Why are we militarizing American society?

Summary:  Previous posts in this series showed how America has militarized. Today we ask “why”? The answer is superficially obvious, but the deeper reasons are mysterious. This is the conclusion to a series about the militarization of America.    {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Purgamenta hujus mundi sunt tria: pcatis, bellum, et frateria.”
-— This world is purified in three ways: by plague, by war, by monastic seclusion (proverb).

The new Statue of Liberty



  1. Why are we militarizing?
  2. Cui Bono?
  3. Is America militarizing?
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information.


(1) Why are we militarizing American society?

“War is one of the great agencies by which human progress is effected.”

— Opening of “The Benefits of War” by Stephen Luce (Rear Admiral, US Navy), North American Review, 1 December 1891. He founded the Naval War College and was its first president.

The previous posts in this series described some aspects of the militarization of American society, from our geopolitics to our entertainment. Now for the big question: why? Few people agree with Admiral Luce’s enthusiasm for war, mostly burned out of western culture by the horrors of WWI and WWII.

We know why people of the Military Industrial Complex support the militarization of society; as Ike warned us in 1961. But why have we responded so enthusiastically to this militarization? Previous generations of Americans mocked militarized states like Prussia, all those marching soldiers in their fancy uniforms while instead we built a great nation.

So I asked one of the brightest people I know, Steve Randy Waldman (he writes at Interfluidity). He replied that for 120 years foreign wars have been good for America (as a whole, with the sacrifice of only a small fraction of our people). From 1846 – 1966 — from war against Mexico to the turning point in Vietnam — wars destroyed our rivals and stimulated our economy (e.g., the stimulus of debt-fueled WWII spending decisively ended the Great Depression), often bringing us new territory.

Smedley Butler on war

(2)  Cui bono? Who gains from war?

“Follow the money.”
— Advice of “Deep Throat” (FBI Assoc Director Mark Felt) to Woodward and Bernstein.

Wars are still a good deal today, in a different way.  As usual in our history, few American casualties (those of foreigners are meaningless) come from its “stakeholders, since children of the inner party and 1% rarely enlist and even more rarely die (see #4 here). The children of the outer party and proles pay the butcher’s bill. Most of our spending on war goes to corporations. As a bonus, war provides useful channels for our more aggressive members. Some die, most return as veterans and take their place as useful citizens (remade by several years of regimentation and indoctrination).

And the fear barrages that accompany war — the constant warnings of foes about to wreck havoc on the suburbs of America — keep us frightened and docile, and justify an ever-growing internal security force.

Best of all, our wars risk little (important since the 1% tend to be cautious types). Military spending either prepares for massive State to State war that’s extremely unlikely (it’s a game no other large nations are even seriously playing, except to defend against possible US attacks) — or fund wars against trivial foes where neither defeat or victory have substantial impacts on us.

“War is the great auditor of institutions.”
— Correlli Barnett in The Sword-Bearers: Supreme Command in the First World War (1964).

Barnett’s words are no longer true in the sense he meant them (at least, so far), since war has become part of the 1%’s social machinery keeping them rich and the nation docile. It’s true in a radically different way. The institution audited is the Republic — American democracy. It’s an intelligence test, as are all scams. We’re failing.

So we’re back to square one. Why have we allowed our nation to become a global policeman, with 1000+ bases spread across the world, posed for war with our rivals while involved in many small wars (none of which involve our national interests)? Give your answer in the comments.


(3) Is America really militarizing?

Perhaps this militarization is an illusion or misreading of America. Watch some rock music videos while you ponder this question! It’s an art form forged in the anti-war days of the boomers’ past.

Here is a flashback to 1969 — “War” by Edwin Star. It’s the way we were.  Have we changed?

(4) Other posts in this series

(6)  For More Information

Recommended readings to help you better understand our times:

  1. War is the health of the state” by Randolph Bourne (1918).
  2. War Is a Racket by Smedley D. Butler (Major General, USMC, deceased), one of by America’s most decorated soldiers (1935).
  3. The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by Warby Andrew Bacevich’s (2013).
  4. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow (2013).

