Being Pro-War Is Not Necessarily Patriotic

As the 21st century dawns, Americans have come to define patriotism as uncritical support of war and the military. In this year's presidential campaign, John Kerry touts his war exploits in Vietnam, and those with connections to George W. Bush try to rewrite this history decades later. The president dresses up in military garb and lands on an aircraft carrier, pretending to be a war hero to make people forget that he avoided the danger of conflict years earlier. Both Bush and Kerry favored the unprovoked U.S. invasion of a sovereign nation (Iraq)-the same thing Saddam Hussein did to become a world pariah in 1990. And both the president and his challenger said they would have invaded even if they knew in advance that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Such militarization of U.S. society and foreign policy would cause the founders of this great nation to roll over in their graves.

The profligate use of the war metaphor in unrelated matters demonstrates that the glorification of war runs deep in contemporary America. The word "war" is so effective in raising passions that it is used as a propaganda tool for the cause of the day. For example, there is a war on poverty, a war on drugs, and a war on terrorism. (Terrorist attacks are usually isolated in time and place and often can be better countered when thought of as crime). None of these "campaigns" have been very successful, and often the term "war" is used only as a marketing tool to garner support from an all-too-eager American public. The use of such terminology could be dismissed as harmless rhetoric rather than an intrinsic subconscious desire for war. The reality, however, is that the U.S. government's post-World War II meddling in the affairs of countries overseas has embroiled the United States, either directly or through proxies, in many conflicts. Some foreign policy scholars on both the left and right-Chalmers Johnson of the Japan Policy Research Institute and Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, respectively-have decried the militarization of U.S. foreign policy. This interventionist foreign policy is an aberration in American history that now seems like the rule. For more than 170 years before the Cold War began, the United States followed, albeit imperfectly, a policy of military restraint overseas and eschewed permanent, entangling alliances that could drag the nation into unnecessary war.

In the short-run, the United States needs to neutralize al Qaeda, but in the longer term it needs to ask why the group attacked U.S. targets.

Some would argue that much of the post-World War II period was spent in the laudable fight against the forces of totalitarian communism. But that jousting against a second-rate enemy (the Soviets' dysfunctional communist economic system made it an "Upper Volta with missiles") masked a U.S. effort to remake the world in its own image. The United States established alliances and military bases around the world and regularly intervened in the affairs of other nations through coercion, covert action and the use of armed force. The best evidence that this U.S. overseas "empire" was not created mainly to fight communism was its retention-and even expansion-after the Soviet rival collapsed into the dustbin of history.

After the demise of the rival superpower, however, the advantages of wanton U.S. global intervention have declined precipitously. And blowback from foreign meddling-for example, the September 11 terrorist attacks-has demonstrated that the dangers of such a policy have increased exponentially, especially if hostile terrorists could acquire a nuclear weapon.

It's time to reconsider the founders' original foreign policy of restraint overseas-made possible by America's blessed geographical position oceans away from the world's centers of conflict. Today, with the most powerful nuclear arsenal on the planet, the United States remains secure from the vast preponderance of threats, except that of catastrophic terrorism.

In the short-run, the United States needs to neutralize al Qaeda, but in the longer term it needs to ask why the group attacked U.S. targets. If the United States quietly abandoned its interventionist foreign policy, it would greatly reduce the worldwide anti-U.S. hatred and the resultant blowback terrorist attacks. General Anthony Zinni, the tough Marine who commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East, perceptively advised that the United States should avoid making enemies but treat its intractable foes forcefully.

As the founders astutely realized, when the leaders of nations start wars of aggrandizement, the costs-in lost lives, taxes, and reduced liberties-often fall on the backs of the common people. Even General George Washington was suspicious of unnecessary foreign wars and a large military, leading to big government oppression at home. His form of patriotism is truer to the American spirit than its modern day militaristic counterpart, which treats war as a cool videogame and has more in common with German and Soviet-style patriotism of the 20th century.

Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.

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Older Comments:
In my humble opinion it would be more adequate to post this whole paragraph from Mark Twain:

"This chief point of importance relates to citizenship. Citizenship? We have none! In place of it we teach patriotism which Samuel Johnson said a hundred and forty or a hundred and fifty years ago was the last refuge of the scoundrel -- and I believe that he was right. I remember when I was a boy I heard repeated and repeated time and time again the phrase, 'My country, right or wrong, my country!' How absolutely absurd is such an idea. How absolutely absurd to teach this idea to the youth of the country....
"Yet to-day in the public schools we teach our children to salute the flag, and this is our idea of instilling in them patriotism. And this so-called patriotism we mistake for citizenship; but if there is a stain on that flag it ought not to be honored, even if it is our flag. The true citizenship is to protect the flag from dishonor -- to make it the emblem of a nation that is known to all nations as true and honest and honorable. And we should forever forget that old phrase -- 'My country, right or wrong, my country!'

Shawn, peace to you and yours. What are you talking about? You stated "...and have a life I always wanted. But that my kids can never have..." Primo, you have something that many don't have, an objective mind, and a proof that you are more fortunate because you are using your God given intellect. Secondo, you cannot say that you or your kids CAN NEVER HAVE, this translates to despair or hopelessness, which in turn translate to a grave sin. Certainly the life you have always wanted for you and your children, is not the limit of your aspirations and of your vision of a "good life". True that there is nothing wrong with honestly acquiring material things in this 'bas monde', so that you and yours can enjoy what Allah permits you to have in this world. Again you are fortunate because you have more to offer to your loved ones than just cars, big screen televisions, swimming pool, etc.

