Our Commander In Chief

November 2, 2008

Glenn Greenwald has a great piece in Salon today on the militarization of America and, in particular, the growing use of the term “our Commander-in-Chief” to refer to the president.

I can’t really improve on what Greenwald has to say (and the quotes he musters from politicians is eye-opening). I will say, though, that the increasing militarization of the United States has not been lost on us here at Moxie’s World. After September 11, 2001, we were told that we are a nation at war. It is now November 2008. More than 7 years later. We have supposedly been at war for that entire time, with no end even remotely in sight. How may times in US history has this country been “at war” for such an enormous length of time? World War II lasted from December 1941 until August 1945, so 3 years 8 months, or have the time of the current period of so-called war. The Civil War lasted from April 1861 until April 1865 – 4 years. The US maintained troop levels higher than 100,000 in Vietnam from 1965 until 1971 – roughly 7 years (we had only 23,000 troops there in 1964 and 24,000 in 1972, so less than 20% of our current forces in Iraq). The Revolutionary War lasted from April 1775 to October 1781. 6 1/2 years. The bottom line is that there is NO PARALLEL to this period in American history. None.

George W. Bush has spent essentially his entire presidency as a so-called wartime president. He took office in late January 2001, and by mid-September we were ‘at war.’ We’ve had US military personnel in combat operations in Iraq for 5 1/2 years, with a lot longer to go. The only parallel is Vietnam (not something you want to be a parallel to). The difference, however, is that Iraq is scarcely front and center in our political discourse anymore. We actually have OTHER WARS going on right now to obsessess over – Afghanistan, the Global War On Terror – and have a couple more on the burner – Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Georgia, North Korea, who knows where else.

We’ve heard again and again about what a dangerous world we live in and what dangerous times these are. They call for extraordinary measures. They call for the concentration of a great deal of power in the person of our Commander-in Chief. Exactly what is so dangerous about the world now that categorically separates it from other periods of American history? The American Revolution has to be considered to most dangerous period, as the very existence of the Republic was in dire jeopardy. The War of 1812 saw a massive invasion of the United States and likewise put into serious doubt our continued existence. The Southern rebellion during the Civil War quite nearly succeeded in tearing the country apart for good. The Nazis in WWII threatened the entire world, and that war saw the deaths of many tens of millions. The Cold War put the continued existence of humanity itself at risk. Yet now, with the US’s existence secured, the country united, the Nazis defeated, the Soviets no more, the US without any peers on this planet in terms of military capability, now all of a sudden we live in the most dangerous of times? Or is it that we live in the most paranoid of times?

There are terrorists out there that would kill us. How is that new? Were there not ALWAYS terrorists out there that would kill us all? Were there not always terrorists RIGHT HERE IN THE US that would kill us all if they could? William Ayers was supposedly a ‘domestic terrorist’ in the 1960s. Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal bldg in Oklahoma City in the 1990s. The guy behind the anthrax attacks wasn’t bin Laden, it was a middle-American, Republican-voting, patriotic (self-defined, of course) American who would be cheering right now with the rest of them at Palin rallies. None of this is new.

What is new is referring to the president as “our Commander-in-Chief.” Here’s the US Constitution:

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.”

He’s the commander of the military – in other words, the military is under civilian control. That’s the import of this passage. But we’ve taken that (RECENTLY!) and have transformed it into having some sort of generalissimo commander of the country. Bush landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier and gave a speech in a uniform. When I think of leaders who wore uniforms, I think of Stalin, Pinochet, DeGaulle. FDR and Truman wore suits. Even at the height of the Second World War they didn’t salute US troops and don uniforms, and the public didn’t refer to them as Our Commander In Chief or Il Duce or anything else. Our ENEMIES called THEIR LEADERS such things. Reagan, by the way, was the first US president to salute troops. Washington himself did not do that.

The first two people I heard using the term “OUR” Commander-In-Chief were Ann Coulter and Britney Spears. I shit you not. Now it’s everybody.

These are VERY far from the most dangerous times our country has experienced. VERY FAR. Muslim Terrorist Socialist Atheists are not going to invade and take over our country next week from Iran and Cuba. This is not some twisted version of the movie Red Dawn.

And more than 7 years of war is enough.

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