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Semiwar
May 16, 2007 2:32 AM   Subscribe

The Semiwarriors: By creating an atmosphere of perpetual crisis, Presidents have expanded their powers and hidden their actions from the public eye. A recent essay by retired Army lieutenant Colonel and current Boston University professor of international relations Andrew J. Bacevich, on "semiwar," a term coined after World War II "to promote permanent quasi mobilization as the essential response to permanent global crisis." Bacevich is the author of The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War (previously discussed here and here). Tragically, Bacevich's own son, an Army First Lieutenant, was killed on patrol in Iraq two days ago by an IED.
posted by homunculus (45 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Still required viewing on this topic.
posted by dreamsign at 2:36 AM on May 16, 2007


Chalmers Johnson (previously discussed here, here and here) also has a new article on the potential perils of imperial overstreth on our Republic and democratic system, or what's left of it. He cites Bacevich a few times: Evil Empire: Is Imperial Liquidation Possible for America?
posted by homunculus at 2:45 AM on May 16, 2007


Still required viewing on this topic.

Agreed.
posted by homunculus at 2:49 AM on May 16, 2007


NPR recently: Son of Prominent War Critic Dies in Iraq
posted by umop-apisdn at 2:52 AM on May 16, 2007


Johnson makes some good points in that article, but it seems like his conclusions go a little overboard in some respects. The UN is not a good model for government oversight, and not because of the Security Council. Yes, that system is an outmoded relic of WWII, but the answer is not to turn to the majority to guide us on things like human rights, when that results in things like the 2003 election of Libya to chair the United Nations Human Rights Commission. And a Japanese-style "industrial policy" is not necessarily a good thing, despite Johnson's backhanded slap to economists. China, certainly, is no model of how to conduct an advanced, developed economy. The Japanese system has its flaws, one of which is that it essentially only works if there exists a more economically liberal environment outside of your protected enclave. If everyone practiced protectionism, everyone would loose.

It seems like Johnson is swinging way too far in the opposite direction, towards a state of virtual isolationist protectionism.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:37 AM on May 16, 2007


It's mighty hard to imagine a majority in both houses of Congress rising up and voting against their entrenched respective and collective interests to un-make the empire we've become. They turned into a re-election machine long ago.

And as Peak Oil looms, we'll be relying more heavily on the military to "secure the blessings of liberty" to tank up our SUVs and keep Chinese goods coming over to Wal-Mart.

I'm pretty sure the only thing that's going to change the status quo is a surprise nuke going off in DC.
posted by pax digita at 4:43 AM on May 16, 2007


I thought this comment about Falwell was thought provoking: He was the patron saint of a group of people who are continually reminded that they are under attack from The Enemy (nevermind who this enemy is, suffice to say that the war is permanent), and who firmly believe, in the deepest and most sincere corners of their hearts, that all would be well, if only they were in charge.
posted by caddis at 4:46 AM on May 16, 2007


Yeah, and when I was reading that comment last night, I was thinking, "War is good business. Invest your son country."
posted by pax digita at 5:00 AM on May 16, 2007


I'm pretty sure the only thing that's going to change the status quo is a surprise nuke going off in DC.

Yeah, 'cause the way 9/11 changed the status quo was sooooo much for the better.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:04 AM on May 16, 2007


War has a lot of benefits for a lot of people - heck, many people just like war, war porn is posted on MeFi all the time. It is an American cultural thing, particularly centered in the South.
posted by stbalbach at 5:13 AM on May 16, 2007


There are plenty of rednecks outside the south, don't fall for that prejudiced view. There is also plenty of war/death porn outside the United States too. All you have to do is turn on the TV in virtually any country on Earth and get your fill of murder/death/kill.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:20 AM on May 16, 2007


Deja vu all over again -- I just reread 1984. Guess there's no need to quote that business about how we've always been at war with Oceania.
posted by scratch at 6:43 AM on May 16, 2007


I thought this was a given. Wasn't it Aristotle who observed that all governments devolve to tyranny?
posted by Kikkoman at 7:01 AM on May 16, 2007


There are plenty of rednecks outside the south, don't fall for that prejudiced view.

Southern culture is an honor culture, honor is everything and an insult to that honor is a blow for a southerner. In the north its less important, rude and personal insults are so much water off the back, funny even. Southerners are more willing to go to war to defend a perceived injustice. Anyway, this has all been studied and there is lots of scholarship on it.
posted by stbalbach at 8:00 AM on May 16, 2007


Most interesting thread in a while.

The reason for this perpetual crisis is that it creates a moral high ground, a non-selfish reason for the country to exist and be perpetuated. We're under attack, so a) the military is needed and can only be effectively funded at a national level and b) they're "bad" and we're "good". Good is worth supporting no?

Otherwise: the only reason for the country to exist is simply to support some sort of greedy hedonistic self-serving lifestyle. For most people it's harder to define themselves as "the good guys" if all we're about is eating well, having sex, and being entertained 24/7 while others elsewhere starve.

So, we have the perpetual crisis. We're under attack and therefor "good".

A similar thing happens in business. Effective managers will create a false sense of permanent emergency to inspire the troops to contribute extra time and effort. In reality of course management themselves are focussed on higher goals, on stock options and performance bonuses. The schleps on the front line get to be tough, honorable "survivors", and meanwhile management are way ahead of them becoming wealthy.
posted by scheptech at 8:08 AM on May 16, 2007


Big big mega-duper recommendations for Bacevich and Chalmers Johnson's work.

Heartbreaking that Bacevich lost his son.
posted by ao4047 at 8:23 AM on May 16, 2007


Yeah, 'cause the way 9/11 changed the status quo was sooooo much for the better.

Careful readers will note that I did not say "better." I've certainly read scenarios sharply to the contrary, in fact.
posted by pax digita at 9:25 AM on May 16, 2007


"The fate of the country," writes Holmes, "was abandoned to the personal eccentricities, obsessions, compulsions, and tunnel vision of a handful of political operatives." Chief among those personal eccentricities was a disdain for history. Pre-eminent among the obsessions was a devout faith in the efficacy of military power. Looming large among the compulsions was an itch to have another go at Saddam Hussein--not because he was strong and posed a danger but because he was weak and represented an opportunity. According to Holmes, "the Administration viewed Iraq less as a threat than as a showcase. The purpose of unleashing American firepower in Iraq was not so much to take out a cruel but puny dictator but rather to advertise the folly of defying the United States."

Worth repeating, I think.
posted by jokeefe at 9:47 AM on May 16, 2007


Otherwise: the only reason for the country to exist is simply to support some sort of greedy hedonistic self-serving lifestyle. For most people it's harder to define themselves as "the good guys" if all we're about is eating well, having sex, and being entertained 24/7 while others elsewhere starve.

See, the scary thing to me isn't that the delusion or deception can continue. The scary thing to me is that the facade is slipping away and the apathy remains.

Maybe the easy life is the only motivation required after all.
posted by dreamsign at 10:56 AM on May 16, 2007


...In his only public comment since his son's death, Bacevich told the Boston Herald, "He joined the Army to serve his country in a time of need. We love him and mourn his loss."
posted by taosbat at 11:33 AM on May 16, 2007


I haven’t had to make that kind of call much since I became an editor, but tonight when it needed to be done, I preferred to be the one to do it. Andy Bacevich answered the phone but was brusque, just said he couldn’t talk about it right now. Later, he sent me an email. “He joined the Army to serve his country in time of need. We love him and mourn his loss.” And a photo of his beloved son, who looks exactly like him, smiling, with bright eyes, at Patrol Base Love, Iraq. Jules Crittenden
posted by taosbat at 11:54 AM on May 16, 2007


Here’s the original AP. WBUR, the local public radio station where the elder Bacevich has often been a guest, had a little more. Killed south of Samarra, on patrol with his men, checking vehicles, when one of them explodes. Huffington Post got on it quick, made it all about the ironic political point: Prof. Andrew J. Bacevich, critical of Bush’s Iraq war policy, son killed in Iraq. The Globe followed suit.

