"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
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
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, www.clw.org
and telecons with staff; Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
(CSBA), www.csbaonline.org; 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 (www.comdsd.org).