robert l. ivie

Democracy at Home, Imperialism Abroad

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“Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States” by Howard Chandler Christy, oil on canvas, 1940. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, as it relates to the military and war, specifies that:

The Congress shall have power To . . . provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States (Clause 1);

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water (Clause 11);

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years (Clause 12);

To provide and maintain a Navy (Clause 13);

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces (Clause 14);

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions (Clause 15);

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States . . . (Clause 16).

In short, the elected representatives of the people in Congress are constitutionally empowered on military matters and warfare, including the declaration of war. (more…)

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Our Undemocratic War Machine

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Names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. (Credit: David Bjorgen)

A richer democratic culture should make the US less warlike, less inclined to endless imperial warfare. That is a basic premise of critiques of US war culture advanced here in Hunt the Devil.

A corollary to this premise is that America’s insufficiently democratic polity is overly susceptible to militarism.

A focus on the nation’s democratic health is especially relevant because, as Andrew Bacevich observes, “We are, or at least claim to be, a democratic republic in which all power ultimately derives from the people.”

Bacevich speaks as a retired US Army Colonel, Professor Emeritus in History at Boston University, and discerning commentator on US foreign policy when he says the American military system has failed in its purpose to defend the country and to bring about peace.  “Peace,” he observes, “has essentially vanished as a U.S. policy objective.”  (more…)

Democracy in Authoritarian Times

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American poet Walt Whitman, September 1872, Brooklyn, New York. (Credit: G. Frank E. Pearsall)

We promote a mythic sensibility in this forum on the assumption that, for good or ill, myth is ubiquitous in human affairs. Our goal is not to debunk myth. We expose it where it harms polity and sustains war, but we also wish to cultivate myth to redeem democracy and promote peaceful pursuits.    

A culture of positive peace requires a democratic ethos. Democracy is not simply a matter of voting. It is an attitude, an outlook, a way of life that entails managing our serious differences robustly and constructively. It is not to be confused with the present outbreak of authoritarian populism and demonizing rhetoric.

As E. J. Dionne Jr. maintains, populism per se is not a villain nor is it necessarily hostile to democracy. The kind of populism that maintains faith with democracy does so by challenging “ruling elites to face up to injustices that undermine free institutions.” It does not define “the people” narrowly or treat political opponents as enemies. (more…)

The Distraction of War

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Colossal statue of Mars (Pyrrhus). Marble, Roman artwork. (Photo credit: Jean-Pol Grandmont)

Charles M. Blow, in a New York Times column, expresses a worry that must have crossed millions of minds many a time.  It certainly troubles me.

Mr. Blow begins his column, “Donald Trump:  Man of War,” by quoting a tweet from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, saying Donald Trump “is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea.  This is the most perilous moment in modern American history–and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events.”

In agreeing with Haass’ assessment of our present peril, Blow makes explicit the dynamic at work.  Trump is getting desperate, which makes him dangerous.  He will harness the power of the presidency to save himself, which is why he is heading toward actual war.

Would Mr. Trump take the country to war to save his presidency?  This would not be the first time that starting a war has raised a president’s approval ratings.  (more…)

Two-Minute War

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Capt. Anthony Deiss, a public affairs officer with the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, visits with Richard Engel, NBC news correspondent, 7 July 2010, at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Credit: Sgt. Rebecca Linder, U.S. Army)

I have been watching network news regularly over the past year, since Mr. Trump assumed the presidency. I am not a big fan of network news. I default to newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian for more complete coverage. But the evening television news, given its entertainment format, is a way of keeping up with popularized versions of daily events.

It is easy to be ensnared and stupefied by the evening news melodrama. While watching the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt on March 15, I was suddenly alerted by my internal propaganda detector to a two-minute story about a previously secret skirmish in Syria between US special forces and Russian mercenaries. The incident had occurred a month earlier, on February 7, in an area of eastern Syria where ISIS forces recently had been driven off. Americans directly engaged Russians in combat for the first time in 50 years. The US officer in charge, Brigadier General Jonathan Braga, was concerned that the battle could lead to real war with Russia. (more…)

Trust Me

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Lenco BearCat G3 of the Ottawa Police Service, 9 September 2014. (Credit: Matti Blume)

‘Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy.”

