Monday, April 16, 2007

Commentary - The militarization of America - Part 1

One of the constant sources of propaganda that Americans are subjected to is the militarization of our thought process. The content of our entertainment, the way the fourth estate reports the news and how law and order is maintained on our streets are all effected by this propaganda. This has been a subtle and constant force since the end of WWII but its subtle nature has evolved into an overt force since the first Persian Gulf War.


At the conclusion of WWII the decision was made to maintain the nations war footing. The introduction of the atomic bomb and the latest boogeyman in the closet, the Soviet Union, gave Washington power brokers and the boardrooms of arms makers a bright new world as they looked to the future. The Military-Industrial Complex came into being as the war profiteers created an environment to keep the money rolling in through the development and manufacture of massive weapons systems which interconnected to America's ability to wage war in a nuclear age. Washington politicos trudged back to their districts with money in their fists to distribute to the weapons factories and stories of horror for their constituents that we faced an enemy with no conscious and no God. The enemy was devoted to making our nation bow down before them. Better dead than red, we said.

As children, we boys could not escape the beating drums of warfare and hints at what our futures may bring. The toy department shelves of Woolworth's stocked toy guns, helmets and GI Joe. If plastic model making interested us we could choose between fast cars, warplanes or warships. Even our comic books featured ads where we could buy plastic soldiers, tanks and planes for little more than one week's allowance. Our extracurricular activities even included uniforms complete with their own medals and ribbons for austerity as we played Little League baseball and earned merit badges in the Cub Scouts and later the Boy Scouts. We were, and our sons still are, being primed to wage war and yearn for the decorations of glory that come with military service.

We do need a military; a strong, well equipped, well trained force capable of carrying out any mission given to them. We do not live in a utopian world and I doubt that we ever will, so we need an armed force to protect our shores and if needed, our interests as a nation. I'm not a pacifist but I am not a hawk either and I provided 8 years of service to our nation in the Navy. I sacrificed the formative years of my early adult life for that honor. I received many good things in return from that experience but I also saw death, hypocrisy and an insight into the true inner workings of how the military and its connection to the Military-Industrial Complex really works. To say my feelings toward the masters of war and their suppliers/enablers is ambivalent is an understatement. The pawns of the masters of war, the enlisted men and women, I have complete sympathy and empathy for.

Vietnam and the post-Vietnam hangover

Hasbro, the makers of GI Joe, were forced to reimagine their toy as an adventurer and rough and tumble man of the world when sales plummeted during the Vietnam War and in the years that followed as the nation continually lost it's stomach for the reality of war. The military itself battled major problems within the ranks as the 70's turned into the 80's with drug addicts among its ranks. One high profile military disaster brought unwanted attention to the problems. During the investigation into a flight deck crash aboard the USS Nimitz in 1981 it was learned that several of the crew had THC in their bloodstream at the time of the tragedy. Fourteen crewmen were dead, 45 injured and another black eye was given to the military as President Reagan was attempting to rejuvenate the military, it's budgets and America's taste for foreign blood and oil.

The military began finding itself the sympathetic (intentional or not) subject of films, books, television and popular culture as a whole. Traditional war films like Hamburger Hill were released. Reconciliation with the effects of the Vietnam War began with films such as "Platoon" and books such as Gustav Hansford's "Dispatches". The military even became a humorous backdrop for films and TV shows with "Stripes", "Private Benjamin" and "Major Dad." The military as a glorious organization once again joined the fray and "Top Gun" became a massive blockbuster and made stars out of actors Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

The squeamish factor of the military itself and its role became soft and downplayed in the media. Even the recruitment advertisements for the services began to change. "It's not just a job, it's an adventure." was how the Navy promoted itself in the 80's. Earning money for college became the number one selling point for all the services. Asx a side note, it's too bad that they didn't tell us how little our GI Bill program would really help us once we left the service. VEAP helpful, but it was vastly inferior to the preceding GI educational benefits allocated for the Vietnam Era vets and the program that came afterward, the Montgomery GI Bill.

But the point is that under Reagan the image and PR surrounding the military was losing the tarnish that had built up for more than a decade. What it needed was action. Action that Reagan and his successors were able to provide with all the gloss of a Hollywood production, wrapped in the slick presentation of a Madison Avenue ad firm, nurtured by PR firms stocked with mountains of research data and all for the low, low price of free over-the-air network TV.

Get your war face on

Beginning in 1983, President Reagan and his foreign policies gave the US military its first chance for combat operations and high profile operations since the failed Operation Eagle Claw mission in 1980. In 1983 alone the Navy played a serious game of tag with Soviet ships in the Sea of Japan following the shootdown of KAL flight 007, an incident where it appears that the US Air Force and US Intelligence agencies may have had a role. The battleship New Jersey bombarded positions in Lebanon and Syria and the Marine Corps were sitting ducks in Beirut, 241 service members, 220 of which were Marines, died when their barracks were car bombed. And in October of that pivotal year, the US invaded the Caribbean Island nation of Grenada.

Excluding the US actions directly connected with Iraq (Persian Gulf War I, The policy of containment and Persian Gulf War II), US forces have seen action as follows: Gulf of Sidra and the bombing of Libya, anti-terrorist operations worldwide, the Panama Invasion. The Kuwaiti tanker reflagging mission, Somalia and Haiti. Bosnia, the war on drugs and Central American advisory missions. In each case the reporting of action by American mass media outlets, particularly television news, did not featured the same bloody footage that was commonplace in reporting the Vietnam war. The US Government effectively cleansed the brutality of war and combat operations from the fourth estate's methods and the media fell lockstep with the idea.

The first Persian Gulf War was the cherry topping for the Military and it's suppliers. The Humvee, smart bombs, Raytheon's Patriot missile batteries, "Warthogs", stealth bombers, Tomahawk cruise missiles and body armor became a part of the American vernacular. Watching bombs freefall from a warhead camera from thousands of feet and into a ventilation shaft of some building became our own "shock and awe". Of course, the military cherry picked which footage to show but that is beside the point. The point was get the message out that military domination was ours. Rest easy tonight safe in the knowledge that the boy next door, with a joystick in hand, would protect us with all manner of sexy weaponry.

In part 2 I will address the depth that this propaganda extends, focusing mainly on cable television and it's programming. I will also address how Hollywood has also gotten in on the act. Part 2 will be posted within the next few days.

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