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The Social and Economic Consequences of US Militarism

Les conséquences sociales et économiques du militarisme étatsunien
Pierre Guerlain

Résumés

Cet article passe en revue les différentes formes du militarisme étatsunien, telles qu’elles se sont développées depuis le célèbre discours du président Eisenhower en 1961et présente les effets nocifs des dépenses militaires sur le bien-être tant social qu’économique des Etats-Unis. Il montre notamment que le keynésianisme militaire est une impasse qui ne profite pas à l’économie dans son ensemble. Cet article montrera que le militarisme a un impact sur les esprits des citoyens et le contenu des débats politiques et il affecte de façon négative l’image des États-Unis à l’étranger. Il est possible de défendre la thèse suivant laquelle le militarisme favorise le déclin politique et économique de la seule superpuissance qui entre aujourd’hui en compétition avec des rivaux émergents.

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Texte intégral

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.
(President Eisenhower address to the North American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953)

1In January 1961 when he left office President Eisenhower gave a well-remembered farewell address in which, though he hit the usual buttons of American exceptionalism and greatness, he warned about the “military-industrial complex” in terms that remain valid today:

  • 1 Eisenhower’s Farewell Address may be found here.

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. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.1

  • 2 “Regarding the Torture of Others,” published in the New York Times, May 23, 2004.

2The former general was aware of the insidious power of what is now often called the defense sector. The “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex has not only become a reality rather than a potential danger but it is indeed endangering the liberty and economic well-being of the United States, if by United States we mean its citizens rather than its elites or ruling class. Militarism has become the norm in US political debates and the military-industrial complex pervades every single sphere of American life which takes its toll on the health of the nation. Health here means satisfactory or healthy functioning of the economy and society. The US economy is in disarray with huge budget and trade deficits, a high level of unemployment and a dismal state of repair of many infrastructures (public housing, roads, public schools). Militarism is one cause among several of this disease of the American economy; it also contributes to what Susan Sontag calls the “brutality of American life”2 which has public health consequences. Militarism can thus be apprehended from a sociological and psychological as well as from a historical perspective.

3Although Eisenhower is the usual historical landmark chosen to refer to the power of the military much earlier warnings were sounded by American leaders. Thus in his Farewell address George Washington declared: “[…] they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.” James Madison in 1795 warned about the costs, economic and political, of war:

Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.
War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.
In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.
[…] No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it.3

4Madison in this quote reflected the deep mistrust toward standing armies which characterized the early years of the Republic and the legacy of the fight against Britain. Washington and Madison warned only about armies not the corporate state which was not yet born. Although the US fought wars of aggression, right from the start against Native Americans and later against Mexicans, which today are called “wars of choice”, militarism was not a characteristic value of the country which, except for the South especially at the time of the Confederacy, remained distrustful of standing armies until WWII. What C. Wright Mills called a state of “permanent war” became a reality during the Cold War and a more expensive phenomenon after Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The so-called “war on terror”, which is still going on under Obama, even if the name is less often mentioned, has further reinforced militarism and made its costs worse.

The Cost of Military Keynesianism

5The obvious way to refer to the costs of war or militarism is, of course, the non-metaphorical one of financial costs. Thus various figures are mentioned for the cost of the latest wars fought by the US in Afghanistan or Iraq. The war on terror figures are difficult to come by for the amounts spent in this metaphorical war are hidden in various budgets: parts of these expenditures go to intelligence, others to actual fighting or to the use of drones. One key element is the defense budget, the largest in the world, indeed larger than the budgets of all other countries combined. Chalmers Johnson provides a table which is quite instructive:

  • 4 Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire, America’s Last Best Hope, New York: Metropoli (...)

The world’s top 10 military spenders and the approximate amounts each country currently budgets for its military establishment are:
1. United States (Fiscal Year 2008 budget), $623 billion
2. China (2004), $65 billion
3. Russia, $50 billion
4. France (2005), $45 billion
5. United Kingdom, $42.8 billion
6. Japan (2007), $41.75 billion
7. Germany (2003), $35.1 billion
8. Italy (2003), $28.2 billion
9. South Korea (2003), $21.1 billion
10. India (2005 est.), $19 billion
World total military expenditures (2004 est.), $1,100 billion
World total (minus the United States), $500 billion.4

  • 5 Also mentioned by Chalmers Johnson here.
  • 6 On February 10, 2011 when the official defense budget had climbed to $ 700 b, The Econo (...)
  • 7 Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of (...)
  • 8 In a New Republic article published on July 29, 1940, “The United States and the Keynes (...)

