FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Citizens as Soldiers, Citizens as Prey

In what could be one of the final steps toward the permanent militarization of U.S. society, we all are being recruited as soldiers in the Bush administration’s unlimited war against endless enemies (also known as the “war on terrorism”).

Last December, highway workers were enlisted as “foot soldiers in the war on terrorism,” watching for suspicious people. This summer, truck drivers became “the latest soldiers in the war on terrorism” under a program to train them to watch for terrorist activity.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with reporting information that could prevent attacks (though we should be nervous about how “suspicious” behavior can lead to harassment in a climate of fear). But there is a difference between being alert and being — even metaphorically — a solider.

Respectfully, I must refuse orders to be a soldier and remain a citizen in a democracy.

The reason is simple: Soldiers follow orders given by commanders; citizens engage in discussions about what the policy should be. I won’t give up my right to be part of policy formation — even in a political process that is dominated by money and power — and simply accept policies determined by others. That’s not democracy but authoritarianism, coming not from the barrel of a gun but through propaganda from the tip of a speechwriter’s pen.

The president set the tone on Sept. 20, 2001, when he said “you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” a warning aimed at other nations, but which quickly became an instruction for Americans. The most extreme expression came on Dec. 6, when Attorney General John Ashcroft said critics “only aid terrorists” and “erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.” In his hypermilitarized formulation, words become bullets: Critics “give ammunition to America’s enemies.”

Even much of the so-called opposition party lined up behind this view, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle voting for a war resolution he claimed he didn’t really like, so that America could “speak in one voice.”

But what if the one voice is the voice of madness? What if the war is not, as the president tells us, about protecting people from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but is really about projecting power, in the service not of people but of corporations and a small privileged sector? (For a detailed critique of Bush’s motives and argument, see <http://www.accuracy.org/bush/>)

Armies march behind one voice of authority. Democracies rise to greatness on the many voices of the people. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, it is at the moment when a nation ponders going to war that multiple voices — citizens engaging in debate — are most crucial, as lives hang in the balance.

Beyond the immediate question of a war to extend and deepen U.S. power in the Middle East (also known as the war on Iraq) lies the long-term question of what is routinely referred to as the American empire. The militarization of U.S. society in support of the empire is material, not simply metaphorical; this is a perpetual war that will require perpetual wartime funding. The administration’s National Security Strategy released last month talks of “a particularly elusive enemy” fought “over an extended period of time” in which we mark progress “through the persistent accumulation of successes — some seen, some unseen.”

In other words: The war is over when we say it’s over, and don’t ask about details.

As war becomes normalized, so do increased military budgets. We now spend almost $400 billion a year on the military, more than the next 25 nations combined. The strategy document outlines a vision not of a world of nations engaged in a search for coexistence but of one dominant nation issuing orders. Such an empire requires big guns and a public afraid to critique; the powerful don’t care if we agree, as long as we don’t object.

Critiques of this militarization are not aimed at ordinary people who make up the military’s rank-and-file but at people who issue the orders, which they tell us are in the “national interest.” But is this in the interests of the many people of the nation? Or the people of the world? Who benefits from a permanently militarized society, besides defense contractors and politicians playing on people’s fears?

Are we, as foot soldiers in Bush’s war, allowed to ask such questions? Or is our job to line up, shut up and pay the bills?

The answer matters, for the sake of our democracy and the safety of the world.

ROBERT JENSEN is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream and the pamphlet “Citizens of the Empire.”

He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

More articles by:

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men. He can be reached atrjensen@austin.utexas.edu or online at http://robertwjensen.org/.

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail