The Pathos of Politics (125) Militarism


Warfare is a constantly recurrent and universal characteristic of human existence. Written history has mostly been the history of wars. Practically all frontiers between nations, races, and religions have been established by wars, and previous civilizations perished because of them. ~ English psychologist Anthony Stevens

Men are ever at conflict. Whatever the objective or tragedy involved in obtaining “victory,” the means of waging war has proven to be a perpetual growth industry.

There is no likelihood of being able to suppress humanity’s aggressive tendencies. ~ Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud

An estimated 10–20% of those who lived in Stone Age societies were killed. Despite profound advances in murderous technologies and their copious application, that percentage had dropped into the single digits by the end of the 20th century. This relative decline in mass murder was due entirely to there being 20,000 times as many people on the planet. There is no reason to think that men today are any less violent than their forebearers. News headlines constantly suggest otherwise.

People hardly ever give up their freedom, including their rights to kill and impoverish each other, unless forced to do so. ~ Ian Morris

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War: what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. ~ American singer/songwriter Barrett Strong in the song “War” (1969)

German sociologist Norbert Elias and English historian Ian Morris argued that war has been good for something: to empower the state, and so impose order in a society which would not otherwise cohere. Hobbes would have heartily agreed.

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The police and military are exercises of state power with the same goal: pacifying the populace. The only difference are the targets: a nation’s own people or that of another.

War is never aimed at just military forces. It is instead a campaign to bring a people to their knees, so as to lose the will to fight. That is why a war always involves vast economic destruction and a gruesome number of civilian casualties, at least on the losing side.

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Why of course the people don’t want war. That is understood. But, after all, 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. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. ~ German military leader Hermann Göring

The commonly used term defense is a euphemism for militarism: the spirit and policy to maintain a large military. While militarism is the wish of almost all political leaders, its embodiment is thankfully constrained by economics.

There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare. ~ Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher Sun Tzu

Only economic powerhouses can afford to sustain themselves as military powerhouses too. Militarism is invariably nothing but a drain, not matter how mighty a nation may seem.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron. ~ US President Dwight Eisenhower

Every empire in history, and there have been many, has fallen from the cost of maintaining militarism.

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Overgrown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. ~ US President George Washington in his 1796 farewell address

America started down the path of militarism at the end of the 19th century. The press was manipulated to whip up war fever for the Spanish-American War of 1898. The war ceded to the US the Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

In 1899, the Filipinos revolted against America as their overlord. 4,234 American military personnel died in the rebellion that cost 200,000 Filipino lives (out of a population of 8 million).

Echoing imperialist sentiments going back centuries, the United States declared its brutal colonization of the Philippines as divinely ordained, racially inevitable, and economically indispensable. These ideas inspired the Japanese, who set their sights on emulating America in Asia.

When the 1st World War broke out, President Woodrow Wilson followed President Washington’s advice and stayed neutral. Paradoxically, it was Wilson who laid the idealistic foundation for American hegemony with his idea of a “global mission” to “democratize” the world. Wilson remains the godfather to those who justify American militarism as a tool for exporting democracy.

American militarism surged as its urge in other nations was withering. The Japanese were atomically broken. The once-great western European powers had exhausted themselves with fratricidal wars. Their 2nd great war of the 20th century had them awkwardly embracing one another to avoid a repetition.

In the brief aftermath of the 2nd World War, America temporarily demobilized. Then, agitated by the Cold War with the Soviets, anti-communism reignited the flame of American militarism.

The 1st post-war peak in American military spending came during the Korean War (1950–1953), which cost only a fraction of what the US was spending to arm itself. When France stepped out of Indochina, the US insensibly stepped, societally immolating itself with its losing Vietnam War (1955–1975).

The Soviet Union was a distinct instance of militarism gone awry. Russia had an economic system which could not sustain its appetite for prestige and power. Client states in eastern Europe slipped out its grasp when weakness in Russian will became apparent.

Though the Cold War ended, and America had no enemy of consequence, outlays for US militarism did not decline; quite the contrary.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. ~ US President Dwight Eisenhower in his 1961 presidential farewell address

President Eisenhower’s concern that the military-industrial complex could become undemocratically powerful became fully realized. Republican President George W. Bush embodied Eisenhower’s worst fear.

We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. ~ US President George W. Bush in his 2001 inaugural address

The next Republican president, Donald Trump, would be even worse in his militaristic mentality. This was merely a consistency of Trump having a malevolent soul, with abject political and economic instincts to boot.

I’m the most militaristic person. I want to have a much stronger military. I want it to be so strong that nobody is going to mess with us. ~ US President Donald Trump

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It’s the same old dream – world domination. ~ English author Ian Fleming

There are no foreign bases on US soil. But the US maintains roughly 1,000 military bases in at least 74 foreign countries, housing several hundreds of thousands of troops. The US government prefers not to provide precise information to the public in this regard.

In 2010, the Pentagon listed 4,999 US military sites worldwide, including domestic and territorial installations. It was a considerable undercount, omitting Middle East countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, where there were substantial deployments and hundreds of bases.

