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                      Materialism, Aggression, and Militarism

                                                                                                          Earth Manifesto Insights

                                                                                                              Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                             October 2005

Albert Einstein once said, "Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be achieved through understanding."  

Mutual security is ultimately a result of true justice, fairness, cooperation, diplomacy, and mutual respect.  It does not make us more secure to pursue policies that are unilateralist, militaristic, preemptively aggressive, or unreasonably ruthless.  It makes everyone ultimately less secure to aggressively defend economic and military policies that create ever-increasing inequities and injustices.

Let us be honest with ourselves, and try to see clearly and understand.  Why is the United States so eager to spend enormous sums of money on its military and to be so aggressive in warfare?  Strength and might, after all, do NOT make morally right.

A very good argument can be made that militarism is a consequence of inadequately controlled crony capitalism.  The Lessons of History, written in 1968 by historians Will and Ariel Durant, is a concise distillation of their 10-volume treatise, The Story of Civilization.  It provides us with an extremely valuable Big Picture perspective.  

The Durants note that war is the ultimate expression of competition.  War has not been diminished throughout history with either civilization or democracy.  Listen: "The causes of war are the same as the causes of competition among individuals:  acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and pride;  the desire for food, land, materials, fuel, mastery.  The State has our instincts without our restraints.  The individual submits to restraints laid upon him by morals and laws, and agrees to replace combat with conference, because the State guarantees him basic protections in his life, property, and legal rights.  The State itself acknowledges no substantial restraints, either because it is strong enough to defy any interference with its will or because there is no super state to offer its basic protection, and no international law or moral code wielding effective force."

Today's Neoconservative arguments supporting preemptive warfare by the United States effectively say that we are good, and those who oppose us are evil, and that it is our God-given right to dominate other countries economically and militarily.  This is a new form of the old Manifest Destiny doctrine with which we displaced Native American peoples --- and a far riskier one.

A valuable and insightful counterpoint to the philosophy of preemptive aggression is provided in the book, Addicted to War, Why the U.S. Can't Kick Militarism, An Illustrated Expose, written by Joel Andreas.  It states:

"In the front lines of the pro-war crowd you will find an assortment of bankers, corporate executives, politicians and generals.  If you ask them why they are so fond of going to war they will give you noble and selfless reasons:
     Democracy.       Freedom.       Justice.      Peace.

“But what really motivates them to go to war are somewhat less lofty aims:
        Money!            Markets!        Natural resources!       Power!"

The truth is that despite rhetoric to the contrary, our government’s principal motivations for the buildup of the military, and for our aggressive military doctrines are:

1.   To provide access to, and control over, the land and resources of others;

2.   To protect and expand Corporate interests, and to pander to war profiteers;

3.   To stimulate the economy, creating jobs and expanding employment through wasteful, unrestrained "defense" spending;

4.   To gain public support for aggressive warfare through patriotic support of our youth who have been sent into harm's way abroad;

5.   To increase the federal government's power and control over its citizens as well as over other sovereign nations, advancing a supremacist hegemony of the United States over other countries;

6.   To provide discipline, jobs, adventure, an aura of glory, an outlet for combativeness, and the anesthesia of combat to our restless, misled and underprivileged young; and,

7.   To divert the public's attention and taxpayer's money from critical domestic problems that increasingly plague the U.S., ignoring social problems and instead spending profligately to support the military, the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, and police forces and prisons.  This reduces our flexibility and capabilities, using up the money and resources that would otherwise be available to be spent on addressing the profound institutional, structural, social and environmental challenges facing America and humankind.

"Magnanimity in politics," said Edmund Burke, "is not seldom the truest wisdom, and a great empire and little minds go ill together."  In truth, avarice, ambition, envy, anger, fomented insecurity, injustice, and pride are generally enemies of peace.

We overlook the gross unfairness of warfare.  Our all-volunteer military forces allow those with money, privilege and good opportunity -- and their children! -- to evade serving their country.  The majority of those who support war the most ardently have never served in the military.  They, like Dick Cheney, "had other priorities."  It is a statistical fact that a disproportionate number of people serving in our armed forces are minorities, particularly blacks.  This is unjust!  Let us bring back the military draft to make fighting war more democratic and egalitarian, and to thereby focus all citizens on the sacrifices that families make to send their children off to war.  Re-instituting the draft will eliminate the insulation that the privileged feel by being able to send poor people to do their fighting, instead of their own children.  This will focus Americans more clearly on the errors of war, which include fomented hatred, the distorted demonizing of the enemy, the crushing of dissent by questioning dissenters' patriotism, the lying, secrecy, and propaganda of politicians, and the prostitution of the press and the clergy in the service of support for war.

