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Recovering from Militarism

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/03/2016 Robert Koehler

The pols cry glory and revenge. They cry security. They cry greatness.
Then they stick in the needle, or the missile or the rifle shell, or the nuclear bomb. Or at least they imagine doing so. This will fix the world. And they approve more funding for war.
U.S. militarism, and the funding -- and the fearmongering -- that sustain it are out of control . . . in the same way, perhaps, that stage 4 cancer is out of control.
We talk about "the Pentagon" as though it were a rational entity, hierarchically in control of what it does, dispensable as needed to trouble spots around the world: a tool of America's commander in chief and, therefore, of the American people. The reality, undiscussed on the evening news or the presidential debates, is something a little different. The American military is an unceasing hemorrhage of cash and aggression, committed -- perhaps only at the unconscious level -- to nothing more than its own perpetuation, which is to say, endless war.
As Ralph Nader has noted recently: ". . . the military -- this huge expanse of bureaucracy, which owns 25 million acres (over seven times the size of Connecticut) and owns over 500,000 buildings in the U.S. and around the world -- is beyond anybody's control, including that of the secretaries of defense, their own internal auditors, the president, tons of GAO audits publically available, and the Congress. How can this be?"
The Department of Defense, which consumes over half the nation's annual discretionary spending, has never been audited. The money disappears into a black hole and much of it is simply never heard from again. The situation is so outrageous that a congressional coalition of progressives and conservatives have launched an initiative, H.R. 5126, called the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014.
According to the legislation's sponsors: "The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires every federal agency to pass a routine financial audit each year. The Pentagon is the only cabinet agency that is 'unauditable,' according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office. In the last dozen years, the Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when DoD would pass an audit. Meanwhile, Congress doubled Pentagon spending."
But this is only a small part of the hemorrhaging, metastasizing mess. We need to heal ourselves from, not simply audit, U.S. militarism.
"And no, the military doesn't win wars anymore. It hasn't won one of note in 70 years." Gregory Foster, a West Point graduate and professor at National Defense University in Washington, D.C., wrote recently at TomDipatch. "The dirty wars in the shadows it now regularly fights are intrinsically unwinnable, especially given our preferred American Way of War: killing people and breaking things as lethally, destructively, and overwhelmingly as possible. . . .
"Instead of a strategically effective military," he adds, "what we have is quite the opposite: heavy, disproportionately destructive, indiscriminately lethal, single-mindedly combat-oriented, technology-dominant, exorbitantly expensive, unsustainably consumptive, and increasingly alienated from the rest of society. Just as important, wherever it goes, it provokes and antagonizes where it should reassure and thereby invariably fathers the mirror image of itself in others."
No, this is not the military the presidential candidates invoke so recklessly, but this is the military we have. And it is not stagnant. It's growing, growing, growing -- eating up the American budget and most members of Congress and most of the media, which at most are tepidly critical of the excesses of military spending ($640 toilet seats, $137 million F-35 Joint Strike Fighters) and the occasional moral lapses that reach public attention (rape, murder, Marines urinating on enemy corpses).
Despite the lost wars and the endless consumption of money, despite the failures of security and horrific growth of global terrorism since the U.S. began its war on terror, the country continues to militarize, both internationally and domestically.
Indeed, every outbreak of terror feeds the cancer, e.g.: "We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized," presidential candidate Ted Cruz declared in the wake of this week's Brussels bombings, stoking the fears of his potential supporters and heedlessly tossing them a scapegoat.
Fear consumes intelligence. And militarism is all about simplistic solutions: Identify an enemy and kill him. Problem solved!
The more people militarize their thinking, the stupider they get.
But the world is extraordinarily complex. Simon Jenkins, writing this week in the Guardian, talked about "seeking to alleviate, or not aggravate, the rage that gives rise to acts of terror," which can only happen by seriously de-escalating our own aggression.
Maybe, as Foster put it, our only alternative is to "reconsider the very purpose and function of the military and to reorient it accordingly. That would mean transforming a cumbersome, stagnant, obsolescent, irrelevant warfighting force -- with its own inbuilt self-corrupting qualities -- into a peacekeeping, nation-building, humanitarian-assistance, disaster-response force far more attuned to a future it helps shape and far more strategically effective than what we now have.
". . . this would mean seeking to demilitarize the military."
I call this trans-military thinking: a take on personal and national security that is not centered on aggression and dominance, but on diplomacy and, my God, understanding. Is such a level of social reorganization impossible? Only if we concede that we have no future.
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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at or visit his website at

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