Beyond Terrorism and Militarism
By Jonathan M. Feldman
September 18, 2001
To prevent future horrors like those of September 11th we need a long-term vision
that addresses the following key points.
Militarists in the U.S. Have Helped Generate Their "Enemies"
First, these events reveal irrationality of fanatics who believe that the ends justify
the means. They also are partially a byproduct of persons hostile to the United States
and its interventionist foreign policies abroad, although the connection between
these two is sometimes difficult to fathom. Terrorism is anti-democratic and its
claims to justice are belied by its militarist means. Nevertheless, the U.S. is evidently
a rogue nation. It has repeatedly bombed civilian targets (with superior means of
destruction) in Vietnam, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere. Enemies of the U.S. in
turn have used tactics resembling those used by the Pentagon in these countries.
Even worse, our military industrial complex and "security" agencies have
aided these enemies politically and militarily with training and weapons systems.
The U.S. military has not only failed to defend, it has helped make America more
vulnerable by manufacturing enemies. The U.S. supported Iraq in its war with Iran,
and later claimed Iraq was enemy number one. Noam Chomsky notes that after the Gulf
War, having total control of the area, "the U.S. then allowed Saddam to slaughter
Shi'ites, probably the worst atrocity of the war" in the Gulf. The CIA backed
many so-called "fanatics" in Arab nations (e.g. helping to destabilize
a democratic regime in Iran in the 1950s) further suggesting that the Agency's policies
are a detriment to domestic security in the U.S. Robert Scheer reported on May 22nd
in The Los Angeles Times that the Bush administration gave $43 million to the Tabliban
rulers of Afghanistan. Now we are asked to believe that the military will truly safeguard
Militarists are often Poor Strategists
Impulsive actions often backfire. Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for
The Independent, warned on September 16th in an interview with Swedish television
that an intervention that killed thousand of innocent persons could help topple U.S.-friendly
regimes throughout the Middle East. Friendly regimes could be easily replaced by
those the Bush Administration suggests we should now be opposing. Bombing civilian
areas is sure to generate more terrorists. On September 17th Dianne Sawyer of ABC
news reported the French defense minister as saying that "in the long term we
should not be taking punitive actions and, in essence, igniting more terrorism."
Militarists are Not Necessarily Promoting Defense
The attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon help prove what many disarmament intellectuals
have long argued: the policies of the big technology/big science "Defense Department"
are geared less to "defensive" measures than offensive ones, linked to
imperial ambitions. If the Pentagon can not even protect its own building (or the
Twin Towers for that matter), how can it hope to protect any other part of the United
States? Power often leads to arrogance and arrogance to stupidity. The arrogance
of power is clearly evident here. "Defense" policies have not been linked
to protecting mass populations in the U.S., but are mainly geared to "offensive"
operations abroad. Bush's military campaigns may pursue some of those behind the
September 11th plot. They will also be part of a gigantic military spectacle to divert
attention from the utter failure of the military to adequately defend America. This
failure has produced a dangerous crisis of legitimacy for the Pentagon, fed by the
mass media's hysteria, that could trigger militarism without boundaries.
The attacks on the Twin Towers also highlight how little military resources have
been devoted to certain geographic regions in the country. The Pentagon has been
robbing New York State and New York City for decades. A report in 1996 found that
New York City sent $9.0 billion more in taxes to the Federal government each year
than it received in all Federal aid and grants. Short-changing infrastructure has
reduced security. Pentagon spending has created a climate of fiscal scarcity that
prevents alternative planning and investment in security and infrastructure.
There are many actions that could improve protection but are not undertaken because
of the lack of public intervention and resources. These include expenditures on improved
airport security, reconfiguring the structures of buildings, improving mass transportation
and egress from large buildings: Eric Darton, author of "Divided We Stand: a
Biography of New York's World Trade Center," argues that a major problem with
the buildings was that they were impossible to evacuate quickly. In the case of mass
vulnerable structures like the Twin Towers, it is clear that more funds are needed
to facilitate designs that make them safer. Short-term economic thinking based on
profit will not produce secure structures. Such thinking has in fact reduced airport
security. Economist Paul Krugman argues that airport security in the U.S. is paid
for by airlines who pay workers little and offer little training. A contrasting policy
is visible in Europe where security is paid for by airports or national governments.
It is ironic that a few civilians on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania may have
done more to protect America by diverting its course than the multi-billion dollar
Pentagon, CIA and National Security Agency. Although some doubt that civilians brought
down the plane, in general the active involvement of citizens in defense may provide
more security than restricting responsibility to professionals. As we have seen in
street crime, community involvement is more effective than exclusively professionalized
"defense forces." Community policing and cooperative vigilance against
terrorist attacks will prove far more effective than overly complicated systems aimed
at invisible targets.
Militarism Threatens Democracy in the U.S.
