Militarism uses resources that could address racial injustice
This just doesn’t come up. Even in entire Presidential campaigns, let alone debates, the point is not addressed. That very silence shouts the extent to which militarism’s infection may have weakened us. Pentagon accountants are apparently unable to plumb the mysterious depths of their own budgets. The juggernaut rolls on, unopposed except by a peace movement which, while robust, remains too small.
No one would argue that soldiers and the police do not, at times, exemplify duty, courage, and sacrifice. But in a more enlightened world, the police would be trained and equipped to put emphasis on tactics that de-escalate violence rather than to use violence to preserve an artificial and unjust “law and order” that only applies to certain people.
If the armed forces of nations were motivated by the same spirit of de-escalation and not control or conquest, there would be even more opportunity for heroic courage. There have been situations, like ending the Bosnian war, where diplomacy backed by military force seemed essential to the decisionmakers, just as there have been failures to intervene where loss of life could have been prevented, like the Rwandan genocide. Peacemaking is a high calling, blessed by the sages of the world’s religions.
With the horrific video of the murder of George Floyd, something cracked open around the world. The curtain was drawn back upon the naked face of “law and order,” for all to see, showing that it was often crude, selective, malign, corrupt with power for its own sake, systemically unfair. The violent militarism of police forces all across our country unleashed upon mostly peaceful protesters rubbed our noses in something usually more distant and abstract, especially for white people.
Militarism has always been rationalized by the ancient Roman bromide: if you want peace, prepare for war. With the deaths of George Floyd and too many others, this has become a deeply questionable notion. Are the trillions presently pouring into weapons systems like the Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter, or the renewal of our nuclear arsenal, really the best way to strengthen our nation and overcome the perpetuation of racist injustice? Doesn’t our renewed strength lie in diverting some of those bottomless resources into schools, hospitals, Medicare for all, free college for all, mass transit, putting people to work on infrastructure renewal, and conversion to sustainable energy sources? That kind of shift would encompass reparations that would benefit everyone, not just those whom our violent history has deprived of the blessings of liberty. Such movement toward an equal-opportunity society would ultimately make the demanding work of the police far less difficult, as well as making America stronger internationally.
If you want peace, prepare for peace.
Protesters are not only pulling down statues of generals and statesmen because they abetted a racist political system. The statues are also the symbolic embodiment of militarism, in all its hollow mythic glory, a militarism which suffuses our civic culture, visible in the millions of guns we own.
Militarism is found in the rhetoric of all those, from the president to Rush Limbaugh, who push a joyless, simplistic us-and-them worldview that tries to negate the existential reality that we are in this together, all challenged to acknowledge our interdependence and steward the life-support system that sustains us. For this great task, militarism is obsolete.
Winslow Myers is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.
Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.