The Big Dick School of American Patriotism, and What We Make of It

Yves here. I find it difficult to relate to the “low grade security anxiety” described in this post, given that I lived for a few months in London in the early 1980s, where IRA bombings were a much more real (and still objectively low odds) threat than terrorism is in the US, and that hijacking in the 1970s and early 1980s were far more frequent occurrences than now. But it is disturbing to see American exceptionalism increasingly connected to military macho. Perhaps that compensates for our falling level of intellectual accomplishment.

By Nan Levinson, whose new book, War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built (Rutgers University Press), is based on seven years she spent not-quite-embedded with military-related antiwar groups around the country. As a freelance journalist, she writes about the military, free speech, and other aspects of civil liberties, culture, and technology. She teaches journalism and fiction writing at Tufts University. Originally published at TomDispatch

Let’s face it: we live in a state of pervasive national security anxiety. There are various possible responses to this low-grade fever that saps resolve, but first we have to face the basis for that anxiety — what I’ve come to think of as the Big Dick School of Patriotism, or (since anything having to do with our present version of national security, even a critique of it, has to have an acronym) the BDSP.

The BDSP is based on a bedrock belief in how America should work: that the only strength that really matters is military and that a great country is one with the capacity to beat the bejesus out of everyone else. Think of it as a military version of 50 Shades of Grey, with the same frisson of control and submission (for the American citizen) and the assumption that a good portion of the world is ripe to be bullied.

The BDSP is good citizenship conflated with JROTC, hosannas to sniper kills, the Pentagon’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War — what are we celebrating there anyway? — Rudolph Giuliani pining for a president who loves America in Reaganesque fashion, and the organizers of South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day, who wouldn’t let the local chapter of Veterans For Peace march with their banners because, so the story goes, they didn’t want the word “peace” associated with veterans.

Of course, the Big Dick School of Patriotism isn’t new — revolutionary roots, manifest destiny, history as the great pounding of hooves across the plain, and all that. Nor is it uniquely American, even if there is something culturally specific about our form of national hubris on steroids. Still, there have been times in our history when civilians — some in power, some drawing strength from numbers — have pushed back against the military and its mystique, or at least have demanded an accounting of its deeds. And of course, until the Cold War bled into 9/11, there was no national security state on the present gargantuan scale to deal with.

As he was leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned against the overweening power of what he called “the military-industrial complex.” As a senator, J. William Fulbright similarly warned of “the arrogance of [American] power” and used his Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship to challenge the Vietnam War — whereupon Fred Friendly, president of CBS News, got that network’s executives to agree to preempt “Captain Kangaroo” and cover those hearings live.

On the populist side, there was General Smedley Butler, who campaigned against the military in his retirement, the Bonus Marchers of Great Depression Washington, and of course the massive antiwar resistance and remarkable insubordination of American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Similarly, some soldiers from the all-volunteer force of our era worked to undermine the U.S. occupation of Iraq in various (though far less pervasive) ways, including conducting “search and avoid missions” in which they would park, hang out, and falsely report that they were searching for weapons caches.

These days, no one in America directly takes on the military. Not the president, who just requested $534 billion for the new Pentagon budget, plus an additional $51 billion for supplemental war funding. Not Congress, where the range of debate over an “authorization” of war in Iraq and Syria goes from “hawks,” who want assurances that we’ll blow ISIS to oblivion by any means, to “doves,” who want assurances that there will be no “boots on the ground” while we blow ISIS into oblivion. Certainly not the courts, which, among other things, have consistently refused to let military objectors invoke their right to disobey illegal orders. And not American citizens who are now well trained to spend their time thanking their all-volunteer warriors for their sacrifices before turning back to the business of everyday life.

It seems to matter little to anyone that, since 9/11, what is supposed to be the greatest fighting force in the world has been stymied by modestly armed insurgencies — in response to which we keep buying our military yet newer props like the wildly overpriced, over-touted, and underachieving F-35 fighter plane, and sending them back to clean up the very messes they helped produce not so long before. There never seem to be any consequences to this repetitive course of action. Well, none if you don’t count the squandering of whatever political capital this country had after 9/11, or the way a million or so veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan will require costly care for the rest of their lives, or the billions spent on war rather than the environment, infrastructure, education, or [fill in your favorite civic need here].

Okay, it’s true that a tiny crew of largely overlooked politicians like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Barbara Lee of California did try to limit war funding; that Obama did finally resist calls for invading Syria (before he began bombing it); and that the Supreme Court did rule that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which criminalized lying about military awards, was unconstitutional.

