Militarism and the Breakdown of
excerpted from the book
The Last Days of the American
by Chalmers Johnson
Holt, 2006, paperback
After 9/11 many Americans began to ask "Why do they hate
us?" The answer was not that some countries hate us because
of our democracy, wealth, lifestyle, or values but because of
things our government did to various peoples around the world.
President George W. Bush at a press conference on October 11
"How do I respond when I see that
in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America?"
I'll tell you how I respond: I'm amazed that there's such misunderstanding
of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am-like
most Americans, I just can't believe it because I know how good
President George W. Bush a the Air Force Academy 2004 commencement
"No act of America explains terrorist
violence, and no concession of America could appease it. The terrorists
who attacked our country on September 11, 2001, were not protesting
our policies. They were protesting our existence."
Osama bin Laden made clear why he attacked us. In a video taped
statement broadcast by Al Jazeera on October 7, 2001, a few weeks
after the attacks, he gave three reasons for his enmity against
the United States:
The U.S.-imposed sanctions against Iraq
from 1991 to 9/11: "One million Iraqi children have thus
far died although they did not do anything wrong"; American
policies toward Israel and the occupied territories: "I swear
to God that America will not live in peace before peace reigns
in Palestine"; the stationing of U.S. troops and the building
of military bases in Saudi Arabia: "and before all the army
of infidels [American soldiers] depart the land of Muhammad [Saudi
Arabia] ". j
The United States no longer manufactures much - with the exception
We now station over half a million U.S. troops, spies, contractors,
dependents, and others on more than 737 military bases spread
around the world. These bases are located in more than 130 countries,
/ many of them presided over by dictatorial regimes that have
given their citizens no say in the decision to let us in.
The purpose of [our military] bases is "force projection"
or the maintenance of American military hegemony over the rest
of the world. They facilitate our "policing" of the
globe and are meant to ensure that no other nation, friendly or
hostile, can ever challenge us militarily.
anonymous young woman who runs the Internet Web site 'Baghdad
Burn' wrote on May 7, 2004
"I don't understand the 'shock' Americans
claim to feel at the lurid pictures [from Abu Ghraib prison].
You've seen the troops break down doors and terrify women and
children... curse, scream, push, pull, and throw people to the
ground with a boot over their head. You've seen troops shoot civilians
in cold blood. You've seen them bomb cities and towns. You've
seen them burn cars and humans using tanks and helicopters ....
I sometimes get e-mails asking me to propose solutions or make
suggestions. Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture,
don't kill, and get out while you can-while it still looks like
you have a choice .... Chaos? Civil war? We'll take our chances-just
take your puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians,
your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers
There are today approximately 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, some
22 percent of the global population. Through our policies, we
have turned virtually all of them against the United States.
Given that 40 percent of the defense budget is now secret as is
every intelligence agency budget, it is impossible for Congress
to provide effective oversight even if its members wanted to.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote
against the transfer of the war power to the president for the
invasion of Afghanistan - San Francisco Chronicle, September 23,
Last week, filled with grief and sorrow
for those killed and injured and with anger at those who had done
this, I confronted the solemn responsibility of voting to authorize
the country to go to war. Some believe this resolution was only
symbolic, designed to show national resolve. But I could not ignore
that it provided explicit authority, under the War Powers Resolution
and the Constitution, to go to war. It was a blank check to the
president to attack anyone involved in the September 11 events-anywhere,
in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign
policy, economic and national security interests, and without
time limit. In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress
failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its
declaration. I could not support such a grant of war-making authority
to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at
General Tommy Franks, commander of the American assault on Baghdad
[Another serious terror attack on the
United States would] begin to unravel the fabric of our Constitution
... the Constitution could be scrapped in favor of a military
form of government.
Adam Young, a Canadian political commentator
How did the chief magistrate of a confederated
republic [President Bush] degrade into the global tyrant we experience
today, part secular pope, part military despot, part pseudo-philosopher-king
and full-time overbearing global gangster?
an anonymous foreign service officer to Los Angeles Times reporter
I just wake up in the morning and tell
myself, 'There's been a military coup and then it all makes sense.
I believe that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have led the country
into a perilous cul-de-sac, but they did not do it alone and removing
them from office will not necessarily solve the problem. The crisis
of government in the United States has been building at least
since World War II. The emergence of the imperial presidency and
the atrophying of the legislative and judicial branches have deep
roots in the postwar military-industrial complex, in the way broad
sectors of the public have accepted the military as our most effective
public institution, and in aberrations in our electoral system.
