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Friday, December 21, 2012

The Priority of Opposition to Movement Republicanism For Anti-Militarism

Yesterday, I published a post identifying the Republican Party -- in this historical phase of its capture by its anti-governmental anti-civilizational Movement Republican wing, and in its present palpable disconnection through this capture from reality-based policy-making -- as the "single most dangerous organized force in the world" today. I do believe that this is true, and I recommend the post if you want to hear why. The present post is adapted and upgraded from the Moot to that post, in which a reader "brian" pithily responded, "nice post, but, isn't the single most dangerous organized force in the world today the us military?"

My answer there takes us to a different, but related, topic:

Is the historically unprecedented military of the United States, with its long history and abiding reality of aggressive, ill-defined, nondeclared, imperialist assassinations, wars, and criminal occupations the single most dangerous organized force in the world? No, I really don't think so. Odd as that may seem to say, as a teacher and activist and advocate of non-violent civil resistance and foe of militarization, as someone who keenly appreciates where your comment is coming from, no, I really don't think so.

Obviously, one wants to shrink the military budget, one wants to eliminate weapons stockpiles, one wants to make those responsible for war crimes accountable for their crimes, one wants to redirect foreign policy to multilateral diplomacy, one wants to sound the alarm about the anti-democratizing influence of hierarchical order in a precariously democratic republic, but for me all of that urgently necessary anti-militarism is most of all a function, here and now, of marginalizing Movement Republicanism. I grant that there are Democratic hawks assuredly, but what matters more is the force of aggressive neoconservative Movement Republicanism skewing the discursive and policy terrain in which any peace-loving democratizing anti-militarism would do its work, as does the fact that such sensible constituent-supported countervailing forces that do exist are all also Democratic even if it is not true that all Democrats are.

I do not mean to reproduce here the sort of facile defense one hears of the for-profit gun-lobby, namely, that guns don't kill people, people do. I am definitely not saying that militaries don't kill people, militaries run by Republicans do. Even a cursory survey of our history would give the lie to such a silly statement in an instant. (Although it does seem to me that the commonsense recognition of even most gun celebrants that it makes little sense to give madmen easy access to military weapons has some resonance when one is contemplating the intelligence of handing a nuclear arsenal over to the GOP in a moment when it is filled with ignorant, aggressive, chauvinist madmen.)

Part of the problem with such formulations is that in resisting simple technological determinisms (eg, all technological change is inevitably emancipatory, inevitably alienating, or what have you) they risk positing a contrary technological autonomy or neutrality that is equally oversimplifying. The discursive assumptions that render a certain discovery or implementation apparently desirable tend to articulate the uses to which it is actually then put, often decisively if never absolutely. Neither determinism nor neutrality captures the force of this articulation or the character of its openness, precarious or otherwise.

The fact that a gun exists only to kill living beings must figure in our accounting of and for it in the world. The fact that William Burroughs made "shot gun" art is enormously interesting, but it actually doesn't substantially mitigate the force of the instrumental logic that directs the energies that bring the gun into existence as an artifact that kills and then take up the artifact over and over and over again in endless implementations of the project of killing. But "the military" arises out of an incomparably more dynamic, contested discourse, history, struggle.

For one thing, the military provided the point of elaboration in the post Civil War context for the emergence of the welfare state via veterans widows and orphan support (see Theda Skocpol for peerless scholarship on this topic), became a vehicle for the more progressive democratizing distribution of wealth through the GI Bill and of desegregation in the post WW2 context (and of course the military has continued on as a force for the empowerment of women and lesbians and gays, though not without real problems, right up to the present), and looks to be a centerpiece in ongoing renewable public infrastructure investment -- solar power generation, electric/ hybrid vehicular fleet, refurbished installations with diminished carbon footprints, etc. -- to bring prices down to enable a shift to a sustainable economy.

My point is definitely not to suggest that what "the military" has enabled in the way of progress, even ambivalently, somehow justifies what "the military" has exercised in the way of violence, exploitation, and murder otherwise, nor somehow ameliorates the crimes and horrors of militarism, but to call into question any too simple imagination of what "the military" actually consists as a site under contestation doing at once indispensable and also unforgiveable things in our names.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, one cannot wish away the military industrial complex. This is especially the case when "the military" presently functions as the stealthy economic planning vector of our putative "free market" society. The military is the space of the insistent disavowal of the open secret not only of the inevitable failure of "free market" ideology but of the recognition that ours is not a "free market" society at all -- a space co-extensive, awkwardly enough, with the space in and from which that "free market" freedom is most insistently affirmed and defended. I am the last to deny that the conceptual and psychic violences occasioned by this paradoxical location in our culture proliferate the muscular and criminal violences issuing from this fraught location in our society. But I will leave you with the suggestion that the politics of de-militarization requires a generational (probably multi-generational) policy focus that is as selective and intelligent in its engagements as it is righteous in its ideals. Even if I would certainly wish away the armed forces everywhere to prevent the dangers they pose if magic powers were available to politics, since these magic powers are not available to any of us I will admit to a greater fear still of neocons who thrive in fulfilling and exacerbating precisely those dangers most of all.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

Militaries are are more war adverse than the civilian governments ordering them into battle. A lot of military brass poo pooed the notion of a war with Iran at the height of Bush's sabre rattling at the end of his second term. One admiral flat out statedn publicly that there wasn't going to be a war with Iran which flew in the face of Bush's tough talk including a veiled threat of using nukes!

The military itself isn't the problem. Left to themselves they aren't going to start a war, it's the civilian government ordering them that you have to worry about. This doesn't just pertain to the US, it's true of a lot of countries. Even military dictatorships are less likely to start a war with their neighbors that civilian led governments.

A lot of military folk don't like wars, they prefer peacetime for reasons which are pretty obvious. There's plenty of exceptions of course but there's more to the military than the jingoism you hear on Fox.

I can't believe I just said something in defence of the US military!