A Dial Marked ‘War’

by , October 02, 2008

The War Party loves generals: John McCain mentions Gen. David Petraeus at the drop of a hat, citing him as the final military and moral authority when it comes to U.S. strategy in the Middle East. The reverent tone is supposed to indicate that no further argument is necessary. Military figures are, for the neoconservatives, an essential adjunct to their favorite narrative, which defers to military leaders in a way the Founding Fathers would have found horrifying – they who wondered aloud whether the young republic ought to have a standing army at all, lest it give rise to a permanent military caste that would wield undue influence.

That never happened. Although generals have laid claim to the presidency often, the military as a separate political subclass never gained either ascendancy or undue influence, except insofar as individual military figures went into politics. The tradition of keeping the military as a body out of politics is long and praiseworthy, and it has happily been largely observed – except, of course, by the neocons, who tread on tradition as a matter of high principle and have made a demigod out of Petraeus, a role he seems to revel in.

Yet Petraeus is the exception that proves the rule. The U.S. officer corps was solidly against our Iraqi adventure, and they are horrified at the prospect of a repeat – on a much larger scale, of course – in Iran. They are, like the exemplar of the species, Colin Powell, reluctant interventionists, at best, and generally considered unreliable and even dangerous by the War Party. Others, like the late Gen. William E. Odom, are more fearless in expressing their anti-interventionist instincts, and if we go back in American history, we come across other unlikely peaceniks in uniform.

The unlikeliest was no doubt Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the hero of the 1950s "isolationists" (i.e., the good guys), who wanted to nominate him for president on a third-party ticket opposing another general by the name of Eisenhower. MacArthur was, however, even more of a reluctant politician and declined to run for public office, in spite of efforts by conservative backers of Sen. Robert A. Taft to put his name on the ballot. This was perhaps due, in part, to such sentiments as the following:

"It is a part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear. While such an economy may produce a sense of seeming prosperity for the moment, it rests on an illusionary foundation of complete unreliability and renders among our political leaders almost a greater fear of peace than is their fear of war.”

These words were uttered at the dawn of the Cold War, when it was nothing less than ideological heresy, on the Left as well as the Right, to question either the threat emanating from the East or the onward-and-upward optimism of the postwar American high. "The propaganda of fear" was doing its work, and, besides, the people were narcotized by a false prosperity. The perpetual motion machine of the arms industry was covering up inherent weaknesses in the American economy, providing a cosmetic solution to the problems unleashed by inflationary policies and the gradual militarization of the productive forces. This policy was the perfect solution for politicians who stood at the helm of the USS Empire as it made its maiden voyage and ventured out beyond the far horizon.

In the early Fifties, America stood at the threshold of its imperial destiny, and one writer, Garet Garrett by name, not only saw it coming [.pdf], but also saw how it would end. His remarkably concise and pungent commentary on the rise of empire, in a pamphlet of the same name, is still the best single statement on how and why we lost our old republic. In it, he remarks,

"The bald interpretation of General MacArthur’s words is this. War becomes an instrument of domestic policy. Among the control mechanisms on the government’s panel board now is a dial marked War. It may be set to increase or decrease the tempo of military expenditures, as the planners decide that what the economy needs is a little more inflation or a little less – but of course never any deflation. And whereas it was foreseen that when Executive Government is resolved to control the economy it will come to have a vested interest in the power of inflation, so now we may perceive that it will come also to have a kind of proprietary interest in the institution of perpetual war."

Let there be no doubt as to our rulers’ response to the stinging repudiation of the bailout, which was supposed to save their necks and those of their cronies and backers. On their panel board is a dial marked War, and it is conveniently within reach.

When the news breaks, will the people once again inundate congressional phone lines and bring down the government’s Web site with the full weight of their fury? If so, their protests will be misdirected: they should instead be aimed at the White House, which alone has the power to go to war without congressional consent. The rule of law would indicate otherwise, but ever since they let Truman get away with it in 1950, when he sent U.S. troops to Korea without bothering to consult with the people’s elected representatives, that power has remained the exclusive prerogative of the executive branch. Because the precedent went unchallenged and was barely even noticed – except by a few eccentrics, like Garrett, who remembered that archaic old parchment known as the Constitution – today a president can unilaterally decide to "save" mankind, his political career, and jump-start the economy, all in one fell swoop. All he has to do is issue the order, and instantly the country is at war.

War, like its progenitor, inflation, is a narcotic that causes us to forget the real problems and their causes and permits all sorts of actions that would not be considered normal under any other circumstances. It is a perfect holiday from the rule of law and is fully taken advantage of by our lawless politicians, who seize on it as a pretext for anything and everything [.pdf]. It emphasizes the worst excesses and encourages their fullest development, so that human behavior is distorted beyond all recognition. Human reason is not merely violated, but inverted: we enter a Bizarro World, where those who made bad investments are bailed out – rewarded – while ordinary folk who live by the rules and pay their bills are taxed to make up the difference.

As the wheels of commerce screech to a grinding halt and the empire of lies – funny money, phony "weapons of mass destruction," and bogus threats to our national security emanating from every corner of the globe – begins to unravel, get ready for the alarm to go off signifying the start of yet another war scare. It’s a great diversion from economic troubles, albeit an expensive one – but, as the proposed banksters’ bailout showed, no expense is to be spared in saving their necks.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Check out my take on the proposal for a "league of democracies" over at The American Conservative. Also, in the same issue, you might want to look at Anthony Gregory‘s great review of my recently republished book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement. The latter is available to subscribers.

You know, you really ought to subscribe: for the first three months, it won’t cost you a thing. That’s right – you can go here and get a free three-month online subscription to TAC.

As an associate editor, I’m proud to be connected to one of the best political magazines around, an invaluable ally of the anti-interventionist cause. Go check it out today!

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