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From Draft NOtices, November-December 2000


Molly Morgan

"Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? . . . it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship… All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

— Hermann Goering (Hitler’s deputy, convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg)

Goering’s understanding of how the system of militarism works would have made him an unsurprised observer of this year’s presidential election. In the long list of similarities between major party candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, we find no choice for voters on military spending: both men advocate more for the Pentagon. In fact, any historical differences between Democrat and Republican military platforms are rapidly disappearing as the candidates try to outdo each other in their eagerness to please their military-industrial complex campaign contributors.

In a society with deeply rooted militaristic values, politicians of both major parties know how lethal the label "soft on defense" can be. Having ridden the coattails of a war economy for 60 years, both Republicans and Democrats have trapped themselves. Three generations of voters have been force-fed a steady diet stressing the importance of "national defense," which they’ve paid for with significant underfunding of infrastructure and every critical social program, if not their very lives. When a lie is repeated often and long enough, people begin to believe it is true, so any mainstream politician who dares to peel back the façade now will lose not only funding, but probably the election.

Of course, what the majority of citizens actually want is relatively immaterial. Fewer than half the eligible voters show up at the polls, and many people do not even register. From their perspective, why should they bother? Research shows that as income goes up, so does voter participation, so that’s whom the candidates court. The people really pulling the strings and dictating policy to the two major parties are the richest 5% of U.S. Americans. The rest of the people are buried under the obfuscation, partial truth, and outright lies created by the marketing and PR teams of corporate donors and campaign staffs. These people understand how important it is to keep military budgets high — their six- and seven-figure salaries depend on it.

They’ve also figured out that if they create the illusion of difference between the two major parties, it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House. Hedging their bets with just one party is actually a risky strategy. As a result, the mid-1980s saw the rise of the Democratic Leadership Council, a pro-business faction of the Democratic Party, whose architects include vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. The Democrats’ increasingly cozy relationship with Corporate America is reflected in the shrinking gap between Republican and Democrat campaign war chests.

And so when Bush pledges "only" $45 billion in additional Pentagon spending, Gore counters with a plan to spend $100 billion. The nuances of how they’ll spend it are colored as a "choice" for voters. One of the shared values of the corporate and military worlds is that there is no such thing as "enough." Whether mandated to generate continual profit growth for shareholders or to protect the country with the next generation of weapons, there is always a new opportunity to transfer wealth from the public to the private sector, maintaining power in the hands of a few. Even more insidious, whether advocating buildup of weapons or dismantling them, the same corporations benefit from government contracts.

Are there alternatives? Of course. There always have been. Third-party candidates like Ralph Nader advocate immediate and drastic slashing of military budgets. But the Republicrat control over the debates and the corporate media drown out voices of dissent and sanity. Surprises can happen — one need only glance at Minnesota for verification. But such upsets only steel the resolve of the power elite to make certain they control the White House. Their very existence depends on a disciple of militarism being at the helm.

Berit Ås, a Norwegian feminist theorist, succinctly notes that "A patriarchal state is one which is either rehabilitating from war, is presently at war, or is preparing for war." Militarism reigns triumphant when people see it as a permanent, normal condition instead of the intentional social choice it is. No matter who wins the White House on November 7, it is crucial to build alternatives to the system of militarism to which both major parties so enthusiastically subscribe.

Information sources: Council for a Livable World, and telecons with staff; Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA),; Spoils of War, John Tirman (1997, The Winston Foundation for Peace).

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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