The Problem Is Militarism, Not 9/11

Andrew Bacevich has an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times:

Is the U.S. Army too small?

The Democrats vying to succeed George W. Bush think so. Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama all promise, if elected, to expand our land forces. Clinton has declared it “past time to increase the end-strength of the Army and Marines.” Edwards calls for a “substantial increase.” Obama offers hard numbers: His program specifies the addition of 92,000 soldiers.

Leading Republicans concur. John McCain has long advocated a bigger Army. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are now chiming in. Giuliani wants to expand the Army with an additional 10 combat brigades. Romney says that “at least 100,000” more troops are needed.

This bipartisan consensus — which even includes Bush, who recently unveiled his own five-year plan to enlarge the Army and Marine Corps — illustrates the inability or refusal of the political class to grasp the true nature of our post-9/11 foreign policy crisis. Any politician who thinks that the chief lesson to be drawn from the last five years is that we need more Americans toting rifles and carrying rucksacks has learned nothing.

In fact, this enthusiasm for putting more Americans in uniform (and for increasing overall military spending) reflects the persistence of a second consensus to which leading Democrats and Republicans alike stubbornly subscribe.

This second consensus consists of two elements. According to the first element, the only way to win the so-called global war on terrorism, thereby precluding another 9/11, is to “fix” whatever ails the Islamic world. According to the second element, the United States possesses the wherewithal to effect just such a transformation. In essence, by employing American power, beginning with military power, to ameliorate the ills afflicting Islam, we will ensure our own safety.

This is sheer twaddle, as events in Iraq have manifestly shown. Yet even today, among mainstream Republicans and Democrats, expectations persist that the United States can somehow reform and therefore pacify the Muslim world.


The underlying problem is that the basic orientation of U.S. policy since 9/11 has been flat wrong. Bush’s conception of waging an open-ended global “war” to eliminate terrorism has failed, disastrously and irredeemably. Simply trying harder — no matter how many more soldiers we recruit and no matter how many more Muslim countries we invade and “liberate” — will not reverse that failure. More meddling will evoke more hatred.

The challenge confronting those aspiring to the presidency, therefore, is to devise an alternative to Bush’s failed strategy. To pass muster, any such strategy will have to recognize the limits of American power, military and otherwise. It must acknowledge that because the United States cannot change Islam, we have no alternative but to coexist with it.

I have to say, this is pretty tame stuff. First of all, the problem goes much further back than 9/11. It goes back to World War II, which, I am becoming more and more convinced, screwed up our country in ways we have yet to even acknowledge, much less explore.

In his 1994 book, The Best War Ever, the historian Michael C.C. Adams wrote [emphasis mine]:

In creating a usable past, we seek formulas to apply in solving today’s problems. Americans believe that World War II proved one rule above all others. It goes like this. By 1938 at the latest it was clear that Hitler was a bully bent on world domination. Britain and France should have stood up to him at the Munich conference [September 1938], when he demanded parts of Czechoslovakia as the price for peace. By their failure, World War II was made bloodier than it might have been. Conclusion: it is usually better to fight than to talk.

The political commentator Andy Rooney said that perhaps Hitler’s worst crime was to convince Americans that international opponents are invariably bullies who must be met with military force. Admiral Gene LaRocque, like Rooney a veteran and a dissenter from the mainstream, said that “World War Two has warped our view of how we look at things today. We see things in terms of that war, which in a sense was a good war. But the twisted memory of it encourages the men of my generation to be willing, almost eager, to use military force anywhere in the world. …”

Our warped view of World War II has been enhanced by the fact that the war turned the United States into an economic and military world power, at a relatively low human cost, compared with the rest of the world:

… [A]bout 300,000 Americans died; a further 1 million were wounded, of whom 500,000 were seriously disabled. Tragic as these figures are, they are dwarfed by those for other belligerents. The Japanese lost 2.3 million, Germany about 5.6 million, China perhaps as many as 10 million, and the Soviet Union a staggering 20 million. Put another way, the death rate in the American Civil War … was 182 per ten thousand population. For World War II, the proportion of Americans killed was 30 per ten thousand.

Of the major belligerents, the United States was alone in enjoying a higher standard of living as a result of the war. … The United States was unique among the principal combatants in being neither invaded nor bombed, and most people, in or out of uniform, never saw a fighting front. As a result, the war was for many a prosperous, exciting, even safe change from the “ruined and colorless landscape of the Depression,” as Russell Baker, a writer who grew up in the 1930s, termed the decade. …

This is the underlying problem, not the correctness or incorrectness of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11. If the American political and military establishment is convinced that fatter military budgets and ever-increasing troop levels are the key to winning the “global war on terrorism,” it’s because that establishment, along with a goodly percentage of the American public, has been believing that for the past 60-plus years — and very little, if anything, in American society has happened to challenge that belief. Americans still, as in World War II, get to watch war on their television screens and read about war in their newspapers without having to experience war in any direct way at all — except, of course, for the tiny percentage of the U.S. population that actually fights the wars. And although the vast majority of Americans are not enjoying the economic boom that occurred in the post-World War II years, the defense industry does. And that industry — what Dwight D. Eisenhower presciently dubbed the “military-industrial complex” — is orders of magnitude bigger and more powerful than it was when Eisenhower warned us about it in 1961. War is big business.

“It’s difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”

Cross-posted at Liberty Street.


Filed under 05_kathy

18 responses to “The Problem Is Militarism, Not 9/11

  1. I think your analysis is correct for the most part. But my first thought when reading this was: Exactly where are all these additional soldiers going to come from?

  2. Melissa McEwan

    Great post, K.

    It goes back to World War II, which, I am becoming more and more convinced, screwed up our country in ways we have yet to even acknowledge, much less explore.

    I’ve had exactly that thought. So many of the problems we’re experiencing today go back to the American myths that were created during and (especially) immediately after WWII–from the issues you’ve brought up here to most of the cultural issues with which we’re dealing today, as our opponents constantly harken back to “the American Family of the days of yore” that never really existed the way we are taught to imagine. I’ve written before about the enormous disconnect between our collective memory of that time and its reality:

    The years 1945 to 1960 are often referred to as a golden age of America, after boys who were ripped from the arms of their belles and sent to another continent to fight a great war against tyranny and despair, had returned home as men, as heroes, and set to work, every last one of them, grabbing the American Dream with both hands. On the GI bill, they went to college and found themselves good jobs in an expanding economy. Scientists in white lab coats and square, black-framed glasses toiled away, trying to pull ahead in the Space Race that had captured Americans’ imagination. Teenagers hung out at sock hops and neon-lit diners, girls longing for lavaliers and boys who wondered how to get laid. It was the dawn of suburbia, with fancy, new-fangled household gadgets to make life easier, and television, and TV dinners. Elvis’ pelvis was considered a scandal, and Marilyn Monroe a bombshell. Dad had a pension and the promise of a gold watch after 30 years, and Mom had a Frigidaire. And everyone was happy.

    At least in the national memory, they were. That time was imperfect like any other, and perhaps even more so than most. Half a million of those boys who went off to war never came home—and some of them weren’t boys at all, but men, who left wives and children with desperate struggles in the place where their husbands and fathers had been. Some who had come home were never the same, their bodies or minds damaged beyond real repair. Segregation was about to come to an explosive ending (in the legal books, anyway), future feminists and gay rights activists were beginning to get restless with the political and cultural marginalization they experienced, McCarthy was on his Communist witch hunt, and we fought an all-but-forgotten war in Korea for three years and lost over 35,000 soldiers. There were back-alley abortions, and J.D. Salinger, James Dean, and the beatniks represented a side of popular culture that never quite made it onto Happy Days, a show that brought the nation’s memory of the era to life. The Cunninghams never had to find out that Elvis and Marilyn both died of drugs.

    That was a great era of American myth-making, and we suffer the consequences of believing those myths are our reality in myriad ways every day.

  3. Dani Walker

    Many people do not know that the same people who seek to control Europe with a single European Constitution are the same people who wish to control North America, with a North American Union Constitution. There are also plans for an Asian-Pacific Union, with it’s own currency, and it’s own Constitution. Three world regions, essentially.

    The international corporate bankers that have been lending our governments money for so long now assume they have the right to govern all people throughout the world. These corporations have not been elected by the people. They seek to keep people ignorant and secretly steal their rights, while the mainstream media that they own pretends this is not happening. They say that One World Government is for peace.

    How can this be? 600,000+ people have died in Iraq alone, due to corporate greed. Millions of others around the world continue to suffer, while wealthy international corporations profit or protect profits. These corporations do not have the track record or the reputation to have earned the right to govern anyone.

    These people are the World Bank and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). David Rockefeller created the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Both private groups are dedicted to the creation of One World Government.

    Most of the 2008 presidential candidates are backed by the CFR, for the purpose of pushing forward the agenda for One World Government, which will greatly benefit international corporations.

    All of these candidates are members of David Rockefeller’s Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which advocates One World Government —

    Fred Thompson (R) (also a member of the pro-war American Enterprise Institute)
    Rudy Giuliani (R)
    John McCain (R)
    Mitt Romney (R)
    Jim Gilmore (R)
    Newt Gingrich (R)
    Hillary Clinton (D)
    Barack Obama (D)
    John Edwards (D)
    Joe Biden (D)
    Chris Dodd (D)
    Bill Richardson (D)

    David Rockefeller also owns controlling stakes in the ABC, CBS and NBC news media. He controls the media message.

    Stay away from corporate-owned mainstream media or media that is supported by neo-conservative backers. Here are some good alternatives —

  4. oddjob

    Segregation was about to come to an explosive ending (in the legal books, anyway), future feminists and gay rights activists were beginning to get restless with the political and cultural marginalization they experienced

    But on the flip side, and the good side, one can easily make a strong argument that it was also that war which gave rise to these. Yes certainly the strains existed before (perhaps especially when one looks at matters such as the women’s suffrage movement), but even in that case one can easily argue that the war invigorated an already existing movement. Why would you go back to being called “boy” after honorably laying your life on the line to preserve the country that insists on permitting its bigots to dehumanize you? Why would you go back to accepting that “A woman’s place is in the home” when you know very well that it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way? Why would you assume you were a disordered freak and pervert when you now know via your experience that there are many, many more of you than you had ever dreamed?

