Monday, February 29, 2016

Does Society "Decide" to Engage in War?

I think if you asked most people, they would say that (a) war is deeply ingrained in society; and (b) society over and over again decides to engage in war.

There is a growing discourse around point (a): people are starting to unpack the idea that "war is deeply ingrained in society," and growing in understanding that this is not the same as saying "war is part of human nature."

I worry that there is less insight around point (b). At least in the United States, I think people continue to believe that war is a societal choice. I think this is not true.

In theory our Constitution is all about the people -- through Congress -- maintaining control over the decision to go to war. As it stands now, as a practical matter, that's not really what's happening.

I invite people to study the graph of historical US military spending below. It shows that there was a time when military spending went up when the US began to engage in a specific war, and then went back down after that war. Later, that pattern changed.


US Defense Spending -- FY 1800 to FY 2010
(More at usgovernmentspending.com)


It is very interesting to consider why this change occurred. (Perhaps that's a topic for a later blog post or two.)

But I think the more fundamental point is: at some point US society stopped being the "decider" about war. The US began to engage in war, and more war, and more war . . . but US society was no longer really making that decision in any real way.

(Think about US military action during your lifetime. In what ways, if any, did society at large determine what happened?)

If we confront this reality, what might this cause us to do differently?


POSTSCRIPT March 1, 2016: Yesterday the lead editorial in The New York Times called for a "better not bigger military", saying "[g]iving the Pentagon a blank check does not ensure security," and expressing hope that the next president will get the balance right. Isn't this just part and parcel of the charade that these questions are at all under the control of the US public?

Related links

"The US Military Is America’s 51st State" by William J. Astore in The Nation.


Related posts


More than anyone else, the beneficiaries of permawar are the politicians who thrive on the power to make and control wars. The number one prime beneficiary is the President, as well as presidential aspirants. But it doesn't end there . . . .

(See J'ACCUSE: The Beneficiaries of Permawar )







The decision about whether to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation is our decision. And that is why the entire country is mobilizing for mass action for nuclear disarmament in 2015. Are we capable of making sure the messengers -- Obama, Putin, the other agents of government -- hear their instructions from us clearly?

(See NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament )


Right now we're "stuck" -- the portion of the public that wants to cut military spending has hovered in the high 20%s since 2004; it just can't seem to break the 30% barrier. (The percentage of people in favor of expansion is about the same.)

(See Cutting Defense: Are We STUCK?




It's essential that we demand our members of Congress get on the record now about the opposition to U.S. military intervention in Syria that they are registering from their districts.

(See On Syria, It's Time for Congress to Remember Who They Represent)