A Peculiar Form of American Madness

Heroification of the military is a strange mindset for any self-avowed democracy

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Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

America is touched by a peculiar form of collective madness that sees military action as creative rather than destructive, desirable rather than deplorable, and constitutive to democracy rather than corrosive to it.

This madness, this hubris, this elevation or heroification of the military and war has to end, or it will most certainly end America, if not the world.

Related to this, America advances and sustains a historical narrative based on triumphalism, exceptionalism, and goodness. We Americans see total military dominance as something to crow about, even as we insist that it’s our birthright as “exceptional” Americans. This mindset, or Zeitgeist if you will, enables and empowers a national security state that easily consumes more than half of federal discretionary spending each year. As long as this mindset persists, the MICC or MICIMATT will persist and continue to grow in reach and power.

So that’s my first big step in taming the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academia-think-tank complex. America’s mindset, its culture, must change. Change the mindset and you begin to change the deference if not adulation granted to the MICIMATT.

Change the mindset, weaken the blob. That was what Dwight D. Eisenhower had in mind in his “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953.1 Our peculiar form of militarized madness is simply no way of life at all for democracy or for the planet.

It won’t be easy because we’re taught to salute the military and support “our” beloved troops. We’re taught that corporations like Boeing and Raytheon are job-creators, even citizens. We look to Congress to represent us, even as its members thrive on corporate campaign contributions (bribes) while genuflecting to the generals and admirals. We look to the media for news and information even as those outlets are fueled by advertising dollars from companies like Boeing, if not owned by them. We look to “liberal” academia for new ideas even as colleges and universities compete for Pentagon research and development dollars. We look to think tanks for fresh approaches even as they’re funded by weapons contractors.

Under these conditions, it’s not surprising that the U.S. no longer sees peace as possible or even as desirable. Peace is rarely mentioned by US political candidates or by the mainstream media. War is simply taken for granted; even worse, it’s seen as the health of the state.

That war is now seen as the health of the state is indeed a peculiar form of American madness. As the Christmas season approaches, is it too much to ask for sanity as in peace on earth and good will toward all?

1 Ike’s “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953 was brilliant in its clarity and power. Can you imagine any US politician saying these words today?

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.

20 thoughts on “A Peculiar Form of American Madness”

  1. The military is the most popular and trusted government institution in the U.S. That alone is a huge problem. One of the reasons that the U.S. is the evil empire is the attitude of the people who live here.

    1. “One of the reasons that the U.S. is the evil empire is the attitude of the people who live here.”

      Probably true, but keep in mind that our “leaders” (read: rulers) are far more militaristic than the people at large. Surveys of public opinion show much more reluctance to go to war among the people in general than is exhibited by the people running the show.

      1. That’s true, but it’s a very shallow analysis. For example, every drop of gasoline Americans consume by driving — and Americans drive far more per capita than anyone else in the world — is a vote for more oil wars. So if people are truly anti-war, as opposed to just saying that to pollsters or even going to meaningless family-friendly demonstrations that the rulers just ignore, they would be willing to give up a lot of things, including their opulent lifestyles. Now, what percentage of Americans do you think would be willing to do that? My questioning of people when I was a trucker and talked to a lot of different people about things like this, showed me that the percentage would be extremely low. For example, Longshoremen, who make upper middle class wages, weren’t even willing to pay any extra gasoline tax to fund public transit for poor people. And this is supposedly a progressive union!

        My point is that while Americans might say they’re anti-war, they’re not willing to make the changes that would actually bring that about. Not to mention that they can be brainwashed to support any war at the beginning, just like everyone else in the world, and the U.S. has the most sophisticated propaganda.

        1. “is a vote for more oil wars.”

          I would have to disagree here.

          Petroleum, like any other commodity, can be obtained through non-violent exchange or trade. There is no need to go to war to obtain anything positive in this world.

          The wars we have fought in the last 110 years have used up far more petroleum than would have been obtained from stealing it through war.

          Don’t blame war on consumer demand, blame it on hateful, racist, xenophobic people who simply don’t see foreigners as human beings.

        2. “Not to mention that they can be brainwashed to support any war at the beginning, just like everyone else in the world, and the U.S. has the most sophisticated propaganda.”

