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Sirota writes: "In a country whose culture so often (wrongly) portrays bloodshed as the most effective problem solver, many Americans hear this now-ubiquitous drone-war argument and reflexively agree with its suppositions."

File photo, soldier's helmets. (photo: US Army)
File photo, soldier's helmets. (photo: US Army)

The Blind Theology of Militarism

By David Sirota, Tahoe Daily Tribune

15 February 13


n my years reporting on the intentional narrowing of political vernacular to guarantee specific outcomes, I have encountered no better example of Orwellian newspeak than that which now dominates the conversation about America's drone war. Given that, it's worth reviewing the situation because it is so illustrative of how militarist propaganda operates in the 21st century.

As you know if you've paid attention to recent news, drone war proponents are currently facing inconvenient truths. This month, for instance, they are facing a new United Nations report showing that President Obama's escalation of the Afghanistan War - which is defined, in part, by an escalation in drone airstrikes - is killing hundreds of children "due notably to reported lack of precautionary measures and indiscriminate use of force." They are also facing news that the rise in drone strikes is accompanying a rise in al-Qaida recruits, proving that, in predictable "blowback" fashion, the attacks may be creating more terrorists than they are neutralizing.

Drone-war cheerleaders will no doubt find this news difficult to explain away on the merits. And so many are trying to change the linguistic foundation of the discourse from one rooted in fact to one rooted in a sophistry that narrows the public's perception of available choices.

Sen. Angus King's (I-Maine) comments justifying the drone war last week exemplify the talking points.

"Drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do," he told a cable television audience. "I think it's actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people."

Designed to obscure mounting civilian casualties, King's Orwellian phrase "humane weapon" is the crux of the larger argument. The idea is that an intensifying drone war is necessary - and even humane! - because it is more surgical than violent global ground war, which is supposedly America's only other option. As New York Times columnist David Brooks summed it up: drone strikes are great because "they inflict fewer civilian deaths than bombing campaigns, boots on the ground or any practical alternative." Or, as one drone-war defender put it on Twitter: "Drones? 160,000 pairs of boots on the ground? Hmm."

In a country whose culture so often (wrongly) portrays bloodshed as the most effective problem solver, many Americans hear this now-ubiquitous drone-war argument and reflexively agree with its suppositions. Having been told in so many ways that killing is the best and only possible policy prescription, most simply assume that our only national security choice is between drone wars and ground wars - between different forms of preemptive violence, and nothing else.

The failure to question such an assumption represents what can be accurately described as a fundamentalist religion. After all, if faith is the belief in something without proof, then refusing to question martial assumptions represents a theology of militarism. And it's not just any such theology - but one so willfully blind that it will not allow the realities of blowback and civilian casualties to shape its catechism.

It will not permit, in other words, a discussion of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes calls the other alternative.

"We can be a nation that declares its war over, that declares itself at peace and goes about rigorously and energetically using intelligence and diplomacy and well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks," he suggests.

By deliberately ignoring this particular option, drone-war proponents who employ choice-narrowing language are the militarist dogma's most destructive evangelists.

At a moment when we should be having a broader conversation about alternatives to permanent war, they are preventing that conversation from even starting. In the process, they are precluding America from making more prudent, informed and dispassionate national security decisions - the kind that might stop us from repeating the worst mistakes of our own history. your social media marketing partner


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+25 # Lowflyin Lolana 2013-02-15 22:49
I agree with you David Sirota, but I'm still disgusted by your 9/11 show two years back where you ridiculed a woman for bringing up Building 7.

I have that on tape here and it just galls me. I wrote about it here.
+5 # tingletlc 2013-02-17 12:20
Thanks for this. The audio reveals a stunning failure of intellectual rigor on Sirota's part. He's no idiot, but his implication that the value of physical evidence is to be judged according to its political implications is purely idiotic. In any case, the woman on the telephone never mentioned an "inside job": that was Sirota's projection, and it produced a rant that responded to nothing the woman said, but to Sirota's own blind theology of . . ?

My understanding of the physics I took in high school tells me that the collapse of those three buildings is an impossibility within the terms of the official account. The physical evidence of my eyes and my stopwatch, as mediated through many videos that I assume are not doctored, cannot responsibly or respectably be dismissed just because Sirota doesn't like (or perhaps is terrified by) their implications. In the past several years I've searched among my very bright friends, several of them with degrees from MIT, for one to explain to me how those supposed collapses due to fire and gravity do not grossly violate the law of conservation of energy, and I have yet to find one who'll so much as engage the question. I wouldn't expect one of them to answer the question, but I would expect all of them to be willing at least to entertain the question. This is an intellectual scandal, but I don't blame MIT. I blame the understandable human preference for psychic comfort and the avoidance of cognitive dissonance.

