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Last Updated: 02/11/2004
Embedded militarism
Simon Stande

The editor remarks on current trends in militarism.


Three former generals have served as Presidents of the USA. George Washington, whose military competence made a significant impact on the progress of the War against Britain, was elected as the first President of the new Republic. After the next momentous time in US history, the Civil War which unified a disintegrating nation state, the victorious general who took the surrender of the Confederate forces in 1865, Ulysses S Grant was elected President. Dwight Eisenhower, who masterminded Allied strategy at the end of the Second World War was elected President during the coldest years of the cold war. The Constitution of the US is a meaningful sense a guarantee of US militarism. All too frequently the debate concerning the next presidential election refers to the role of the president as not only the civilian leader of ”the most powerful nation on earth” but also to his role as “commander-in-chief”. Militarism is embedded in US politics.


Now, at a time of undisputed economic hegemony of the USA, the election run up for next November looks as if this militaristic streak that runs through US history is again emerging. First Wes Clark, judging the historical moment correctly, came in as a late candidate. However, his place in military history is trivial by the side of the three rival generals from history. No contest, as they say.


The issue, therefore, has shifted to whether a former junior officer has better military credentials than a former pilot in the National Guard to be commander-in-chief. Of course, John McCain last time round sniffed the militaristic possibilities as he underlined the fact that both his father and grandfather were Admirals and he would probably have gone further than Captain if it hadn’t been for all those years as a prison of war. Captain, anyway, is a serious rank equivalent to a full Colonel and well ahead of National Guard lieutenant but somewhat short of the Washington-Grant-Eisenhower level. It would appear that the USA has not yet produced the great General with the political aspirations and drive to become President in recent years. (Colin Powell appears to have come closest.) Moreover the line that has to be walked is a tricky one for any challenger to Bush. He has to be against wars that are expensive and bog down but for wars that provide scope for the overblown military economic base that is necessary for the hegemon to remain as a world leader.


Of course, the main supporter of the military exploits of the USA is Britain. Militarism has been embedded for centuries and remains so in that country. Queen Elizabeth dressed in military uniform and bedecked in medals inspects the trooping of the colour. The king in waiting has his pilot’s wings from the RAF and is also a graduate of the Royal Naval College. One brother is a serving Navy officer, and the other narrowly escaped a career in the Royal Marines. Prince Charles’s son, Prince Harry, will become an officer, too and seems that he can hardly wait. The popular name Harry may have been his mother’s choice, but it is a fitting name as far as the militaristic image is concerned as the frequently performed Shakespearean plays Henry IV, part II and Henry V will verify. (For instance see the review of Kevin Kline performing in these plays last November in New York )

Thus the joint cultures of the US and UK are dangerously militaristic. What can be done? One would be to separate the civil and military in the US (the case in most advanced democracies) by calling for a change in the US Constitution, something that not even Kucinich has thought of yet. The other would be to abolish the Monarchy in Britain. Both logical, but, alas, not practical.