6However these figures do not represent the full extent of US spending on war or by the military-industrial complex which amounts to more than a trillion dollars a year and are counted in various budgets (Veterans, nuclear energy, Homeland security5). Yet they clearly show the cost of empire for the US which devotes such enormous sums to defense. Even if one takes into account the size of the various economies mentioned and focuses on the percentage of GDP defense represents (5% for the US), it is quite clear that the US, by spending between 5 and 10 times as much on defense as China, is shaping its economy around military activities. 6 If one includes the other expenditures related to war the figures are even more staggering. Thus Joseph Stiglitz estimated that the Iraq war had cost 3 trillion dollars when he published his book in 2009.7 The expression “military Keynesianism” refers to a kind of Keynesian economic program based upon public spending even deficit financing in which the spending takes place only in the military-industrial sector. 8

  • 9 Op cit., 140.
  • 10 Here.

7Johnson mentions that the US federal debt passed one trillion dollars in 1981 and reached 5.7 trillion under George W. Bush.9 Every resident in the US spends $ 2200 a year on Defense. Clearly the wars of choice pushed for by the military-industrial complex have an adverse effect on the US economy. The debt created by this lobby is then used as an argument by right-wing politicians to cut social spending to reduce the budget deficit. The lobby never advocates dealing with the debt issue in a manner which would restore the health of the nation, that is by spending a lot less on defense and taxing the rich. Indeed while there is talk of automatic cuts if there is no agreement about deficits in Congress the Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration argues that the military should be protected from these cuts.10

  • 11 For a detailed presentation of the number of dead and wounded in the Afghanistan & Iraq (...)
  • 12 Many statistics can be found here. Otherwise in the notes of Thomas Rabino, De la (...)

8Moving away from statistics the nature of costs must also be extended to other spheres. Wars lead to deaths, usually many more non-American than American deaths, and destruction in countries which then are financed to rebuild their infrastructures. Or rather American companies benefit from taxpayer manna to rebuild a foreign country. The number of wounded exceeds the number of deaths and this has an additional medical cost for taxpayers.11 Veterans do not always enjoy top notch treatment in hospitals but nonetheless they add a financial burden to the economy: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by itself costs the nation a lot of money and literally affects its health. The cost of mercenaries is also never factored in although they are often adjuncts to the official armed forces and more numerous in some cases. The privatization and outsourcing of many military related activities further obscure the true cost of militarism. Companies routinely overcharge for their products and services which the nanny state pays for. 12

9The discussion of financial costs cannot be divorced from economic and ethical considerations. Some militarists do argue that a country can afford to spend 5% or even less of its GDP on defense without suffering economically, a reiteration of the old idea that guns and butter can be obtained simultaneously. There are indeed two ways to interpret what is called or amounts to military Keynesianism. One way is to consider that military spending or military-related spending boosts the economy and creates jobs (stimulus) so permanent war is, in this sense, actually good for society. Weapons, war and planned obsolescence create jobs and therefore prosperity. The other way of analyzing military Keynesianism is to consider that the jobs thus created are the wrong type of jobs and that investment in other sectors such as roads, education, healthcare are not only more acceptable ethically but also more labor intensive and therefore economically sounder.

10Examples of the economic efficiency of military spending come from both right and left though the left seems to have mostly abandoned this view after Vietnam. Thus advocates of prosperity through military spending point out that the Great Depression was not defeated by the New Deal but by defense spending and war, exactly as Keynes had predicted in 1940. Then they argue that the conflict with the Soviet Union and the state of permanent war helped the US economy. It is also often stated that Hitler got Germany out of its depression through vast military spending. Here the ethical argument necessarily must be invoked. Even if military spending created economic health — which is doubtful for reasons to be examined later ― the question of what type of spending is good or acceptable cannot be avoided. The Hitler example is some kind of proof: military spending leads to war and then massive death and destruction. The military Keynesians in the US may occasionally refer to American deaths but almost never to the deaths of others. The military-industrial complex does create jobs but these are predicated upon the fighting of wars either direct or proxy ones. If the deaths and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq are counted as costs then it is clear that the price is, contrary to what Madeleine Albright claimed, not “worth it”. The job creation argument is always articulated upon some kind of ethical blindness. If Bagdad or Fallujah are bombed to ruins and then rebuilt it may be good for Halliburton and aircraft manufacturers but not for the victims abroad nor for the majority of the US population who are taxed for the war and do not get benefits or infrastructures to make their lives better.