+5 # tingletlc 2013-02-17 12:22

What about Sirota today? I want to ask him to forget everything he thinks he knows about 9/11, and consult some physicists about potential energy in a structure, without alluding to the 9/11 case. Allusions to doubts about 9/11 seem to foreclose healthy skepticism, even in supposed experts. Let Sirota actually weigh the scientific evidence, and if he gets an answer he doesn't like, let him deal with it then. Not beforehand.
+33 # ghostperson 2013-02-15 23:03
Given that we are in a war--the longest in the history of the nation and that we were deceived or rather some were about WMDs and creating democracy from tyranny--which is preferable: continuing to allow our youth to be senselessly slaughtered either by others' hands or their own or using drones to take out targets? Either way losses can be senseless and tragic. Yes, the answer is get the hell out, something that should have been done years ago, but the military industrial complex's desire for lucre exceeds the importance of citizens' demands to stop the war machine. Apart from stopping the war machine, there is no reasonable choice. I do not want to see anymore dead, maimed and/or disabled soldiers that the Ayn Randers want to forget about in their quest for small government for everyone but plutocrats and oligarchs.
+6 # maddave 2013-02-16 08:54
" . . . the military industrial complex's desire for lucre exceeds the importance of citizens' demands to stop the war machine. Apart from stopping the war machine, there is no reasonable choice." "ghostperson", above

Regardless of our individual political persuasions or geographic borders, most USA citizens all live in "The Perpetual State of Ambivalence":
On the one hand --- the moral, ethical one that rocks the cradle --- we claim that we want, need even crave world peace;
On the other --- the one that writes the checks, the one holds, alternately, our spoons and TV clickers --- we know (or should know by now) that without our profligate "defense" spending that created it, this materialistic society would soon collapse.

We The People shout: "Let's get out of (the war de jour)!"
We whisper: ". . . but not until after I get the credit card(s) under control and the mortgage paid of."
+45 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-02-15 23:50
We keep creating enemies in order to keep the military machine going. Wake up America.
+16 # ganymede 2013-02-16 00:12
I will start off my screed about our warmongering habits by saying that Obama has thus far been the best President we've had since FDR, and I think history will judge him as thus. However, the one serious stain on his presidency has been his reliance on drones as a tool of war. Hopefully,he will see the error of his ways and back down on this cruel and useless tool of war.
Since the end of the World War II the US has been the by far the biggest warmongering nation. Our foreign policy has been a disaster: Iran, Vietnam, Central America, and the biggest blunder of all, Iraq. We have a lot to answer for and we've gained nothing from all this needless killing. Obama wasn't responsible for any of this until his ill thought out and foolish use of drones. Strangely enough, a conservative, anti-war figure like Hagel may help him work his way of this blunder.
The worse thing as Sirota so accurately points out, is the bloodthirsty attitude of most Americans who have gone along with these idiotic wars and now the use of drones. We are a jaded, immoral people as seen by our go along attitude and our murderous reliance on war as a tool of foreign policy, and our letting Bush, Rumsfeld off the hook (so far) for their treasonous destruction of Iraq and its people and the tens of thousands of ruined and destroyed American lives. Hopefully, we'll pull out of this. Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize because civilized Europeans saw in Obama a man of peace. Let's hope they were right!
+13 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-02-16 08:18
There are many internal inconsistenies in what you wrote. but I'll just deal with one:

If Obama is such a great president, in your view, then you should have said: "The greatest since George W. Bush."

Because on far too many critical issues, Obama's policies have mirrored Bush, just as his cabinet did and still does.

On all these issues both Bush and Obama were absolutely wrong, and history will so judge them.
-8 # MidwestTom 2013-02-16 09:05
Remember that e several months ago started 'supporting' the new war in Mali, which certainly cannot be blamed on Bush. Mali is another war where Islamist are trying to take over a country by force and drive out or kill all non-Muslims. I know that most of you could card less about Africa, but as a person with business and travel experience there; it is scary to see the the totally unprepared non-Muslims slaughtered by the Muslims hoards moving south in Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Chad, etc. They don't use drones, they simply kill with guns, knives, and explosives.
Drones may kill innocent people, but that is nothing like surrounding a Christian church with hundreds inside on a Sunday; shooting anyone trying to leave, and then pouring gasoline around the building and lighting it on fire thus burning down the church and killing the roughly 75 left inside. Drones may be bad in a perfect world, but there are many things happening that are much worse.
+11 # Douglas Jack 2013-02-16 11:18
Tom, the reality of living together is having diverse points of view. Islamists are as you describe, like us Christians, devotees of 2-dimensional 'agriculture' which create the deserts which we all preside over. The remaining areas of 3-D Orchard Polyculture in Africa & animist religions represent humanity's role as stewards of the earth. Black Africa has resisted colonization & 2-D desertification for many 1000s of years.

