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 the U.S.

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 in Europe.

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 network.

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 secure.

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.

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