Germany and Japan, the defeated powers of the World War that ended in 1945, are still infested with victorious Americans. In 2018, the US kept 179 bases in Germany and 109 bases in Japan, respectively housing 40,000 and 50,000 troops.

Most US citizens interpret the foreign policy of their nation through the eyes of a people committed to their image of themselves: a kind and generous people who love peace and economic and political freedom. Many around the world have a very different image. ~ American sociologist Frank Elwell

France maintains a military presence in 10 countries. The UK has military bases in 8 foreign nations.

China’s defense ministry stated in 2015 that had no military bases overseas; that China pursues a defensive national defense policy and seeks no hegemony. The lie is laughable. China is ramping its militarism and has created severe military tensions with several neighboring nations by claiming dozens of islands in the South China Sea that are well beyond its border, and in other countries front yard.

Territorial integrity and maritime rights and interests will be defended. ~ China defense minister Chang Wanquan in 2016

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My administration will rid the world of evildoers. ~ US President George W. Bush on 16 September 2001

The American homeland is the planet. ~ 9/11 Commission Report (2004) (Official US government report of the 9/11 terrorist attack.)

Since the 2nd World War, the US has selectively played the part of planetary policeman. The Bush Jr. administration proclaimed that US bases abroad “maintained the peace” and provided “symbols of US commitments to allies and friends.” President Barack Obama declared that the American foreign military presence provides “a stabilizing influence abroad.” Unsurprisingly, President Trump trumped them.

I will proudly promote our system of government and our way of life as the best in the world – just like we did in our campaign against communism during the Cold War. I will rebuild our military. ~ US President Donald Trump

American militarism cost nearly $600 billion a year in 2018, when that country’s warring was at a relative lull. The US spends more on its military now than it did at the heights of the Korean and Vietnam Wars; more than the next 7 countries combined (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Britain, India, France, and Japan).

Even as we fight today’s fights, we must also be prepared for the fights that might come in 10, 20, or 30 years. ~ US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in 2016

US foreign bases are not the positive influence that the government touts. Quite the contrary.

The military cast of mind makes war far more likely. A great military machine cries out to be used. ~ Frank Elwell

Rather than stabilizing dangerous regions, foreign bases frequently heighten military tensions and discourage diplomatic solutions to conflicts. Placing US bases near the borders of countries such as China, Russia, and Iran increases perceived threats to their security and encourages them to respond by boosting their own military spending.

US bases to protect against an alleged future threat runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. By provoking a Chinese and Russian military response, these bases may help create the very threat against which they are supposedly designed to protect. In other words, far from making the world a safer place, US bases overseas can actually make war more likely and America less secure. ~ American anthropologist David Vine


The evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all tied together. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

If we explore the interconnection of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation, we see how systemic racism allows us to deny the humanity of others; by denying the humanity of others, we are given permission to exploit people economically; by exploitation we are emboldened to abuse our military powers and, through violence and war, control resources. This quest for control of resources leads to the destruction of our ecosystem. ~ American urbanologist Liz Theoharis

However destructive the military may be, it is never efficient. The Pentagon wastes 25% of its budget on unnecessary bureaucracy. The internal study that found this out was suppressed by the military. That is just the beginning of the waste the US military tries to cover up.

Environmental Impact

The environmental harm of the military cannot be overstated. (72% of the US government’s greenhouse gas emissions are from the military; most of it emitted in foreign counties.) Seldom is there a greater diversity and concentration of hazardous substances than on a military base.

Before the introduction of national environmental legislation, the environmental damage caused by military bases was even worse than it is today. At home and abroad, bases regularly dumped toxic substances into rivers and streams, including asbestos, leaded paint, and other hazardous materials. Bases habitually oiled down dirt roads to contain dust. Some dumped hazardous waste at sea, including materials associated with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. ~ David Vine

Militaries wreak environmental havoc everywhere they set down. The intensity of environmental impact by the military can only be heightened by employment of its weapons. Long-lasting environmental damage of untold proportion is also accomplished when the military no longer wants its tradecraft materials.

The US Army admitted that from 1944 to 1970 it secretly dumped 29,000 tonnes of toxic nerve agents into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical bombs, countless land mines and rockets, and over 450 tonnes of radioactive waste. This was just a modest admission of dumping in domestic waters by just 1 of the 4 US military branches.

In 2000, the US military estimated that its US bases had 28,538 toxic waste sites covering nearly 11 million hectares; an area larger than the state of Tennessee. The military rarely does much of anything to clean up its toxic messes.

The US military’s care of the environment overseas cannot be anything but blithe compared to its domestic pollution. At bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, solid wastes are burned in open-air pits. Unexploded ordnance is left for the locals to deal with (or die from).

Fuel leaks are commonplace. A jet fuel leak at an air force base in Albuquerque, New Mexico started in 1953 and was not discovered until 1999. The spill grew to an estimated 91 million cubic meters, twice that of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Albuquerque’s water supply was contaminated as a result, and its health consequences ignored by government authorities.

The quotidian environmental cost of military bases is extraordinary. Bases generate enormous amounts of garbage and maddening levels of noise.

On average, Americans produce 2 kg of trash daily: 70% above the global norm. An average American soldier spawns 4.5 kilos of rubbish every day.