “Sir” or “Bob.”

And soldiers seek war. They will say they don’t, of course. Can you imagine Tiger Woods spending thirty years practicing his golf swing without wanting to get into a tournament?

American conservatives, the uncritical fans of soldiers, will one day reap a grim harvest from the decades of militarism they've sown in the name of freedom.

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