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8/06/2005

Support the troops

From an American Conservative review of Andrew J. Bacevich's The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War:
“Today as never before in their history,” the book relentlessly argues, “Americans are enthralled with military power.” They naïvely exaggerate its effectiveness, overlook its horror, romanticize the military profession, and accept the normalization of war as an instrument of policy. There is no single culprit in this shift, certainly not just the Bush administration and its neocons, although they get their fair share of blame. The march to militarism has been a bipartisan project into which various elites, popular culture, and religious movements have shepherded society and government institutions with scarcely a thought.

To a degree unprecedented but now taken for granted, the purpose of the armed forces has shifted from defending American territory to projecting power abroad. Clear superiority over potential enemies is assumed to be insufficient; only worldwide supremacy is deemed adequate. (Bacevich might have added that only in America would we see a difference between national security—the business of the Defense Department, carried on far from our shores—and homeland security, requiring another new department to protect the country itself.)

In popular consciousness, the 20th-century image of war as “barbarism, brutality, ugliness,” which “after 1914, only fascists dared to challenge,” the image of the modern battlefield as a slaughterhouse, has been replaced by a 21st-century high-tech image of war as clean—“surgical, frictionless, postmodern”—in which the heroes of the hit film “Top Gun” “never missed a meal and got sweaty only when they felt like it.” Among the laments that one suspects hits close to home for Bacevich is the fact that since “the demise of the ancient American tradition of the citizen-soldier,” war is no longer “participatory.” With military service having come to be a matter of personal choice rather than obligation, an attitude exemplified in the personal histories of Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton, Americans experience war only “vicariously.”

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