Does fighting for an empire preclude greatness? Is it something about its hypermasculinity or raw power that makes Democrats and Republicans alike get on their knees and supplicate to the U.S. military and everything associated with it?
Military adoration is seen everywhere from shirts and bumper stickers, which often boast of being a military family or in the military, to militarism at sports stadiums where military personnel are usually recognized multiple times per game, in the national anthem’s psychical integration with the military and to a recent public opinion poll showing Americans’ 83% confidence in the military.
It may be of interest to look into the military’s demographics in order to see what drives those who join this putatively heroic organization. Although there is conflicting evidence on enlistee socioeconomics, with pro-military establishment think tanks claiming that the majority are middle class (to thwart the notion that enlistment is rooted primarily in economic gain), this much is established: minorities constitute 40% of the military, 61.5% of enlistees come from households below $61,000 and 83% from below $81,000. As middle class households earn between $40,000 and $120,000 per year, this places 83% of military enlistees in the poor and lower half of the middle class. Compared with the stagnant incomes of other Americans, military wages have steadily increased since 9/11 while their jobs are secure, both of which are unlike other Americans.
As Anand Giridharadas notes, the US military is the last public institution that people trust. To be fair, especially compared with politicians, the organization is relatively free from corruption, Abu Gharib notwithstanding. The recent push of the Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to have Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher tried for war crimes, only to be fired by Trump for doing so, is a case in point.
Yet if we think of what the US military does counterpoised with its admiration in society, there is an extreme cognitive dissonance. While Americans largely view the US as a ‘force for good in the world’, as if it were a philanthropic organization bent on social justice or universal freedom, the US – like all empires – works solely for itself. However, even the average US citizen, people in the imperial center, largely do not benefit.
When Trump broke from the Iran Deal, it may have seemed extreme, but it was hardly more egregious than imperial policies of the past, such as causing anarchy in Libya by ousting Gaddafi and invading Iraq, which led to nearly two decades of Iraqi misery. And these are only slightly more atrocious than Trump’s efforts to back a coup in Venezuela through damning sanctions and recognizing unelected Juan Guaidó as the country’s president, simply because the country’s policies are not good for multinational oil companies. Similarly, under Obama, Hillary Clinton backed a 2009 Honduran coup and Bush’s Afghan War quickly turned into a quagmire and now stands as the longest war in American history.
This is not evidence of a humanitarian or philanthropic policy, as seems to be the public’s perception of American foreign relations. Rather, it is a destructive policy that often maims societies throughout the world, so long as they are small nations and can be easily defeated.
Most decent American parents would decry a bully who victimizes their child in the schoolyard. The US is and has long been the bully of the yards, with the military as its lackey – the fist in the face of the weaker child.
Perhaps, in our worship of the military and its personnel, the American public should think twice, until – and if ever – the military is used solely for the purpose of self-defense.
Peter Crowley is an independent writer and scholar with a M.S. in Conflict Resolution, Global Studies from Northeastern University. He works as Content Specialist/Production Coordinator for a prominent library science company.