Tertio you have joined your country's army, obviously you have done what is right for you, your loved ones, and your country, as long you are still thinking the way one of your great writers thinks what true patriotism is:

"In the public schools we teach our children to salute the flag, and this is our idea of instilling in them patriotism. And this so-called patriotism we mistake for citizenship; but if there is a stain on that flag it ought not to be honored, even if it is our flag. The true citizenship is to protect the flag from dishonor -- to make it the emblem of a nation that is known to all nations as true and honest and honorable. And we should forever forget that old phrase -- 'My country, right or wrong, my country!'" Mark Twain


I think this article makes some good points, but is waaay too cynical. Americans built up the Soviets as a threat? Hmm. I wonder if the Hungarians and Czechs that got stomped by Soviet tanks would agree with you. Or the 20 million that Stalin killed. Somehow, I really doubt it.
Also, Ahmed, we aren't all cowboys. My ancestors were poor immigrants fleeing from classist European countries for an opportunity to improve the lives of themselves and their descendents (60% of all Americnas are descended from Ellis Island immigrants); and I thank God that they did.
Anyway, I do think that Americans need to watch out for military adventurism (to put it mildly!). Invading and taking over a country without any sort of international consensus or legitimacy is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. The fact that the Iraqi Olympic soccer team didn't want to be associated with Bush I think says alot about this.
What a mess. I pray to God that we can find our way.

Americans live in a culture of fear. They carry guns. They have always been security/control freaks. Homicide is tops and fear of another is part of the psyche.

The cowboy mentality is deeply rooted in its history. If they did not have Indians they would have invented them, just as we see they invent phatom enemies now that the Commies are dead. So there is OBL, Saddam, Iran, and now an endless enemy of 1.3 billion Muslims and a "war on terror", a noune! Guarantees endless wars on a faceless enemy. Take out the Indian and there is no Cowboy, no America! They have not learnt TO BE!

A country that has been involved in almost all recent wars with military camps in all corners of the world. America relies heavily on arms industry. So, naturally it must support it thro endless armed wars and/or sell it to others. In short, wars, arms and continued aggression and fear is engrained in its policy, without which the whole economy and a way of life crumbles. Its fodder made up of the poor, disadvantaged and those queing for green cards - never the sons of the rich and elite! What a sad indictment on a supposedly free and democratic society.

When I joined the US army back in the 90's it was because for a high school drop out, that was the only way for me to put 3 square meals on the table for my family, get my GED, maybe learn a trade so that when I came out I coud get a job and maybe also see the world. I never associated working for the army as being patriotic but more than ever now, in no way do I associate mowing down civilians and the combatants alike, in some foreign land, getting shot at each and evey day, picking up bloody and charred human remains of children and women quickly before the damn press or the red cross or some clown with a camera gets a shot, just after 'courageous' US bombing raids wiped out an entire village - I just don't feel patriotic. Back here on leave I would just love not to go back. The nice guy I just bought my soda and pizza from who smiled at me and even gave me some extra breadsticks, his name is Ali, would he still be smiling if he knew that soon I would be going back to wearing a uniform and killing more of his people for reasons I do not know. I don't know why I am being told to pull the trigger and they do not know why they are being killed. I saw a couple of white people on Fox News talking about why it is important for us to shoot at the Muslim shrines and also at the civilians because even the kids are combatants, I wanted to take those fools and drag them into the war zone and then see if they will shoot down kids and civilians as easy as they talk. Strangely almost all the guys in my group are black or latinos- the whites that we have are like me, poor farm boys, down on their luck so joined the army. Whay is it that we colored people are doing white man's dirty work, so that the white man fill his SUVs with cheap gas and send his kids to private schools and take vacations, and have a life that I always wanted, but that I and my kids can never have, and then expect me to wave the flag and die for him ? I don't think so.

As an American I have alot of hostility towards America now. Everyday more and more of our rights are being taken away. They say we have freedom of speech and freedom of thought but that is not true.

Right now its just the Muslims and Arabs but I feel like soon it's gonna be everybody. All in the name of protecting us from terrrorist.

If you knew someone who was cousins with a mans best friend that once attended the same masjid as this Al Qaeda member then you might be a suspected terrorist yourself.

Also if you take a picture of certain things and are Arab or Muslim you are a suspected terrorist.

Right now Muslims are trying to distance themselves from people they might later need help from. Lynching the Muslims is meant to instill fear and humiliation and keep us in our place, under our "masters" foot............

If your scan the texts coming out of the think tanks of the US at the end of the Soviet collapse, you will find that the military/industrial complex in the US went shopping for a new enemy (to justify its budgets). They selected the Muslim world. Even going to the extent of posting "trial balloons" in the editorials of magazines like Scientific American.

Choosing the Muslims gave the WOGers (Wrath of God Christians) for ZOG (zionist occupied government), ALTIs (Americans loyal to Israel), Israelis occupying the press, and other anti-Muslim groups common cause with the military/industrial complex. The public relations benefit to the politicians is greater than they could dream of.

A forever war.

They just had to find a way to package it and get it started.

Pity for humanity though. Since the majority of the oil is under Muslim feet, the developed world is effectively shooting itself in the foot if the conflict ever spreads. And how could it not?

So the question is, will the developed world put a stop to it before that happens?