Mentioning it is unavoidable. We did, too. Though at this point, I think it’s more about a family’s loss. A beloved son who followed in his father’s footsteps and gave his life for his country, as his father had put himself in harm’s way in another war four decades before. So Andy Bacevich begins the terrible journey of a father who has to bury a son, and decide for himself what it means. Jules Crittenden

posted by taosbat at 12:01 PM on May 16, 2007


Southern culture is an honor culture, honor is everything and an insult to that honor is a blow for a southerner. In the north its less important, rude and personal insults are so much water off the back, funny even. Southerners are more willing to go to war to defend a perceived injustice. Anyway, this has all been studied and there is lots of scholarship on it.
stbalbach

Black culture is a violent culture, violence is the solution to everything and any problem that comes up must be solved with it for a black person. For whites, violence is less important, rude and personal insults are so much water off the back, funny even. Blacks are more willing to fight to defend a perceived injustice. Anyway, statistics show that blacks commit many more violent crimes than anyone else.

Do you really think we just walk around all day, mint juleps in one hand, dueling pistol in the other, looking for insults to our honor? Of course not; that would quickly get our nice white suits dirty, and the cleaning bills aren't cheap. The fact that Southerners tend to be conservative is rooted in a number of economic, social, religious, and historical reasons, not from some silly "honor culture". Can you show me this "scholarship" you mentioned that somehow proves that Southerners are more gung-ho about war than others? Are Southerners really more touchy about personal insults? So if I walk into a bar in Brooklyn, walk up to a big Italian guy and call him a guinea faggot, everyone would just laugh and perhaps we'd play some chess?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:44 PM on May 16, 2007


Do you really think we just walk around all day, mint juleps in one hand, dueling pistol in the other...

See? Y'all 're touchy!
posted by moonbiter at 1:04 PM on May 16, 2007


“We're under attack, so a) the military is needed and can only be effectively funded at a national level and b) they're "bad" and we're "good". Good is worth supporting no?”

Yeah, this militarization bothers me as well. Even when I was in the military you’d get people talking to you who were almost jerking themselves off. Or you get other people blaming you for things that happened 50 years ago and thousands of miles away.
Fetishization of “the troops” happens as a side effect.
The aim is to, as has bee said (hell, by everyone including Orwell), get everyone to play ball and buy into the Big Lie.

Although I will say, he was a bit tough on Forrestal. Mostly because, really, he’s put there because he’s the man he is and he serves the purposes of the folks behind the scenes.
Although in part because he actually was being followed by Mossad (he kept saying he was being followed by Israeli agents and he broke down because no one would believe him ...20 years later Mossad said they did, in fact, have him under surveillance.)


“Do you really think we just walk around all day, mint juleps in one hand, dueling pistol in the other, looking for insults to our honor?”

Well....No, no...but that would be so awesome. Sirrah!
posted by Smedleyman at 1:18 PM on May 16, 2007


I am saddened to hear that Bacevich's son has been killed in Iraq. Though I don't agree with him 100 percent (I hate that I have to qualify everything with that lately), I've always appreciated his essays.

Check him out on the sometimes-excellent (only "sometimes" because of Harry Kreisler) Conversations With History.
posted by inoculatedcities at 1:32 PM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Otherwise: the only reason for the country to exist is simply to support some sort of greedy hedonistic self-serving lifestyle.

The problem isn't that we have the wrong purpose or goal, it's that we don't have one at all. The journey has become the destination, to the point where we slave endlessly for riches while simultaneously having no lasting use we wish to put our riches to. Even our "greedy hedonistic self-serving lifestyle" is more of a side-effect of our system than an end of it.

It's no surprise that people fall for the slightest hope of a greater purpose, even though those promising it don't really have one. And that's also not a surprise, since our entire system is aligned against the very idea of ideals -- after all, you know who else had a greater purpose?
posted by vorfeed at 1:33 PM on May 16, 2007


It is worth noting that the elder Bacevich considers himself a "Catholic conservative". The younger Bacevich worked for 3 Republican politicians, including Strom Thurmond. This is obviously not a political thread, but the political leanings of the author help give the article some context.

Overall, the article is very good. Unfortunately, I share the author's pessimism concerning our ability "to see the world as it is and to see ourselves as we really are". One might ask Barack Obama or the candidate du jour: Et tu, Brute?
posted by McGuillicuddy at 1:52 PM on May 16, 2007


Sangermaine: Black culture is a violent culture, violence is the solution to everything and any problem that comes up must be solved with it for a black person.