  • 13 “The Juggernaut, Military State Capitalism,” The Nation, May 20, 1991.
  • 14 The full quotation is: “The United States has been operating under military state capit (...)
  • 15 Many of his articles can be found here.

11The argument that military Keynesianism destroys the foundations of a healthy economy is not new. Seymour Melman made it in a 1974 book entitled The Permanent War Economy and repeated it in numerous articles, for instance in a quote in the Nation in 1991 at the time of the Gulf War: “The relentlessly predatory effects of the military economy erode industrial productivity, the foundation of every nation’s economic growth.”13 In this article he gave statistics showing that “the government [has] invested more capital in its military account than would be required to replace most of the human-made machines and structures in the country.”14 He kept linking America’s deindustrialization and military spending thus showing that the defense sector has a vampiristic effect on the whole economy.15

  • 16 Thomas E. Woods, Jr., “The Neglected Costs of the Warfare State: An Austrian Tribute to (...)
  • 17 Mark Engler, “War: The Wrong Jobs Program,” Foreign Policy in Focus, November 15, 2011 (see (...)
  • 18 Andrew Bacevich is the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced (...)

12The right-left divide does not always apply in the analyses of military Keynesianism for writers who claim to be real conservatives as opposed to neocons or neoliberals also denounce the deleterious effects of massive military spending. Thomas Woods, a libertarian working for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, for example, is mostly in agreement with leftist Melman while earlier Marxists focused on the share of the military in the economy without analyzing what Melman called “parasitic growth”.16 In a recent piece on the topic Mark Engler quotes the writers involved in the debate and the ironies of ideological reversals, for far leftists, at a time, saw the war machine as essential to the economy and agreed with business leaders while classical economists warned against excessive military spending.17 Business, of course, welcomed the impact of military spending while leftists deplored it but the debate was not over the economically counterproductive effects of this so-called Keynesianism. Melman focused on all the industrial and educational goods which could not be produced in a “perpetual war economy” which had gone into “overkill”, that is organized its economic system around so-called defense. He pointed out that Japan and Germany were doing much better than the US economically because they were not spending as much on arms. This has become the only position on the left and is shared by libertarians and conservatives like Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and international relations scholar who has published a lot on the cost of US imperialism.18

  • 19 And also: “In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources (...)

13The concept of “overkill” enables us to somewhat reconcile the two positions about the effects of military Keynesianism. Indeed, after an initial phase of Keynesian stimulus lasting about 6 years, military spending destroys jobs and prosperity. So even from a purely economic point of view totally divorced from ethics, excessive military spending is bad for any society. This is the main conclusion of a 2007 report by economist Dean Baker: “After an initial demand stimulus, the effect of increased military spending turns negative around the sixth year. After 10 years of higher defense spending, there would be 464,000 fewer jobs than in the baseline scenario with lower defense spending.”19

The Militarization of Minds and Politics

  • 20 Thomas Rabino, op cit..
  • 21 Metropolitan Books: New York, 2008.
  • 22 See: “America Is Completely Broke, And Here We Are Funding Fantasy Wars at the Pentagon (...)

14Besides the investments that are not made in productive or cultural sectors (opportunity cost) therefore reinforcing what Susan Sontag calls the “brutality of America”, militarism is an ideology and a set of practices which has invaded America in every sector of its economic, political and cultural life. The military-industrial complex has reinforced a culture of war.20 Nick Turse analyses this phenomenon in his book entitled The Complex; How The Military Invades Our Everyday Lives.21 From universities where up to 70% of research is funded by the Pentagon to Hollywood where many movies are co-produced or funded by military experts to the links between Big Oil and the military, Turse tracks down all the ramifications of the militarization of America. He gives long lists of companies working for the Defense Department which depend on military funding, and examples of military waste of resources. In a militarized society even useless weapons that are not needed or at times not even requested by the armed forces are produced while millions of children live in starvation or below the poverty line.22

  • 23 Johnson further elaborates in this way (quoting Spinney): “By making voters and Congres (...)

15Representatives or senators who benefit from pork–barrel push for construction of more weapons by companies which fund their campaign. They then sell their support of the arms lobby as a defense of jobs to their constituents. Two techniques resorted to by Congress and the military are described by Franklin Spinney and summarized by Chalmers Johnson: “front-loading” and “political engineering”. “Front-loading is the practice of appropriating funds for a new weapons project based solely on assurances by its official sponsors about what it can do.” (Dismantling, 170) So Congress blindly votes for untested weapons that manufacturers in the defense sector want to sell in a totally unfree market. Then “political engineering is the strategy of awarding contracts in as many different Congressional districts as possible.” Clearly the military-industrial complex buys off, that is bribes, the elected representatives of the people.23 Local politicians want defense companies heavily financed by the federal government in their districts. They often get elected on a free trade and anti-Washington platform but are the beneficiaries of the nanny state. The army or air force want to keep their funding high and, of course, wars or proxy wars are a good way of keeping the funding but threats, imagined or real in times of peace, can ensure the cash does not stop coming in. Corporations use the permanent war ideology to get access to government funding. The US economy thus appears more as a kind of military statist system than a free market capitalist one. Hence Melman preferred to talk of “military state capitalism” than of Keynesianism for the military-industrial concept makes a mockery of the idea of free markets. For the poor and middle classes there is a free market for health, for the military-industrial lobby there is a kind of garrison state socialism. This is a most unhealthy political characteristic affecting the US whose democracy has become “corporate” or “managed” democracy.

  • 24 See Tom Engelhardt, The American Way of War, How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, Chicago: H (...)

16The military leaders may at times be less in favor of real wars than politicians, as was the case for the Iraq war in 2003. Leaders like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who had done everything not to fight in Vietnam were more militaristic warmongers than Colin Powell, a general then the Secretary of State. Indeed, Eisenhower who was not adverse to military interventions abroad as in Guatemala or Iran, for instance, warned against the power of the corporate and scientific sector which could benefit from a bloated defense budget. The war on terrorism which is not very effective in dealing with problems connected with terrorism is a godsend which leads to new investments in technology, for instance drones which the Obama administration resorts to on a much larger scale than the Bush one. 24

  • 25 See Steve Horn and Allen Ruff, “How Private Warmongers and the US Military Infiltrated (...)

17The military-industrial complex which now includes large parts of academia, Hollywood and the video game industry is precisely called a complex because of the intricate interactions between all the components. In the corporate model of American politics the key components of the corporate world are enmeshed with the defense sector which is not the case in some European countries like Germany or Scandinavia where the standard of living of the general population is higher than in the US. Researchers getting a large chunk of their funding from the Pentagon will not rock the militarism boat and might get star salaries in the academic star system which apparently operates like a market for talents but is also subsidized by the federal government.25 So major economic and political institutions are involved in a scratch-my-back system of feedbacks and kickbacks. If the defense sector directly or indirectly employs half the population then defending the defense sector seems a logical thing to do. The cost of militarism is a form of legal corruption when defense is the main game in town.

  • 26 “Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration at Army’s Top Medical Facility,” The Washington Pos (...)
  • 27 In Nemesis, The Last Days of the American Republic, New York, Metropolitan Books, 2006.

18Minorities, especially African-Americans, are over-represented among soldiers (but not in the officer corps) for their job opportunities are poorer than for other groups. Elites, that is the ruling class, send lower or working-class men and women to fight the wars they decide to run from the safety of their offices. Militarism is thus a class and race issue too. More African-Americans and more poor people are killed or wounded or suffer from severe Stress Related Disorders (SRD) than other groups. Michael Moore pointed out in one of his movies, Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), that only one Representative had a family member fighting in Iraq. The rich decide on wars that the poor fight and die for. When they return home they face unemployment again and if they need medical treatment they may not get it.26 Chalmers Johnson uses the expression Hannah Arendt coined to describe Eichmann, “desk murderer”, to refer to political leaders like Bush and Cheney who send soldiers in harm’s way from the safety of their offices and homes. Disrespect for US and international law and outright lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq certainly make the expression apt.27

  • 28 Carl Boggs, Imperial Delusions, American Militarism and Endless War, Lanham (MD): Rowma (...)
  • 29 Frances Fox Piven, The War at Home, The Domestic Costs of Bush’s Militarism, New York: (...)

