Why is America militarizing, becoming a 21stC Prussia?

Summary: Like fish in water, we cannot easily see the trends shaping our world. Such as the militarization of America, both foreign and domestic. We’re becoming in some ways like Prussia, sad since Prussia/Germany proved that the time for such behavior has passed. It’s not too late for us to take the reins of the nation and change course.  This is a sequel to Why are we militarizing American society?   {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Know thyself.” — Carved into Apollo’s Oracle of Delphi.

Know Thyself

After so many years of US wars in so many nations — mostly against purely local insurgencies — a question arises that requires an answer. It’s frequently asked by our most perceptive geopolitical analysts.

  1. Is America Addicted to War?” by Stephen M. Walt (Prof International Relations, Harvard), Foreign Policy, 4 April 2011 — “The top 5 reasons why we keep getting into foolish fights.”
  2. Is America Addicted to War?” by Paul Solman (journalist), PBS, 28 November 2011
  3. America: Addicted to War, Afraid of Peace” by Gregory A. Daddis (Colonel, US Army; Professor History at West Point), The National Interest, 11 June 2015 — “After decades of being at war, the United States has come to the point where it can’t live without it.”
  4. “Hi, I’m Uncle Sam and I’m a War-oholic” by William Astore (Lt. Colonel, USAF, retired) at TomDispatch, 15 June 2015.

It’s not just our fighting overseas — more frequent than by anyone else since WWII — or our massive military/intel spending (a multiple of the spending by all our potential enemies combined), but the way America conducts its affairs. Looking at this Franz-Stefan Gady (foreign policy analyst, East West Institute) asks “Is the United States the new Prussia?” at the Small Wars Journal.

In few other democratic countries in the world have more generals found places in administrations or indeed have become heads of states (one notable exception is Israel). Almost every four-star general in the United States sooner or later is presumed to have presidential aspirations. Interestingly, it is the presidents who were former generals who usually display the least confidence in the performance of the armed service, such as George Washington, Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The military influence can be seen acutely in foreign policy. A report by the Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy states…

“DoD’s regional combatant commanders have come to be perceived by states and other actors as the most influential US government regional representative. It is argued that the resources that combatant commanders control, their presence and frequent travel throughout the region, and even the symbolic impact of their aircraft and accompanying service members, all combine to place them in perceived position of preeminence.”

This assertion is supported by a study of The Project on National Security Reform, the most comprehensive effort to date to analyze the US national security system and propose recommendations to alleviate many of its bureaucratic problems. Its conclusion emphasizes that an inequality of resources leads to an inequality in policy — i.e., the militarization of US foreign policy.

It’s a metaphor

“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.”
— Sun Tzu in The Art of War.

Washington Rules
Available at Amazon.

Countless articles have warned about the obvious ill effects of this, both domestic and foreign. Such as “Manufacturing Insecurity: How Militarism Endangers America” by William Pfaff, Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2010.  Others have looked “under the hood” at the mechanics of our militarization, such as Andrew Bacevich in Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (2010).

This is a metaphor, as the mechanisms and goals of Prussian militarism have little similarity to those of modern America. But the effects are similar. Germany’s aggressiveness (with enablers among the other Great Powers) resulted in two world wars leaving it a burning wreck. Our interventions since 9/11 have helped set the Middle East aflame.

While I doubt we’ll crash so spectacularly, our belligerent attitude towards our fellow crew on Planet Earth seems likely to have a bad ending.

But no matter what the ending, we are the citizens of America and bear responsibility for its deeds.

“To prepare {to defend} everywhere is to prepare nowhere.”
— Sun Tzu in The Art of War.


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8 thoughts on “Why is America militarizing, becoming a 21stC Prussia?”

  1. “Why is America militarizing.”?

    ….because it can.
    Why do people “consume”?
    …..because they can.
    Nothing and no one to stop it or them.
    Until then……

    Next question.


    1. Breton,

      I don’t understand your objection to “consuming”, but you can give away your money — that will stop you.

      Few benefit from militarization, so saying “America does it because it can” makes no sense, in the opposite way as you statement about consuming.

  2. I agree about America going overboard on their military posture, but I think you are getting your history wrong. Prussia was not Germany. Prussia was a small, poor German state with few natural resources surrounded by powerful and ambitious enemies. Unlike many other such states, by an uncanny mixture of luck and leadership it succeeded in not being conquered, but over a period of centuries built up its strength until it was the dominant state in Germany – the epitome of which was in 1870 with the creation of the Prussian Empire in Germany.

    But in 1919, this Empire collapsed into a Republic, and in 1933 the Prussian Land was disbanded by Hitler’s orders. To make some vague claims about “Prussian ‘militarism'” and the 1st and 2nd world wars is objectively wrong in the 2nd case, and very much a matter of debate in the 1st. In fact, recent research suggests that the 2nd Reich actually had a weaker militaristic posture than that of Britain, France and Russia, while even though Hitler admired, and may even have modelled himself on, Frederick the Great, there is very little continuity between his policies and those of Frederick. As such, I don’t think the analogy holds exactly as you put it above.

    Rather we have here an unprecedented situation where a country with next to no natural enemies on its borders, and in an age of unprecedented inter-state peace, is choosing to dedicate itself more and more to military pursuits – rather than Prussia profiting from upsets in the status quo, or Hitler trying to destroy it, what we have here is the most powerful Empire on Earth desperately seeking military solutions to maintain its power against the coming economic and philosophical independence of the other large states of the world.

    1. II Galimba,

      From the post:

      This is a metaphor, as the mechanisms and goals of Prussian militarism have little similarity to those of modern America. But the effects are similar. Germany’s aggressiveness (with enablers among the other Great Powers) resulted in two world wars leaving it a burning wreck. Our interventions since 9/11 have helped set the Middle East aflame.

  3. You cannot compare the two. The German and Prussian military grew out of necessity of being surrounded by many enemies. WE don’t have that problem, we create enemies.

    The Germans greatest mistake was getting so good that they ignored strategy. Additionally, they had a true professional officer corps. WE do not. We think we are good through a massive marketing cheer leading system that says “the greatest Army ever” and “best Army on earth” which in fact allows senior leaders to hide behind this false cloak.

    Our system forces more politicization of the officer corps, at the feet of Political Correctness. This causes them not giving the truth to powers to be in the name of their careers.

    One thing that people do not know but there were many resignations of the German officer corps when Hitler took and kept power. There is one similar trend. What Hitler did was bribe senior officers after the successes of Austria, Czech and attack on Poland. WE do it with incredible pensions for three and four stars, as well as high paying jobs in the defense industry.

    1. Don,

      I agree on all points. On the other hand, I think you are looking at this too narrowly. The point is to shock us to realize how militarized we’ve become. It’s a metaphor.

      US militarization is nothing like Prussia’s in the details, as I said. But the effects are similar, hence the metaphor.


      • The Prussian/German wars started with Bismark and ended in 1945, including 3 quite different political eras. It was more than just Hitler.
      • There were some resignations by senior officers under Hitler (Ludwig Beck in 1938), but few.
      • I don’t believe it’s accurate to say that the generals served Hitter because they were bribed. Their diaries and letters show that they took their Oath quite seriously.

      Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolf Hitler, 2 August 1934:

      “I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”

    1. Scott,

      That’s a widespread belief of people familiar with the Deep State. It’s too scary for most people to consider. Worse, it creates severe cognitive dissonance — as their responsibilities as citizens clash with their apathy. Best not to think about it.

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