But how much attention gets paid to all that? Massively less than to the glories of American Sniper.  Or to Commander-in-Chief Obama reassuring soldiers that, regardless of race, creed, class, religion, or whom we choose to love, “when it comes to our troops, when it comes to you and your families, as Americans we stand united. We are proud of you. We support you. And we can never thank you enough.”

And why would anyone with political ambitions claim otherwise when there’s no gain, no glory in it? After all, the American public may be weary of war, but a widely-cited annual poll found a majority of them in favor of taking on ISIS, even if it embroils us in a big-dick war in Syria. 

Making the Military into a Clique

So what gives? How do you explain an America in which, despite the disastrous record of the U.S. military these last 13 years and the growth of extremist Islamic groups in the same period, there is essentially no pushback in this country.  One obvious answer is that it’s easy to keep valorizing the military when you have nothing to do with it. That big, busy, well-funded world-unto-itself currently includes less than 1% of the population. Add in their families and the civilians who work on or near military bases (or in the Pentagon) and, as a rough estimate, perhaps you have something in the vicinity of 5% of Americans who interact with the military on a regular basis. For the other 95% or so, the rest of us, what that military does, especially in distant lands, is just a blip on the busy-busy screen of our consciousness. Yet the further we get from the military, the more beguiled we are by it.

It helps, of course, that young Americans don’t have to worry about being drafted against their wishes. The last citizen was drafted in 1973 and, despite calls in these years for the reinstatement of conscription, no one in the BDSP seems in any hurry to do so. “One lesson learned from Vietnam,” the father of a Marine told me, “is if you’re going to start a war, don’t even pretend to threaten the sons and daughters of the upper middle class and the rich.”

It isn’t just the absence of threat that distances the public from American war making, however. It’s also the inbred nature of the military itself.  In the Vietnam years, when about one-third of the troops who fought were conscripts, all soldiers spent a year “in-country.” This meant individuals rotated in and out of the war zone at different times rather than as intact units, and soldiers circulated back into civil society regularly. This was certainly good for civil society — we heard about the war directly from the people fighting it — but it wasn’t so great for the armed forces.

So when the change came to an all-volunteer service, the military made a point of training and deploying units together to increase cohesion. And cohere they do, from a long, grueling period of training and indoctrination through an all-encompassing military world in which you live, work, and play with the same people 24/7 to the secret handshake of shared jargon and experience that is meant to bond you for life.

Not coincidentally, this makes dissent within the military ever less likely. A number of soldiers and marines have told me over the years that they deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan with their units despite misgivings about the wars they were to fight because, if they hadn’t, someone else — usually someone they knew — would have had to go in their stead. The result of all this cohesion is the sort of cliquishness that would make a 13-year-old whispering in a school cafeteria blush. I’d guess that it also makes politicians who aren’t fully enrolled members of the BDSP leery of challenging the military on what may be matters of life and death.  It certainly leaves the citizenry in that position.

Yet separate from us as those soldiers may be, they’re still our troops, our movie heroes, and (I suspect) our source of guilt, because they fought our wars while we were otherwise engaged. Contemporary war may be sanitized for the American public and no longer televised Vietnam-style, but all that shaking of our heroes’ hands and wringing of our own hands about their victimization comes out of some sense of responsibility sloughed off. 

The Personnel Is Political

A draft would certainly make a difference in this increasingly strange civilian-soldier nexus, but its absence is hardly the only reason that Americans now hold our armed forces sacrosanct in a way that once would have seemed foreign indeed. For starters, the military functions as a powerful lobby in Washington, which is increasingly effective when it comes to reinforcing a hands-off approach to its affairs and blocking outside scrutiny. Take, for example, the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013.  It would have moved prosecution of felony-level sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, which controls most aspects of an enlistee’s life, to independent military prosecutors. Trust us, insisted the top brass, we can police ourselves, never mind that one in five servicewomen reported unwanted sexual contact and 25% of them said the offender was someone in their chain of command. The bill fell to a filibuster in the Senate last year.

One strategy the military employs in dealing with Congress is something called “jointness.” It’s a relatively recent coinage for cross-service cooperation in research, planning, procurement, and operations. While it’s focused on increasing operational flexibility and efficiency among branches of the military, it’s also meant to heighten intra-service collaboration when it comes to lobbying for funding. (The stratagem of awarding lucrative contracts in key congressional districts of both parties doesn’t hurt either.)

Although the Pentagon’s budget has decreased in recent years, that follows enormous growth in the post-9/11 decade — as much as 40% in real terms between 2001 and 2012. The administration’s new budget request is supposed to take into account the end of two costly wars, yet it still exceeds the $499 billion cap called for by sequestration, and that base budget is only part of what we’re spending overall on American war-making.