This tragedy will further eliminate what already appeared to be very weak if non-existent
barriers to American imperial and militarist ambitions. It further promises to intellectually
co-opt even more of the formerly pro-democracy intellegentsia to support militarism
and militarist solutions. The Gulf War co-opted one group, the Kosovo conflict another.
Now, this event will help militarists in the U.S. in their campaign to further reduce
expenditures in needed areas like housing, healthcare, mass transportation and environmental
renewal. A McCarthy-like hysteria has surfaced against Arab-Americans and Arabs living
There was one sole vote in Congress, that of Barbara J. Lee of California, who opposed
granting Bush what seems to amount to unlimited authority in using force in response
to the crisis.
It is Not Enough to Decry Militarism and Terrorism
The leading U.S. peace organization, Peace Action, supports the use of international
law to pursue those responsible for the attacks and opposes retaliatory attacks against
"any country or individuals it believes to have been responsible." Therefore,
it would be unfair to suggest that they advocate doing nothing. Nevertheless, there
is a danger that this approach will appear to do just this, if it is not complemented
by measures that improve citizens' security. Such appearances may make it easier
for the Right and militarist hysterics to target the peace movement and Left as supporters
of terrorism, especially if persons in the peace movement or Left appear to ignore
the sense of outrage associated with the September 11th events. If progressives "rally
around the flag" without questioning the policies of the Pentagon and other
military agencies then they may simply become militarists. Rallying around the Pentagon
is a false hope because the agency has proven itself incapable of defending America.
A dual track is needed to oppose militarism and resist terrorism, two forces that
seem to thrive on one another. Progressives who support "peace" rather
than "war" can appear to be advancing empty slogans if they do not address
real security anxieties of the mass population.
One alternative to militarists' stigmatization of the peace movement ("ignorant
of terror") and the legitimation crisis of the Warfare State ("militarism
without boundaries") is constructive and operational planning to provide alternative
security. This planning will go nowhere unless it is connected to a huge, counter
mass media apparatus and network, involving public and alternative radio, progressive
magazines, NGOs, peace and environmental groups, trade unions, progressive film producers,
forward minded foundations, and the likeóeach brought together for a common
purpose: crafting alternatives to militarism. Rhetoric about a vaguely defined "peace"
or "imperialism" will be symbolic and useless in opposing militarism.
Alternatives to Militarism
The events of September 11th are triggering a large war build up that is linked to
domestic hysteria. All progressives, socially responsible clergy, and political independents
must rally their forces against dysfunctional militarist policies that fail to provide
security and real defense. Several key actions should be taken.
First, town meetings and teach-ins should be held to debate the ineffectiveness of
current defense policies and institutions. The meetings should involve simultaneous
broadcasts in the United States, Europe, Canada, and other countries. They should
join the peace, religious and progressive movements and others concerned with making
the world a more safe and just place. The anger of those who are outraged by the
attacks must be constructively engaged. Thomas Jefferson realized that continual
mobilization of the public was the best safeguard for democracyóa kind cooperative
Second, we must improve airport security in ways that do not threaten civil liberties.
(The dysfunctional technology of airport security reminds one of the incompetent
U.S. electoral machinery we saw in the Votergate scandal last year).
Third, defensive technological systems such as radar and the like should be focused
on protecting the obvious targets. The Twin Towers have long been the object of terrorist
attacks and are among the most vulnerable of structures, but the buildings were not
Fourth, the budgets for military agencies that subsidized military adventures abroad,
while failing to protect the U.S. should be radically reduced. Capital monies should
be redirected to providing local defense and improve domestic security through infrastructure
improvements. Coalitions that divert war-making budgets into environmental renewal,
modern mass transportation, and housing will make domestic life more secure by helping
end the cycle of violence.
Fifth, there needs to be a concerted resistance to America's militarist adventures
abroad, but this resistance must be linked to concerted actions to promote demilitarization.
Such policies should include conversion of defense industries that hijack federal
budgets for pet projects that have failed to defend, comprehensive disarmament treaties,
and investments in economic development in impoverished areas.
Sixth, the crisis of militarism described above is partly a byproduct of an intellectual
crisis. The discourse on globalization must embrace concepts such as alternative
security, conversion, disarmament and comprehensive democracy. In "alternative
security" we would start planning for what is called non-offensive defense,
with military technology focused on defending home targets rather than engaging in
overseas targets. In conversion, we would transform military firms into production
for civilian products, supported by civilian infrastructure investments in developed
and developing nations. In disarmament, we would negotiate treaties to reduce weapons
manufacture and research by cooperative treaties among all nation states. In comprehensive
democracy, we would build alternative national and international networks linking
the progressive media, cooperatives, socially responsible businesses, trade unions,
NGOs, and various groups united by a vision supporting economic justice and demilitarization.
About the Author:
Jonathan M. Feldman was born in Manhattan. He is an expert on the economic conversion
of defense firms and related disarmament policies. He formerly worked as a Program
Director and Senior Fellow at the National Commission for Economic Conversion and
Disarmament in Washington, D.C.