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Henry A. Giroux | Killing Machines and the Madness of Militarism: From Gaza to Afghanistan

Neoliberal governments invoke phrases like “collateral damage” or “military necessity” to absolve them of the horrors they inflict. We need to develop a new political language.

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Militarism is like a lethal virus that takes as its first victim both historical memory and any sense of moral and social responsibility. In the United States and Israel, at the present moment, it is no longer one strain of ideology that permeates these societies; it is a general condition that gives meaning to almost all aspects of life. Incapable of thinking beyond military solutions to social problems, militarism absolves individuals and governments, if not the general public, of the horror produced by the weapons it builds; moreover, just as it erases the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it suggests that the hundreds of children killed in Gaza is a military necessity.

The apostles of militarism offer jobs to the public that engage in the production of organized violence; they preach war as a cleansing solution, while they sanitize language of any meaning, erasing the suffering, misery, and horror inflicted by their drone missiles, jets, Apache helicopters, and bombs. All that has to be invoked are the words “collateral damage” or “military necessity” and the death-laden actions produced by the new militarists disappear into the dark vocabulary of authoritarian doublespeak. War is no longer a source of alarm, but pride, and it has become an organizing principle of many societies. Informed by a kind of primitive tribalism, militarism enshrines a deadly type of masculinity that mythologizes violence and mimics the very terrorism it claims to be fighting. Militarism and war have not only changed the nature of the political order but the nature and character of American life.

When children are killed by Israeli missiles while playing on a beach in Gaza, the horror and sheer brutality of the murderous act is wiped away by the crude argument that such needless slaughter is a military necessity. There is no defense for killing children, regardless of whether it is done by the Israeli state, the United States, Hamas, or anyone else. We live in a time in which political illiteracy and moral tranquilization work in tandem to produce the authoritarian subject, willing to participate in their own oppression and the oppression of others. Thus, the silence over filling our prisons with poor people of color, treating desperate immigrant children as if they were vermin, and allowing elected officials to replace reason with forms of militant religious fundamentalism. What kind of moral arrangements does a society give up when there is no outrage over the fact that the United States supplies billions of dollars in armaments to other states and thus is complicit in the killing of young children and others through acts of state terrorism?

The militarists come from various political parties and are hooked into a market-driven logic that disdains thinking about social costs or the despair they create. They are unadulterated agents of cruelty and their power serves a corrupt form of casino capitalism that breathes and breeds the ideology and policies of the military-industrial-surveillance complex. In the United States, trillions are spent on wars that were based on and initiated with lies. At the same time, social services are cut, schools abandoned, infrastructures ignored so that the military can build F-35 jets at the cost of $200 million apiece – pieces of junk plagued by mechanical failures and a sober witness to the United States’ unwillingness to use the money of war and violence to build a decent, democratic society in which vulnerability and care become the watchwords rather than violence and war.

The morally reprehensible killing of children in Afghanistan, Gaza and Iraq is part of a larger problem, one that haunts the late modern period, which is the rise of neoliberal totalitarianism by which I mean an economic and cultural system that is sutured in its allegiance to money, profit, power, inequality, greed, militarism, the punishing state and self-interests. The new global capital societies such as the United States have replaced the social contract with a defense contract. Zombie politics now rules as the living dead function as parasites on their respective societies, engulfing them with the fog of war, corruption and death. How else would one explain bringing Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Bill Kristol back to life on the mainstream airwaves? Like George Romero’s zombies, Cheney and his ilk proliferate like a lethal virus out of control.

But pointing to the new forms of zombie politics awash in the U.S. and other countries is not enough. The question that must be raised is what is it in the United States that produces an inattentiveness to moral outrage, dissent, and mass mobilizations? The failure of conscience and the willingness to stand up against the new authoritarians whether in Israel, England, France, Greece, or the United States promotes a flirtation with modes of irrationality that lie at the heart of the triumph of everyday aggression over the slightest semblance of justice. Under such circumstances, war and the over identification with militarism produces a new kind of national psychosis and collective pathology. We live in the age of killing machines, parading under the poison of exceptionalism and empire.