When you’re a hammer, the saying goes, everything looks like a nail. And when more than half of the federal discretionary budget goes to the military, every international problem looks like a job for them. According to the National Security Strategy report the White House released in February, “Any successful strategy to ensure the safety of the American people and advance our national security interests must begin with an undeniable truth — America must lead.” And who will be, as they say, at the tip of the spear? “Our military is postured globally to protect our citizens and interests, preserve regional stability, render humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and build the capacity of our partners to join with us in meeting security challenges.”

In other words, one attitude that increasingly grips this country is that, if it’s going to be done at all, it’s probably going to be done by the military. It has been sold to us as the best, maybe the only functioning part of the government. Not surprisingly, then, the most recent annual Gallup poll found that almost three-quarters of those surveyed had “quite a lot” or a “great deal” of confidence in the military.  Since 2001, that public confidence has never fallen below 66%.

In touting “Toward the Sounds of Chaos,” its most recent recruiting campaign for the Marines, ad agency J. Walter Thompson claims that enlistment “provides an opportunity to face down everything from traditional warfare to the natural disasters that necessitate highly organized humanitarian assistance.” This spreading send-in-the-Marines mentality — one form of the post-9/11 BDSP way of life — keeps us from a reasonable assessment of the best uses of our military forces.

Last fall, for instance, President Obama dispatched about 3,000 Army personnel to Liberia to build and staff treatment facilities for Ebola patients. Once upon a time, the U.S. was quite capable of mounting a genuine civilian humanitarian relief mission. Now, if you’ve got thousands of physically able workers on the payroll with a job description that includes risk, I suppose that deploying them to a disease zone makes sense. Still, if you needed hospitals built and staffed, wouldn’t it make more sense to send in civilian builders, nurses, and doctors? 

Be Afraid, Very Afraid

In truth, the Big Dick School of Patriotism is invested in keeping only one “branch” of government functional: the U.S. military and the national security state that goes with it, even as it trumpets constant terrors and threats this country must face.

The National Security Strategy lists terrorism, cyber-vulnerability, climate change, and infectious diseases as rising threats to global security. That’s a frightening enough quartet and hardly a complete list of actual dangers. Amid them, our headlines fill regularly with “threats” that are nightmarish, but soon dissolve like bad dreams in the morning light. The latest, from a video by the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabab, was to the Mall of America in Minnesota and, farfetched as it was, the media and the political class ran with it. I found the Mall of America pretty scary on a regular shopping day, but such endless threats and the hysteria that surrounds them do make our self-protective instincts kick in. Jeh Johnson, the head of Homeland Security, even warned mall-goers to be particularly careful because, he said, “it’s the environment we’re in, frankly.”

Is it?  It’s increasingly hard to tell in BDSP America. Fear can be a useful political tool because people who believe they’re surrounded by enemies are primed to accept almost anything. When you feel you’re losing control, the response is often to try to get more control, which is part of the appeal of the BDSP crew, with their exaltation of swarms of people in uniforms equipped with tanks and guns.

When that swarm is reputedly the best trained, most effective military since the Roman Legions exited the planet, that ought to be a lot of control. Except, of course, that it isn’t. Or tell me that things don’t seem more out of control now than 13 years ago, after calamity rained from the sky and the BDSP types whooshed in to save us all.

The eternal emphasis on militarism, even when it’s portrayed as triumphalism, has the effect of ratcheting up anxiety. Security is one of the basic things a government owes its citizens, but security is both a state of being and a state of mind. If security is always at issue, how can we ever feel safe?

In the end, maybe the Big Dick School of Patriotism comes down to this: we embrace the idea of an all-powerful military because at a time when the world seems such a fragile and hostile place, if even our military won’t keep us safe, who will?  

Unless there just might be a better way to go through the world than by carrying a big dick?

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  1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    Yves you bring up London so let’s revisit, more than 1000 killed by the IRA through bomb terror but they did not see fit to destroy civil society to fight it. Let’s recall the tactics they employed, learned over decades, even centuries, of fighting terror. #1. Don’t overpublicize, minimize coverage. #2. Don’t overreact, tends to encourager les autres. #3. Extensive undercover police work; #4. attempt to win back hearts and minds. We are 1 for 4 today.

  2. ProNewerDeal

    Yves said “low grade security anxiety”

    Yet USians have ~50Kdeath/yr due to not having health insurance (does this figure also include having crapified health insurance that does not completely pay for basic medically necessary healthcare and individuals without much wealth to pay the enormous bill still dying?)

