The Tautology of War

Graf Krokodil best

Yuliy Graf in Krokodil, 1953 no. 4, p. 8.

War culture is an insidious presence in the ordinary life of the imperial citizenry. The subtle entrapment in its daily rituals is a treacherous seduction of political will that sacrifices democracy on the altar of militarism.  The profane is endemic to politics as usual, the self-indulgence of a public alienated from its founding ideals.  Mundanity is a spiritual death knell just below the threshold of critical awareness.

The war mentality is a self-sustaining redundancy that renders critical reflection tiresome and seemingly futile.  The apparent inevitability of war induces acceptance and rationalization.  The public refuses to see its imperial reflection in the mirror.  The face of war is too ugly to unmask.  Better to suppress it.  Repression and projection are the psychological alternatives to critical reflection. 

In the tautology of war, the enemy is the critic, and the critic is the enemy.  Criticism from any quarter—domestic or foreign—is evil.  Thus, when Russian nemesis Vladimir Putin, in a New York Times op-ed, criticized as “extremely dangerous” the jingoism of US exceptionalism, the immediate response of US political leaders was scornful rejection.[1]  No matter that a host of prominent US historians, political scientists, and cultural studies scholars had advanced a telling critique of American exceptionalism’s complicity with militarism.[2]

Putin had taken aim at President Barack Obama.  Thus, it made perfect sense within the mindset of the war culture to attack his successor for cozying up to the Russian dictator.  And then it made equal political sense for Trump to announce his intention to pull out of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the revivified enemy of the American people.

The war state sustains its narrative regardless of the apparent irony.  A renewed hostility between old Cold War adversaries served the ends of nuclearism for both parties.  The US now could rebuild its nuclear strike force in response to an iconic adversary.  The money is there to be spent, and more can be had by taking it from non-military budgets, which—tautologically speaking—are discretionary because they are not military funds.

Which brings us to the above cartoon drawn by Yuliy Graf and published in 1953 in Krokodil, a Russian journal of political criticism.  Here again we have an example of the enemy holding up a mirror reflecting the image of US militarism.  Just as Putin projected Russian exceptionalism onto the US, Graf projected Soviet warmongering.  A critique that might have transcended the war trap, what philosopher Duane Cady called the addiction of warism,[3] targeted one party, not both, thereby sustaining the war system in which both participated equally.

Projection upholds the tautology of war as it feeds off a universal appeal to human well-being.  The figure of death in the foreground is bloody WAR feasting on unlimited courses of US dollars, British pound notes, and gold coins of the Western realm while the arts, libraries, schools, healthcare, and other human needs are ignored.  Capitalism is the villain that, by implication, requires Communism to arm itself in the name of pursuing peace.

This raises the question of who can lift the mirror to our collective face with enough credibility to disrupt the tautology of militarism.  Who can prompt us to see our own reflection rather than just a foreign face?  And how might they go about it?  The perception of war’s inevitability—the other side makes us do it—is ritualized beyond realism.  Mythic projection creates its own perverse logic of extermination, insulating itself even from homegrown critics as if they are the foreigner among us.

One thing is for sure.  Militarism is no easier to overcome than racism.  Nor, as Martin Luther King, Jr. insisted, are they unrelated.  They are habits of mind in which society is deeply invested—literally and figuratively.  They extend to misogyny, homophobia, and othering in general.  Warism is unreflective projection.  No one wishes to shine a light into the darkness of self and society, or to look when righteous projection is exposed.

The soul of democracy is inclusion, not othering.  Perhaps recovering our democratic soul—listening to our democratic poets—is the first step toward transcending war culture.



[1] See Aaron Blake, “Putin:  America is Not Exceptional,” Washington Post, September 12, 2013, online at

[2] One such example is the scholarship of Andrew J. Bacevich, including The Limits of Power:  The End of American Exceptionalism (New York:  Metropolitan Books, 2009).

[3] Duane L. Cady, From Warism to Pacifism:  A Moral Continuum (Philadelphia:  Temple University Press, 1989).

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