The military is a bad thing. However you sell it, data show that armed forces today are almost exclusively used against the people they’re supposed to defend; and military cadres are, more often than not, one of the primary threats to whoever’s in charge.
War is a bad thing – any way you put it – and hardly justifiable in terms of benefits for all. Even when you try and fit the adage that ‘war is justifiable only to avoid a worse war’, it’s still very hard to say when this would be the case. Yet the menace of an aggression from outside makes it possible to pseudo-democracies to arm themselves without raising doubts or social tensions, build a credible deterrent to takeover from below and at the same time keep the military warm and comfortable. And loyal.
So it’s no wonder that so much effort (and successful, at that), is put into making war, and weapons, an acceptable option. The strategy is so transparent that beats me how most people buy it – or when they sense the propaganda, they fall to it or just go the length of dismissing it as obvious and innocuous. Anyway.
How much this rhetoric is successful can be gauged by the effectiveness with which it sold the stockpiling of nuclear weapons – weapons with such a devastating potential that their primary use is the very threat of their deployment. Although the global reserves are considerably smaller today than in the heyday of the Cold War, their continued existence is justified on the basis of threaths of the same sort from ‘elsewhere’. These claims are reinforced with an intensity and an effort (also in terms of non military spending) which is only proportional to the extent to which they defy logic.
Consider how the supposed ‘enemy’ seems to be your best ally in this game. A good example is the 200$ billion and 30 years old US missile defense program: it is useless and costly, but also helping Putin distract Russians from his totalitarian drive by picturing Russia as a nation under siege.
Or think of the blatant absurdity of those with the most powerful arsenals who advocate militarization more intensely, against all the evidence – often immediately available to the most casual listener – that the aggressor is not, indeed, the other. The accepted mainstream narrative of the Cuban missile crisis of 1961 is that of an USSR threatening the world with nuclear confrontation (with no apparent contextual reason), being averted by a brilliant and peace-loving Kennedy. Few know – or would even accept, despite evidence available at the time and published since, that it was the other way round. But, at least, the USSR was a credible nuclear power: instead, the way this same tack was followed with Saddam Hussein at its time and Mahmud Ahmadinejad today, portraying them as immediate dangers for the American people is close to ridicule.
You would assume that the media would easily debunk these attempts at winning over the public skepticism – but no, they seem to be the wilful amplifiers of paranoia: see how a textbook chart made a sensation as a leaked proof of Iran getting The Bomb, or the usage of the word ‘stockpile’ in a report was sufficient for them to give for granted the existence of an Iranian nuclear arsenal.
Barack Nobel Prize Obama was just as ready as Mitt Racist Warmonger Romney to acknowledge the national threat from Tehran – and promise retaliation: again, in the face of possibly worse threats that are (misteriously, if you accept the propaganda) ignored: Foreign Policy mentions Pakistan, North Korea and (why not?) China – who do have nuclear weapons already. North Korea in particular has demonstrated it can lob them all the way to California, on occurrence. By the way, the US is not alone as a potential target for military attack. India also has Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s) from April of this year, and their obvious antagonist in the region would be China. Which is getting ready, at a considerable pace, for anything that might come its way. Even staying with the case of Iran, international tension is building in the region largely because of the influence that that country is ever more strongly exercising across the world’s oil pump, but the situation is far more complicated than that, so there’s an arms race going on, which means it’s not just Iran, it involves the nations bordering on the Caspian Sea. Among which, Russia. And Putin has nukes. Actually, although some might think this to be an horrifying thought, an Iran with a strategic deterrent might even be a stabilizing factor for the Middle-East. Although, as you can guess, ‘stabilization by deterrent’ is another myth.
Oh, talking about those with nukes, you probably have missed the recent display of double standards by the US – when it stalled an attempt by the UN at initiating talks of WMD bans in the Middle-East, because that would have had meant Israel, which, about its nuclear program, is tighter than Iran.
And Israel lives under this rhetoric umbrella as well: your enemy must be viewed as the aggressor. During the recent attack on Gaza, and endorsed by Obama, among others, Israeli officials were portraying the Gazans, enclosed in the largest concentration camp in history, as ruthless killers, showering Israel with an endless volley of rockets – while, quite predictably, the danger is nowhere near this picture, and military might is overwhelmingly in favour of the ‘defenders’.
Orwell has masterfully described the role of a perpetual military emergency in softening the resistance of populations to intrusion and control. We have for a long time basked in the comfort of being the ‘free world’, whereas the Orwellian dystopia was a representation of life in the Soviet Union or anyway totalitarian regimes, and a warning for dangers that were remote on this side of the Iron Curtain. While we were still thinking this was the matter for intellectual speculation, with the so-called War on Terror we have seen that very strategy unfold before our eyes and become the backbone of society itself in a few months, and with the weakest of oppositions. Since the inception of the Millennium, governments have developed a new taste for the use of paranoia, so for example the UK one wants to extend its surveillance powers despite receding threats, and new, and subtle strategies are being developed to ensnare citizens into acceptance: you are innocent, right? We’ll monitor you so you can prove it. And the tech to take advantage of these opportunities is more advanced and widespread than you might think.
Hypertechnological warfare is a comparatively recent feat, but it is helping solve another propaganda problem: the fact that, no matter how well you have justified your aggression to another state, when you send in soldiers to carry out your ‘humanitarian intervention’, some ungrateful residents shoot back, and people are hit. I mean, your people, the good guys. Some come back in coffins, which is good because you can fold them in your flag and arrange them neatly for mourning. But many more come on wheelchairs and very visible prosthetics. And after a while those at home may begin to wonder. The US is always ahead of the curve in this matters, and is addressing them in two ways.
First, through privatization. Contractors are the third step towards silencing dissent after more trutworthy volunteers replaced the indisciplined drafted youth of the Vietnam war – a private firm is by definition less accountable than the government (even if it’s paid with the same money). It is the same mechanism of WalMart or Nike or Apple saying that they push for good working conditions with their providers. Most of the US casualties in Afghanistan in 2011 were private contractors. And by the way, privatization also turns the existing military personnel into yet another public workforce cow to be milked for private profit, all behind the headlines that Obama decreases defense spending.
Second, by using robots. These make the war more similar to a videogame than it already was, and facilitate the media in talking about a ‘clean war’, when in fact, the horror these tactics unleash on the targeted territories are even greater than those brought about by ‘traditional’ occupation. Yet the media is incredibly willing to go with the propaganda – despite the depths of criminal cruelty that they, in so doing, endorse. Last in order of time, read how the recently released movie Zero Dark Thirty, on the hunt and kill of Osama Bin Laden, endorses torture in A.D. 2012.
This rhetoric is today the justification for a big lot of things – and it’s not just passive surveillance, it’s human rights that are at stake: any critical voice can be silenced as that of a potential terrorist. We know about Russia and the Berlusconi fixation with ‘reforming justice’, but you can go for a more chic example with Ethiopia, or consider another unjustifiable Noble Prize for Peace, the one awarded to Europe, despite its daily crimes.
But the dangers of militarization do not end here. In an age of raising class struggle, with the added weight of government control in the attempt of stabilizing the economy, this kind of pressure can backfire. Badly.
So, do you still feel you’ve escaped the End of the World?