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about our military, especially these A key aspect of the New America: permanent militarization of society and Why America has militarized its police and crushes protests.

Here are two ways to tangibly support the men and women in our armed forces:

17 thoughts on “Why are we militarizing American society?”

  1. Because the military is the only major institution in society that a majority of Americans think still works. See these polling data, for instance. The stability in the trust rating of the military over time compared to the continual drop in trust for all other institutions (Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, state and local goverments, the U.N., the press, the banks) is notable.

    When the people think the military is the only functional institution, it’s not surprising that those seeking public approval would rush to try and emulate it.

    1. Jason,

      Thank you for the link to this Harvard survey, which I hadn’t seen before!

      I agree with you, and since 2010 have been pointing to Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions poll with alarm. See my analysis of their 2014 results: Gallup warns us to prepare for fascism! A small point: the police are the other institution in which a majority of Americans (53%) still have confidence (“small business” is not an institution).

      “… those seeking public approval would emulate it”

      That’s a powerful point, and very relevant to this post!

  2. Re: my comment earlier, the military is being made okay by videos like this. Earlier, like during Vietnam (possibly) or Kosovo (definitely), this wouldn’t be popular for a well known singer to do.

  3. Nit-pick on your calendar: I believe you meant 1846 (Mexican-American War), not 1946. Your point (with the possible exception of the Civil War) is spot-on, with 100 more years of examples.

  4. Why are we militarizing American society?

    That’s an easy one to answer; it’s all part of the plan.

    “The Plan is for the United States to rule the world. The overt theme is unilateralism, but it is ultimately a story of domination. It calls for the United States to maintain its over­whelming military superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge it on the world stage. It calls for dominion over friends and enemies alike. It says not that the United States must be more power­ful, or most powerful, but that it must be absolutely powerful.” – Excerpt from Dick Cheney’s Song of America – Drafting a plan for global dominance

    Of course, I’d change the wording in the first sentence of the excerpt to the more accurate, “The Plan is for the United States’ plutocrats to rule the world.” Just as I’d rephrase your initial question to, “Why are they militarizing American society?”

    To your other question, Why have we allowed our nation to…?

    IMHO, because for the most part, our populous has become a spoiled, dumbed-down, distracted, lazy group of easily manipulated lemmings. As long as they have the latest gadget, entertaining shows to watch, and their overall lifestyle is not perceivably affected, then all this is just some far off, confusing, boring problem for someone else to deal with – and one that they probably don’t even realize exists.

    ~ Btw – I’m new to your site and really like what you’re doing here. Good stuff.

  5. Your commentary over the past few weeks have been penetrating and accurate.

    • “these website (posts and comments provide entertainment & catharsis for the outer party (plus self-expression for the author)”.
    • “We keep well-informed. We cheer and boo! giving us catharsis.”
    • “Results so far failure.”
    • “Wars destroyed our rivals and stimulated our economy.”
    • “War has become port of the sophisticated social machinery that keeps them rich and the nation docile.”

    To be able to call on all of the levers of power available for enforcing the status quo must be an unbelievable rush for elements within the 1%.

    I would love to be involved in a movement that begins to threaten that rush/confidence–how is real leverage against such power to be constructed in 2015?

    “We keep well-informed, we cheer and boo! giving us catharsis

  6. Stephen Douglas

    You are missing a zero. It’s almost or just over 1,000 bases spread throughout the world.

  7. What’s the McCardle-Pentagon connection? I mean, McCardle’s “thinking” has always been up for grabs to the highest bidder, but I thought she mostly shills for the privileges of wealth, and has little to say about foreign policy. Or am I misreading your parenthetical?

  8. Pingback: Why Are We Militarizing American Society? - Caravan To Midnight

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: