Thursday, November 11, 2010

War: the national religion

TODAY WAS THE Autumn War Festival, which saw America suffused in the only religious worship allowed in public nowadays: the familiar round of parades and ceremonies and salutes and misty-eyed sentimentalism and flag-waving trumpeting War as the force that gives us Meaning, that makes us a Great Nation.

The observances pander especially to the Greatest Generation, who -- as we of the Lesser Generations are incessantly reminded -- saved us all in World War II.

We are told that it's America's endless war-making that "give us the freedom to celebrate all the other holidays." People circulate chain emails such as the following:
It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.
(Sen. Zell Miller, D-GA, at the Republican National Convention in 2004)

Miller's words are't entirely untrue. The freedom of the united States of America was secured by soldiers -- in 1781, with the surrender of Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown, and again in 1814 with the follow-up victory against Britain.
Our freedom certainly was at stake in that war, which saw the White House burned down (and which gave birth to "The Star-Spangled Banner").

However, in the 196 intervening years, one would be hard pressed to find instances where American military action actually, objectively served to protect the freedom or physical safety of Americans. Our freedom certainly wasn't threatened by Spain, Cuba, or the Philippines in 1898 or by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1917. The Japanese attack on a base and a few ships at Pearl Harbor was a threat to Hawaii and rightly should have been repelled (better yet, averted through the intelligence that had been supplied to the White House). It was hardly a threat to the freedom or the sovereignty of the mainland States, 1600 miles away, nor a mandate for total war against the Japanese people.

Less still was there a mandate for again entering a European conflict and waging total war against the Italians or the German people. Evil as Hitler was, he was separated from the u.S. by thousands of miles of land and sea. In any case, he had his hands full in Europe. The America Firster Senator from Montana, Burton K. Wheeler, said we should’ve let Hitler and Stalin fight it out between themselves: “One would end in his grave, the other in the hospital, and the u.S. and the world would have been rid of two menacing tyrants.”

No sober appraisal of actual facts supports the notion that communists in Korea, Vietnam, or Nicaragua ever presented any threat to American freedom and security. Only victims of weapons of mass deception believe that Iraq ever posed such a threat. Only the paranoid, the easily misled, and those who think our job is to act as Israel's enforcer, claim Iran poses such a threat today.

In reality, American militarism has diminished our freedoms. During the Civil War the only threat to freedom in the North came from the White House, as Lincoln assumed dictatorial powers: suspending habeas corpus, shutting down newspapers and jailing dissidents -- even Congressman -- were just a few in the many violations of the Constitution he claimed to have been saving. The high-sounding pretext of "saving the Union" meant making Washington supreme over the States and over the very People who had created both the States and the general government; of transforming the united States, plural, into the Unitedstates, singular. Nowadays, Lincoln is revered as having freed the slaves, but that was a mere afterthought -- not the reason why he pursued his fanatical, totalistic war against the Southern States.

The u.S. entry into the Austro-Hungarian-Ottoman-German-British War under Woodrow Wilson (who had won his second term with the campaign slogan "He Kept Us Out of War!") brought draconian measures to control all transportation, resources, production, and communication, as well as vicious suppression of dissent under the un-American Sedition Act.

Wilson's ambitious wartime Assistant Secretary of the Navy must have taken careful notes. When he later ascended to the presidency during a time of economic crisis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt immediately seized upon the precedents established by his former boss Wilson, awarding himself and his administration sweeping dictatorial powers, ostensibly to get the economy back on track.

Although the Depression was in part the fault of the banking system, it was not the banks but the American public who lost their liberty and their fortunes -- both losses, in most cases, being permanent. Under FDR, the growth of government exploded and Washington was transformed from a comparatively sleepy backwater to the Imperial Throne City.

FDR further increased his dictatorial powers using the Japanese attack -- an attack which he and his henchmen had tirelessly courted; for all intents and purposes, they rolled out the red carpet for the Japanese warplanes they knew  were coming. They wanted their war and they got it.

During Roosevelt’s war, the exiled antiwar poet Ezra Pound wrote: "They try to have a war every twenty years ..." But Roosevelt's war was followed immediately not by 20 years of peace but by the unauthorized, United Nations-led Korean War beginning in 1950, the U.S./British Special Forces overthrow of the elected government in Iran in 1953,  and the Cold War, a wildly profitable 45-year orgy of expansion for the military-industrial complex -- as well any number of hot wars ("conflicts," "police actions," "covert actions") around the world.

Proceeding through that long list, we find none fit within the tightly limited Constitutional stipulation of "repelling invasion or insurrection" against the States -- not to mention all, Iraq included, have lacked actual Congressional declarations of war. This  includes Korea, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, El Salvador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya, Panama, the two Iraq wars (and the continuous bombing raids and deadly sanctions in between), Bosnia, Somalia, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, or any of the other countries which u.S. military or CIA forces have attacked, occupied, overthrown, or provided military assistance to in its career as global empire just in the last century. None of these acts in countries thousands of miles away had the slightest thing to do with defending the legitimate territory, the lives, or the freedom of the citizens of the States of America.

The military-industrial complex of which our last general-president warned, wanted permanent war -- and they got it.  No sooner was the Cold War declared over than the next war, the "war on Terror," was ushered into being. We've been in a permanent state of war -- which means a permanent state of emergency and a suspension of normal constitutional liberties -- for 70 years.

THE MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL complex, and the financial complex in back of it, and the executive branch that wields the warmaking power (wrested from its rightful repository, the Congress), absolutely love this perpetual-war state. But most Americans would be shocked to learn that the Founders viewed war as always subversive of freedom -- and regarded the very idea of a "standing army" with nothing short of alarm.

"The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force," Thomas Jefferson wrote to Chandler Price in 1807. And he wrote to Thomas Cooper in 1814:
The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.

James Madison warned:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. . . . [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and . . . degeneracy of manners and of morals. .
. . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. . .

Even at the time of the Spanish-American War, many Americans, such as Agrarian Populist Tom Watson of Georgia, realized that:

...[T]he privileged classes will profit by this war…what do the people get out of this war? The fighting and the taxes. Republics cannot go into the conquering business and remain republics. Militarism leads to military domination, military despotism. Imperialism smoothes the way for the emperor.

Under the Constitution, the army exists only in time of sudden invasion, raised from the ranks of the organized state militias commanded by state governors. The unorganized militia consisted of all free men, who were all expected to own guns. (Generally the only unarmed men were the slaves and, eventually, the subjugated Indian tribes.) Once the invasion or insurrection is put down, the army goes away. There should be no such thing as "the Army" in an institutional sense.

Rather than a standing army, Jefferson advocated naval power – but even that with the sole purpose of defending the States, not of fighting the world’s wars, dominating the seven seas, projecting global power, or defending the economic interests of a few corporations and banks under the rubric of “protecting American interests.”
Every rational citizen must wish to see an effective instrument of coercion, and should fear to see it on any other element than the water. A naval force can never endanger our liberties, nor occasion bloodshed; a land force would do both.
(Letter to James Monroe, 1786)

A COUPLE YEARS BACK Andre Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, and Atlantic Monthly correspondent James Fallows spoke at a Cato Institute event about America's vicarious fascination with war, and our obliviousness to war's corrosive effects on freedom. Though not up-to-the-minute, their observations are still relevant to the still-ongoing wars under the Obama administration.

Bacevich pointed out what any observer of history or contemporary affairs knows: We are paying a grave price for our military infatuation, for seeing war as the principle measure of our greatness as a people and nation. This sort of militarism does not generate true patriotism, Bacevich argued, but rather, an “attenuated sense of citizenship" that has produced “defective and dangerous policies.” It erodes our respect for freedom and acclimates us to rule by special interests.
Fallows observed that since Roosevelt’s War the military has been the prime mover, the “all-purpose tool” for whatever national projects we’d like to do—whether social engineering (as in racial integration or -- I would add -- women in combat), public works (Eisenhower’s Interstate Military Highway system), science and technology (Sputnik, the Internet, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health — science gone to war.) “If not militarism, then what, as a vehicle for national purpose?” Fallows wondered.

Well, the Founders could supply an answer, albeit one that would seem hopelessly antiquated and irrelevant in today’s secularist America. But the original purpose of America as conceived in the Declaration of Independence was to create a space in the world where people would be free to find their own purpose. Those theologically inclined saw America's purpose as being a “shining city on a hill,” an example to the world of a nation of Christians enjoying the liberty that can come only from moral virtue. Fallows and others who scratch their heads as to the cause and cure of militarism should consider that America’s elevation of the military to godhood is only a natural result of having rejected our reliance in the Almighty God who wins battles with weapons not of this world.

This rejection of the true God for false ones explains how the military has acquired such a sacrosanct aura, especially post-9/11, such as to make it "exempt from any criticism at all," as Fallows noted -- a far cry from the Vietnam era when protestors fell into the opposite extreme of demonizing the soldiers as "baby-killers."

MEMORIAL DAY and Veterans' Day are part of the big symbolic pat on the back, the "attaboy!" for those who've served as cogs in the machine. One obvious reason for all this pandering is commerce. The "Greatest Generation" spends a lot of money on stuff like prescription pills, and the media servicing the demographic are lavishly funded by ads for said pills, so the media are happy to pander.
However, while the Greatest Generation pops its pills (many manufactured, by the way, by descendants of the Nazi chemical cartel IG Farben), they might want to consider that the joke's on them. Because one thing is clear about all wars: In the end, the only winners are a small class of elite profiteers, financiers, and politicians. In the words of a famous Marine who ought to be revered as an American hero, war is one of the greatest "legal" rackets going.

In that light, the war machine congratulating itself for "giving us our freedoms" is somewhat like a tick crediting itself for the health of the dog on which it's feeding. In reality its hollow ceremonies mock the Americans who were so brave and self-sacrificing, yet so massively misled and exploited. They were led to be slaughtered like cattle and sheared like sheep. They gave life and limb and sanity, blood and sweat and fear, to the War Machine, and as the fog of war upon war upon war lingers over our nation, most of them still haven't the foggiest idea what it was really all about.

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