    IIRC there is something like ~100Kdeath/yr for medical errors, many of which are preventable if not for the portion of USian healthcare professionals who are unprofessional/incompetent/lazy and did something as trivial as refuse to hand-wash, or do basic record-keeping on a given patient, which caused the medical error leading to a patient’s death.

    If we are talking about “security anxiety”, IIRC USian police kill ~800 USians/yr, a signficant portion of these are Terrorist Cop Executions.

    Captured inadequate regulation of food, pharma, chemicals, mobile phone radiation, oil-fracked polluted water, etc is apparently the worst in the OECD, and likely results in many deaths from illnesses such as cancer.

    Sadly I am probably leaving out other USian predatory factions that murder many USians, feel to add to my short list here.

    Apparently most of the powerful USian poli-trick-ians like 0bama/Bush43/Boner/etc at best do not care about these actual Threats to USian citizens, and at worst are paid hacks of these predatory USian special interests that prey on the lives of USians. These same poli-trick-ians also repeatedly attempt to to slash the already crapified worst-in-the-OECD USian social insurance & other forms of austerity, which are a cold yet actual form of continuing “murder by spreadsheet” of a large amount of USians.

    I must sadly conclude that a significant portion of the Sickcare Mafia Industrial Complex, the Police State Industrial Complex, Big Oligopolistic Rigged-Market Corporations, and Big Poli-trick-ians, are evil, predatory, & MURDER more USians than any media-hyped Boogyman Du Jour TM like Putin, Venezuela (“you cannot be serious!” (c) John McEnroe), ISIS, Al Qaeda, etc could ever hope to in their wildest dreams.

    To add insult to injury, when Al-Qaeda accountant Zacarias Moussaoui claims in US court, whose claims are congruent with those of experts such as ex-Sen. Bob Graham, that many Saudi elite, including the current newly enthroned King, investor/Fox News #2 owner Al-Waleed bin Talal, and ex-Ambassador to the US Bandar “Bush”, funded Al-Qaeda the Sep-11, 2001 Terrorist attack, we see that BigPolitrickian, BigMedia, and Big Military Industrial Police State Complex are SILENT and seem to not care about this Actual Security Threat to Actual Americans.

    NCers, I value your wise, intelligent, critical-thinking, and would love to read your take on my comment. Am I overreacting, missing some concept(s), or sadly describing a reasonably accurate description of 2015 ‘Merica?

    1. Doug Terpstra

      No, you’re not overreacting. You’ve ID’d real sources of “pervasive personal security anxiety” quite accurately, though financial and job security may be the most pervasive and persistent of these for most people on a daily basis (and not incoincidentally the foundation of a “volunteer” military).

      Most fascinating and perplexing is how elite propagandists have managed to so effectively transmute this nearly universal personal health and economic insecurity into “national security” anxiety and reflex patriotism. Orwell barely hinted at the level of mind-control necessary to suppress the unrelenting, excruciating cognitive dissonance in order to achieve such enthusiastic submission to criminal imperial violence. It’s an amazing spectacle, this confederacy of dunces.

    2. Doug Terpstra

      I’d add that Obama may be the linchpin of this perversion of the national psyche, adding a more palatable color to the ancient imperial tyranny of fear. Thus has Obama brought us the Neo Deal, in which fear itself is nothing to fear, but rather to be embraced and worn as a badge of American exceptionalism.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      The build-ups of our Security-Industrial and Military-Industrial complexes have as much to do with security as they do with defense. Both serve the aggression of the US government in asserting power and control over even the least tendencies toward foreign and domestic dissent.

      I feel anxious about my personal security in all the ways you elaborated and with those Doug Terpstra adds. I fear the US government at its many levels and in its many actions that support Corporate looting and pillaging and support the bureaucratic empires driving their own growth and grandeur while aiding and abetting the predations of our elites. I fear the propaganda and the jingoism, apathy, and ignorance of the society around me. I fear the deliberate governmental and commercial abasement of what remains of our culture and values.

      A growing sense of malaise awakens vague feelings of riding a train traveling too fast for me to leap off and heading toward a wall I can see ahead.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        On further reflection, I also fear the future and fear for the future my children will live in. The threats in the future grow more immediate with each new report and study that I read.

  3. James Levy

    I believe the evidence is that humans are not particularly good at risk assessment and that’s in a cognitively neutral setting where you are just responding to perceived stimuli. We have whole industries and branches of government spending billions to turn that setting into one of fear and anxiety. It’s not an accident or a mistake that we are pumped full of fear–it sells and it makes the individual malleable to authority. It is part of the infantilization of the American populace so we can become pliant consumers and no longer active citizens.

