Monday, March 14, 2011

Michael True's Op-Ed: "Misplaced Faith in Military"

from one of my esteemed mentors, Michael True....
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Worcester Telegram and Gazette


By Michael True

Not surprising, people risking their lives for democracy (most recently in Egypt) are critical, sometimes vehemently so, of our foreign policy.

Blind faith — adhering to a proposition with no reasonable justification of its truth — is more dangerous for politicians than it is for religionists.

True believers may acknowledge their blind faith in religious dogma, while foreign policy wonks seldom acknowledge their blind faith in political dogma. Yet many legislators and administrators, as well as columnists and academics, adhere to the dogma of “military supremacy,” which dominates U.S. foreign policy.

American taxpayers, who have invested heavily in that dogma, have serious questions about whether it works.

What’s the evidence?

“The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields” since 9/ 11: “The Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate military supremacy into meaningful victory.”

That’s according to Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel now teaching at Boston University. Mr. Bacevich speaks with some authority.

For several decades, blind faith in military supremacy has been responsible for a waste of lives and vast resources, resulting in an unprecedented, annual military budget that exceeds all other military budgets combined: $700 billion.

That’s enough money to feed, clothe, educate, and provide health care for every person in the world for several years, according to the U.N. Development Office.

How often must that comparison be acknowledged before it results in serious debate about U.S. foreign policy? How long will it take for the president and Congress to acknowledge that these wasted resources are an essential cause of our present economic recession?

So get ready for more hocus-pocus from lobbyists for sustaining this unprecedented military outlay when Congress debates the possibility of reducing it. We’ll hear variations on a Republican senator’s saying that he would never approve any reduction in military spending that might increase the vulnerability of our troops. If Congress were so concerned about the vulnerability of our troops, why does it keep sending them into wars — Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan — that ended in either defeat or stalemates?

What have any of these misadventures — and many other secret and public interventions — to do with “security”?

As the vice-chancellor of a major university in India told me, America’s security in recent decades has come to be based on alliances with some of the world’s most authoritarian rulers. It’s “security” purchased at the expense of victims of harsh dictatorships in Indonesia, Central America, and Pakistan, over the past several decades.

Not surprising, people risking their lives for democracy (most recently in Egypt) are critical, sometimes vehemently so, of our foreign policy.

For fear of being accused of “America bashing,” perhaps one must acknowledge that many people in the world admire the U.S. for its achievements in governance. Increasingly, however, young people risking their lives to resist tyrants abroad, particularly in the Middle East, view the U.S. with suspicion. Too many Americans dismiss these critics, rather than ask why our good name is tarnished among people desperate to claim their rights as citizens.

So what must be done?

Ample evidence from recent history suggests that violence is not the only route to social change. And our foreign policy of risky interventions, CIA subversion, and drone deaths of innocent citizens, has undermined rather than encouraged the building a global civic culture. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a recent address at West Point, said that anyone advocating U.S. interventions similar to Iraq and Afghanistan should have his head examined.

Again and again, nations have demonstrated that democratic governance must be built from within, not imposed by a dominating power from without. Change takes place when citizens demand it through a host of nonviolent methods and strategies — perhaps the only effective means of achieving it.

In recent years, ordinary people have achieved dramatic change through nonviolent means even among people under despotic governments — in the Philippines, Poland, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and Latin America. In his brilliant research and scholarship on nonviolent campaigns, Gene Sharp, documenting and evaluating these struggles, emphasizes what works and what does not work, and why, in particular contexts. A front-page story in the New York Times on Feb. 17 on professor Sharp called attention to his publications, which are available free on the Internet at

In addition to the successful nonviolent campaigns of the past 20 years, with ordinary people bringing down dictators or resisting foreign domination, there have been accomplishments within the U.S. itself, as well.

The 20-year campaign to close the School of Americas, Fort Benning, Ga., through legislative and direct action, is a model for such initiatives. Father Roy Bourgeois and SOA Watch first exposed SOA’s training of Latin American recruits in torture, then convinced their governments not to send troops — some later members of death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala — for military training at Fort Benning.

Enamored of guns at home, Americans tolerate our government’s reliance on the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction. As a foreign policy, it resembles the “corporate security” dramatized in the film, Social Network. Among people embracing a domination system, the essential ingredients of a humane culture — art, morality, social justice, family life — are minimized or irrelevant. In that film, as in our lives, top-down management, like military supremacy, functions as a religious faith.

Isn’t it obvious, in light of the consequences, that blind faith in military supremacy is misplaced? As a foreign policy, it simply doesn’t work.

“Washington knows how to start wars and how to prolong them,” as Professor Bacevich concludes, “but is clueless when it comes to ending them.”

Michael True is an emeritus professor at Assumption College and a resident of Worcester.

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