          Good point. There comes a point though (hopefully), where the lies become so transparent that most people will see through them. It’s like “Groundhog Day,” we live each new war over and over again, until eventually our experiences actually impart some wisdom. This is assuming, of course, that the planet survives long enough to get to that point.

  2. The only way in which the US is ‘exceptional’ is in its pathological level of hubris, but then I suppose that is what distinguishes imperial arrogance from the ‘normal’ nationalist variety. In my lexicon a person who defends themselves and family and neighbors from outside attacks is a ‘warrior’ while a mere ‘soldier’ is just a slave used as a tool in the employ and under the sole direction of their master. The former is a free agent and, if their actions warrant it, can be deserving of respect because defending kith and kin from the aggression of others is admirable. The later has shirked personal choice and responsibility for subservient obedience and there is nothing respectable or admirable about, as Spencer described it “….When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause….”.

    1. There are only 3 types of people who become soldiers in a voluntary system like that of the U.S.:

      1. People who believe in what the U.S. military does, which is to maintain and expand U.S. empire. These people are clearly part of the problem;

      2. People who don’t know what the U.S. military does, and think that they’re helping to defend their country. These people are clueless, and need to make an effort to find out what’s really going on; and

      3. People who join for economic reasons. While I empathize with poor and working class people (I’m basically working class myself), there’s no excuse for selling your soul.

      1. People sell their souls all the time for economic reasons; joining the US military is just a rather more egregious way of doing it. It’s called surviving under capitalism.

        1. Selling one’s soul means doing something you know is wrong for a personal benefit. Soul-selling is not as widespread as you make it out to be. Just because you might not like your job and/or wouldn’t do it if you weren’t paid to doesn’t mean that doing it is selling your soul.

          On the other hand, joining the military when you know that what it’s doing is wrong, harmful, destructive, and immoral is the ultimate version of selling your soul. Just because someone is poor or working class doesn’t mean that what they do is OK.

      2. We know a person who joined the Army to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan. For the money. To purchase a sports car. Injured by an IED, he is 100% disabled. His brother crashed the car while he was overseas. So it goes.

  3. I sat there watching Youtube and literally got nonstop army recruiting ads – you can guess its contents -“greatest nation on earth”, “doing good” in the world. What a bunch of baloney. The sickness runs deep and we tell the same lies to get poor kids to the front lines.

  4. I quoted Ike’s Cross of Iron speech on RT a few days ago, I like to do that on articles about a new bomber or warship. And yeah, pursuing “full spectrum military dominance” of the entire world is plain crazy, but apparently not enough for most people to notice. I like to point out that comic book villains are of course understood to be lunatics for pursuing world domination, yet somehow it’s completely normal for the US government.

    1. I would say that pursuing dominance of the world, military or otherwise, is totally immoral as well as foolish. Only highly mentally and spiritually unevolved people would do anything like this. If you have any understanding of how life works, whether on this planet or in the universe, you know that no one is in control, despite egotistic people believing otherwise.

      1. “you know that no one is in control, despite egotistic people believing otherwise.”

        I would have to agree with you here. There is infinitely more going on around us than any one person can grasp, actually nobody can even be cognizant of an infinitesimal fraction of it.

        1. Yes. The problem is that unevolved people have oversized egos, and those egos lead to great hubris. That hubris makes or at least allows people to think that, among other things, they can be in control or know everything, instead of realizing that no one is in control and that there will always be far more that we don’t know compared to what we do know.

          So at its root, the problem is lack of proper and adequate mental and spiritual evolution. Same with every other problem really.

  5. An excellent analysis. Thanks! If only this message could be propagated widely. Perhaps if people are made to see impending disaster, they would take reasonable measures to obviate it by a change in attitudes, beliefs…. I’m not sure however that our so-called leaders, Congress, presidential advisors, etc., would see it this way. We are on the horns of a dilemma.

  6. I have a T-shirt emblazoned with President Eisenhower’s words, ”
    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
    signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not
    fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”I have read his Cross of Iron speech many times, and it brings me to tears each time. Such power in his words………….

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