    1. susan the other

      I think hyping fear is necessary whenever government wants to spend some crony money. And in our new world, hype is very useful when it comes to grabbing the resources of not just us taxpayers but of other countries’ wealth too. Most people who weren’t overtly threatened would not react much beyond a monkey shriek. So it really takes such a dedicated and focused effort to produce a war, it is amazing they ever come about. There are always the down-to-earth calculations (usually after the fact) of what better investments we could have made with all that war money. The whole planet could be a utopia by now. But of course nothing makes Congress as generous as the threat of war. Here’s the real threat: will those idiots die off before they destroy the planet?

  4. MarkJ

    The BDSP was in full swing a long time after 9/11 and one witnessed a great majority of educators teaching the lessons of BDSP (reading, writing, arithmetic and patriotism) to their charges and supporting the administration in their extreme use of military action anywhere and everywhere in the world.
    The educators’ lessons were carried home by a generation of BDSP children and many parents silently and uncritically gave permission to the administration for the use of military force on populations that had nothing to do with the 9/11 atrocity.

    1. Jim Haygood

      To expand on your point, after the prompt passage of the USA-PATRIOT Act [martial law] in Oct. 2001, the next year the AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force] was passed based on perjured testimony from Colin Powell and others.

      The Bush regime used AUMF as a trump card for a massive campaign of secret domestic spying, later retroactively legalized by a rubber stamp Congress. Thirteen years on, Obama still claims the AUMF could serve to authorize an escalated war in Syria, though he’d like another one.

      Militarism is part and parcel of martial law. Until the 2001 martial law coup is reversed, militarism will be an unvarying theme from a government that lacks any constitutional legitimacy. With the constitution suspended, power comes from the barrel of a gun.

  5. Noni Mausa

    Re: “…falling level of intellectual accomplishment..” Might have something to do with this:

    “Flawed IQ scoring system: Important difference in American, Canadian scoring systems”

    In the study, if the IQ test was taken by Americans but scored by the Canadian standard, they scored dramatically lower than the Canadian norm. “Looking at the normal distribution of scores, you’d expect that only about five per cent of the population should get an IQ score of 75 or less,” says Dr. Harrison. “However, while this was true when we scored their tests using the American norms, our findings showed that 21 per cent of college and university students in our sample had an IQ score this low when Canadian norms were used for scoring.” This difference, BTW, persisted across all levels of intellect, not just at the low end.

    Interesting that the headline should call the testing “flawed.” But then it was written for a predominantly American readership.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Nope, Americans do not get a pass on the test cited in the article I linked to, which was not an IQ test, but a knowledge/skills test. It was designed and administered by ETS, a US company.

    2. SBW

      The study was done on Canadian students — and they were the ones scoring well below the Canadian norm. But don’t let that stop you from your reading non-comprehension.

      “For her research, Dr. Harrison and her colleagues examined the differences between Canadian and American WAIS-IV scores from 861 postsecondary students from across Ontario.”

      “The trend was the same across all IQ scores, with Canadian young adults in college or university consistently receiving a lower IQ score if the Canadian norms were used. There were fewer gifted students identified when Canadian norms were used, as well as more students who were said to be intellectually impaired.”

        1. SBW

          The reply was to Noni Mausa and I certainty did read that study right. And as far as being a troll, I’ve actually donated to NC Yves — which I certainly won’t again (check my damn email address).

          Your own sloppiness in reading doesn’t help. Now I’m wondering about your own accuracy on other articles.

          Of course I don’t suspect this will make it into your comments.

          What an echo chamber.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            We have told readers repeatedly that approving comments in moderation is our lowest priority and that to do a better job of that we need much more funding.

            I approved and replied to your comment out of the backstage where it was in moderation.

            I’m not interested in being hectored over comment moderation, particularly with the threat of the withdrawal of a donation. I would have been willing to apologize for not checking to see context, but not after you attacked the site on multiple invalid grounds. Please read another site.

  6. JCC

    Worth reading, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers – the book, not the movie – described this trend back in 1959.

  7. Rosario

    I don’t really think there is anything unique about American’s devotion to military power. Great Britain did it (still does it), Germany did it, Japan did it, on and on. The common theme is imperial ambition, resource/land acquisition and, today, the few remaining spaces devoid of Anglo-American finance capital. The BDSP is a symptom common to all empires. If an imperial power doesn’t have it they have to at least fake it.