Let us also pay as we go, instead of financing wars through borrowed money.  This will serve to focus the general populace on the true costs of conflict, and thus lessen the willingness of the majority to go along with the corporate push for war.

Almost two thousand of our "troops" -- our youth -- have died in Iraq, and well over 12,000 have been injured.  Many have lost arms and legs.  Years from now, our society will disdain these veterans and those whose lives are being destroyed by the shattering psychological effects of terrible violence and killing.  Many will be homeless, or begging on the streets, and many will be in prison for crimes of violence.  The wealthy, who profit most from investments in war profiteering, and who gain the most from the aggressive defense of the Establishment, and who benefit most from regressive tax cuts and irresponsible deficit spending -- they will have their yachts, their mansions, their secured estates, and they will probably still be blaming liberals for the social ills that their class is pushing onto America.

We must not condone this unjust, aggressive warfare against other sovereign countries.  We cannot allow our youth to be sent abroad on missions that harm hundreds of thousands of innocent people for deceptive and unjust economic and military purposes.  We cannot allow our leaders to lead us in the wrong direction, and to use secrecy, hidden agendas, dishonest motives and misleading propaganda to push misguided policies.

"Somewhere, sometime, in the name of humanity, we must challenge a thousand evil precedents, and dare to apply the Golden Rule to nations, as the Buddhist King Ashoka did (262 B.C.), or at least do what Augustus did when he bade Tiberius desist from further invasion of Germany (A.D. 9)."

                                                              --- Will and Ariel Durant          

Capitalism is the powerfully dominant economic system of modern times.  Its ascendancy coincides with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, which in the last 200 years has been characterized by dramatic shifts from agricultural to industrial activities, and from rural to urban population demographics.  Accompanying these enormous changes have been figuratively earth-shaking changes in innovation, consumerism, marketing, resource usages, democracy, freedoms, psychological constraints, economic roles, civil rights, family life, the institution of marriage, childbearing, childcare challenges, and the relations between males and females.

Capitalism very effectively uses natural human motivations to advance free market principles, allowing supply and demand to satisfy needs, stimulating selfishness and greed to achieve both healthy and unfair forms of competition, and facilitating the growth of production and consumption activities.

Unfortunately, capitalism is amoral, largely uncaring about the societies in which it operates.  It is heartless and ruthless.  It is obsessed with short-term profits, and eager to externalize costs onto society such as pollution cleanup costs, adverse healthcare impacts, and resource depletion dislocations.  Its cost-minimizing aspects lead to harmful impacts on workers and the environment.  It encourages abuses of power, monopoly distortions of the free market, political corruption to gain unfair advantages, regressive social policies, unwise subsidies, unhealthy greed, war profiteering, disaster opportunism, price gouging, public land exploitation, pork barrel spending, real estate speculation, and pandering to the rich and powerful.  This is almost invariably a significant detriment to the public good.

To be acceptable to human society, capitalism has since its beginnings needed to be modified, limited, and regulated.  Its power is so far-reaching that monumental and continuous struggles have been required to keep it from doing extreme harm to individuals, societies, and the fundamental underpinnings of life.

The Communist Manifesto of 1848 and the related political movements that it inspired were primarily oriented around striving to find a way to organize human societies that do not greatly stimulate inequities and inequalities and cause great social harm to human beings.  Communism was a great failure at this, as much for its own inherent shortcomings in acknowledging and harnessing the true nature of human motivations as for its inability to effectively compete against the ruthlessly efficient opposition of capitalist economies.  And of course its authoritarianism was objectionable, and its struggle to compete with Western capitalist economies bankrupted the societies in which it operated, leaving terrible social and environmental harm.

Nevertheless, the need was great for capitalism to be modified to address its own distinct failures.  The muckraking and populist rebellions of the early 20th Century, and the great reforms of the New Deal, and the movements for expanded civil rights and women's rights and environmental protections were required to make the capitalist system fairer and more sensible.

The wealthy and the powerful, however, love their power and privileges, and they began to strongly demonstrate their unwillingness to allow so much progress.  Their bid to gain ascendancy achieved great impetus in 1980 when the Ronald Reagan was elected to be President.  Since then, laissez-faire crony capitalism has grabbed greater control, and the U.S. has begun reversing social programs and regulations.  Today this trend is reaching a dangerously unjust and unwise extreme.