Whoa, whoa, whoa!!! WTF?
posted by caddis at 2:05 PM on May 16, 2007


posted by inoculatedcities at 4:32 PM on May 16

Conversations with History:
Old site -- Podcasts -- Blog -- Google Video: Amazing archive of interviews here.
posted by acro at 2:57 PM on May 16, 2007


Sangermaine,

Regarding the experiment of random insult, this has been done - they had conspirators bump into unsuspecting subjects while secretly being filmed and say "asshole!" and gauge the reaction. Most northerners did nothing or even laughed, while most southerners got defensive and angry. They measured saliva levels to see what stress hormones were released and southerners were much quicker to anger (BTW there is a lot more to this experiment, don't knock it based on my rough MeFi summary).

Brooklyn is a bad example because that is an Italian guy and if he's southern Italian they also have a culture of honor (think "mafia"). The black example is a logic fallacy, also somewhat inflammatory, but I don't think you meant anything intentionally insulting by it.

The culture of honor in the south is well known - the south was initially settled by the sons and daughters of wealthy English aristocrats who created large estates and the traditions of European nobility, "Southern Chivalry" - in addition the Scotch-Irish came from rural herding cultures and these cultures around the world rely on honor systems because that is what works when you have to rely on your own resources for protection. The north was settled by Puritans and more urban people who were used to dealing with a corporate authority and institutionalized systems of rules for conflict resolution.

If you want to read more see Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South.
posted by stbalbach at 4:27 PM on May 16, 2007


Hmm, well according to my crim final exam, ages and ages ago, the factor that does not strongly correlate with levels of violent crime is:

a) lattitude
b) average temperature
c) population density
d) population growth
e) phase of the moon

d -- population growth.

It seems ludicrous to propose that anything as nebulous as "Southerners" are quicker to anger -- except in the single way they are not nebulous -- location. Latitude and temperature were getting at the same thing. When it's hot, people get touchy. Otherwise, wtf?
posted by dreamsign at 2:26 AM on May 17, 2007


Oh, and

Fetishization of “the troops” happens as a side effect.

I swear I must have been asleep for awhile, because it wasn't long ago (maybe a year?) when you would have found this on MeFi as much as anywhere. Now this seems to be openly recognized and I don't recall seeing the transition.
posted by dreamsign at 2:28 AM on May 17, 2007


It's Patriotic To Criticize: How our generals got so mediocre.
posted by homunculus at 1:43 PM on May 18, 2007


The War Nerd: Who Won Iraq? Everyone that stayed out
posted by homunculus at 3:51 PM on May 18, 2007


Clear the institutional memory: After trials of Guantanamo prisoners:
(pdf) All documents containing classified information prepared, possessed or maintained by, or provided to, petitioners’ counsel (except filings submitted to the Court and served on counsel for the government), shall remain at all times in the control of the Court Security Officer for the duration of these cases. Upon final resolution of these cases, including all appeals, all such documents shall be destroyed by the Court Security Officer. (blog)
posted by acro at 5:29 PM on May 18, 2007


(posted by homunculus at 6:51 PM)

Here's the referenced Armed Forces Journal article.
posted by acro at 5:49 PM on May 18, 2007


Sorry, it's from the first link @ 4:43.
posted by acro at 5:56 PM on May 18, 2007


Re: Lt. Col. Paul Yingling
posted by taosbat at 9:55 PM on May 18, 2007


Iraq's resistance groups have offered a series of peace plans that might put an end to the country's sectarian violence, but they've been ignored by the U.S.-led coalition because they're opposed to foreign occupation and privatization of oil
posted by homunculus at 11:09 PM on May 21, 2007


I got's a varmint gun if you got's Guatemalans on yer lawn...
posted by taosbat at 11:33 PM on May 21, 2007


From taosbat's last link: "In a conference call with bloggers Monday, McCain took Romney to task for being against the Senate's immigration measure."
posted by acro at 10:27 AM on May 22, 2007


Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army officer who served in Vietnam and has become a noted conservative critic of the war in Iraq, talks about his son Andrew, who was killed in Iraq. Andrew was a first lieutenant. He died on Mother's Day in a suicide bombing north of Baghdad.
posted by homunculus at 7:31 PM on May 24, 2007


I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty.

By Andrew J. Bacevich
Sunday, May 27, 2007
posted by taosbat at 9:30 AM on May 27, 2007


Financing the Imperial Armed Forces: A Trillion Dollars and Nowhere to Go but Up
posted by homunculus at 10:49 PM on June 7, 2007


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