The way to sort out ignorance is to bring both sides together in formal Both-Sides-Now, equal-time, recorded & published dialogues. We can insist on & enforce published dialogues as the alternative to war. There is much to sort out!
+12 # Selwick 2013-02-16 16:43
Only because there are other things happening that are much worse does not make our actions right. That is an adolescent attitude.
+30 # maddave 2013-02-16 02:27
"Drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do," he told a cable television audience. "I think it's actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people." Sen. Angus King's (I-Maine)

This is what we can expect when non-veteran Congressmen are given an open mike. (Can you say --even remember--- the disrespectful Viet Nam era acronym "REMF?" Hint: the "RE" stands for "Rear Echelon")

You cannot channel an explosion any more than you can push with a chain! It kills or maims everyone and destroys everything within a certain radius. We're talking hammers, not scalpels.

In a guerrilla war-zone - the one most effective way for indigenous personnel to settle old scores and rivalries is to denounce the rival as "the enemy" and let the invading forces do the dirty work, in this case with a drone. GTMO and other Afghan/Iraqi prisons were full of denounced "enemies: which became self-fulfilling prophesies.

This, Mister President, is exactly why we have courts, judges, lawyers and due process guarantees!

Considering the frustration and hate that these obscene "adult toys" are generating overseas, it's only a matter of time before US citizens, tourists cannot walk safely on any street in the world. Paybacks are hell!
+11 # cwbystache 2013-02-16 06:45
"intentional narrowing of political vernacular to guarantee specific outcomes"? We used to have a word that summed up all that: tendentious.
+6 # jon 2013-02-16 10:13
Quoting cwbystache:
"intentional narrowing of political vernacular to guarantee specific outcomes"? We used to have a word that summed up all that: tendentious.

See also, George Orwell's "Principles of Newspeak", an appendix of his novel "1984".
+20 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-02-16 06:51
" . . . well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks."

Yeah, like NYPD in full battle gear protecting us from Occupy Wall Street.
+25 # cordleycoit 2013-02-16 07:02
It's a Tea Party thing. We get to murder children and other innocents but murder is all right because an enemy was executed along with a bunch of bad people. The American people are monsters of course. The USA shouters are doing denial the American Way. Remember the Germans knew nothing about the camps, nothing at all. We hanged some of them. Americans need the cleansing that war crimes trial bring.
+10 # Douglas Jack 2013-02-16 09:48
Behind militarism, weapons, drones, bombing & 40% of our economy tied to arms, munitions & security livelihoods lie socially immature colonial people who don't know how to engage each other 'dialectically' (from 'both-sides'). Many consider differences as threats to personal integrity & not opportunity for expanding knowledge through dialogue. Typical US, Canadian, NATO & Israeli adults never engage each other in formal 'debate' (French 'de' = 'undo' + 'bate' = 'the fight'). Both-Sides-Now equal-time recorded & published dialogue engages individuals to come together in 'debate'.

Whenever spoiled westerners want something, we know how to bully, control, behaviour modify, arrange through power-over relations, police, soldier, lord over & buy parenting, friends, schooling, work or institutional management & other experiences. In sport many aggressively & violently 'compete' ('com' = 'together' + 'pete' = 'to seek') but don't cooperate. We don't consider each other as equals, collaborate, create consensus & 'caucus' (Iroquois 'group like-interests' ) together.

This youtube on institutionaliz ed bullying captures our dilemma.
+6 # Urbancurmudgeon 2013-02-16 09:50
Sirota's moral view is right on point but by falling into the pit of naming the current tactics a drone war he muddies the argument and gives credence to the war mongers. Call what we are doing in the middle-east and north Africa what it is, murder from the air, but forget drones because if we are going to follow that policy, drones are surely the best, safest, most efficient way to do it.

The argument should be about whether or not we should be carrying out these bombing strikes at all. That is a complicated enough argument that needs no muddying by referring to drones which are really only a more efficient tool for doing a dirty job,

Just balancing out the need to eliminate enemies, the problem of collateral damage, the creation of more enemies because of that damage and the international repercussions brought on by the whole policy is more than enough to consider without blurring the discussion by arguing over which tool we should use if we implement a solution.
+10 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-02-16 10:03
'...a theology of militarism...' says a whole, whole lot in four words. Throw in four more words re. what I have for some time come to believe is now the most descriptive phrase re. our country today - greed and power addiction - and suddenly ugly truth overcomes any and all of us, politics and political parties aside, with a brain cell working.

