…Once the State has begun to function, and a large class finds its interest and its expression of power in maintaining the State, this ruling class may compel obedience from any uninterested minority. The State thus becomes an instrument by which the power of the whole herd is wielded for the benefit of a class. The rulers soon learn to capitalize the reverence which the State produces in the majority, and turn it into a general resistance towards a lessening of their privileges. The sanctity of the State becomes identified with the sanctity of the ruling class and the latter are permitted to remain in power under the impression that in obeying and serving them, we are obeying and serving society, the nation, the great collectivity of all of us….
In practically no other contests has the electorate had for all practical purposes a choice except between two candidates, identical as far as their political role would be as representatives of the significant classes in the State. Campaigns … where one of the parties is captured by an element which seeks a real transference of power from the significant to the less significant classes, split the party, and sporadic third party attacks merely throw the scale one way or the other between the big parties, or, if threatening enough, produce a virtual coalition against them. ~Randolph Bourne
Bourne is a favorite of mine, who in many respects could be snatched right out of 1918 and pick up where he left off without breaking stride. He died before finishing his work on The State, excerpted as “War is the Health of the State“. A misuse of forceps at birth and spinal tuberculosis left Randolph Bourne deformed, stunted, gnarled and hunched, but his work is straight up and still standing. This writing was used to define a chapter in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, a good portion of which is read here by Zinn and Matt Damon.
In The Founders’ Wisdom, an army officer with three tours of active duty in Iraq, also writes with an understanding of the American people’s need to be involved in military decisions. Lt. Col. Paul Yingling’s opinion in the Armed Forces Journal recommends a return to America’s home-grown system of checks and balances, which, as a child of the ’60s left me feeling somewhat validated. If we have to send our children out to kill our neighbors’ children, if that’s our only problem solving option, then in fairness and an effort to curb the State’s lack of civility, let everyone’s children be sent to sacrifice life, limb and sanity. If that responsibility is shared by those who Bourne referred to as “the significant classes”, perhaps the war stories ballyhooed in America would be more often about their short duration or diplomatic avoidance altogether.
The dangers of military service are born solely by volunteers, a disproportionate number of whom come from working and middle-class families. The wealthiest and most privileged members of American society are all but absent from the ranks of the U.S. military.
I was a little disappointed that he didn’t address the impact that conscription might have on the DOD’s obvious wasteful spending and bloated budget, but he more than makes up for it by quoting and drawing from military history, pointing a strong finger at congress and others who have failed us, and by standing up to recommend that we consider an ill framed, unpopular and often misunderstood option: reinstating the draft.
Update: The Armed Forces Journal linked above has a new firewall. Sign up to read from the archives, or try this NYT piece about Lt. Col. Paul Yingling and The Founders’ Wisdom.
On Wednesday, David Sirota offered a third opinion, Why People Become Chickenhawks, on the people’s involvement in US military aggression. Based on a recently released study, it seems that those who have not served in active military duty nor fear they will be sent, tend to be more gung-ho about sending American lambs to slaughter.
Shielded from any personal risk of injury or death, the chickenhawk is thus permitted to wrap himself in an American flag and goose step his way through television studios as the alleged personification of patriotic bravery.
No doubt, the antiwar voices who have recently argued for the reinstatement of a draft will find fuel in this Berkeley/Columbia report. They argue that viscerally connecting the entire nation to the blood-and-guts consequences of war will make the nation less reflexively supportive of war — and the new data substantively supports that assertion. That’s why in the midst of (at least) three U.S. military occupations, this report is almost sure to be ignored by our chickenhawk-dominated political class — because it too explicitly exposes the selfish, self-centered and abhorrent roots of the chickenhawk ethos that now plays such an integral role in perpetuating a state of Endless War.
That’s it. Consider three worthwhile opinions from both sides of the aisle and from days of old to last Wednesday. Reading between the lines, all three say the same thing – the American people need to assume a bigger role in controlling U.S. military aggression. We need to be engaged in policy decisions effectively enough to ensure our own representation.