19In his book on militarism Carl Boggs quotes C. Wright Mills who foreshadowed the rise of the military industrial complex and proves to have been prescient: “American militarism in fully developed form, would mean the triumph in all areas of life of the military metaphysic, and hence the subordination to it of all other ways of life.”28 The conditional used by Mills has become a present tense which bodes ill for the future. In 2004 Frances Fox Piven confirmed the primacy of the complex: “Inevitably, a network so huge, with everything from jobs to political careers to entire communities to millions of dollars in profit hanging on it, does not find it difficult to generate the political support to guarantee its persistence.”29

The Geopolitical Cost of a Militaristic Empire

  • 30 New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

20Militarism cannot be a purely domestic matter. A permanent war ideology implies a permanent search for “monsters to destroy” and a permanent need “to go abroad” to achieve their destruction, to paraphrase John Quincy Adams. Most scholars dealing with the rise of the military-industrial complex trace its origins to WWII and the Cold War. Gary Wills’s book entitled Bomb Power, The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, for instance, followed the impact of the secrecy which the development of the atom bomb forced upon politicians.30 Although aggressive American imperialism started in 1898 the current military-industrial complex became a permanent feature after WWII. It has had a major impact on US foreign policy and consequently on the image of the US abroad.

21The international image of the US became highly negative when George W. Bush was in power and started two wars of choice but the consequences of military activism predated Bush II and are not over with the arrival of Obama who has made drones his weapon of choice. A huge war machine which acts as a jobs program in the US in the wrong sectors also has international functions. Weapons must be used and sold to belligerents or potential belligerents for the complex to continue to exist and expand. This need for expansion is true of all major organizations whether peaceful or military. Big Pharma is also caught in the need for expansion and a web of lies to defeat progressive health programs. The military-industrial complex is gunning for war most of the time on phony or ill-advised grounds. The story of WMDs in Iraq is only the best-known example of fabrication. Yet from the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the drug accusations against Panama, the pattern is the same. War is preferred over diplomacy whenever possible. The tons of materiel shipped to Iraq mean profits for many companies and destruction there gave business opportunities to rebuild. The US arms Israel to the teeth but also Saudi Arabia, another major client in the Middle East. It is more productive to try to understand the US shifting statements and policies if one focuses on the military-industrial-congressional complex than only on the pro-Israel lobby which is itself a component of the complex.

  • 31 In The Sorrows of Empire, Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic, New York: Ve (...)

22The US has a predilection for settling conflicts or rather arguing it is settling conflicts, through war. It does not engage really powerful countries like China or Russia directly but tries to encircle them by building bases, what Chalmers Johnson calls “an empire of bases” all over the world and by selling weapons to allies or the enemies of the potential enemies of the US.31 These bases are a very expensive hegemonic instrument which the US might not be able to afford for purely economic reasons. The only remaining superpower intervenes illegally and frequently in countries like Yemen and Pakistan where drones kill so-called suspected terrorists and innocents thereby creating the conditions for the rise of an anti-Americanism which it then deplores and attacks. Obama has withdrawn troops from Iraq (but not mercenaries) and plans a withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 which would seem to indicate he is moving away from all-out military interventions. Yet he has chosen a different method, the resort to special forces to kill opponents and drone attacks, so he is not improving the image of the US nor making substantial reductions in the military budget which is a major cause of the deficits the country suffers from. The expensive war machine and its induced forays into the world are however not very successful in terms of achieving stated US aims. Even US puppets like Karzai in Afghanistan disobey, Iraq has been a disaster from beginning to what may not yet be the end and is now closer to Iran than to the US, Russia intervenes in Georgia and does not fear US retaliation, Latin American countries, notably Brazil, defy the US over its Iranian policies for instance.

23The US controls access to key raw materials like oil and remains the only superpower in spite of the rise of China yet the price of this shaky hegemony is high. The economic bases of power in the US are more and more unstable and other powers great or small manage to escape the might of the US. China is getting stronger economically but also geo-politically in the countries where it exports goods and plants. In asymmetrical wars the US does not prevail and even so-called military successes like Iraq or Libya can turn into political or economic disasters. The costs of empire or of hegemony are high for Americans or the targets of American might. In terms of the health of the nation the question is why does the US stick to a war machine and a foreign policy which are precipitating its decline and loss of prestige and power?

  • 32 Immanuel Wallerstein, The Decline of American Power, New Press, 2003; see also his arti (...)
  • 33 L’Impuissance de la puissance, Essai sur les nouvelles relations internationales, Paris (...)

24Immanuel Wallerstein has done extensive work on US decline and argues that the US has tried to make up for its economic decline by resorting to military intervention.32 One could argue there is a feedback loop between economic decline and military interventions: war leads to decline for the reasons mentioned above, that is investment in the wrong sectors, but economic decline in its turn reinforces the predilection for military intervention. What other countries achieve through economic means (China, Germany) the US gets through the use of force. This use of force does achieve results but also weakens the socio-economic base of the US which could therefore go the way of all empires down toward its downfall. A French international relations scholar, Bertrand Badie, has written a book on the “powerlessness of power” and the US seems to be caught in this very paradox.33

  • 34 Written for Philosophers for change, dated December 23, 2011, available here.

25In a recent article on The Decline of America Noam Chomsky, like most serious scholars, links the dire domestic economic situation of the nation and the cost of wars. He writes: “The costs of the Bush-Obama wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now estimated to run as high as $4.4 trillion —a major victory for Osama bin Laden, whose announced goal was to bankrupt America by drawing it into a trap.”34 He talks about “self-inflicted blows” to explain the economic situation of the US mostly referring to the class struggle the ruling class is waging upon the majority of Americans. In this class struggle the military-industrial complex plays a major part. It gets what it wants and corrupts the political process while impoverishing most Americans as even Eisenhower a general and conservative President realized half a century ago. Yet the “overkill” of the complex has already reached its limits on the international stage and is driving the US economy to the brink of the abyss. There may not be powers strong enough to replace the ailing US yet but its hegemony is now on shaky ground.

  • 35 “We hear all this talk about our ability to afford guns and butter, but we have come to (...)

26As Martin Luther King saw a long time ago while the Vietnam War was eviscerating Johnson’s war on poverty it is impossible to have both guns and butter.35 Now the gun madness of America is eroding the very structure of democracy and economic viability of the nation. Militarism is the hubris of empires which cannot escape “overstretch” in Paul Kennedy’s phrase and inevitably sap their own strength by overextension of their military commitments. The “self-inflicted blows” hurt the “precariat” first and far more than the plutocrats in the “plutonomy” yet functioning societies cannot live by guns and military adventures alone. The ruling class does not care about democracy but it cannot destroy the economic bases on which it rests. Chalmers Johnson calls military Keynesianism a “suicide pact” that no country can afford. Even if political phenomena cannot be apprehended as if they were individual ones, the illness of the nation, militaristic overkill, might be one opportunity to step back from the brink and walk toward recovery. In Hölderlin’s words from his poem entitled “Patmos”: Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst /Das Rettende auch. (Where there is danger, grows the salutary too).

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Bibliographie

BACEVICH Andrew, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War, New York: Oxford UP, 2005.

BADIE Bertrand, L’Impuissance de la puissance, Essai sur les nouvelles relations internationales, Paris : Fayard, 2004.

BOGGS Carl, Empire Versus Democracy, The Triumph of Corporate and Military Power: New York: Routledge, 2011.

BOGGS Carl, Imperial Delusions, American Militarism and Endless War, Lanham (MD): Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

ENGELHARDT Tom, The American Way of War, How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010.

JOHNSON Chalmers, Dismantling the Empire, America’s Last Best Hope, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.

JOHNSON Chalmers, Nemesis, The Last Days of the American Republic, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006.

JOHNSON Chalmers, The Sorrows of Empire, Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic, New York: Verso, 2004.