    One of the most powerful things about that war from a gay rights perspective was the way it put so many young men together at one time and place. Once that was done the gay men who experienced it realized, probably many for the first times in their lives, that they weren’t the only ones who felt as they felt. Likewise this was true for the many lesbian women who served in WAC and WAVES.

  5. To add on to what oddjob was saying; how many of those 60’s activists wouldn’t have been such if it hadn’t been for the return to repressionism and conformity that were the post-WWII years? I mean, if you think about it, the 60’s were an explosion the likes of which I don’t think this country has seen since, and that period had to have had a historical conception prior to its birth, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the return to denial and repression that so characterised the immediate postwar years can be found to be responsible.

    Of course, we are still today reeping the ravages of that post-WWII era (birth of the suburbs anyone?), and as Kathy so excellently points out, a militarism that is stuck in a period of time a half century ago … not unlike the British military at the start of WWI, and we all know what a disaster that was for them (speaking as a citizen of one of the nations that paid the most for that disgusting ‘Great’ war).

  6. Most histories of the Leather — specifically the gay male Leather — community trace its beginnings back to the period immediately following World War II. Not every man who came back from Europe or the Pacific or North Africa settled down with his high school sweetheart, went to school on the GI Bill, got a job, bought a nice tidy house with a picket fence and had 2.3 children. Some of them missed the company of other men and the military structure they’d had during the war, and brought that longing to the motorcycle gang culture. Obviously not all biker gangs were gay, but enough were that Leather solidified as a significant subset of gay culture.

    Oh sure, there was the Ozzie and Harriet myth, but there was also the reality of Hellfire M.C. There hasn’t been a time in human history where everyone conformed to some idealized family structure. The Victorians produced a staggering amount of porn.

  7. Pingback: University Update - John McCain - The Problem Is Militarism, Not 9/11

  8. So, who is the conspiracy nutjob above that turned up?

    Personally I am all for a one-world government, gets rid of nationalism …

  9. oddjob

    I don’t know. I rolled my eyes and moved on once I saw the link to Lyndon LaRouche.

  10. There hasn’t been a time in human history where everyone conformed to some idealized family structure

    Ain’t that the truth. Yet somehow we’ve always had moralist scolds wearing a layer of piety over their inner authoritarian. Thus you get Cato the Elder agitating for the third Punic war as a method to toughen up the Romans and drag them away from Greek and Oriental luxuries.

    They always see war as the big fix.

  11. Pingback: University Update - John Edwards - The Problem Is Militarism, Not 9/11

  12. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Dani has it half-right. I ignore the Corporate McMedia, but LaRouche the Douche is “alternative” only in the sense that cyanide is an alternative to arsenic. 😛

  13. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    The metaphoric Kool-Aid comes in many flavors, not all of them corporate.

  14. amish451

    “Exactly where are all these additional soldiers going to come from?”

    Likely the places they have been coming from for quite a long time …off-shore…not so much from the Heartland portrayed in the recruitment adverts….
    I have family in the military, I’ve visited a couple bases in this country recently …it is very difficult to not notice; the Army of the United States is very brown and increasingly Hispanic. I do not view this as a particularly bad trend and I know it has more to do with opportunity and economics than it is a sinister plot to take over the country…
    Perhaps the right may eventually notice too …and they will send their sons and daughters to the recruitment centers enmasse, … and pigs will fly ..

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  16. They cannot deconstruct the military industrial complex, it’s the only thing left that’s floating our boat. If we were to bring the boys home today, and cut the military down to parity with the rest of the world, we’d enter an economic depression that would make the 30’s look like a walk in the park.

  17. I think this is apples and oranges. Troop size and the military industrial complex are really two seperate issues.

    In the past 20 years, our standing army has been reduced from 750,000 to 480,000 soliders.

    The last big reduction was after the first Gulf War. Some warned that we could not repeat that victory. The reductions meant that not only did we not have enough to repeat that victory, but even if we had those numbers, we no longer have the transportation equipment to get them there.

    So if our troop size has been reduced by 35%, why has spending not gone down? (its pretty much flatlined per GDP/Inflation. Because of the money spent on high tech hardware.

    This is where the military industrial complex creates a problem. We have tried to win wars with technology. But sometimes you just cannot replace troops on the ground.

    It’s a Boys vs Toys. And there is more money in toys than in outfitting more troops.

    Defense projects are divided into lots of states to ensure passage of the military project. The F-22 has parts built in almost every state. No wonder it passed easily.

    We have Strykers that can practically eliminate all IED deaths. Why don’t we have them? MIlitary industiral complex and our congressmen who pass the projects.

    So yes, I am in favor of more soldiers. Give them a break. Allow them to respond to things like Katrina. But we need to start taking the purchasing out of the hands of our congress ‘oversight’ who buy equipment that our army doesnt even want.

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