The interesting issue is not the damage done by Bush, Cheney,
and their followers but how they were able to get away with it,
given the barriers that exist in the Constitution to prevent just
the sorts of misuses of power for which they have become notorious.
The intent of the founders was to prevent a recurrence of the
tyranny they had endured under Britain's King George III. They
bent all their ingenuity and practical experience to preventing
tyrannies of one, of the few, of a majority, of the monied classes,
or of any other group that might obtain and exercise unchecked
power, often adopting institutional precedents from the Roman
Republic. Inspired by the French political philosopher Montesquieu's
discussion of the "separation of powers" in his On the
Spirit of the Laws, published in 1748, the drafters of the American
Constitution produced a sophisticated scheme to balance power
in a republic. The most basic structure they chose was federalism,
setting up the states as alternatives to and limitations on the
power of the national government. Congress was given that quintessential
parliamentary power-control of the budget-without which it would
be merely an ornamental body like the "people's congresses"
in communist-dominated countries. Congress was also charged with
initiating all legislation, making the final decision to go to
war, and if necessary getting rid of an unsatisfactory president
by impeachment, something also achievable through periodic elections.
To moderate the power of Congress somewhat, the Constitution divided
it into two quite differently elected and apportioned houses,
each capable of vetoing the other's decisions.
Both houses of Congress must ultimately
pass all laws, and the president, who is entrusted with implementing
them, is given a veto as well. The Congress, in turn, can override
a presidential veto with a two-thirds vote, and even when Congress
and the president agree on a law, the Supreme Court, exercising
the function of interpreting the laws, can still declare it unconstitutional.
The president and members of Congress must be re-elected or leave
office, but judges serve for life, although Congress can impeach
them. The president nominates the heads of the cabinet departments,
who serve at his pleasure, as well as all judges, but the Senate
must approve them.
Over time, this balance-of-power spirit
came to influence other institutions of government that the Constitution
did not mention, including the armed forces, where competition
among the services-the army, navy, air force, and Marine Corps-dilutes
somewhat the enormous coercive power entrusted to them. 12 To
prevent a tyranny of the majority, the Constitution authorizes
fixed terms and fixed times for elections (borrowed from the Roman
Republic) as a way to interfere with the monopolization of power
by an individual, an oligarchy, or a political party.
Unfortunately, after more than two centuries
(about the same length of time that the Roman Republic was in
its prime), this framework has almost completely disintegrated.
The president now dominates the government in a way no ordinary
monarch possibly could. He has at his disposal the clandestine
services of the CIA, a private army unaccountable to the Congress,
the press, or the public because everything it does is secret.
No president since Harry Truman, having discovered what unlimited
power the CIA affords him, has ever failed to use it. Meanwhile,
the "defense" budgets of the Pentagon dwarf those of
the rest of the government and have undermined democratic decision
making in the process. Funds for military hardware are distributed
in as many states as possible to ensure that any member of Congress
who might consider voting against a new weapons system would be
accused of putting some of his constituents out of work.
philosopher Hannah Arendt at the height of the Cold War
It is no secret that the billions of dollars
demanded by the Pentagon for the armaments industry are necessary
not for 'national security' but for keeping the economy from collapsing.
James Madison, the chief author of the Constitution
Of all the enemies of true liberty, war
is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and
develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies;
from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and
taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the
domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of
the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices,
honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing
the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.
The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the
inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing
out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of
morals, engendered in both. No nation can preserve its freedom
in the midst of continual warfare .... War is in fact the true
nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is
to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct
it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is
the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors
and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive
patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive
brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous
weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the
honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against
the desire and duty of peace.
Andrew Bacevich a West Point graduate and a Vietnam veteran with
twenty-three years of service in the U.S. Army
Americans in our own time have fallen
prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view
of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure
of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the
efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in U.S. history,
Americans have come to define the nation's strength and well-being
in terms of military preparedness, military action, and the fostering
of (or nostalgia for) military ideals.
Two new extraconstitutional centers of power are today out of
control - the Department of Defense and the fifteen intelligence
organizations, the best known of which is the Central Intelligence
In 1964, Hannah Arendt ... tried to plumb the evil of the Nazi
regime. Her book Eichmann in Jerusalem dealt with the trial of
the former SS officer Adolf Eichmann, who was charged with organizing
the transport of Jews to death camps during World War II. She
subtitled her book A Report on the Banality of Evil but used that
now famous phrase only once, at book's end, without explaining
it further." Long after Arendt's death, Jerome Kohn, a colleague,
compiled a volume of her essays entitled Responsibility and Judgment.
