Tuesday, May 10, 2011

J. William Fulbright Against Militarism

 Fulbright’s The Arrogance of Power Revisited:
Against Puritanical Militarism

Dick Bennett

“The American people have become more and more accustomed to militarism, to uniforms, to the cult of the gun and to the violence of combat.”  Militarism, U.S.A. by Col. James A. Donovan
“Since 1945 American presidents have wielded power over national security and foreign policy far beyond the dreams of tyrants.”   The Rockets’ Red Glare by Richard Barnet
“As we have developed into a society whose most prominent business is violence, one of the leading professions inevitably is soldiering.”  J. William Fulbright
“…the effect of war and the constant threat of war are carrying us toward despotism.”  J. William Fulbright

I.                    Fulbright’s Analysis of Militarism

     We know now how accurately former Senator J. William Fulbright analyzed  U.S. militarism in its many guises.   In Fulbright’s books and articles and speeches during the 1960s and 1970s, the former Senator from Arkansas and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee identified these twenty-five characteristics of militarism:
1.  Militarism reflects and in turn causes a fearful, xenophobic society that constantly creates dehumanized enemies;
2.       It teaches the inevitability of war and reinforces the widespread expectation of war in order to continually prepare for war;
3.       Its narrow point of view excludes political, social, economic, and moral complexities;
4.         It develops an enormous National Security State seeking military superiority over other nations;
5.      It has a powerful president committed to war, violence, and armed force for solving international problems;
6.      It maintains a large officer corps dedicated to the business of violence and competition for power;
7.        It is interventionist and imperialistic, invading  sovereign nations unconstitutionally and   illegally;
8.      It is self-righteous, believing in U.S. virtue against worldwide wrongdoers;
9.      It turns the legitimate desire for national security into an excuse and method for internal repression and external domination;
10.  It weakens the Senate’s constitutional authority over warmaking;
11.    It gives the military the highest priority in access to national resources, its budget and that of its accompanying military-industrial complex are virtually sacrosanct; and the military is integrated into the web of the country’s economic life;
12.  It has a massive, costly, wasteful military bureaucracy;
13.  It creates a military propaganda machine to create favorable public and congressional opinion toward an “honorable” and “comforting” military;
14.  It raises patriotism over criticism, individual autonomy, investigation, and dissent;
15.  It operates on a permanent war economy with enormous budgets going to war industries placed throughout the nation
 16.   Consequently, it is reinforced by the millions of self-interested, martial employees who profit from the military-industrial complex throughout the US web of grassroots militarism;
17.   It is dominated by powerful military corporations that spend billions of dollars to advertise, lobby, and bribe for their economic interests;
18.  It erodes national moral values through war crimes, waste, bullying, and other anti-social behaviors;
19.   Because of its many wars, it has countless veterans organizations constantly lauding war heroism and expressing nationalism, patriotism, chauvinism, and jingoism;
20.    The military are beyond effective criticism and control;few high ranking officers have been fired, and military officers are among the most honored and popular people in the nation;
21.   Its civilian leaders have embraced the military outlook and often outdo the generals in the pursuit of goals through armed force;
22.    It disregards international laws and treaties that do not suit its national interests;
23.  It operates perhaps the largest propaganda and conditioning center in the world—the corporate-military-White House-mainstream media complex;
24.  Deception and secrecy are accepted as a normal fact of life; both presidents Johnson and Nixon hid their unconstitutional and illegal actions from the public to increase and prolong the war;
25.  Civil liberties are significantly suppressed, the Bill of Rights severely damaged; during the Vietnam War the US had more political prisoners than any other country on earth, and the FBI secretly resorted to countless illegal tactics to silence dissenters.
 That Fulbright so strongly opposed militarism “as a system of values [in] direct threat to our democracy” should surprise no one who is familiar with his commitment to humanistic, internationalist, generous, cosmopolitan, public-spirited, legal, rationalist, tolerant, educational, cooperative, accommodationist, constitutionalist, diplomatic, and dissenting values, and his opposition to imperialists, dictators, right-wing extremists, fanatics, absolutists, bellicosity, lying, ignorance, xenophobia, arrogance, and wars.  What might not be familiar is his analysis of the root cause of militarism: puritanical intolerance.
II. Intolerant Puritanism
     Fulbright’s resistance to militarism issued through the written and spoken word—through books, articles, speeches, interviews, Senate committee hearings, and letters.
The titles of Fulbright’s books refer to militarism, sometimes explicitly: Old Myths and New Realities (1964), The Arrogance of Power (1966), The Pentagon Propaganda Machine 1971), The Crippled Giant (1972), The Price of Empire (1989).  All of these books deal with the subject of militarism, more or less.
       The Arrogance of Power illustrates the Fulbright of the mid-1960s, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and nascent opponent of the Vietnam War.  In the book’s Conclusion, Fulbright establishes a duality that will shape all of his public utterances on U. S. militarism: the conflict between “democratic humanism” of tolerance and accommodation, which Fulbright espouses, and “intolerant puritanism,” the root of U.S. militarism. These two principles, one leading to international amity, the other to militarism and war, unify paragraphs, chapters, parts, and the book as a whole.   Fulbright would persuade readers to imagine humanistic instead of puritan militaristic foreign policy alternatives and to seek an empathy and magnanimity even for enemies in order to embrace accommodation instead of slaughter.
       The Introduction seeks a cause of militarism and wars in the “arrogance of power,” which he defines as the “psychological need that nations seem to have in order to prove that they are bigger, better, or stronger than other nations.  Implicit in this drive is the assumption…that [armed] force is the ultimate proof of superiority—that when a nation shows that it has the stronger army, it is also proving that it has better people, better institutions, better principles, and, in general, a better civilization.” 
     Several features of militarism are described here (self-righteousness, large military establishment, empire).   These pressures and pathologies, having produced horrendous slaughters in the past, now with the development of nuclear weapons and ballistics missiles threaten the survival of the planet.  Traditional militaristic expansion and domination are no longer tolerable.  The “tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission” (the “missionary instinct”) must end.
      This is preeminently a United States problem since it is such a great power.   The time had urgently come for a re-examination of “’all the attitudes of our ancestors.”  This task Fulbright assays in The Arrogance of Power, his contribution to “the patriot’s duty of dissent.”
      The book is organized into three parts.  Part I, “The Higher Patriotism,” defends dissent.  In Chapter 1, criticism is praised as “a higher form of patriotism,” as opposed militaristic suppression, which Fulbright perceives to be hardening in both corporations and government into “conformity with a barren and oppressive orthodoxy.”  Here he defends Vietnam War protesters, denounces unjust U.S. wars, and praises universities as places where faculty and students are encouraged to examine official and ancestral ideas, devoted not to country but to what the country might be.
     Chapter 2 extols the U.S. Congress and especially the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as a forum of diverse opinions and a channel of communication between the people and their government.  But he laments the reduced role of Congress as the President’s has strengthened, so that the members of Congress were increasingly falling in line with presidential absolutism (Cuban missile crisis, Dominican intervention, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, bipartisan facilitation of wars).
     The structure of chapters 1 and 2 are identical:  the patriotic duty of dissent against oppressive government leaders bent on war--and against their militaristic language.  He deplores the slogans of empire—the shot fired at Concord heard around the world, manifest destiny, making the world safe for democracy, unconditional surrender; the “voodoo” maledictions against evil enemies as though “to ward off evil spirits”; the absolute commitments “vital to a free world” no matter how unwise; the derision of ideas—mediation as appeasement for example.   Slogans, myths prevent fresh, unorthodox ideas; they oppose democratic humanistic values in the practice of foreign policy.
       In Part II, Fulbright rejects the messianic zeal of both the Soviet Union and the U.S. that fuels militarism, as well as the imperial impulse to intervene militarily in all of the revolutionary and potentially revolutionary societies of the world.  Here he examines U.S. policies toward the Soviet Union, the intervention of the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, and China, in each case pleading for understanding and generosity as the basis of our foreign policy, instead of the fierce armed force of puritanical bullying.
      Part III, “Reconciling Hostile Worlds,” becoming philosophical, concentrates on the humanist affirmation of human needs and rejection of irrational human behavior.  Fulbright explores how to create “a state of mind in which neither side considered war as a likely eventuality.”  He tries to understand how to treat national paranoiacs.  He offers a “golden mean” scale of national pride: too little (inferiority) and too much (arrogance) both dangerous; the aim of all should be balance and reason wherein lies safety.  He extols the humanities for their teaching empathy—seeing the world as others see it.
      As in Part II, he urges the U.S. not to apply its ideology and practices to other countries, but to assist them in their own development.  One chapter offers an alternative policy toward Vietnam that we now see clearly would have prevented six more years of war and 2 million deaths.  Another, “Rebuilding Bridges,” explains how to reconcile with the Soviet Union, reunite with Europe, and redirect resources for the health and education of US people.  And another offers a new method of foreign aid away from military intervention and toward greatly expanded economic aid for the poor, with the stipulation that it drop bilateral for international aid conducted as a community enterprise, through the UN and other agencies.  Here Fulbright’s empathy with the feelings of foreign people finds its strongest expression, as he asks readers to imagine themselves in the place of recipients of US aid, or imagine receiving aid from foreigners.  Here also is a strong attack on foreign aid as military intervention, and an equally strong suggestion that the US and USSR join together in cooperative fiscal aid to the needy world.
       The Arrogance of Power actually seldom mentions the word militarism.  Fulbright’s explicit and devastating analysis and condemnation of the militarism of the U.S. military-industrial complex—“its violence, its arms race, its enormous wealth, and its benighting influence throughout U.S. society”-- comes in The Pentagon Propaganda Machine.  But that is the subject of another essay.
Dick Bennett, Professor Emeritus, University of Arkansas

See:  Dick's "Peace Profile: J. William Fulbright," Peace Review (11:4, 1999, 609-615).

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