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. (more…)
Even the tempests of Caliban’s island must pause at the passing of John McCain.
Writing about the three great Liberators of the Americas—Bolívar from Venezuela, San Martín from Río de La Plata, Hidalgo from México—José Martí once taught us:
Men cannot be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns with the same light with which it heats. The sun has spots. Ingrates talk only about its spots; grateful ones talk about the light.
As a resident of Arizona, I have had occasion to witness John McCain’s services to his constituency with punctilious efficiency and graciousness. The tag of “maverick”—an unfortunate banality that often diminished the complexity of the man—has led commentators in the last few days to praise his memory as follows: “I disagreed with him on many issues, but …,” usually followed by a lengthy encomium. I will add my voice to this chorus of praise and condemnation. I will write, reducing “a person’s entire life to two or three scenes,” not only about my disagreements with John McCain, but also about the good that should not be interred with his bones.
Illustration for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,“ engraving by Gustave Doré, 1866. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Tirelessly, Tom Englehardt works to raise our consciousness and tweak our conscience as citizens of an imperial war state. At TomDispatch.com, he offers a regular antidotal drip of posts by thoughtful and insightful critics of militarism. His newest book, A Nation Unmade by War, was released on May 22, warning that an empire made by war is also unmade by it.
A mere gesture to Englehardt’s observation is enough to underscore the country’s ominous trajectory.
We Americans do not like to think of ourselves as an empire. Nevertheless, Englehardt observes, America’s empire of chaos exists in a “cloud of hubris.” Hubris, you say? Yes, hubris—that condition of extreme pride and self-confidence, of outsized ambition that offends the gods, of overreach that leads to downfall. (more…)
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…)
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…)
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.
Pyongyang, North Korea, 2015. (Credit: Uwe Brodrecht)
Cup of coffee in hand, reading my morning newspaper, I feel a sudden jolt. No, not a jolt from the caffeine. It is the story that brings me up short. The story is about a current revival of fear over the possibility of World War III. That topic draws my attention to the story, but it is not the cause for my surprise or the reason to stop what I am doing. I’ve been worrying about war for as long as I can remember. What brings me up short is a bolt-from-the-blue reminder that for some people, maybe most of my fellow citizens, US militarism is a force for peace, which is not too far removed from the mythic sensibility of war as an angel of redemption.
Sometimes it takes an actual example, a singular statement in ordinary circumstances, to recognize an unspoken assumption and make a disembodied abstraction abruptly palpable. It is one thing to think abstractly that we live and die by the myths that constitute us and shape our sense of reality. It is quite different to feel the force of that truism. That difference is what Rick Hampson’s story in USA TODAY brought home to me. (more…)
A warmonger, by definition, is someone who promotes war—urges it, stirs it up. Warmongering is especially foreboding when it comes from a person who is the Commander-in-Chief’s political advisor, chief strategist, senior counsel, and foreign policy guru. Philip Rucker, the Washington Post’s White House Bureau Chief, observes that, “Trump considers Bannon a savant and is allowing him to shape his presidency and especially his foreign policy.”[i](more…)