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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Ivan Eland's Take On Patriotism

We tend to think in stereotypes. This is only human as we try to categorize facts and events around us, form patterns in our knowledge base. Propagandists of all stripes readily prey on this tendency of ours, trying to feed us the stereotypes they see as helpful to their agenda. And that tendency of theirs is also nothing new.

In his commentary, The Independent Institute's Ivan Eland performs the much needed dismantling of the stereotype common in today's America,- namely, that opposition to war and lack of aggressiveness is a sign of the lack of patriotism, or of weakness. That stereotype appears to be well-entrenched; from newspapers columns to barrooms and webforums, one sees anti-war types labeled "sissies", "un-American" or worse. "Is there any ground to that?", one might ask. Not much, says Eland. In fact, at times those who rush to war are hardly the sort of people one would think of as warrior types.
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.
But the bulk of the discussion is not about who did what when,- it is more about the militarization of the way America thinks and acts as a society.
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.
Mr Eland believes that even the threat of the Soviet Union which fueled massive military spending by the US during the Cold War was vastly overblown. I can't entirely agree with his assessment of the Soviet Union.
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.
Based on many reputable military sources, the Soviet Union was militarily on the par with the US and its allies, and hardly a second-rate enemy. But the fact that the US military presence worldwide only increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union is certainly an argument supporting the idea that the US is no longer merely content with defending itself, but is indeed seeking world domination. In fact, The Project for the New American Century, the doctrine authored by many prominent members of the Bush administration, stipulates exactly that,- the need for the US to become the force that no one in the world can even come close to challenging.

Writes Eland,
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.

That is a very valid argument.

I believe America should not withdraw from the world completely, but it should not be a sole power either. The forces under the Pentagon's command should be used for defense only. It can help in other areas,- peacekeeping, for instance, but US soldiers, people who volunteered to defend the US, should not have to participate in such missions. Forming an American (or, better yet, multilateral) Peacekeeping Corps would be a noble idea. Using US military for wars whose value to the US security is questionable drains the American resources and corrupts the society. And the US forces should certainly never be used to further anybody's imperial ambissions.

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