(Cross-posted on 3 Quarks Daily, where it has received many comments.)
Shortly before the appalling ‘Shock and Awe’
attack on Iraq, and for years after, public support for the war was
high in the U.S. It was evident in the high approval ratings for Bush,
who had hoped that the war would turn him into a great president and
American hero. As if taking a cue from the Senate, the mainstream media
mostly stood united. Few even from the universities came out to protest. A great many Americans silently relished their mounting excitement.
The opening night’s attack, coolly dubbed a ‘campaign’, was broadcast
live into American homes and even looked like a massively coordinated
fireworks show. It would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of
Iraqi civilians, create millions of refugees, and cost the U.S. taxpayer
over two trillion dollars. Many American politicians and commentators
who had supported Bush that night, later criticized him on the grounds
that they didn’t support this kind of war, one so badly
executed. Bush should have sent in more troops and supplies, and planned
‘to win the peace’. In other words, they had supported an operationally
It is not enough to argue that Americans were lied to about Saddam’s
nukes and links to al-Qaeda. With the same ‘evidence’, why did most
Americans support the war—even reelecting Bush in 2004—when much of the
world strongly opposed it? Why is it that, as the historian Tony Judt put it, ‘the
United States today is the only advanced democracy where public figures
glorify and exalt the military’, where politicians ‘surround themselves
with the symbols and trappings of armed prowess’? War is always spoken
of as an option; to be averse to it is taken as a sign of weakness.
Indeed, why are the Americans so much
more jingoistic today than, say, the Europeans?
I offer three reasons that I believe, taken together, provide an
answer: (a) The demographics of the American military (b) Historical
inexperience of war and the world, and (c) The impetus from corporate
capitalism. These are not original lines of investigation by any means.
My modest goal in this short essay is to develop them into my own
synthesis, and hopefully provide food for further thought.
Check out these military recruitment ads from around the world: Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Estonia, Japan, Sweden, France, Australia, England, Lebanon, Singpore, and the US. They pack in so many clues to national character and the state of society.
Consider, for instance, the ad below from India, where recruits largely come from the lower middle class — from, say, the 40% of the population beneath the top 20%. In a society riven by class, how does the Indian military market itself? — as a ticket to a higher class, where people follow "the best traditions", strive to "be the best", dress smartly, speak Hinglish, attend garden parties, sail, play golf, ride horses, and frequent swimming pools. Indeed, borrowing a page from Bollywood fantasies, it almost makes the military seem like an exciting vacation package! Be sure to check out the other ads, no less fascinating! (Via Leanne Ogasawara)