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RichM Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-01-03 03:39 PM
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US Militarism, the Clark candidacy, & the Stupidification of the Public
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The Sickness of US Military Spending

In its relations with other major institutions of national life, the military is emblematic of what's gone wrong in today's America. Two areas in which our society's illness is most striking are 1) the centrality of the military to economic & political life, & 2) the cultural/media mythology & glorification of all things military. The mythology, of course, derives from the relentless PR campaigns which have been required over the years to make frequent recourse to international violence & gargantuan military budgets seem natural & acceptable.

To begin with, one must recognize that the function of today's military bears only the vaguest connection to "defending the American people." The military's real function, contrary to this naive fiction, is as global enforcer of policies benefitting US corporations & investors. The internal societal machinery, known as the MIC (military-industrial complex), lies right at the "Ground Zero," so to speak, of the foul-smelling mass of corruption into which US society has devolved.

As an economic phenomenon, military spending lies at the core of the American economy. This has been increasingly the case ever since WWII, regardless of which party held the White House. If military spending were severely slashed, the economy would collapse. Thus in a very real sense, the economy has become DEPENDENT on military spending -- not for the products it produces (which are often useless), but because too many jobs have come to depend on it. Needless to say, the lobbyists, executives & investors who are the movers & shakers of the MIC are not the type of people who would ever allow their stunningly lucrative sinecures to be politically interfered with in any way. Military spending could be curtailed, as Charleton Heston might say, only "over their cold dead bodies."

The general nature of the mythology surrounding the military is that the US uses its armed forces only in the name of justice, freedom, democracy, & to "protect Americans." The truth of course could hardly be more opposite: the US armed forces are used almost entirely for OFFENSE on behalf of private interests abroad, and have, like the armies of any imperial power, committed countless crimes against humanity. What the US does abroad is virtually always deeply immoral, smashing into submission defenseless people deemed either inconvenient, or insufficiently obedient to the requirements of US corporations.

Considering then the economic role & mythology of the military, we have 2 interlocking "Big Lies" positioned at the very heart of the US role in the world:
1) The military is many times the size it needs to be, not because the country needs the "defense" but because the MIC has made (& continues to make) fortunes for well-connected insiders; because our economy has come to be "dependent" (in the sense of "addiction") on this form of government spending; & because imperialism requires keeping a huge terrifying fist at the ready.
2) The actions of the US military are not only NOT based on considerations of "honor, justice, democracy, & freedom," but are more accurately characterized as the exact opposite of these things. The US military does not "liberate;" it threatens, oppresses, occupies, terrorizes. It fights not for "right" but for "wrong" -- for the oligarchy's private greed, for oppressing defenseless masses on behalf of giant banks, weapons producers & oil companies. The real motivations of military action are unmentionable in US society & are essentially the polar opposite of publicly-proffered explanations.

The Sickness of the Public Mythology about the US Military

It is no surprise that speaking the basic truth about military spending is regarded as absolute blasphemy, tantamount to political suicide for a leader of either party. Since the truth is made unmentionable by virtue of whose ox it gores, the lie becomes provident: we must publicly continue to pay verbal homage to the need for a "strong defense." A "strong defense" has nothing whatever to do with "defense" as defined by any good dictionary; it is just a handy euphemism for insane levels of Pentagon spending, corruption at the highest levels of government, feeding pigs at the trough, & supplying the US military with the wherewithal to murder & oppress innocents in Third World countries.

Virtually every reference to the military that emanates from television, newspapers, movies, etc is required to paint a glorious & honorable image of soldiers "fighting for our freedoms." Anyone who dared to defy this propaganda norm would be crucified as a traitor. Thus we have an absurd situation in which nothing but fulsome praise can be publicly uttered for an institution that is a central feature of a corrupt monstrous machine. Some of the worst people in the entire world (in terms of viciousness, greed, and lying) are Rumsfeld & Co, & all the lobbyists for the MIC; yet the face of the US military that the public is always presented with is that of the handsome young soldier stationed in Iraq, interviewed on the nightly news.

The Clark Candidacy

On this background, comes Wesley Clark to the fore as a potential candidate. Clark is a general whose past history shows, on the one hand, that he is an intelligent man with some modest tendencies towards social liberalism. He has spoken, for example, against the Bush tax cut for the rich -- this is commendable. He has been critical of the recent Iraq war, which is certainly to his credit, as far as it goes -- which, unfortunately, is not too far.

On the other hand, he is no General Smedley Butler (who famously said, after retiring in the 1930's, that during his 33 years in the Marines, "I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.") There is not the slightest reason to believe that Clark is prepared to speak Butler-like truths about the US military. (It's worth noting that Butler also said, "Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service."...http://www.fas.org/man/smedley.htm .)

