VIENNA — In his Aug. 29 column, Maj. Jay Stewart displays the “can-do” spirit I would expect of a serving military officer (“U.S. force built for long haul”).

Having worked for many years in the Pentagon, I am familiar with this attractive, and perhaps indispensable, personal characteristic of our service members. I am glad that the major is on our side, and I am sure that our military can do what they are called upon to do.

If there is a caveat to be noted, it might be that the “can-do” virtues of the military need to be channeled and circumscribed by a superior civilian leadership that must decide what it is right and wise to do.

Knowing how destructive the application of our formidable military force can be, and having just come from the national convention here in Maine of Veterans for Peace, where “Bring Our War Dollars Home” was a major theme, I am aware that there is more than one side to the story.

We have legitimate domestic needs that go unmet while we pursue the expensive task of keeping our expeditionary forces in the field, and more than 700 overseas military bases open. Whether at our hands or — indeed more often — the enemy’s, civilians suffer and die while armed conflict goes on, as it has for a protracted time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is pretty clear that Maj. Stewart would have us “stay the course” of fighting “extremism” in Iraq, Afghanistan or, presumably, wherever else it raises its head, lest it “fester” and perhaps threaten us closer to home.

One problem with this now all-too-familiar notion is that implementing it is not only expensive but also endless and, on much past experience, counterproductive.

It is a truism that you cannot kill an idea with a gun. If you try to do so, you are likely to spread it. The “stable governments” we aspire to build or maintain, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan or elsewhere, are too often led by authoritarians whose role is to keep order while holding real democracy and self-determination — principles once sacred to us — at bay.

Our drones and other strikes aimed at “extremists” who live among civilian populations inevitably cause “collateral” civilian casualties and create more “extremists” among the survivors.

Our unqualified support for the very bellicose state of Israel, which regularly demonstrates its willingness to deal ruthlessly with the Palestinians it occupies and resistance forces who oppose it, has much the same effect. The record of our interventionism is at best a mixed one. And on many fronts for us, it is very costly. It has been said by others that Afghanistan is being built at the expense of rebuilding Detroit.

Andrew Bacevich, retired Army colonel and achieved scholar, suggests in his recent book, “Washington Rules,” that unless we reassess the soundness of received national security doctrine — which states that we have the right as well as the duty to intervene militarily anywhere in the world as we see fit, and to sustain military capacity commensurate with that ambition — we are likely to remain on our path to “permanent war”– and moral as well as economic bankruptcy.

Col. Bacevich has also written of a “new American militarism.”

Indeed virtually every state and congressional district has an economic stake in our defense establishment. And, as Maj. Stewart points out, our National Guard and Reserve forces are involved in our military endeavors on a more or less permanent basis; this is well beyond their traditional role.

It may still be hyperbolic to speak of the militarization of American society, but it does not seem excessive to say that the “military-industrial complex,” of which President Eisenhower warned us, is flourishing and virtually immune from much-needed critical examination.

Maj. Stewart is, like all our service members, a valuable American.

If any of them are to put their lives on the line, it ought to be in pursuit of sound and productive policies and not because our leaders are unwilling to re-examine the validity of assumptions based on an “arrogance of power” or narrow considerations of political advantage.


– Special to The Press Herald


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