Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Two Dials Marked War: One Holy, One Good

Below, Justin Raimondo in relates a great quote from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, suggesting that government has a dashboard for controlling events, perfectly illustrating our Masters of the Cosmic Machine mythos. In doing so, he asserts that the rise of an unduly influential permanent military caste "never happened" in US history. Uh, say what? How 'bout one of the West's most fundamental assumptions: Life as Holy War, y'know, "Onward Christian Soldiers, marching off to war...," Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, Indian Removal and all that, what about THAT military caste?

Let's look at that "panel board." Hmm, seems to me, we're standing in a warship already, Brother Justin. We call it the Great Cosmic Machine. The West moved into it before even Newton, and we've been building empire ever since.

Later he refers to the "USS Empire," our collective ship of state, making its "maiden voyage...beyond the far horizon." Again I say, Indian Removal had been our practice for centuries by then. Stealing children, outlawing languages, were our official policy after a while. We arrived and immediately made war on the natives, chopping off the hands held out in friendship. What about THAT permanent military caste?

There is indeed a War Party, of course, and I love that phrase. But let's not remain so insensitive to the stench of war in which this land is steeped. We are a war-worshiping people. Just where do you think the aura that surrounds our modern priests of Mars--generals and admirals and captains oh my--comes from?

The War Party loves generals: John McCain mentions Gen. David Petraeus at the drop of a hat, citing him as the final military and moral authority when it comes to U.S. strategy in the Middle East. The reverent tone is supposed to indicate that no further argument is necessary. Military figures are, for the neoconservatives, an essential adjunct to their favorite narrative, which defers to military leaders in a way the Founding Fathers would have found horrifying – they who wondered aloud whether the young republic ought to have a standing army at all, lest it give rise to a permanent military caste that would wield undue influence.

That never happened. Although generals have laid claim to the presidency often, the military as a separate political subclass never gained either ascendancy or undue influence, except insofar as individual military figures went into politics. The tradition of keeping the military as a body out of politics is long and praiseworthy, and it has happily been largely observed – except, of course, by the neocons, who tread on tradition as a matter of high principle and have made a demigod out of Petraeus, a role he seems to revel in.

Yet Petraeus is the exception that proves the rule. The U.S. officer corps was solidly against our Iraqi adventure, and they are horrified at the prospect of a repeat – on a much larger scale, of course – in Iran. They are, like the exemplar of the species, Colin Powell, reluctant interventionists, at best, and generally considered unreliable and even dangerous by the War Party. Others, like the late Gen. William E. Odom, are more fearless in expressing their anti-interventionist instincts, and if we go back in American history, we come across other unlikely peaceniks in uniform.

The unlikeliest was no doubt Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the hero of the 1950s "isolationists" (i.e., the good guys), who wanted to nominate him for president on a third-party ticket opposing another general by the name of Eisenhower. MacArthur was, however, even more of a reluctant politician and declined to run for public office, in spite of efforts by conservative backers of Sen. Robert A. Taft to put his name on the ballot. This was perhaps due, in part, to such sentiments as the following:

"It is a part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear. While such an economy may produce a sense of seeming prosperity for the moment, it rests on an illusionary foundation of complete unreliability and renders among our political leaders almost a greater fear of peace than is their fear of war."
These words were uttered at the dawn of the Cold War, when it was nothing less than ideological heresy, on the Left as well as the Right, to question either the threat emanating from the East or the onward-and-upward optimism of the postwar American high. "The propaganda of fear" was doing its work, and, besides, the people were narcotized by a false prosperity. The perpetual motion machine of the arms industry was covering up inherent weaknesses in the American economy, providing a cosmetic solution to the problems unleashed by inflationary policies and the gradual militarization of the productive forces. This policy was the perfect solution for politicians who stood at the helm of the USS Empire as it made its maiden voyage and ventured out beyond the far horizon.

In the early Fifties, America stood at the threshold of its imperial destiny, and one writer, Garet Garrett by name, not only saw it coming [.pdf], but also saw how it would end. His remarkably concise and pungent commentary on the rise of empire, in a pamphlet of the same name, is still the best single statement on how and why we lost our old republic. In it, he remarks,

"The bald interpretation of General MacArthur's words is this. War becomes an instrument of domestic policy. Among the control mechanisms on the government's panel board now is a dial marked War. It may be set to increase or decrease the tempo of military expenditures, as the planners decide that what the economy needs is a little more inflation or a little less – but of course never any deflation. And whereas it was foreseen that when Executive Government is resolved to control the economy it will come to have a vested interest in the power of inflation, so now we may perceive that it will come also to have a kind of proprietary interest in the institution of perpetual war."

Let there be no doubt as to our rulers' response to the stinging repudiation of the bailout, which was supposed to save their necks and those of their cronies and backers. On their panel board is a dial marked War, and it is conveniently within reach.

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