Girgenti: Mental militarization of America

R. Colin Fly

American culture is something special. Over the 219 years, since the end of the American Revolution, it has been constantly developing, moving in various directions to keep up with the influx of various immigrant groups. Each group created its own amalgam of the American culture it encountered and its native cultures, creating an intriguing blend that Americans tend to take for granted. Sadly, however, one aspect of American culture seems never to have changed: our military culture.

As I said, America has been independent from England for 219 years, since 1783. During this time period, there have been a total of 13 years in which American soldiers or militiamen were not engaged in some kind of overt military action or preparing for a nuclear holocaust with the Soviet Union. That means that for approximately 94 percent of American history, American males have been dying in wars.

These numbers are very distressing; in America’s attempts to enforce an American-style peace on the world, the constant result is bloodshed, often unnecessary bloodshed. The actual result of all these wars, this taking of human life, has been the evolution of a more and more sophisticated military culture in the United States. It has become increasingly easy for a president to railroad a Congress into allowing him to send troops wherever he sees fit, if he even bothers to talk to Congress. More and more, if there is a problem anywhere in the world, America’s first and only solution is to go to war.

If there’s a South or Central American dictator who used to help the CIA smuggle drugs around the world, and who has now become embarrassing, America sends in the Marines, illegally. If there’s a dictator in the Middle East who is the sixth-largest supplier of American oil, he is supported, unless he threatens America’s third-largest oil supplier, in which case his army is destroyed. If there’s a tiny country in the Caribbean that almost nobody has heard of that’s flirting with socialist ideas, but is not threatening anyone, the military quickly intervenes to “protect” American interests.

This militarization of America has affected our language, as well. Everything an American stands for becomes a “fight.” Everything a president wants to do becomes a “war.” How can you have a war on terrorism? You can have a war on Al Q’aida, the Taliban, or even Afghanistan, but terrorism? It’s not possible to use tanks and guns to shoot and kill the concept of terrorism. In fact, tanks and guns would seem to strengthen terrorism; Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is “fighting” terrorism by killing Palestinians, yet the terrorist organizations in the occupied territories are engaging in ever increasing amounts and degrees of terrorism. President Johnson once proposed a war on poverty. How does one “fight” poverty? It cannot be killed.

America has a love affair with the military. Many college campuses around the nation have a Reserve Officer Training Corps program, but how many have Centers for Peace and Justice Education? Why are war and the military so strongly supported in American culture? Somehow, the ideas of peace and justice are not respected by most, but most cannot easily explain why. Perhaps what makes war so attractive is its very simplicity. It can be difficult to strategically map out a military campaign, but it is far simpler to shoot and kill any problems in the world than to try and work them out peacefully. To try to bring peace to the world requires actually sitting down with the people America has problems with and talking to them, acknowledging that maybe they have some legitimate points to make. In war, all that matters is the viewpoint of the winner. And perhaps just as important, most people do not have any idea how to resolve conflicts between themselves and others, so they have no interest in doing the same on a larger scale.

America needs to wake up and realize that war cannot solve everything. To some degree, it has started, but it has not gone nearly far enough. In fact, President Bush is trying to tell everyone that war can solve everything, and will make life much better and safer for us all. Again, look at Israel. Prime Minister Sharon promised the Israeli people he would give them security against terrorists. Not only has he failed, but by going to war, he has compounded his failure. I sincerely hope the same does not happen here, but I will not close my eyes to that possibility. Perhaps Bush should declare a War on War.