How Much Will the Iraq War Impact US Militarism?
Rosa Brooks of The Los Angeles Times found an excellent poll from Military Times last week with very bad news for the Republicans: since 2004 party identification for Republicans in the military has dropped an astonishing 14 points, from 60% to 46% this year. One might think the drop would be higher after a disastrous war for lies, but as stated before party identification is nearly self-identification, to reject it requires an enormous amount of personal turmoil and self-examination.
The Iraq war is the cause, of course, but I have wondered for a long time what the impact of the ongoing disaster would have on rampant US militarism.
Rampant? Many would ask with a raised eyebrow. Emphatically yes—one of the most remarkable facets of American militarism is how casually it’s accepted, even if it’s observed at all.
The United States spends more annually on its military than all of it western allies combined, and would spend more than the entire world if China had not recently started spending more. The air wing of the US Marine Corps is bigger than the entire air force of the United Kingdom, the US submarine force alone could rule all of the oceans indefinitely, and the US force is all-volunteer. After 9/11 the US Congress instantly upped the military budget by 50 billion dollars without blinking an eye, no questions asked.
Schoolchildren routinely go to school in military camouflage fashion on my street in the morning, an unsettling pink weave to jungle warfare. Among the adults the new tan desert and grey speckled camouflage is very popular, it’s simply remarkable how much of the populace adorns military style.
Hollywood, so long the object of ridicule and mock horror at lax sexual standards, has always been a willing participant to American militarism. Off the top of my head movies that have glorified the military in my lifetime: Rambo, Officer and a Gentleman, Top Gun, Private Ryan, The Great Santini, Flags of our Fathers, even Demi Moore made a butch Marine movie, what the hell was that again? Just a few minutes of thinking could fill half the page with American movies that idolize institutionalized killing.
Even the most popular American “liberal” site is heavily influenced by militarism. It might come as a surprise to many of its members, but one of only two known variables to the success of The Daily Kos is the fact that its founder is an honorably discharged veteran. Blogs and liberal sites started their growth curve soon after 9/11, so liberals felt safe in that environment on a veteran’s blog.
[The only other known variable to successful blog sites is that, naturally, their authors are highly intelligent persons with multifaceted skills; they’ve done many things in life well with no intention of becoming a publisher in the future.]
American militarism is wide and deep, with the Republican allegiance of the military only one of its extremely worrisome aspects. Horribly pressing social problems are neglected by lack of funds, there are serious economic implications by financing the military machine with debt, and the existence of a highly capable set of armed forces only invites their abuse and manipulation by political scoundrels.
That abuse can lead to hundreds of thousands of stacked corpses abroad for no reason, as we’ve seen, which makes us rather unpopular in the world. The more hated we are the more terror and violence we invite upon ourselves.
No doubt the Iraq war will have a very serious impact on American militarism, just as it has for military party id, but it’s anyone’s guess how deep and lasting it will be. Very likely the result will be some variant of “not much;” the United States has always been a very violent militaristic society engaging in colonial and lying wars for no reason consistently every century.
A good indicator of Iraq war impact will be Congress’ response to Bush’s new $60 billion dollar Iraq war request—this on top of the biggest annual military budget in the world. What will Congress do? It could force a confrontation with Bush by withholding funds for the war, but that has the moral problem of using our troops as pawns in a possible political game of bluff. Would the military even go along, withdrawing from the war for lack of funds but no Executive orders? Doubtful.
Yet Congress just cannot provide an endless blank check to the horrifying debacle, either, at some point the insanity must stop, the US has now spent more on Iraq than it did in Vietnam, and Iraq is now longer than WWII was. Will the next Iraq $60 billion finally be the first step in moving away from American militarism? We’ll see.