Addicted to Militarism, Despite Repeated Failures

Richard Falk has an insightful and somewhat dispiriting piece at al Jazeera called “Why the Afghanistan War Won’t End Soon.” He writes about the prescience of the so-called ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ (once referred to as “sickly inhibitions against the use of military force”), and about the systematic tendency for America, as the planet’s military superpower, to aggressively apply military solutions to non-military problems. I was reminded of the opportunity to avoid unnecessary war after 9/11 by treating the attacks as a criminal act instead of an act of war (how many lives and dollars would have been saved, how many laws never broken…). But Falk focuses on conflicts like Afghanistan, say, which have available solutions towards ending war but which are treated to the Petraeus counter-insurgency magic described by Falk as “gradually expanding the war by means of a surge of troops combined with a ten-fold increase in drone attacks” with little regard for civilian casualties. Why the insistence on applying ineffective and destructive militarist solutions when they are not applicable?

Why do intelligent people persist in doing stupid things? If we had a completely convincing answer to this question we would have a far clearer understanding of the dysfunctional underbelly of US/NATO foreign policy.

To get such clarity, we probably need to delve into the collective unconscious of the warmakers, but even without such Freudian probes, there are some obvious dark forces at work in the West. For Europe especially, but also the United States, there is a definite nostalgia for the colonial period when military intervention was efficiently triumphal and conspicuously rewarded with prestige, markets, and resources. There lingers in the West a sense that there must be a way to restore those happy days of global ascendancy despite the formal elimination of colonial rule. Closely connected with this residual imperialism, given some credibility by way of economic globalisation in the 1990s, is the parallel adherence to the realist belief that it is military power that continues to shape world history.

What follows from this search for explanations is what might be described as ‘militarism,’ here defined as the compulsive or addictive reliance on hard power for conflict resolution that is not altered by repeated experiences of failure.

[…] Whether American militarism is better regarded as insanity or addiction is not so significant, but that its compulsiveness discourages a proper diagnosis and cure is a distressing reality. It has led to a succession of prolonged bloody confrontations that bring misery and encourage extremism.

Add to these explanations the fact that the last decade has seen a truly unique expansion of military capacity and defense industry booms, all of the most readily available (and profitable) tools are military in nature. So no wonder that is the most popular and proximate diagnosis.