  8. washunate

    until the Cold War bled into 9/11, there was no national security state on the present gargantuan scale to deal with

    That’s a bit of an odd history from an anti-war perspective.

    One of the lasting legacies of the Roosevelts generally and the build up to WW2 specifically is the evisceration of perspectives of neutrality, of isolationism, of opposition to foreign entanglement, from both the Democratic and Republican parties. This remains one of the fundamental challenges for leftist thought, that it was the leftists that sold the country on big government, that completely gutted any institutional or cultural opposition to BDSP. What is a better caricature of BDSP than Teddy Roosevelt essentially training a personal army to fight an imperialist war in Spanish controlled Cuba? Cuba is the location today of perhaps the most well known prison in the entire post-9/11 national security state.

    The notion that the national security state was not a problem, an existential crisis of what kind of leader we want to be in the world, from about 1989 to 2001 is comical. This is the period that laid the groundwork of our contemporary generation of liberal paternalism and interventionism. We can agree or disagree about specific policies, but how can we say they didn’t happen? We bombed the Chinese embassy in Serbia for goodness sakes. The drug war, the Gulf War, NATO expansion, abuse of classification, proliferation of security clearances, technological embrace of spying, the world’s policeman, continued military bases in Japan, Korea, Germany, etc. What public policy in this arena today doesn’t have a philosophical or logistical grounding in what happened from the end of the Cold War to the start of the War on Terra? The US was literally involved in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the first country we semi-formally invaded in that post-9/11 era.

  9. Steven

    My comment got too long to post here in its entirety. Here are the last three paragraphs. I am going to attempt to publish it as an article on OpEdNews under the title “My Unified Field Theory of Evil”.

    But by far the biggest aid for the US ruling class in assembling its “Empire of Debt” was Western civilization’s confusion of money with wealth. With the advent of fractional reserve banking and other forms of ‘financial engineering’, by far the largest portion of the world’s money is literally debt. In the half-century since the demise of Bretton Woods the United States and other Western nations following its business model of finance capitalism have become ‘debt creators’ not ‘wealth creators’.

    As for the US military, where once its mission was as “a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers”, with the U.S. assumption from Britain of the role as the world’s banker, i.e. it’s money (‘reserve currency’) creator, that mission has taken on the more cosmopolitan flavor of being the world’s policeman. How else to enforce the legal tender status of the ex nihilo money being created not just by its own bankers and financiers but by Europe’s as well?

    That’s what is at stake in Greece, in the US confrontation with Russia and ultimately with China. And that is why the present world situation is so dangerous. The West must go back to real wealth creation. The rest of the world is no longer buying – or rather selling for – its ex nihilo money. Trying to force the issue in an era of mutually assured destruction is still MAD.

    1. susan the other

      The real value we conserve is not gold. Or any other fantasy. Gold is just more fiat. And it is so absurdly limited that every coin would have to be worth about a penny and the value of assets would have to drop to below that… Gold’s flaw was/is that it could not grow very fast. Bad, bad gold. So slow it might as well be on geologic time. Which is even slower than political time, which in turn is always lapped by oh-so-clever financial time. Really – how can money every be based on gold? Real wealth is such a simple thing most of us can’t even see it. As Pogo would probably say by now: We can see real wealth, and it is us.

      1. craazyboy

        “As Pogo would probably say by now: We can see real wealth, and it is us.”

        That works for a few hours, but next thing you know it’s lunch time or dinner time, and then you realize you need to chew your arm off. hahahaha.

      2. Steven

        This really isn’t about gold though I can see how you might have thought it was because of the mention of Bretton Woods. It is about the US getting something for (less than) nothing – for its banker created, debt-based, ex nihilo money. When a nation’s rich and powerful can pay for its dreams of power and conquest with nothing but debt, when its politicians can practice their crony capitalism by giving away wealth created by the people in other nations, when a nation is run by gamblers who bet the future of the human race on their ability to make their opposites in other nations back down – and when the constituents of those politicians don’t have a clue what is going on, the world has become a very dangerous place.

        But back to gold… It may indeed be a “barbaric metal” but at least its quantity is finite – unlike the quantity of money that can be created by bankers and financiers working together. The only real backing for money is wealth – not the kind created as an excuse for people to make more money but the kind the world really needs. If returning to a gold standard as the basis for nations to settle their debts to each other, for curbing the current Empire of Debt (the US) and preventing new ones from forming (e.g. in China as the powers that be discover the joys of finance capitalism) so be it!

        (It is much easier to see what is going on when money creation is linked to some real finite object. Take a look at Nomi Prins’ “All the Presidents Bankers”. That’s why Nixon ended Bretton Woods – to remove all constraints on money creation by the nation’s bankers and its government. And as they ask rhetorically “how’s that working out for you?”)