Time to end evil war, war, war for $$$. Could it be that said ending is an objective (including advisement to Obama to end droning) of Obama's desired defense secretary appointee, whose appointment the Greedy Old Partiers are now filibustering?
+6 # mrbadexample 2013-02-16 10:43
I agree with David Sirota about Americans becoming numb to war and war crimes. There's also this problem with what passes for journalism not taking it upon itself to accurately cover this story, jobbing out much of it to other organizations. The blogger who's the go-to guy for media groups like USA Today and the NY TIMES on drone strikes and casualties is being funded by (and is a Fellow at) the Foundation for Development for Democracies, the Neocon group started after 9/11 to beat the drum for war with Iraq and ultimately Iran.
+11 # wwway 2013-02-16 10:50
Little boys just love to play with their war toys. They grow up to prioratize war over family and education. They never complain about the cost of war and take family and education for granted. I think I just described the Republican/teas .
+6 # worldviewer 2013-02-16 12:48
Have you read Catch-22 recently? When it was written in the early 1960s the Cold War with the USSR was going on. It was doubly taboo to make a serious criticism of the military and so the author used the absurd and humor to hide his critique.
Examine instead Gregory Bateson's concept of double-bind--a scientist's study of what amount to systematic Catch-22 situations (see the Wikipedia article on Double Bind).
It has something to do about how sustainable systems work.
Sustainable systems in nature--ecosyst ems, or the the physiological systems of our body--have systems of feedback that allow them to be self-regulating . The military and many institutions have omitted systems of feedback (also consequences) which is what makes for the crazy-making.
+8 # reiverpacific 2013-02-16 12:50
Whatever rationale "they" twist the military-indust rial monster into, a war of aggression is still a war of aggression and they'll keep coming up with enemies, enemy states and targeted assassinations as required to keep the Corporate-milit ary state and it's lobbyists well lubricated.
The military-worshi p constantly inculcated into the dulled, easily-manipula ted American consciousness is disgusting and unnecessary, especially as all it amounts to is using young people as cannon-fodder for the gain of a few and their wholly-owned politicians.
+14 # jmac9 2013-02-16 13:35
Finally we are starting to talk about the fraud of the military.

Military is failure. All war is failure. Our children are the 'cannon fodder' for corporate profits. Hitler came out of the fraud and failure of WW1. Did WW2 end Nazi proponents?

Vietnam; USA interfered with the Vietnamese people getting rid of the French slave masters - estimated 1.5 million Vietnamese and over 50,000 US citizens murdered - what was accomplished?

1953, Eisenhower attacked Iran and put in a dictator - shah of Iran and USA trained and supplied the Iranian terrorist police force the SAVAK.
USA wanted to control Iraninan oil. Look at Iran-USA relations now - its all due to the USA violent interference.

The minority Jewish Israelis terrorizes the majority Islamic Palestinian people and the USA supplies Israel with the weapons. Here comes 9-11 in retribution for the USA military involvement.

The military is waste and fraud. No heroes here - only lies, fraud, some medals, and the sadness of our fine people militarized, taught to be killers, and then thrown away.
+9 # Working Class 2013-02-16 13:42
“War is a Racket” by Smedley Butler, a past Marine Commandant and two time Metal of Honor recipient explains in simple terms the rationale behind much of this nation’s military activity. If as a nation we want to take away the financial incentive of the military-indust rial complex’s go to war, we need to limit military contactor profits to 3% above cost whenever the nation is engaged in any armed conflict. I predict selling to the Pentagon in time of peace would be much more attractive and war would lose its appeal.
+3 # David Starr 2013-02-16 14:39
There was an excutive order Obama signed in March 2012, based on an old 1950s proposal, which would supposedly have the U.S. economy at the beck and call of the U.S. military. Nothing like that war for peace "solution."

Sirota's piece would be a helpful contribution for an extra chapter to Orwell's "1984."
+10 # worldviewer 2013-02-16 15:08
Re--Alternative s to permanent war
War is a system of destruction in which BOTH SIDES LOSE. Some people lose more. Or some have more to lose.

Osama bin Ladin understood he could bankrupt the U.S. because they could produce one homemade bomb costing $100 that could destroy tanks, planes etc. of U.S. equipment costing half a million or more.
But war doesn't just destroy equipment. It tears apart the lives of individuals, families, communities. The environment. Infrastructure. It dehumanizes its warriors on both sides.

Globalization is about learning to become a global community that solves its problems without wars.
In the past, every time there was a war people would would end it and make peace. From bands to clans to tribes to kingdoms to nations we have learned to live in peace in larger and larger groups.

Our generation gets to build community on a global level. It will take all of our human genius heart and mind, suffering and hoping to do this.
But its been done before--many times.

"What goes around comes around" is the modern version of--
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"
"Hate cannot cast out hate, Only love can do that" RevMLKingJr.
"Be the change you want to see" Gandhi

We have systems that lust for power and control--they are fantasies that appear to work temporarily. They are not sustainable.
-4 # cordleycoit 2013-02-18 00:58
The spineless left has given up on
Human Rights and Obama. They seem to look for a violence free zone where the state will do the killing it wants and will have a monopoly on death. Where are the anti-war people hiding? Under Obama's skirts.

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