Professor Kirstein Op-ed in Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon) on American Militarism

I was invited by Tom Hastings to submit an op-ed on America’s imperial overstretch. It appeared in the Statesman Journal in the Oregon capital of Salem.

August 23, 2007
“Eisenhower’s warning ignored at our peril”

Americans need to construe the Iraq War and the so-called “War Against Terrorism” as symptoms of a broader problem that afflicts America. That problem is militarism as a key component of our culture and ethos, and explains in part why the United States is unwilling to behave in a more responsible manner as a custodian of our planet.

The obsession with national security, vital strategic interests and America’s global power projection have undermined the nation’s capacity to assume responsibility or even concern about the future of the world’s 6 billion people. America is driven merely by geopolitics fueled by adoration of its destructive power.

The United States, despite the warnings of President Dwight Eisenhower in his 1961 Farewell Address, has become a vicious military-industrial complex whereby its wealth and culture increasingly revolves around the glorification of war and the military that wages it. Indeed, patriotism and love of country are to a large extent predicated on the belief that the American military is the sine qua non for our prosperity, protection and stability as a nation.

Military academies, think tanks, specialised military universities, war-memorial monuments as prolific as McDonalds, veterans groups, Air Force Ones, marine-presidential helicopters, color guards, “bombs bursting in air” national anthems, p.o.w. flags, national holidays such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day and even an Armed Forces Day and the universality of the American flag are constant reminders of martial attributes that extol imperialism and America’s brutal approach to international relations. The Washington, D.C. Mall is virtually a military-theme park that reflects the core values of the nation with scant attention to international peace and security.

One of the major challenges for Americans is to compel their government to see the overlapping parallels between national security and international security. Our paranoid style of politics that has to have an enemy whether it is communism, antiwar dissent or Islam, perceives the world as a geopolitical entity which is divided up into “commands” such as the European Command and Central Command. It is not in the interest of American ruling elites to share their sovereign authority with international bodies such as the United Nations, the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court but to perpetuate unilaterally their power and sense of importance. Peace would reduce their status as war managers and imperialists. International comity threatens the eternal-enemy syndrome which justifies continuous war and trillion-dollar defence budgets.

The path ahead may have to lie outside the vital center that the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. so admired which is dominated by two very similar national parties. Republicans who orchestrated this war and Democrats who pay the bill are complicit in the crime that is the Iraq War. Recognizing that the future of America is harnessed to these war-making entities will hopefully overtime induce greater resistance and commitment to a politics of liberation.

Peter N. Kirstein is professor of history at Saint Xavier University

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