        1. susan the other

          but i think my point would be that being a military force above all others is very expensive – and must be accounted for because (imo) the way the military is run is far to expensive to ever be accounted for. Therefore the driver of our economy since at least 1940 is driving us over the cliff. It produces no value. The great tragedy is this: our military and all militaries could be used to fix a lot of the problems we face as a planet – and in so doing we would find a high degree of common cause. And we might even evolve.

          1. Steven

            Part of the reason it is so expensive is that it was designed to be. The alternative to using the wealth creating potential of industrial capitalism for the military and war is using it for the benefit of people. But that would undermine the ability of them what already had too much to get even more. (How you going to keep them down on the farm when you pays them too much money and they no longer need to be your wage slave?)

            Bit it is even crasier than that. People like John McCain must be torn between their desire for more bang for the buck and the need to keep their crony DoD capitalist constituents happy. The serious purpose behind all this though is the need to keep the world’s cop, the US military, strong enough to enforce the status of the US dollar as the world’s legal tender, it’s reserve currency.

  10. dimmsdale

    I still think there’s a huge, virtually undiscussed hangover among policymakers resulting from their failure to act on genuinely actionable prior intelligence on 9/11 in time to prevent the attack, and that hangover is one of the guiding vectors in policy today: in short, “never again no matter what it takes.” Unfortunately, that gives rise to many, many catastrophically stupid ideas which become policy due to fear of missing the next Big One. Also unfortunately, those stupid ideas dovetail nicely with the corporate drive for more profits from defense and security-related business, and profits resulting from the corporate media purveying white-knuckle headlines, which themselves whipsaw consumers’ adrenalin and turn them into adrenalin junkies. There is no percentage for the truth anywhere in that model–none of these entities profit at all from ratcheting BACK the drumbeats of terror. That they are largely the dominant voices of our time makes sites like this (and Juan Cole’s, to name one off the top of my head) all the more miraculous, and valuable.

    It occurs to me to ask the NC community: does anyone know of a defense- or security-related blog run by someone with significant background in intelligence, who’s not part of the “Eeek, a terrorist, be Very Afraid!” crowd?

    1. JerseyJeffersonian

      I can recommend Col. Pat Lang (ret.) and his blog Sic Semper Tyrannis as a useful first step. He served as a Green Beret in Indochina, and later at progressively higher levels in military intelligence. It does not cover a wide-ranging spread of topics (by design); yet the breadth of discussion, along with the depth of historical knowledge and practical experience of its international group of commentators makes up for this in spades.

      The Colonel runs a tight ship insofar as decorum in the threads; neither insults nor triflers are welcome. If one were to characterize his general orientation, I would say that it runs toward Paleoconservative/Libertarian, but he is a man of many facets. The subheading under the name of the blog is “A Committee of Correspondence”, a direct nod toward those committees and their importance in the sharing of information and political thought during the run up to the American Revolution.

      Here is the web address for Sic Semper Tyrannis (the state motto of Virginia, roughly Thus Always with Tyrants):

  11. cr

    Andrew Bacevich is a war veteran and career officer. He is a West Point grad with a Phd from Princeton who continually calls out the idiocy of American national security strategy. His son died fighting in Iraq.

    As for me, we ought to consider a Swiss model for the US that retains strategic nuclear, air and naval assets. The Army and Marines should be highly professionalized expeditionary land forces with the capability to lead a mobilization for national defense.

    In the Swiss model, nearly every able bodied citizen should be trained and prepared to take on a local defense missions–infantry, logistics, intelligence, medical, engineers… We could all have rifles and bikes essentially truly making the US impregnable, resilient and prepared. We wouldn’t need to spend trillions on ineffective fighter programs, but could have A-10 and F-16 type mission role aircraft for close air and tactical superiority.

    1. JoeK

      Similarly, it seems a more rational and efficient use of gov’t monies for air travel safety after 9/11 would have been education and training of the flying public: quick courses on identifying and neutralizing threats on board an aircraft. It seems untrained flyers do pretty well to start with, having subdued a number of would-be hijackers/bombers, imagine an aircraft with hundreds of trained passengers on it. We’re talking pretty quick and basic training; no Seal Team 6 stuff. This would be a stronger deterrent than the current mostly ad-hoc, reactive, behind the curve, gap-filled scheme.

