“In what we like to think of as 'primitive' warrior cultures, the passage to manhood requires the blooding of a spear, the taking of a scalp or head. ...“'You must understand that Americans are a warrior nation,' Sen. Patrick Moynihan told a group of Arab leaders. ...“He said this proudly, and he may, without thinking through the ugly implications, have told the truth. In many ways, in outlook and behavior the U.S. has begun to act like a primitive warrior culture.”Barbara Ehrenreich, TIME Magazine, Oct. 15, 1990Twenty-two years having passed, let's lay aside our spears and consider these words more carefully.“U.S. to Expand Role in Africa,” said a headline on Page One of The Wall Street Journal a lot more recently.Africa? A military concern for us now? Why?That's just the way it is. Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Djibouti, Niger, soon Mali. They're just small bits of the world's map, but together or separately they hold the promise, or history, of war for America.Even in these days of a wounded economy, we're ready for war anywhere, anytime. You know and I know it's really our main national product, and we stand behind it: ICBMs, nuclear subs and carriers, armored vehicles, AR-15 assault rifles, airlift jets and fighter bombers and spy satellites, night-vision optics and GPS, drones and the Internet. Our defense budgets gave us these and much more. They're far from “primitive,” but as investments they do pretty much mark us as warriors.In fact, if you think about it, without them there really wouldn't be any America to lead the world down that rough road, past the graveyard, to the correct goal: membership in our democratic community of nations.And consider this: We used to have a Department of War in D.C., the most important Cabinet post of its time. We still do. It still is. We've just changed the name, but not the purpose or the priority, to keep it clear we've always been the most powerful rulers on this earth. In truth, what we're doing is still fighting World War II, facing provocation after provocation, extension by extension, from jungle to desert to ocean to space to sea-bottom, with this same guiding flame of our destiny: We are the Greatest! But as with all intelligence reports, we must look at Ehrenreich's exact conclusions with great care. Few believe Americans in uniform like war (with record numbers of suicides in ranks), whether to achieve manhood or sergeant's stripes. So focus on our culture: has it indeed been coarsened by our militarism? Here's a review of a 2003 interview with Robert McNamara, our defense chief during the Vietnam War. “He admits that he and the presidents he served misconstrued and misrepresented” the war. Which, we now know, led to more war.Closer to home, 9-11: “Since that day ... we have lived in a subtly different country,” writes professor Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books, “and though we have grown accustomed to these changes ... certain words still appear in the news — Guantanamo, indefinite detention, torture — to remind us that ours remains a strange America ...”Or this one, really close: On Super Bowl Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said this (defense) budget sequester “will affect the entire American economy.” We can't stop. Our pursuit of happiness depends on war, and our preparedness for war. So. Secret practices, solemn oaths, endless sacrifice, missions around the world in Korea and Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan and ... Culture? Hell, we're not even a country anymore. We're a Church!• Robert L. Cutts is a retired career journalist, including 12 years with the daily Stars and Stripes and a year and a half as a Vietnam correspondent, and also was an adjunct journalism instructor at WNC.
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