Clark "served" in Vietnam -- an historic crime against humanity, an enormous atrocity whose extent most Americans remain blithely unaware of. Is he prepared to tell the truth about the horror of American action in Vietnam, to the world & to the American public? Of course not. He is not a boat-rocker or serious institutional critic; he is, rather, a creature of the military himself, intent on using the prestige & (dubious) glory of the military to catapult himself into high public office.

Clark also commanded in Kosovo. Though most people on DU clearly do not realize this, the bombing of the former Yugoslavia was not at all a noble altruistic effort to prevent genocide against Kosovar Albanians, any more than the recent Iraq atrocity was a noble altruistic effort to "liberate" Iraqis. In both cases, those were merely the pretty "cover stories" fed to the public to camouflage far less-attractive realities.

The Significance of Clark as the Democratic Nominee

If Clark enters the race, he will be a formidable contender who IMO may well gain the nomination & go on to win the general election. Though this may sound wonderful at first glance, there are several reasons why it may not really be cause for much celebration.

First of all, assuming he wins, it will probably not be by virtue of the program or ideas he sets forth, but by virtue of his star power, his good looks & pleasant demeanor before the TV camera, and of course, more than anything else, his military credentials. In a real sense, it will be for much the same reasons that Schwarzenegger is likely to win California. In both cases, the ignorance & celebrity-worshipping tendencies of the public will be appealed to & exploited to convert "stars" into political leaders, regardless of what political program they really stand for. (If Clark wins, one might reasonably speculate that the rightwinger Norman Schwarzkopf would also win, were he willing to run as a Democrat. The public only sees a famous general with a nice smile; they don't much care, or even know, if the general leans left, right, or Martian.)

Secondly, as DU is well aware, the rightwing has very assiduously fear-mongered about terrorists & "threats to our security" for 2 years now. A candid & truthful response to this shameful manipulation of public fear for political gain would involve educating the public -- explaining to them that we're not really in such great danger of having major US cities blown up by terrorists, etc. But choosing a military figure to be the Democratic nominee is the OPPOSITE of this honest approach. It takes all the dishonest groundwork the Republicans have laid with their fearmongering, and -- rather than trying to expose, oppose, or correct it -- attempts to EXPLOIT it. That is, it tacitly concedes that the rightwing has been truthful all along in its fearmongering; that a solid basis for daily fear of Islamic terrorists does actually exist & has not been exaggerated. It tacitly concedes as well that the rightwing has been justified in responding to the "Islamic threat" primarily by escalating military spending & taking aggressive military measures. The message to the electorate is: "Yes, everything Bush has been doing is pretty much firmly based on reality, & he's done generally reasonable things, too. But we differ with him on the details of the precise way that he's gone about it."

It is one thing to say that the attack on Iraq was a wholly unacceptable war crime, based on complete fabrications about "WMD," concocted in reality on behalf of oil companies & the likes of Halliburton, & for geostrategic imperial designs, etc. (That's what was in the minds of the millions marching in the streets last February.) It's something quite different to say that the only thing wrong with the war was that the US didn't quite manage to bully or bribe the other Security Council members into rubber-stamping it, or that the imminence of the WMD threat was not sufficiently proven; or that it would distract from the equally phony "War on Terrorism." Clark (& Dean) are taking the latter of these 2 very different types of "anti-war" positions. Those types of criticisms are pale & outrageously truncated versions of the full truth about Iraq. I would call them the "Anti-War Lite" position. They are marginal, limited criticisms of a criminally monstrous thing -- and as such, do the truth great injustice.

DU understands pretty well how important the 2004 election is going to be. America has really gone far off the tracks, in these last few years. One feels, accordingly, that it will be necessary to publicly acknowledge some painful truths about our society, before we shall be able to even begin to repair it. Some of these painful truths involve the military: that it's way too big, & way too central to how our economy operates; that the military has been grievously & unjustly misused -- not just "occasionally" but with terrible consistency, over the last century.

The Clark candidacy rests on the premise that "the military is a profoundly respectable institution," a force for good in American life. But it isn't. In many ways, it's one of the very most horrible things about America. Running a man for president mainly because he's from the military -- a man who is going to exploit the undeserved American faith in the military, rather than expose the many reasons why this faith is delusional & grievously misplaced -- this is a dishonest disservice to the nation. It encourages MORE American ignorance, not less; it encourages MORE American fear & reliance on the military, not less; & it rests on (& contributes to) faith in an institution that's become a demented instrument of violence, plunder & corruption.
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