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The New American Militarism

Anatol Lieven wrote a brilliant review of The New American Militarism by Andrew Bacevich for the London Review of Books today. Lieven writes:

this book is important not only for the acuteness of its perceptions, but also for the identity of its author. Colonel Bacevich’s views on the military, on US strategy and on world affairs were profoundly shaped by his service in Vietnam. His year there ‘fell in the conflict’s bleak latter stages . . . long after an odour of failure had begun to envelop the entire enterprise’. The book is dedicated to his brother-in-law, ‘a casualty of a misbegotten war’.

This is a powerhouse review that delves deeply into Bacevich’s arguments and proposals for solving America’s infatuation with militarism:

Indeed, a portrait of US militarism today could be built around a set of such apparently glaring contradictions: the contradiction, for example, between the military coercion of other nations and the belief in the spreading of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Among most non-Americans, and among many American realists and progressives, the collocation seems inherently ludicrous. But, as Bacevich brings out, it has deep roots in American history. Indeed, the combination is historically coterminous with Western imperialism. Historians of the future will perhaps see preaching ‘freedom’ at the point of an American rifle as no less morally and intellectually absurd than ‘voluntary’ conversion to Christianity at the point of a Spanish arquebus.

According to Lieven, Bacevich’s argument provides the Left of American politics an important opening:

Now, as never before, American progressives have the chance to overcome the knee-jerk hostility to the uniformed military that has characterised the left since Vietnam, and to reach out not only to the soldiers in uniform but also to the social, cultural and regional worlds from which they are drawn.

The left must fight imperialism in the name of patriotism. Barring a revolutionary and highly unlikely transformation of American mass culture, any political party that wishes to win majority support will have to demonstrate its commitment to the defence of the country. The Bush administration has used the accusation of weakness in security policy to undermine its opponents, and then used this advantage to pursue reckless strategies that have themselves drastically weakened the US. The left needs to heed Bacevich and draw up a tough, realistic and convincing alternative. It will also have to demonstrate its identification with the respectable aspects of military culture. The Bush administration and the US establishment in general may have grossly mismanaged the threats facing us, but the threats are real, and some at least may well need at some stage to be addressed by military force. And any effective military force also requires the backing of a distinctive military ethic embracing loyalty, discipline and a capacity for both sacrifice and ruthlessness.

LINK to London Review of Books article.

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