What made Eichmann both evil and banal, Arendt concluded in one
of those essays, was his inability to think for himself.
"Some years ago," she wrote,
"reporting the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, I spoke of
the 'banality of evil' and meant with this no theory or doctrine
but something quite factual, the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed
on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity
of wickedness, pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer,
whose only personal distinction was perhaps an extraordinary shallowness.
However monstrous the deeds were, the doer was neither monstrous
nor demonic, and the only specific characteristic one could detect
in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the
preceding police examination was something entirely negative:
it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability
Arendt was trying to locate Eichmann's
conscience. She called him a "desk murderer," an equally
apt term for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld
- for anyone, in fact, who orders remote-control killing of the
modern sort-the bombardment of a country that lacks any form of
air defense, the firing of cruise missiles from a warship at sea
into countries unable to respond, such as Iraq, Sudan, or Afghanistan,
or, say, the unleashing of a Hellfire missile from a Predator
unmanned aerial vehicle controlled by "pilots" thousands
of miles from the prospective target.
How do ordinary people become desk murderers?
First, they must lose the ability to think because, according
to Arendt, "thinking conditions men against evil doing."
Jerome Kohn adds, "With some degree of confidence it may
be said that the ability to think, which Eichmann lacked, is the
precondition of judging, and that the refusal as well as the inability
to judge, to imagine before your eyes the others whom your judgment
represents and to whom it responds, invite evil to enter and infect
the world." To lack a personal conscience means "never
to start the soundless solitary dialogue we call thinking?'
If an individual's thinking is short-circuited
and does not rise to the level of making judgments, he or she
is able to understand acts, including evil acts, only in terms
of following orders, doing one's duty, being loyal to one's "homeland'
maintaining solidarity with one's fellow soldiers, or surrendering
one's will to that of the group. This phenomenon(is common in
some forms of political life, as Arendt demonstrated in her most
famous work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951,
but is ubiquitous in military life, where, in order to prevail
in battle, soldiers have been conditioned to follow orders instantly
and to act as a cohesive group. In such roles, cliches, stock
phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression
and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting
us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking
attention which all events and facts arouse by virtue of their
existence." This is one reason why democratic republics must
be particularly vigilant about standing armies and wars of choice
if, that is, they intend to retain their liberties.
As a consequence of our half century of devotion to war, we unintentionally
abandoned our republican checks on the activities of public officials
and elevated the military to a position that places it, in actual
practice, beyond the law.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
A new paradigm renders obsolete [the Geneva
Conventions'] strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners
and renders quaint some of its provisions.
Richard Myers, a four-star air force general and former chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared categorically to Fox News
One thing we don't do is we don't torture.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said
With respect to detainees, the United
States Government complies with its Constitution, its laws, and
its treaty obligations. Acts of physical or mental torture are
expressly prohibited. The United States Government does not authorize
or condone torture of detainees. Torture, and conspiracy to commit
torture, are crimes under U.S. law, wherever they may occur in
former secretary of state Colin Powell said on German TV, about
U.S. bombing of Afghanistan
We spent a huge amount of money and we
are putting our young men and women on the line, every day, to
put in place a form of government that was decided upon by the
Afghan people. And we are helping them to rebuild and reconstruct
their society. That pattern is the American pattern. We're very
proud of it. It's been repeated many times over, and it will be
repeated again in Iraq.
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions
[prohibits] at anytime and in any place
whatsoever" violence, including murder, mutilation, cruel
treatment, torture, and outrages to human dignity against protected
persons-that is, "persons taking no active part in hostilities'
such as civilians, the wounded, and prisoners of war. "Such
persons are, in all circumstances, entitled to respect for their
honor and religion, and must be protected against insults and
public curiosity. No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised
to obtain information from them or third parties. Reprisals against
protected persons and their property are prohibited.
[During the Gulf War of 1991] the United States dropped some ninety
thousand tons of bombs on Iraq in the space of forty-three days,
intentionally destroying the civilian infrastructure, including
eighteen of twenty electricity-generating plants and the water-pumping
and sanitation systems.