We are in the midst of something different in the current historical moment. Democracy is losing its appeal, fascists are gaining in popularity around the globe, and millions of men, women and children are now considered excess, disposable, because they are dehumanized, considered other, or fall outside of the blessings of a rabid consumerist society. The new breed of politicians unleashed by the Reagan revolution disdain the government, except when it benefits the rich and celebrates individual solutions to larger public issues, rendering individuals vulnerable, powerless, anxious and disillusioned. Technology rather than ethics and compassion now provide the answers to society’s problem. Data has replaced words, ethics and the hard work, as Marx once observed, of teaching everyone to be able to engage in a “ruthless criticism of everything.”

The current crisis surrounding Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the looting of the public treasury by the rich and financial elite speak to a crisis of individual, social and historical agency. Democratic governance is no longer part of the vocabulary of the militarists because the latter would suggest an understanding of the morally rightful use of power, rule, representation, justice and equality. The death dealing zones of ethical tranquillization called Silicon Valley now provide the new model of the consumer-tech obsessed citizen – a largely illiterate, privatized, overly specialized,asocial being so depoliticized that it becomes difficult for them to even talk on the phone with another person, never mind have actual, corporeal, thinking relationships with others. It also models a society that has no memory, ethics, sense of justice or the future.

Militarism is a new form of illiteracy and psychosis, symptomatic of the failure of civic courage because it demands obedience and punishes people who are critical, capable of questioning authority, and are willing to address important social issues. Edward Snowden and other courageous whistleblowers are considered traitors because they revealed the massive violation of civil liberties by the government and the existence of an authoritarian surveillance society in which the state and corporations fuse in their attempts to squelch dissent and freedom. Bill Gates is considered a hero, though he may be the most powerful force in the United States destroying public education and a grotesque symbol of massive inequality. Illiterate militarists such as Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and most of the Republican Party are given endless airtime even though their discourse is immersed in the blight of militarism, war and state violence.

President Obama is defended by liberals in spite of his shredding of civil liberties and his unparalleled and unconscionable support of the financial crooks and policies that caused the great recession in 2007. What Obama has made clear is that liberalism is now the new conservatism and that the two party system is completely in the hands of the rich, corporations, and financial services. The reach of violence and death is everywhere permeating the culture like an endless sandstorm that destroys everything it touches. Major articles and even a movie appear in the militarized state praising Ivy League schools, though they produce the criminogenic environments that gave us the intellectual killers that produced the slaughter in Vietnam, Iraq, and the endless forms of foreign and domestic terrorism that now reside in many of the advanced societies of the world. Some would say we live in troubled times and, that is only partly true, because the times in which we live are more than troubled; they are close to coming to an end as the logic of the bomb expresses itself in the blowing up and ecological destruction of the planet.

Everything we have learned from the dominant ideologies, vocabularies, values and social relations must be re-examined, discarded when necessary, and in its place we need a new political language, a new understanding of governance locally and globally. We need to resurrect a radical notion of what we all have in common, the common good and public values, and think hard about what work has to be done not just to survive, but to thrive in a democratically inspired world. Time has overcome us, outpaced our capacities to slow down and think critically and act courageously. This does not suggest we need to change the world, a cliché used by Gates and other Silicon Valley, Wall-Street agents of conformity. What it does suggests is a notion of social, economic and political change inspired by a vision of a democracy to come, a society in which it is reprehensible to even consider using torture, killing children as a military necessity, and destroying social benefits to increase the wealth of corporations, hedge fund managers and bankers who are soulless and a powerful threat to democracy and the planet.

It is time to identify the people, institutions, social relations, values and power relations that constitute the new authoritarianism and to hold them accountable. It is also time to remember the suffering caused by militarists in the past, and it is time to remember the struggles waged by working people, women, young people and others who dared to believe that another kind of vision, another kind of future, is possible. We don’t have much time left. Resistance is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.

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