American distrust of institutions is at or near historical highs. These include Congress, presidency, Supreme Court, justice system, medical system, big business, banks, public schools, media, and religion, as Gallup puts them. This is precipitated by, and reflective of, the contradictions and class antagonisms in civil society. Why so much inequality, poverty, disrepair, and police brutality in such a wealthy, free and open country?
The pervasive institutional distrust is oriented domestically. Is this as far as we can see? The institution with the greatest power, with the possible exception of Wall Street, is the military and it enjoys strong, popular support. Tellingly, the military enjoys the support of all the institutions that are themselves so little trusted. This could be a bit of a puzzle. Trusting things that are trusted by things you distrust.
But there’s an easy answer. We see that the military operates overseas, at least in law and principle. This makes it a case of us versus them, with simple, home favoritism accounting for the lack of circumspection.
Why is militarism such an important subject? A clue to the answer is that it so seldom comes up. Not in Washington. Not in the corporate press, corporate network and cable tv, NPR, Wall St., Madison Ave., and when it does come up in the think tanks and research institutions that shape public policy, it is to refine it, not to dismantle it.
It’s natural to think that Republicans will not criticize US militarism, but Democrats are with them every step of the way. When Dennis Kucinich ran in the Democratic primary for president, he criticized it. Democrats rewarded him with about 3% of the vote.
Perhaps the most qualified individual — “establish Justice…promote the general Welfare” — ever to run for president, Ralph Nader, is an anti-militarist. This was his problem. Being for the general instead of the private welfare. He couldn’t crack the 3% barrier.
Even Bernie Sanders, running as a Democrat, couldn’t talk strongly about US militarism. He did whisper about it. Not that he hasn’t advanced a left cause, but you can’t be a socialist and an imperialist because scientific socialism is an international movement.
It could be argued that militarism is society’s single greatest weakness. Its costs are meted out in a manner that dollars and cents cannot account for, ripping through society like an undiagnosed contagion. Luckily, for a large number of Americans, an immunity exists for this contagion. It goes by a familiar name…patriotism. Once immunized, symptoms such as critical thought, skepticism, and pangs of conscience recede into the distance. Side effects include undue respect for authority, gullibility, and excessive flag demonstration.
Those unprotected from the contagion contract, by proxy, guiltiness of aggression, the ultimate war crime, as well as subordinate war crimes of terror, torture, humiliation, and refugee creation. They may experience despair at the hypocritical gap between what the indispensable nation claims to stand for, and what it is really doing.
What it really does is anything it wants, while a priori denying that right to others. This also has a name…exceptionalism. Because we’re better than all other countries, we don’t have to be bound by the same rules or judged by the same standards. Our patriots view this as their national birthright. We can price gasoline in tenths of a cent while simultaneously rejecting the precision of the metric system. And we can bomb and maim our way through countries while simultaneously rejecting the precision of international law.
An accomplishment like this requires an extensive propaganda effort. Any government knows that murder is morally repugnant to its people. Therefore, it has to make it legal (the easy part) and necessary (the difficult part). That’s the role propaganda plays. To make the attacker into the defender. So young men and women go off to fight offensive wars — we haven’t fought any defensive ones — for the benefit of the ruling elite.
It’s no longer ‘pin medals on those who fight, jail those who refuse’, because of the elimination of the draft, a clever government tactic growing out of Vietnam War resistance. It still works on “exploitation in/exploitation out”. Take these two slogans: “Support our Troops”, and “Honor our Veterans”. Between these is a real hell whereby hidden agendas for war morph into glorification and end with honoring amputees. There is no “national interest” served in taking the lives of people of weaker nations. There is no national interest at all. Only the interests of the few that stand to gain. The rest lose, and lose big.
Our foreign policy narrative is fed to us from largely unaccountable sources. From them we learn things like:
(a) North Korea is a “secretive” and “warlike” nation, standing in the way of a peaceful solution on the peninsula.
(b) there is a “peace process” for Israel/Palestine, with the US as “broker”.
(c) Russia is a “constant threat” to the West, and Putin is a “ruthless” former KGB.
(d) Assad, like Saddam, “gasses” his own people, making him an illegitimate ruler.
Unlike us, North Korea has never attacked a foreign country, and, since the United States has a more open society, a more elaborate and sophisticated propaganda apparatus is required to mask our secrecy. For decades, North Korea has been asking for a peace treaty to replace the armistice, meeting with continued US intransigence.
Israel, in its treatment of Palestinians, has modeled the United States’ treatment of its own indigenous population. For this reason, it is not in the interest of the United States to see return of land and rights to Israel’s indigenous population.
Downplayed here, but the USSR played the dominant role in defeating the Nazis in the “good war”. According to the Eisenhower Institute, the United States lost a little over 400,000 soldiers and almost no civilians. The Soviet Union lost at least 11,000,000 soldiers and somewhere between 7,000,000 and 20,000,000 civilians. For this they became the chief object of our never-ending battle to wipe out socialism. At the breakup of the Soviet Union with a reunified Germany being included in NATO, the United States promised Russia that NATO would not be expanded “an inch” closer to Russia’s border, according to declassified documents researchable on the National Security Archive. Speaking of trust, since then thirteen countries have been admitted in violation of this promise with another four in the wings, including Ukraine and Georgia. The KGB’s counterpart, our CIA, was headed by George H.W. Bush, the kindly, “former CIA”.
If it would be terrible to gas your own people, how much worse would it be to stage a gas event for the purpose of placing the blame on a target for regime change? The qualification for a ruler to become illegitimate is resistance to US capitalism.
We have been fighting non-existent enemies, from the made-up communist menace to the terror-creating war on terrorism, the scare tactic of which is to move public opinion away from mutual co-existence and toward more military buildup. The gun violence and police brutality we experience internally doesn’t scrape the surface of what we mete out to unprotected peoples around the world. One could scarcely expect the domestic situation to be untouched and unstained by the murderous role America plays overseas.
Some people “get it”. Our society is in need of rearrangement. It has to be stood on its head. Martin Luther King got it and every 365 days Washington co-opts his goodwill, pretending he and Washington are arm in arm. We’re even further away then when King saw it. If only we the people got it.