The New Old American Militarism
By Robert Bateman
I find that I am in much the same boat as my fellow blogger Shawn when it comes to preferred defense intellectuals.
Like him, one of my favorites is Andrew Bacevich. In my case what really awoke me to Bacevich was his earlier work, in particular one which I read while stationed in Baghdad. His 2005 book, "The New American Militarism" starkly lays out an apparent truth: The United States has become increasingly addicted to the trappings of militarism and the use of military force over time. Particularly over the past 30 years or so, this thesis has applied to both parties. But underpinning that basic assertion are some other disquieting observations, such as the idea that it has been one party in particular which has deliberately attempted to market itself as the party which supports "traditional" American values...by trumpeting their nominal support of the military, and the fact that at some point a large number of evangelical Christians abandoned their historical role as supporters for the poor and the weak around the world, and instead also adopted a mantra which advocated support of the military and the use of force overseas.
As Shawn pointed out, Bacevich is not one easily dismissed. His credentials go a long way towards shielding him from a Swift-Boating. He is a West Point graduate and career soldier, a Vietnam veteran, and a Conservative Catholic. He is sometimes described as a "paleocon." (Meaning, it appears, that he is a traditional conservative, in contrast to a neoconservative.) As such he is not someone any thinking individual can discount readily, nor tar with the accusation that he is an anti-military liberal. To my eyes he is dead-on in his analysis of these trends within America. But there is a counter-point to his thesis, as a recent article about military veterans running for Congress reminded me. Here is the money quote from the US News & World Report story:
"In the current Congress, about 2 in 5 senators and 3 in 10 House members are military veterans, though the proportion shrinks when it comes to combat service. Only 9 percent of senators and 0.5 percent of House lawmakers can make that claim.
...both chambers were flush with veterans after World War II. There were only 95 in 1941, but the number had swelled to 323 by 1959. That began dropping in the 1970s, in part because the draft ended in 1973, says Peter Feaver, a political scientist and military scholar at Duke University.
Feaver has examined military veterans in Congress and the cabinet from 1815 to the period leading up to 9/11. He concluded that the greater the preponderance of veterans, the less the likelihood of the United States engaging in military action, but as a corollary, when force is used, it's in a big way. "It's sort of like the Powell Doctrine. Force is used rarely but decisively," he says. Translated to barracks-speak: War is hell, but if you're in for a dime, you're in for a dollar."
So, there may be a little irony in place here. "Militarism" is a behavior or set of beliefs which seems to be associated with people who have not actually been in the military. But the actual use of military force is inhibited when there are more former members of the military in Congress. Go figure.
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