Considering all that has happened with two major wars, government incursions into civil liberties, corruption and corporate control of Congress, continued detention of foreign nationals without charges or trial, an economy in shambles, and banks and major corporations slurping up our tax dollars like a toothless Russian eating borscht, one wonders why there aren’t more of us taking to the streets. What happened to outrage? It used to be a great American pastime. I recall growing up in the 1960s watching massive protests, civil unrest and violence in the streets. An entire generation seemed mobilized by outrage. It was a scary time. These days are just as scary, perhaps more so, but the streets are relatively quiet; so are the college campuses. Protests are there but seem rather half-hearted and poorly attended. What’s going on. If this were France, the streets would be running with blood.
First of all, people still see these wars as an extension of the attacks of 9-11. Washington has done a skillful job of controlling the message. I mean, it’s different from VietNam, isn’t it? There we were fighting the Cold War. This is a “War on Terror,” defending our way of life. We were attacked on our own soil, after all. No matter that we happened to have invaded a sovereign nation that had nothing to do with 9-11. No matter that, to date, our aggressive and bloody military policies have largely been a dismal failure. Just keep banging away with that big hammer, boys; chances are you’ll hit something.
Secondly, fear keeps people towing the line. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 8 (1787):
Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.
Just say, “reasons of national security,” just flash the fear card, and you can get away with almost anything, including infringing on the privacy of ordinary citizens, suppressing evidence in legal cases, and imprisoning and torturing non-citizens without access to due process. Only history can tell us the immense damage that has already been done to this republic due to an Executive Branch run amok without any checks or balances.
Thirdly, I believe the greatest reason for the difference between the popular uprisings of the 60s and today’s apathy is conscription. If you recall, 40 years ago there was a military draft in this country. That meant the sacrifice was spread more evenly over the population, unlike today’s military, which is an elite force, and essentially a private tool of an imperial Presidency, without many Congressional or democratic controls.
How many people do you know who have lost loved ones in these wars? Probably few of us (yes, I realize that “few readers of this blog” is a tautology) can respond that we know of anyone. When we were attacked, what were we told to do? To grab our staves and muskets and report to our local militia? No. We were told to go shopping, to leave the fighting to the experts. Without conscription the burden of war is too unfairly shared by a few instead of the many, as Thomas Jefferson believed, and the military becomes, not an expression of democracy, but a tool of tyranny.
Does the thought of reinstating a military draft make you cringe? Does the thought of sending your son or daughter into combat cause you to tremble, either with anxiety or anger? It should. That is why conscription is necessary. To make the powers who create war democratically accountable and to cause us to think twice before we wage war, to give diplomacy and other more creative solutions a chance, instead of using military force as a first response.
Where’s the outrage? To be honest, who has time to give it much thought? We’re too busy shopping.