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Thursday, April 21, 2005

The normalisation of war

Andrew J. Bacevich is a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, former contributor to such magazines as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, and former Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He's also a self-confessed conservative. His latest book, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War, discusses the ways in which the American people have fallen in love with the idea of American military power and the rapid expansion of an imperial force that 9/11 only accelerated.

This extract explores the changes that have occurred since the Vietnam War, namely the military's increasing separation from the American people - a force unto itself. For example, do most Americans know that their forces are constantly roaming and infiltrating dozens of countries around the world? The key to understanding these shifts is the desire of many in the military establishment, and their media cheerleaders, to normalise war for ideological and financial reasons. With governmental propaganda convincing many spectators that war is now nothing more than a spectator sport, with few casualties to speak of, let alone seen on the evening news, the public are more easily led into foreign adventures without understanding the true consequences.

The American Congress was informed in February that the Iraq invasion and occupation had in fact assisted terrorist recruiting. CIA Director Porter J. Goss said: "The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists." Yet how often have we heard Bush, Blair or Howard talking about the Iraq war reducing the likelihood of terrorism?

Bacevich observes: "Confidence in the military has found further expression in a tendency to elevate the soldier to the status of national icon, the apotheosis of all that is great and good about contemporary America. The men and women of the armed services, gushed Newsweek in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, "looked like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. They were young, confident, and hardworking, and they went about their business with poise and élan." A writer for Rolling Stone reported after a more recent and extended immersion in military life that "the Army was not the awful thing that my [anti-military] father had imagined"; it was instead "the sort of America he always pictured when he explained… his best hopes for the country."


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