Looking around I can’t help but marvel at the national media veneration of all things military. It’s quite a change from the anti-war screech that greeted us returning veterans of the Vietnam Conflict (Kháng chiến chống Mỹ). Where is that voice today? From a self-styled pacifist president we see continuing (and historically failed) imperialistic policies executed around the world. Why? Perhaps a brief look at history will shed some light on our present prevailing darkness.
Because of the constraints of time and space, we will limit this brief journey through history to the recent 20th century, notwithstanding the lessons learned (or failed to learn) from the city state of Sparta, the Roman Empire, the Aztec nation, the Kingdom of Prussia or even our ally, the British Empire, to mention a few.
Militarism is commonly defined as the belief or desire of a government that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to aggressively use it to defend and promote national interests. The underlying implication is the glorification of the ideals of a professional military class and the dangerous predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state. Militarism is the significant element of the imperialist ideology of an expansionist state.
So what specifically are the dangers inherent in militarism?
Let’s take a quick look at Germany (often mirrored in the Italian fascist empire under Benito Mussolini; the Chilean Augusto Pinochet, the Argentinian dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla, North Korea, Myanmar, Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda to cite a few). The roots of German militarism can be found in 19th-century Prussia and the subsequent unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. After Napoleon conquered Prussia in 1806, one of the conditions of peace was that Prussia should reduce its army to no more than 42,000 men. In order that the country should not again be so easily conquered, the King of Prussia enrolled the permitted number of men for one year, then dismissed that group, and enrolled another of the same size, and so on. Thus, in the course of ten years, he was able to gather an army of 420,000 men who had at least one year of military training. The officers of the army were drawn almost entirely from among the land-owning nobility. The result was that there was gradually built up a large class of professional officers on the one hand, and a much larger class, the rank and file of the army, on the other. These enlisted men had become conditioned to obey implicitly all the commands of the officers, creating a class-based culture of deference. Sound familiar?
This system led to several consequences. Since the officer class also furnished most of the officials for the civil administration of the country, the interests of the army came to be considered as identical to the interests of the country as a whole. (Can you see a parallel yet?) A second result was that the governing class desired to continue a system which gave them so much power over the common people, contributing to the continuing influence of the Junker noble classes (or as in the United States, the moneyed class).
Militarism in Germany continued after World War I and the fall of the German monarchy. During the period of the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), the Kapp Putsch, an attempted coup d’état against the republican government, was launched by disaffected members of the armed forces. After this event, some of the more radical militarists and nationalists were subsumed into the NSDAP (The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), commonly known in English as the Nazi Party), while more moderate elements of militarism declined. The Third Reich emerged as a strongly militarist state, the consequences of which are well known.
In parallel with 20th-century German militarism, Japanese militarism began with a series of events by which the military gained prominence in dictating Japan’s affairs. Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, the Bolsheviks established the Soviet state on 7 November 1917, immediately after the Russian Provisional Government, which governed the Russian Republic, was overthrown during the October Revolution. We all know well the history of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and the resulting Cold War waged through the last half of the 20th century and the ensuing massacre of millions of dissenting voices.
Back to the United States and our present predicament.
After the end of the American Civil War the national army fell into disrepair. Reforms based on various European states including Imperial Britain, Imperial Germany, and Switzerland were made so that it would become responsive to control from the central government, prepared for future conflicts, and develop refined command and support structures; it led to the development of professional military thinkers and cadre. During this time the intellectual ideas of Social Darwinism propelled the development of an American overseas expansion in the Pacific and Caribbean. This required modifications for a more efficient central government due to the added administration requirements. The enlargement of the U.S. Army for the Spanish–American War was considered essential to the occupation and control of the new territories acquired from Spain in its defeat (Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba). The previous limit by legislation of 24,000 men was expanded to 60,000 regulars in the new army bill on 2 February 1901, with allowance at that time for expansion to 80,000 regulars by presidential discretion at times of national emergency. Again, U.S. forces were enlarged immensely for World War I.
Between the first and second world wars, the US Marine Corps (Semper Fidelis) engaged in questionable activities in the Banana Wars in Latin America. Retired Major General Smedley Butler, at the time of his death the most decorated Marine, spoke strongly against a trend to what he considered trends toward fascism and militarism.
Serious permanent buildups were a result of the Cold War. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a retired top military commander elected as a civilian President, warned of the development of a military-industrial complex, more complex than many traditional ideas of militarism. In the Cold War, there emerged many civilian academics and industrial researchers, such as Henry Kissinger and Herman Kahn, who had significant input into the use of military
It has been argued that the United States has shifted to a state of neo-militarism since the end of the Vietnam War. This form of militarism is distinguished by the reliance on a relatively small number of volunteer fighters; heavy reliance on complex technologies; and the rationalization and expansion of government advertising and recruitment programs designed to promote military service.
And, as been counseled, follow the money.
Fiscal Year 2013 OCO funding by Military Operations exceeded $87 Billion dollars. In 2012, the total National Intelligence Program (NIP) and the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) exceeded $75 Billion dollars. That’s a combined $1.62 Trillion dollars.
One a final note for thought. Imperialism, as defined by the Dictionary of Human Geography, is “an unequal human and territorial relationship, usually in the form of an empire, based on ideas of superiority and practices of dominance, and involving the extension of authority and control of one state or people over another.” It is often considered in a negative light, as merely the exploitation of native people in order to enrich a small handful. Lewis Samuel Feuer identifies two major subtypes of imperialism; the first is the “regressive imperialism” identified with pure conquest, unequivocal exploitation, extermination or reductions of undesired peoples, and settlement of desired peoples into those territories, examples being Nazi Germany (can someone say, the western expansion of the United States?). The second type identified by Feuer is “progressive imperialism” that is founded upon a cosmopolitan view of humanity that promotes the spread of civilization to allegedly “backward” societies to elevate living standards and culture in conquered territories, and allowance of a conquered people to assimilate into the imperial society, an examples being the Roman Empire and the British Empire. Does this sound like anything the United States is promoting throughout the Middle East and our stated goal of expanding democracy—whether they want it or not?
The term as such primarily has been applied to Western political and economic dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some writers, such as Edward Said, use the term more broadly to describe any system of domination and subordination organized with an imperial center and a periphery. According to the Marxist historian, Walter Rodney, imperialism meant capitalist expansion. It meant that European (and American and Japanese) capitalists were forced by the internal logic of their competitive system to seek abroad in less developed countries opportunities to control raw material, to find markets, and to find profitable fields of investment.
Really, do we want to continue down this road in the United States today?