      Of course, it would completely fly in the face, pardon the pun, of the main benefit, or perhaps reason, for the current fear-mongering, drop-trou-and-bend-over-(please) approach to airline safety: dis-empowering and further sheep-ifying the public to make us even more malleable and controllable. Nothing more fearful to the power-usurping cowards in charge than an empowered citizenry.

  12. Adam Eran

    BDSP sounds metaphorical, but Christian Appy’s book American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity cites a meeting of reporters and LBJ when the reporters ask what motivated this war, and LBJ pulled out his Johnson. For reals. Sad to say, he and his successor were the last “liberal” presidents.

    1. JoeK

      Yeah, ramp-up-the-Vietnam-war Johnson and especially War-on-everything and -everyone-not-like-us Nixon were real liberals. Comments like yours demonstrate very clearly how the word has morphed in the US to mean “left of Goebbels.”

  13. Fran

    I think this hits the nail more firmly on the head. The “military-industrial-Congressional complex”

    This exert from: By Melvin A. Goodman January 16, 2011

    “The actual drafter of the speech, Ralph E. Williams, relied on guidance from Professor Moos. Milton Eisenhower explained that one of the drafts of the speech referred to the “military-industrial-Congressional complex” and said that the president himself inserted the reference to the role of the Congress, an element that did not appear in the delivery of the farewell address.”

  14. steelhead23

    Thanks for posting this Yves. As regards the US tendency toward military adventurism, I believe it starts with national narcissism. Psychologists have shown that narcissism tends to lead individuals toward anger and violence when humiliated On a national scale, 9/11 was very humiliating. I suppose it is risky to project characteristics identified in individuals to behaviours expressed by cultures or nation states, but this fealty to American Exceptionalism which has infected virtually every American leader in recent memory, has through mass-media propaganda become a litmus test for American leadership ability. If we are to combat the MIC and turn the U.S. away from military adventurism we must dethrone American Exceptionalism. This is actually fairly easy to do with easily found facts. Take infant mortality where the U.S. is 34th, just behind Croatia and Cuba. There are many more examples of the U.S.’s ordinariness in the CIA’s world factbook. It is worth noting where the U.S. truly is number 1 – such as the number of adult males incarcerated. There, we’re number one. Most of the places where the U.S. is number 1 are similarly ugly. Thus, while the MIC and the U.S. tendency toward military response to every challenge are very ugly symptoms, the real disease is fealty to American Exceptionalism. I’m doing what I can to exorcise that demon. So should you.

  15. Roland

    @ Rosario 10:34

    The British people a century ago were ambivalent about their armed forces. In the best tradition of British hypocrisy, they were imperialists but not exactly militarists. Their army was quite small in relation to the size of their empire, while their navy was powerful but not manpower-intensive.

    Even in the midst of the Great War, the British government had a lot of trouble introducing conscription (no comprehensive system of compulsory service until 1917), although they did raise a mass army of volunteers.

    There were strikes in arms factories even during the “Shell Crisis” of 1915. Interestingly, the British Official History of the War treats the labour dimension of the problem in a sympathetic way. Even “Colonel Blimp” was more fair-minded than today’s BDSP’ers.

  16. MG

    It all comes down to the simple fact that U.S. people widely support the military and broad military incursions because the overwhelmingly majority of American people never remotely experience a single side effect of war. No rationing, no food shortages, no conscriptions, no children coming home in boxes or mangled, nightmarish versions of their former selfs, no massive inflation, and no physical destruction or mass civilian dislocations of Americans. No disruption.

    Unfortunately, most people only learn these lessons the hard way. The ‘hand on the hot pot’ crowd. Most require just a touch and others a more severe scalding.

    What really worries me is that the US military is the only gov’t or civilian institution that wide swathes of Americans strong support regardless of political party, age, race, religion, etc.

  17. MG

    It all comes down to the simple fact that U.S. people widely support the military and broad military incursions because the overwhelmingly majority of American people never remotely experience a single side effect of war. No rationing, no food shortages, no conscriptions, no children coming home in boxes or mangled, nightmarish versions of their former selfs, no massive inflation, and no physical destruction or mass civilian dislocations of Americans. No disruption.

    Unfortunately, most people only learn these lessons the hard way. The ‘hand on the hot pot’ crowd. Most require just a touch and others a more severe scalding.

    What really worries me is that the US military is the only gov’t or civilian institution that wide swathes of Americans strong support regardless of political party, age, race, religion, etc. If something dire does happen, it is the one institution I could see Americans turning to if this is a profound economic crisis and crazy enough it will be something that is voted into place. Not a South American style junta where a strongman or a cabal of generals takes powers. Americans will demand and Congress will deliver profound expansions of power to the military in an interim basis that is very opened.

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