Opposing the New American Militarism: A Modest Proposal

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I grew up a
military kid. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis on a SAC
base in central Florida, a 14-year-old proud to be on “the front
lines," if only as a military dependent. Coming out of high school,
I had a 5th-alternate nomination to West Point – though the Air
Force Academy was my real goal. Military service was, I thought,
a guarantee that I would live a life devoted to fighting for goodness
and truth.

Then something
happened: Vietnam. Vietnam tore my generation apart – literally
and figuratively. I remember going swimming with a friend in the
70s and seeing three round scars across his chest when he took off
his shirt: “Machine gun fire,” he explained; “the Tet Offensive.”
We both knew the scars went deeper than flesh, blood and bone, for
Vietnam and the mistakes it represented scarred our faith in America.
Vietnam was not about military life as I imagined it, it was about
militarism: the conviction that military action is a quick and sure
solution to complex problems.

After Vietnam,
most of America rejected militarism, including many who opted for
military life. The lesson was costly, but the price we paid seemed
to have dispelled the belief that problems could be solved by throwing
guns and bombs at them.

But now it’s
come back.

I don’t know
if the Gulf War was necessary. It seemed so at the time. Afghanistan?
That one’s even harder to call. But Iraq is easy. It was a war started
on the basis of cynical deceptions. And even if it had been justified,
it was – and remains – catastrophically mismanaged. What was an
arid and troubling political landscape has been transformed into
a swamp that will breed toxins way beyond any horizon we can see.

And now there’s
the challenge of Iran. Facing that hydra-headed monster with militarists
at the helm scares the hell out of me – all the more so because
I remember the Cuban Crisis, the nightmares of mushroom clouds,
and the visions of melted flesh and charred bone that went hand
in hand with it.

America has
been hijacked by a New Militarism. The lessons learned in Vietnam
have been set aside and the new generation that has been made cannon
fodder will, like mine, be scarred for life – though in ways we
won’t understand for years to come. And that’s not to mention the
untold innocents who have been scarred – and worse – as the militarists
act out their fantasies.

This country
– and its military – deserve more than the dull-witted,
self-justifying leadership that hides behind a “war” on terror that
never was and never will be a war. And it’s time to say so.

Starting on
July 4, I’m going to wear a black wristband each day to express
my outrage at the fact that the lessons of Vietnam have been unlearned,
the scarring of our national consciousness has begun again, and
the young people and innocents who are always on the front lines
will pay the heaviest price. Once again we’ve been manacled to a
skewed and myopic vision of the world more appropriate to 1936 than
to 2006. So I’ll wear my wristband as a symbol: in mourning for
the dead and the scarred and the wounded, and in protest against
the shackling of American values by the New Militarists.

The wristband
comes off when the shackles do. Not before.

June
29, 2006

Daniel
Shanahan [send him mail]
is professor of communications at the Charles University in Prague.

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