The Republican Party has embraced anti-democratic radical Neoconservatism in this hijacking of America.  It has used fear to create and exploit our insecurities, and it has insidiously pursued divisive social policies.  In contradiction to their words, their actions have been characterized by:

1.   Pandering to the already privileged citizens who are wealthy and powerful, while under-representing those who are poor, homeless, underprivileged and most vulnerable, resulting in harsh punishments and causing great harm to the health of our society;

2.   Allowing waste, pollution and the squandering of resources, instead of supporting efficiency, conservation, innovation, energy alternatives, fuel-efficient vehicles, true clean air and clean water legislation, and public land and environmental protections;

3.   Creating enormous budget deficits by promoting tax breaks, driving extravagant military spending, and indulging in often ridiculous pork-barrel spending;

4.   Capitulating to capitalist orthodoxy rather than sensible and just economic policy;

5.   Allowing war profiteers and militarism to gain sway rather than striving to achieve peaceful coexistence;

6.   Thriving on polarizing people and fostering religious intolerance and fear and hate, instead of truly Christian and humanitarian values of mercy, charity, and compassion;

7.   Eroding Constitutional rights and increasing discrimination in order to pacify rabid right-wing social conservatives who are morally opposed to women's equality, family planning, contraception, women's reproductive rights, gay people's rights, and good public education including the teaching of the facts of evolution;

8.   Favoring faith-based charity and born-again Christian religious fundamentalism rather than secular initiatives and intelligent and ecumenical moderation;

9.   Pandering to American supremacists rather than those who advocate respectful diplomacy and multi-nationalism and international cooperation;

10.   Seeking to monopolize the government and destroy the fairness of our democracy by betraying our trust, deceiving the majority, disenfranchising minorities, distorting science for politically motivated purposes, and employing unfair tactics and fraud in elections;  and,

11.   Ruling by the short-sighted means of dividing the people, rather than striving to unite them in creating the best policies for humanity's well being and survival.

We must come to understand that this Republican agenda is not one of honest conservatism, nor is it an expression of true moral values or wise principles.  One of the most significant characteristics of the authoritarian society we are creating is its willingness to distort the truth while simultaneously suppressing dissent.  As Mario Cuomo observed in his book Reason to Believe in 1995, the conservative Republican agenda "is a new Harshness that will make our problems worse, while stirring our meanest instincts and trampling upon our best impulses."

"The Republicans are the party that says that government doesn't work, and then gets elected and proves it."

                                       --- P.J. O'Rourke          

One reason that the Republicans have succeeded so well, despite the retrogressive and anti-populist aspects of their doctrines, is that they have organized very effectively and they generously funded right-wing think tanks to manipulate public opinion. The American news media has also collaborated in this effort to influence and distort public opinion, largely because it is owned by some of the largest corporations in the country, who benefit greatly from Republican policies.  General Electric owns NBC;  Viacom owns CBS; Disney owns ABC;  AOL Time Warner owns CNN;  and the right-wing ideologue Rupert Murdoch controls the exceptionally biased Fox Network.

Thus we see that the capitalist system is finding ways to triumph over democracy, to almost inadvertently but effectively brainwash the American people, and to transcend national borders.  But we must be aware that we are permitting this shortsightedness, and it is economically, socially and morally bankrupting the U.S. and the world.

It is a degradation of humanity to promote conflicts and warfare while contributing to increasing poverty and grave social injustices.  It is folly to cause the destruction of ancient forests, the diminishment of wilderness areas, the harming of habitats, the onslaught against biodiversity, the poisoning waterways, the mindless depletion of natural resources.  And it is bizarre that we oppose human population limitations without concern for the consequences of this immoderateness.

We require practical and far-sighted initiatives infused with vision and wisdom in order to improve the world, and to make it more fair, more safe, and more sane.  We require creative individuals with clarity of mind and energy of will, which is a kind of definition of genius -- people who are capable of effective responses to new situations, which is the most authentic kind of intelligence.

The thought-provoking book, Addicted to War, Why the U.S. Can't Kick Militarism, adduces extensive evidence concerning the historical American wrongs of harsh economic imperialism and strongly correlated militaristic policy.  It concludes with a page that asks these questions:

"What is this addiction to war doing to the people of the U.S. and the world?
    How much does it cost?          Who's going to profit?
      Who's going to pay?               And who's going to die?
         Think about it.                        Do something about it."

It is up to all of us to help figure out what we can do to best address all of these daunting issues.  We must drum up a groundswell of cultural creativity, effective advocacy, and mainstream support to help actualize better strategies to ensure that our societies progress in wholesome, sustainable ways.

Thanks for reading!

                      --- Dr. Tiffany Twain