MILLS C. Wright, The Power Elite, New York: Oxford University Press, 1956.

PIVEN Frances Fox, The War at Home, The Domestic Costs of Bush’s Militarism, New York: The New Press, 2004.

RABINO Thomas, De la Guerre en Amérique, Essai sur la culture de guerre, Paris : Perrin, 2011.

STIGLITZ Joseph E. and Linda J. BILMES, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of The Iraq Conflict, New York: WW Norton, 2008.

WALLERSTEIN Immanuel, Alternatives, The United States Confronts the World, Boulder (CO): Paradigm Publishers, 2004. 

WALLERSTEIN Immanuel, The Decline of American Power, New York: The New Press, 2003.

WILLS Gary, Bomb Power, The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

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Notes

1 Eisenhower’s Farewell Address may be found here.

2 “Regarding the Torture of Others,” published in the New York Times, May 23, 2004.

3 Found here (on December 25, 2011).

4 Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire, America’s Last Best Hope, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010, 141. The figures for 2009 put out by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show a significant increase in China. See here.

5 Also mentioned by Chalmers Johnson here.

6 On February 10, 2011 when the official defense budget had climbed to $ 700 b, The Economist argued it was only 5% of GDP so less than during the Korean War.

7 Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of The Iraq Conflict, New York, WW Norton, 2008. In his book entitled Free Fall, America, Free Markets and the Sinking of the World Economy, New York, Norton, 2010 (with a new afterword) Joseph E. Stiglitz writes: “With America so absorbed in its fruitless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and dealing with the aftermath of the financial crisis, China has much of the globe to itself.” (330) He then adds that the US spent 4.7 trillion dollars on defense during the past decade.

8 In a New Republic article published on July 29, 1940, “The United States and the Keynes Plan,” Keynes wrote: “It is, it seems, politically impossible for a capitalist democracy to organise expenditure on the scale necessary to make the grand experiment which would prove my case – except in war conditions.” “War conditions” a few years later confirmed Keynes’s views. The point here is that after the stimulus brought by war other issues emerge.

9 Op cit., 140.

10 Here.

11 For a detailed presentation of the number of dead and wounded in the Afghanistan & Iraq war including victims in Pakistan see here. The figures are particularly telling: Total: 224,475 lives lost, 365,383 wounded. The site also provides statistics about financial costs.

12 Many statistics can be found here. Otherwise in the notes of Thomas Rabino, De la Guerre en Amérique, Essai sur la culture de guerre, Paris, Perrin, 2011 and Carl Boggs, Empire Versus Democracy, The Triumph of Corporate and Military Power, New York: Routledge, 2011, notably 32.

13 “The Juggernaut, Military State Capitalism,” The Nation, May 20, 1991.

14 The full quotation is: “The United States has been operating under military state capitalism almost since the beginning of the long cold war. Consider that from 1949 to 1989, the total budget of the Defense Department (in 1982 dollars) was $8.2 trillion. That was greater than the monetary value of civilian industry’s plant and equipment and of the nation’s infrastructure in 1982, a total of $7.3 trillion. In other words, the government has invested more capital in its military account than would be required to replace most of the human-made machines and structures in the country.”

15 Many of his articles can be found here.

16 Thomas E. Woods, Jr., “The Neglected Costs of the Warfare State: An Austrian Tribute to Seymour Melman.” Available here (PDF).

17 Mark Engler, “War: The Wrong Jobs Program,” Foreign Policy in Focus, November 15, 2011 (see here).

18 Andrew Bacevich is the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War, New York, Oxford UP, 2005. In the following extract, he agrees with C. Wright Mills a left-wing sociologist writing in the 50s, published on the site tomdispatch under the title “The Normalization of War” (here).

“Thus has the condition that worried C. Wright Mills in 1956 come to pass in our own day. ‘For the first time in the nation’s history,’ Mills wrote, ‘men in authority are talking about an “emergency” without a foreseeable end.’ While in earlier times Americans had viewed history as ‘a peaceful continuum interrupted by war’, today planning, preparing, and waging war has become ‘the normal state and seemingly permanent condition of the United States’. And ‘the only accepted “plan” for peace’ is the loaded pistol.”

19 And also: “In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment.” Two key conclusions mentioned here. The full site with the report itself was down in December 2011. See also: Robert Pollin & Heidi Garrett-Peltier, “The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities: 2011 update,” available here.

20 Thomas Rabino, op cit..

21 Metropolitan Books: New York, 2008.

22 See: “America Is Completely Broke, And Here We Are Funding Fantasy Wars at the Pentagon; Scam artists are making a huge fortune off inferior, poorly designed weapons.” Chalmers Johnson, AlterNet, February 3, 2009 (here). See also a discussion of some forms of waste in Andrew Bacevich, op. cit., 216-7.

23 Johnson further elaborates in this way (quoting Spinney): “By making voters and Congressional incumbents dependent on military money, the Pentagon’s political engineers put pressure on them to continue supporting front-loaded programs even after their true costs become apparent.”

In the full article by Spinney the writer explains how the corruption of Congress works: “By striving to hook specific regions and their representatives in Congress on the narcotic of defense spending, these games corrupt the political relationship between the Defense Department and Congress. Front loading and political engineering aim to neutralize Congress’s power of the purse, and to the extent that they succeed, they subvert the checks and balances that are the heart and soul of our constitutional system of government. A craven Congress, paralyzed by its addiction to the President’s checkbook, corrupted by the selfish actions it must take to keep the money flowing to its constituents, is not the guardian of individual liberty that the Founding Fathers had in mind.” Defense Power Games, 1990, 1998 found (here).

24 See Tom Engelhardt, The American Way of War, How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010. On drone failures and some aspects of their cost see Nick Turse, “The Crash and Burn Future of Robot Warfare,” (here) , January 16, 2012.

25 See Steve Horn and Allen Ruff, “How Private Warmongers and the US Military Infiltrated American Universities,” Truthout, November 28, 2011. Contrary to what scholars in the humanities often think the Pentagon and reactionary think tanks finance professors outside the hard sciences, notably in history, linguistics and psychology (here).

26 “Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration at Army’s Top Medical Facility,” The Washington Post, February 18, 2007.

27 In Nemesis, The Last Days of the American Republic, New York, Metropolitan Books, 2006.

28 Carl Boggs, Imperial Delusions, American Militarism and Endless War, Lanham (MD): Rowman & Littlefield 2005, 24.

29 Frances Fox Piven, The War at Home, The Domestic Costs of Bush’s Militarism, New York: The New Press, 2004, 21.

30 New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

31 In The Sorrows of Empire, Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic, New York: Verso, 2004. Title of chapter 6.

32 Immanuel Wallerstein, The Decline of American Power, New Press, 2003; see also his article “The Eagle has crash-landed,” Foreign Policy, July–August 2002 and Alternatives, The United States Confronts the World, Boulder (CO): Paradigm Publishers, 2004 as well as “The Curve of American Power,” The New Left Review, July-August 2006, 77-94.

33 L’Impuissance de la puissance, Essai sur les nouvelles relations internationales, Paris : Fayard, 2004.

34 Written for Philosophers for change, dated December 23, 2011, available here.

35 “We hear all this talk about our ability to afford guns and butter, but we have come to see that this is a myth”, he declared responding to L.B. Johnson’s defense of war. Quoted in Mark Engler, op cit..

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Pierre Guerlain, « The Social and Economic Consequences of US Militarism », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Media, culture, histoire, Culture et société, mis en ligne le 22 novembre 2013, consulté le 17 novembre 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/5371

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Pierre Guerlain

Pierre Guerlain is Professor of American Studies at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre, France. His fields of research are US foreign policy and Intercultural Studies. He has done a lot of work on “anti-Americanism” and the image of the US abroad. He has published a book about the mutual perceptions of the Americans and the French: Miroirs transatlantiques: la France et les États-Unis entre passions et indifférences , L’Harmattan, and articles in Revue Française d’Etudes Américaines , Recherches internationales , L’Homme et la Société , South Atlantic Quarterly (USA), French Cultural Studies (Britain), JAST ( Journal of American Studies in Turkey ), Amerikastudien (Germany) and REDEN ( Revista Española de Estudios Norteamericanos ), Spain. He has also published several articles in various online journals such as Revue LISA , GRAAT and EJAS .

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