Stand at attention! The flag and its song now chime amidst the sky’s red glare. Hats to our chest, we stand in ‘democratic’ subordination to the king and its symbols…
Is it just simply the Defense Department’s dollars and the human proclivity toward the adoration of power – when an entity representing a certain group holds all the cards – that drives Americans’ high esteem for the military? The Defense Department’s investment in pervasive military promotional advertising, not simply at sporting events, but in billboards, train stations Hollywood films, television ads and on the sides of public buses – this should certainly not be underestimated. Just as omnipresent advertisements make a consumer more inclined to purchase a product, it also makes them more prone to accept continuous war-waging and to revere the military.
However, there is something else at work. Arguably, a consumer cannot be persuaded to buy a product that they have absolutely no need for, even if they are continuously deluged with ads for a certain commercial good. Similarly, in American psychology, prior to promotional advertising, there is a predisposition to hold the military in the highest regard. The plethora of sweatshirts and bumper stickers that read "I’m proud of my son at Camp Pendleton" screams of absence. There are no like bumper stickers or clothing goods that read "I’m proud of my teacher [social worker, lawyer, professor, construction worker] son."
Even though the U.S. has not waged a truly defensive war since the War of 1812, there is the sense, particularly since 9/11, that the US is under assault. Indeed, the US was attacked on 9/11, but not by a nation state that threatened an all-out war, but by a non-state terrorist group. Prior to 9/11, the US military was already stationed throughout the world, but under the post-9/11 dynamics, it became far more active. Its activity heightened, and bases spread to Russia’s soft underbelly of Afghanistan and the center of the Middle East, Iraq, along with increased operations in Yemen, Syria, the Philippines, Libya and Somalia. In new locations US leaders deemed geostrategic, the US military could more readily go on the offensive.
The US had placed its troops in harm’s way to elevate global hegemony and ostensibly fight terrorism; but this inevitably resulted increased attacks on US troops and occasional troop casualties. The media tended to report on these assaults as acts of ‘terrorism’, implying that the perpetrators, unlike like the US military’s supposed ‘rational’ imperialism, were pre-modern and likely ‘irrationally’ religious (read: Islamic) in nature. This, along with the relatively rare terrorist attacks that have occurred on US soil in the post-9/11 era, led to the specious feeling that the US itself was under assault, despite the opposite being the case. The lack of understanding of the compulsively aggressive nature of US military policy, which exacerbates and sometimes causes social conflict throughout the globe, helps lead Americans to believe that the US is under the continuous foreign threat.
An augmented perceptual threat has yielded fertile soil for the Defense Department’s flagrant military advertising. It helps to solidify a holistic world schema – in which protection and security are of utmost necessity in an ‘increasingly dangerous world’ – yielding military adoration and a reflexive support for war.
We are but hermit crabs clawed out from our shell into a vast, ominous wilderness. In this wilderness, the military is the number one protector, shielding us from the most frightful threat of all – the exotic, foreign threat. Police, a bit lower in the esteem hierarchy, are the number two protectors. They keep us safe from domestic threats that lurk in pilfered shadows that portend calamity at any moment.
In this sense, we are like Spartans but lazier and of exponentially greater cowardice. Where in Sparta, the entire adult male population continuously geared up for and engaged in war, a small minority of our population does so. Contrary to Spartans’ risking their own lives in hand-to-hand combat, US drone warfare and aerial bombardment help minimize risks faced by US troops (though risk was heightened in ground combat in Afghanistan and Iraq), while maximizing the deaths of enemies and nearby civilians.
Instead, the US population acts as the military’s cheer leaders, which is enhanced during periods of televised ‘real’ warfare entertainment. Of course, the ‘real’ warfare we are fed by the media is biased on behalf of US policy and fails to accurately highlight the deaths that US wars incur on enemy civilians. In the Baudrillardian sense, 21st century American warfare does not exist. The image and media reports capture phenomenon that are often but shadows on the wall; the shadows cater to our world schema biases inherent in militarism and an exceptionalist, American-centered world.
The swelling feeling of threat, mixed with love of military and, to a lesser extent the police, seem to have amalgamated, of late, into emotions tightly wound into the US flag and national anthem. They represent symbols of who we are: good, decent people misdirected into believing that a nation which starts more wars than any others is ‘exceptional’ and the military that does so is religion. Bring any American out of there shell of work, family, hobbies and friends and into the Heidegger ‘Open’ of the world and they will see that – yes, America is still great for its ability to incorporate people worldwide into an experimental venture where freedom and opportunity, at least in theory, are allowed. But it is also a storm cloud raining upon the world. The emotions tied into symbols of flag and national anthem represent threat misperception gone mad: a military policy (and no soldier should in anyway be blamed for this) that is blindfolded and clobbers away at piñatas – and a population that worships the bat that rips into the piñata-world.
Reverting back to the constitution and all-American activists and leaders like Woody Guthrie, Malcolm X, Emma Goldman, Rosa Parks, Ron Paul, Cesar Chavez, John Quincy Adams, Abby Martin, Frederick Douglass, and Samuel Adams, the American flag and anthem should be re-appropriated to stand for freedom of speech, equal opportunity, ability to start a business with relative ease, inclusion, equal speech through the ending of lobbyist donations to campaigns, vibrant political discourse, free and peaceful relations with the world (both in trade and diplomacy) and devotion to understanding and knowledge. This is still what America stands for; but the American rain cloud, in the worship of the military and its symbols, along with xenophobia, threaten to engulf us…and with it, the world.
Peter Crowley is an independent writer and scholar with a M.S. in Conflict Resolution, Global Studies from Northeastern University. He works as Content Specialist/Production Coordinator for a prominent library science company. For fun, he plays in bluesy rock band around the Boston/NYC area. His writings can be found in Boston Literary Magazine, Mondoweiss, Mint Press News, (several publications in) Wilderness House Literary Review, Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Truthout, Green Fuse Press, Antiwar.com, Rhinocerotic, Peace Studies Journal, Ethnic Studies Review (forthcoming), Inquiries Journal and a periodical publication of the Brookline, MA Historical Society.