“Armored vehicle use by police departments is not new but has recently become quite controversial due to some individuals[‘] misconceptions of the intended use of these vehicles. Unfortunately, some law enforcement agencies have used the vehicles in what, even to the greater law enforcement community, would seem to be, given what is known, an inappropriate fashion.”

Bloomington, Indiana Police Department, September 15, 2015

Coming soon to Bloomington, Indiana—the Lenco BearCat armored vehicle manufactured for police and military use. BearCat is an acronym for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.”  (more…)

Enough? Playing with Nuclear Fire

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North Korea’s ballistic missile – North Korea Victory Day – 26 July 2013. (Credit: Stefan Krasowski)

The Editorial Board of the New York Times hit the nail on the head of the North Korean missile crisis in its editorial of February 1, 2018, “Playing with Fire and Fury on North Korea.” After reviewing recent developments that suggest Trump is inclined to risk what is likely to be a devastating war with North Korea, the Board ends its editorial with perspectival flourish:

The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of Sept. 11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. Enough.

Indeed, one wonders if there can ever be enough in an ongoing sixteen-year-old forever war spanning the globe. (more…)

Patriotic Animus

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ARLINGTON, Texas (Nov. 13, 2011) Sailors assigned to Navy Recruiting District Dallas hold a giant American Flag on the field at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at the beginning of a Dallas Cowboys home game against the Buffalo Bills. The Dallas Cowboys Football Club honored all five branches of the armed forces during pre-game and halftime ceremonies. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Tackitt/Released)

The forever war on terrorism, to which the country has become well accustomed, permeates US public culture. Militarism—the predominance of military virtues and ideals, the heavy investment in military capabilities, and the aggressive use of the military to advance national interests—is sanctioned routinely in political rituals large and small.

Tune in to a professional football game, for instance, to see opening ceremonies that feature a flag the size of the playing field, a military color guard, and a soloist in uniform singing the national anthem, culminating in a flyover by jet fighters.  Along the sidelines, head coaches, their staffs, and players wear military camouflage caps and jackets. And so it goes, on and on.  (more…)

Reframing the Nuclear Crisis

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The nuclear football. (Credit: Jamie Chung / Smithsonian Institute Magazine)

Retired Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and now Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said on the second day of this new year that the US is closer to a “full-on war” with North Korea than at any time before in his four-decade career.  The chance of war, he thinks, is about 20%, which means there is still a 70-80% chance that diplomacy can work out the nuclear crisis.  

Is this good news or bad?  Maybe both.   (more…)

The Eyes of Argos

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“Mercury, Argos and Io” by Abraham Bloemaert, circa 1592. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Argos Panoptes, the many-eyed giant of Greek mythology, is invoked by Josiah Ober to warn a slumbering citizenry of the danger of tyranny. “Vigilance and readiness to respond,” Ober warns, are the duties of a participating citizenry if they wish to preserve their democracy from the ever-present risk of elite capture. Argos “was bewitched into slumber and then killed in his sleep by the trickster-god Hermes at the behest of tyrannical Zeus.” A vigilant citizenry, Ober cautions, “must not be lulled into sleepy inattention by rhetorical incantations.”[i]

In times of crisis, paternalistic demagogues promise salvation in the name of the people. Mercury—Rome’s patron god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, and trickery—stands in for Hermes in many depictions of Argos’ slumber and demise.

What happens when the delegated authority of elected representatives—delegation being a necessity of a large and complex modern state—is captured by elites to legislate in their own interests and against the common interests of the people? What happens when the sovereignty of the people is co-opted and democracy is corrupted? (more…)