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The Frightening Rise of Militarism

This Facebook post by the great Steve Davies is worth sharing in full:

As Eric Schleisser has mentioned a few times, some years ago we were both at a Liberty Fund conference (on militias) and one of the texts was Col Charles Dunlap’s essay “Welcome to the Junta”. We had a conversation in which I argued that Dunlap was correct and were seeing a series of cultural developments in the US that were alarming and presaged a move towards a much greater political role for the military in the event of a crisis or the advent of a caudillo type of political figure. Something that I have noted personally makes me feel this is even more true now. I am an avid reader of (often total pulp) SF. One of the features of American SF is that very often the future world is basically the United States of the time of the story plus rocket ships and advanced weapons. As such it gives an insight into the view of contemporaneous American society taken by the author and their readers.

If you look at the SF produced in the 1950s or 1960s the future government that stands for the US is generally seen as reasonably competent, well meaning, and effective. Later on (in for example Pole Anderson or Keith Laumer) the government is portrayed as bumbling and incompetent but still broadly well meaning. If you look at much of the SF (and increasingly fantasy as well) that is produced now the future equivalent of the US government is portrayed as corrupt, venal, brutal and malevolent. The only institution that is still the home of moral values and virtue is the military, and in particular and often explicitly the US Marine Corps.

This is very alarming. The underlying idea is that the military is the location of true virtue (courage, responsibility, loyalty, teamwork, strong identity, sense of duty, obligation to higher principles) while the civilian and particularly the political world are the domain of selfish individualism, treachery and betrayal, self seeking, shallow hedonism, and total short-sighted present mindedness. This is a classic opposition of course (I’m reminded of T E Hulme for example) but nonetheless very disturbing to see this so widely expressed in a popular genre. It s worth saying that what we may call the SF community of writers and fans has been riven in recent years by a series of ideological disputes centred around nominations for the Hugo awards and one of the sides in this division corresponds to the authors who often articulate this view.

To cap it all, the World Values survey now finds that one in six Americans regard the idea of military government as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’ whereas only one in sixteen felt this way a few years ago.


DBx: For many of the reasons mentioned by Steve, I have long been disturbed by the disproportionate admiration shown to, and deference given to, members of the military.  I see no reason why uniformed members of the military should get special privileges when boarding commercial aircraft, or be singled out for special thanks for their service, or otherwise be treated as if they are uniquely important and self-sacrificing members of society.

Of course some military jobs are especially dangerous – just as are some policing, fire-fighting, and deep-sea fishing jobs.  But airlines don’t invite police officers, firefighters, and deep-sea fisherman to board commercial aircraft ahead of other paying passengers.  Of course some military jobs require unusual courage and self-sacrifice – just as do some policing, fire-fighting, and deep-sea fishing jobs.  Of course some military operations might plausibly help protect society at large from a calamity – just as, say, deep-sea fisherman help to protect society from the calamity of starvation.

It is, as Steve notes, alarming that admiration of commercial, bourgeois values seems to be receding in the United States as admiration of martial values seems to be rising.  All that has made and makes America great and among the most unique societies in history will be lost if this trend continues.