Thursday, December 16, 2004

War, What is it Good For?

Bradford Plumer had an interesting post a week or so ago, basically asking, Hey, What's Our Military Actually For?

It's an interesting question given some things I've wondering about lately, too. It's easy to get lost in a debate that has been framed by others to where the options are between tough and more tough plans for fighting terrorism, whatever that is, where-ever it is. One of the things I'd like to see happen is for some major policymaker to pose that question in a public forum, be it through the media or on the Senate floor.

As Bradford notes, we don't actually face any real military threats in the usual sense of the word, given our location and the minor array of state military forces out there that could or would do us harm, so our large standing professional army and the military industrial complex basically exists for some other reason, but what reason or reasons are those?

I've also been thinking about the draft. It's hard to imagine that the Iraq war would have been fought had we not already had a professional army "on the shelf" so to speak, and not had to go out and draft one. I can imagine a lot of the armchair warriors on and off cable TV would have thought about the whole thing much differently if a draft was required to fight it. It seems to me that the existence of a large military force provides a greater incentive to wage war than would otherwise be the case.

And of course there are budgetary and political implications as a result of the prior establishment of military bases, that, might like other pork, politicians are loath to take back once they've gotten communities hooked on the resources and sales opportunities they provide. And then there are matters of a more subtle nature, as a military culture infiltrates the public sphere. It seems obligatory for newscasters and sports entertainers these days to pay homage to the troops for "defending our freedom", despite the fact that any slightly objective evaluation of the conditions related to the war in Iraq would lead one to recognize that such is not the case and that whatever is occuring over there has nothing to do with our freedom, but for the need to accomodate a worshipful military culture here, there is little or no questioning of this posture.

Tocqueville worried about the effect the tyranny of the majority had in America in suppressing the freedom of expression. Many of the founders, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, in particular, carried concerns about the implications for liberty of having a standing army that could be turned on its citizenry for despotic purposes.

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