Colonel John A Warden III wrote in Airpower Journal, 1995
[Destruction] of these [electric power]
facilities shut down water purification and sewage treatment plants.
As a result, epidemics of gastroenteritis, cholera, and typhoid
broke out, leading to perhaps as many as 100,000 civilian deaths
and a doubling of the infant mortality rate."
The bombing [of Iraq during the Gulf War of 1991] itself violated
international humanitarian law and made the United States liable
to charges of war crimes. Article 54 (2) of the "Protocol
Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, relating
to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts
(Protocol 1), June 8, 1977," explicitly states, "It
is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects
indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such
as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs,
crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and
irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for
their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse
Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians,
to cause them to move away, or for any other motive."
On August 2, 1990, the United States and Britain obtained U.N.
Security Council Resolution 661 freezing all of Iraq's foreign
assets and authorizing the cutting off of all trade. This embargo
lasted until the Anglo-American invasion of 2003.
... the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) wrote to he Lancet, the journal of the British
Medical Society, that 567,000 Iraqi children were estimated to
have died as a result of the sanctions.
.... Among the items the United States
stopped from entering Iraq in the winter of 2001 were dialysis,
dental and firefighting equipment, water tankers, milk and yogurt
production equipment, and printing machines for schools.
Anupama Rao Singh the United Nations Children's
Fund representative in Baghdad, observed that food shortages were
virtually unknown in Iraq before the sanctions, but that from
1991 to 1998, "children under five were dying from malnutrition-related
diseases in numbers ranging from a conservative 2,600 per month
to a more realistic 5,357 per month.
instructions a Florida newspaper issued to its staff, October
2001 [during the bombing of Afghanistan]]
"DO NOT USE photos on page 1A showing
civilian casualties from the war on Afghanistan .... DO NOT USE
wire stories that lead with civilian casualties .... They should
be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting
to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT.
George W. Bush, meeting with senior officials on the evening of
September 11, 2001
I want you all to understand that we are
at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else
matters. Everything is available for the pursuit of this war.
Any barriers in your way, they're gone. Any money you need, you
have it. This is our only agenda.
Brigadier General Martin Lucent, deputy commander of Guantanamo
prison, to the press, October 2004
Most of these guys weren't fighting, they
David Brooks, right-wing pundit for Weekly Standard and a columnist
for the New York Times
We will care a lot more about ends - winning
the war - than we will about means. We will debate whether it
is necessary to torture prisoners who have information about future
biological attacks. We will destroy innocent villages by accident,
shrug our shoulders, and continue fighting. In an age of conflict,
bourgeois values like compassion, tolerance, and industriousness
are valued less than the classical virtues of courage, steadfastness,
and a ruthless desire for victory.
"unitary executive" theory of presidential power
in time of war the president as commander
in chief has almost uncontestable powers to do more or less as
he pleases, whatever Congress or the courts may say.
After World War II, the United States put Japanese general Tomoyuki
Yamashita, the so-called Tiger of Malaya and subsequently commander
of Japanese forces in the Philippines, on trial. A U.S. war crimes
tribunal found that he had failed to uphold "command responsibility"
for his troops, who had massacred thousands of innocent civilians
in Manila in early 1945, even though the defense established that
he had no knowledge of the crimes. Because Yamashita was tried
by a military court, he appealed his case directly to the U.S.
Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction by a vote of 5 to 3,
thereby establishing the doctrine of command responsibility in
American law. Justice Frank Murphy warned in dissent, "In
the sober afterglow will come the realization of the boundless
and dangerous implications of the procedure sanctioned today...
Indeed, the fate of some future President of the United States
and his chief of staff and military advisers may well have been
sealed by this decision." In other words, American constitutional
law already establishes the grounds on which President Bush could
be held accountable for his failure to exercise command responsibility
in (cases of torture at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere.
Burton J Lee served for four years, as presidential physician
to George H. W. Bush
Today ... it seems as though our government
and the military have slipped into Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness.'
The widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment - frequently
based on military and government documents - defy the claim that
this abusive behavior is limited to a few noncommissioned officers
at Abu Ghraib or isolated incidents at Guantánamo Bay.
When it comes to torture, the military's traditional leadership
and discipline have been severely compromised up and down the
chain of command. Why? I fear it is because the military has bowed
to errant civilian leadership.
George Bush and Tony Blair declared, April 2003
We reaffirm our commitment to protect
Iraq's natural resources, as the patrimony of the people of Iraq,
which should be used only for their benefit.
Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic