Despite the fact that the US military is still engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is virtually no discussion of this reality. Furthermore, so-called Special Forces teams (death squads) are at work around the world taking out enemies of the Pentagon and the interests it protects. Millions of US residents believe their security and lives depend on the ability of these highly trained death squads to find and kill enemies their rulers have made. It is when these death squads fail to do their jobs that the regular military steps in. Sometimes this is done surreptitiously under the guise of advisors and other times it is done en masse with an invasion force. The world has seen both approaches in the past few decades. Iraq has borne the brunt of each approach. In addition, there are economic sanctions and no-fly zones, both of which are supposedly designed to convince the citizens of the country being sanctioned to rise up against their government. To my knowledge, this has never happened. Instead, the usual response of those citizens is to rally around their government against the outside enemy or for the country to fail as a state. One can see the former psychology at work in the imperial nations where the fear of the enemy creates a desire for security that discards cherished freedoms in the name of that supposed security.
One aspect of this craving for security seems to be a lack of critical thinking. Very few commentators or politicians question the need for more military presence or more law enforcement. We have seen this over and over ever since the events known as 9-11. There are more law enforcers in our lives and they tend to be more brutal and less respectful of civil liberties and civil rights. In addition, they are armed to the teeth with lethal weapons well beyond anything necessary for what we once considered to be regular policing. As in times past, those who feel the brutal effects of this over-policing are those who are not well off and usually not white-skinned. Perhaps more alarming than the apparent upsurge in police brutality is the rabid support it receives from a loud and contentious segment of the US populace. While it is true that this element of the polity has always been present, it seems reasonable to state that it is more vocal than it has been since at least the mid-twentieth century. The question is why?
My answer is simple. There is an element of the US ruling class that agrees with the bigotry of these US residents. These individuals are more than willing to fund groups and campaigns whose primary intention is to divide people by racial identity, national origin and religion. They have a media organization whose primary raison d’etre is to do exactly this. This media outlet is of course, FOX News. Naming this corporation does not in any way exonerate the other national and international media groups that spew their own version of the swill FOX News calls commentary. However, it is FOX News that leads the way in the campaign to divide the working people against themselves. From NPR and the New York Times to USA Today and CNN, the tendency to project the ideology underlying FOX News’ presentation is not accidental.
This past week, it was announced that the US Air National Guard and numerous corporate sponsors intend to bring their air show back to Burlington, VT. This air show had been cancelled in a previous year because of a lack of government funding. Its reappearance has touched off some sore nerves in light of a heated controversy over the basing of the latest death plane—the F-35—at Burlington’s airport. In short, despite loud and popular protests against the basing of the F-35 at the airport, the Air Force is going ahead with its plans to do so. Almost every politician in Vermont, from Bernie Sanders to Senator Pat Leahy and the ambitious Democratic mayor of Burlington Miro Weinberger, supported this basing. Once again, this was in spite of very popular citizen protests. Anyhow, back to the air show.
To those who opposed the F-35, the upcoming air show is like being spit at. To many of those who support the F-35, it is a verification of the necessity of weaponry like the F-35. Their arguments claim that it is the military that keeps them safe; indeed it is the military that keeps all of us safe, even those of us who oppose the plane. Plus, they continue, the planes are only being used to protect US airspace from bad guys. Then, of course the events of 9-11 are brought up once again. These statements do not come just from people who always support the military. This in itself raises a question of what would make these people think that the US military protects them.
That is when the true shortcomings of liberal and progressive thinking come into play. By accepting the government’s propaganda that it is the military that keeps us safe, people do not have to ask the question why are we in danger? They can ignore the history of their nation’s military, its role in exploiting the resources and peoples around the planet and the consequences of that role. To put it as succinctly as possible, the primary reason the “homeland” needs protection is because its military has killed and maimed countless humans around the globe while destroying their homes, livelihoods and futures. In doing so, it has created innumerable enemies, many of whom are intent in doing harm to those of us who live within the United States’ confines. This statement is not made to excuse the actions of these individuals and groups, nor is it made to justify the actions of nations that support them.
It is made, however, because it demands the question why? Why does the United States invade nations and occupy them? Why does the United States bomb countrysides back “to the stone age,” poisoning their land and people? Why does the United States arm and support repressive regimes around the world that imprison and torture their own citizens? And, to bring it home, why does the United States arm its domestic police forces with military-grade weaponry and excuse their murderous repression of the poorer classes inside the US?
This is the stuff no one talks about. This is the missing piece of every politician’s program. Whether it is a progressive like Bernie Sanders calling for tuition-free colleges and single payer medical care or a right-winger like Lindsey Graham calling for more wars, the essential link is the profiteering off the people and resources of other nations. Sanders and similar-minded progressives want to make the lives of US working people the best in the world by instituting social democratic programs while the right wing merely want to make their wealthy friends and supporters even wealthier. Ultimately, it appears that neither political position cares too much about the effects their imperial policies have on those in other lands. This is true in spite of attempts by the right wing in the US to paint politicians like Sanders and even Barack Obama as un-American. As long as they all believe in American exceptionalism their similarities will be more distinctive than their differences. Despite this, as the late social critic Mike Marqusee once wrote, ‘“America” remains a dangerous construct and one that serves the elite better than the majority.” (Chimes of Freedom, p. 277) Does Marqusee’s statement then mean that no matter what politicians like Sanders say or do, by accepting the tenets of American exceptionalism, they can ultimately only serve the elite? Furthermore, by voting for them, are we similarly complicit?
Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.