Sunday, July 24, 2005

The New American Militarism

I've been chugging through Andrew Bacevich's book. Bacevich is a self-described social conservative, and probably could be considered a traditional conservative in the sense in which one is not a revolutionary, where one seeks to conserve something, a society that one believes to be valuable.

Which is perhaps why he is critical of the new ambitious militarism typified by the war on Iraq. And as our most recent escapade, the war on Iraq is the setting for the book and serves as the effect created by the cause of militarism. But the militarism Bacevich describes is one that can't be blamed on any particular administration, and isn't limited to the most recent quagmire. Rather, it is driven by a merging of forces inside and outside the government and military.

Some of the outside forces Bacevich identifies as leading to a greater American militarism are the conservative evangelicals, the Norman Podhoretz-led neo-conservatives, the new breed of game theorists and other Best and the Brightest, as well as the military itself. I'll save a discussion of Bacevich's view of the neo conservatives and the Best and the Brightest for another day. For now, I'll summarize what Bacevich has to say about the contribution to militarism of the evangelical leadership.

In his chapter on evangelicals, Bacevich provides a good introduction and summary to the movement as a whole as well as its military-glorifying aspects. He gives the movement's starting point as the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals in the 1940's. According to Bacevich, the NAE started as a response to the void existing between religion and politics because of the 1925 Scopes trial. But after WWII, the Cold War and perceived threat from communism provided the movement with an extra reason to be. It was of course around this time that Billy Graham first became famous, helping to create not only a new religious experience in America, but also to begin the process of radically changing the relationship between religion and politics. Then came the 1960's and the politics of resentment flowing from the sexual revolution, the Supreme Court decisions on school prayer, and the broader loosening in society of connections to family and authority. But of equal importance according to Bacevich was the evangelical concern for the nation's military standing and public attitudes toward the military.

Evangelical concerns with the military came from two primary issues. The first is with the evangelical vision of the role America is to play in end time events and in particular, in the support for Israel that America has provided and which according to much of the Evangelical world, is a necessary prerequisite for the coming of Christ's kingdom on earth.

The second reason for the embrace of the military by evangelicals was the belief that the military, as an institution obstensibly rooted in rules and respect for authority, was the type of organization that exemplified the values that evangelicals held dear and which the new movement thought could be used to reform society, correcting the apparent abuses and licentiousness that the 1960's had spawned.

So in contrast to other religious groups and traditional denominations (some of which disdained the military not only for its relation to war and carnage but also due to its reputation for encouraging liscentious and profane behavior), evangelicals embraced the military and supported American military endeavors in Vietnam and elsewhere as being a part of God's plan. Their support for the military and political leaders that embraced that view has been critical, according to Bacevich, for creating the new American militarism.

While I appreciate Bacevich's insight about the role evangelical elites play in influencing the political elite as well as shaping the political behavior of their own constitutients, Bacevich, like a lot of other conservatives, I believe understates (actually ignores) the impact of race and civil rights issues on the changes that came with the 1960's and which I believe created so much resentment among middle and upper class whites. And the evangelical movement was itself heavily influenced and motivated by the changes in society driven by civil rights.

Beyond this religious factor, Bacevich's book provides progressives with a balanced and nuanced perpective of the factors shaping the military and what opponents of the new American militarism can do (or what steps they can at least advocate) in reversing the development. In future posts I'll summarize his treatment of the neo conservatives and give an outline of what Bacevich recommends to deal with the problems presented by the new American militarism.

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