Militarism as a Metaphor

Racism, materialism, and militarism are what Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to as the “evil triplets.”   All three have been major themes running throughout the history of the United States.  And of the three, militarism has been given the least attention.   Racism, while certainly not yet a thing of the past, has been firmly in this country’s consciousness since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  Materialism has been given some (albeit not enough) attention through the efforts of the environmental movement.  Militarism remains the big elephant in our collective living room.

I am not speaking here about the multiple wars in which we are involved, or the spending for the military which rivals all of the rest of the world’s military spending combined.   Yes, that’s grossly over done.   But, what is not getting much attention is our militaristic approach to many other aspects of our society, the way that militarism is a metaphor for much of our way of life.

Take politics as an example.   As quickly as possible, we always reduce every public or political issue to two sides, two candidates, or two parties.   The purpose of reducing issues or campaigns to two sides seems to be to look at any given situation as a vehicle for one side defeating the other.  The two sides, who are often not very far apart, are seen as arch enemies, each one trying to demolish the other.

How refreshing it would be to have a political campaign or an issue in the public discourse with three or four or more “sides” to consider.   Rather than a two-sided sports event type of atmosphere, we could look at several angles and points of view, and combine good ideas for the benefit of all.  Instead of watching two sides each trying to destroy the other, we could learn consensus building, with everyone working toward a sense of everyone winning.  There are democratic systems that go in this direction (check out ideas like proportional representation and instant runoff voting), but ours isn’t one of them.

Another example:  President Obama gives a speech about our country working to out-compete, out-educate, and out-do in all ways everybody else.   Do you see the militarism?  Sure, I want our population to be well-educated.   But that doesn’t mean I want people in other countries to be less educated.

What do we really want?  I want a happy, satisfied life.   And I want people in the rest of the world to have happy, satisfied lives.   I don’t want to out-do others so that I can be well-off while others are lacking, which in turn makes the other people want to out-do me, so that they can be well-off while I am lacking.

Instead of pounding the drum beat of competition, I want to hear the President of the United States say: let’s create a world in which everyone both here and in the rest of the world can live happy, safe, and fulfilled lives.  Let’s work toward the whole world (which includes us)having good education, satisfying arts and recreation, good access to healthy food and a healthy planet.  It’s not about statistics.  It’s about quality of life.  Surely, we have the creativity, resources, and intellect to do this.

How short-sighted it is to think that our out-doing and “winning” at the expense of others truly is winning.  This is thoroughly militaristic thinking.  It pits us against them, one side against the other side.  The wisdom of King is appropriate again:  “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

It’s time to take good look at this beast in our living room.  Two-party oxymoronic democracy and the idea of out-competing everyone else has us blindly doing everything in a militaristic manner.  I now ask the question:  Would you rather win, or be happy?

I think another world is possible; but we’ll need to change our words and our ways.


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