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Sneak Attack

Things start to become militarized when their legitimacy depends on their associations with military goals. When something becomes militarized, it appears to rise in value. Militarization is seductive.

But it is really a process of loss. Even though something seems to gain value by adopting an association with military goals, it actually surrenders control and gives up the claim to it own worthiness.

Militarization is a sneaky sort of transformative process. Sometimes it is only in the pursuit of demilitarization that we become aware of just how far down the road of complete militarization we’ve gone. Representative Barbara Lee (D.-Calif.) pulled back the curtain in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks when she cast the lone vote against giving George W. Bush carte blanche to wage war. The loneliness of her vote suggested how far the militarization of Congress—and its voters back home—has advanced. In fact, since September 11, publicly criticizing militarization has been widely viewed as an act of disloyalty.

Whole cultures can be militarized. It is a militarized U.S. culture that has made it easier for Bush to wage war without most Americans finding it dangerous to democracy. Our cultural militarization makes war-waging seem like a comforting reconfirmation of our collective security, identity, and pride.

Other sectors of U.S. culture have also been militarized:

  • Education. School board members accept Jr. ROTC programs for their teenagers, and social studies teachers play it safe by avoiding discussions of past sexual misconduct by U.S. soldiers overseas. Many university scientists pursue lucrative Defense Department weapons research contracts.
  • Soldiers’ girlfriends and wives. They’ve been persuaded that they are “good citizens” if they keep silent about problems in their relationships with male soldiers for the sake of their fighting effectiveness.
  • Beauty. This year, the Miss America Pageant organizers selected judges with military credentials, including a former Secretary of the Navy and an Air Force captain.
  • Cars. The Humvee ranks among the more bovine vehicles to clog U.S. highways, yet civilians think they will be feared and admired if they drive them.

    Then there is the conundrum of the flag. People who reject militarization may don a flag pin, unaware that doing so may convince those with a militarized view of the U.S. flag that their bias is universally shared, thus deepening the militarization of culture.

    The events of post-September 11 have also shown that many Americans today may be militarizing non-U.S. women’s lives. It was only after Bush declared “war on terrorists and those countries that harbor them” that the violation of Afghan women’s human rights took center stage. Here’s the test of whether Afghan women are being militarized: if their well-being is worthy of our concern only because their lack of well-being justifies the U.S.’s bombing of Afghanistan, then we are militarizing Afghan women—as well as our own compassion. We are thereby complicit in the notion that something has worth only if it allows militaries to achieve their missions.

    It’s important to remember that militarization has its rewards, such as newfound popular support for measures formerly contested. For example, will many Americans now be persuaded that drilling for oil in the Alaskan wilderness is acceptable because it will be framed in terms of “national security”? Will most U.S. citizens now accept government raids on the Social Security trust fund in the name of paying for the war on terrorism?
    Women’s rights in the U.S. and Afghanistan are in danger if they become mere by-products of some other cause. Militarization, in all its seductiveness and subtlety, deserves to be bedecked with flags wherever it thrives- fluorescent flags of warning.

    Media Resources: MsMagazine

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