Academic journal article Parameters

Soldiers Fighting Alone: The Wars of the Market-Security State

Academic journal article Parameters

Soldiers Fighting Alone: The Wars of the Market-Security State

Article excerpt

Abstract: The rise of the Anglo-American "market-security state" in the past few decades has created contradictions in how Britain and the United States conceive and conduct their armed conflicts abroad. For those who bear the brunt of the fighting, killing and dying, the accentuated political distance between the frontline and the civilian world produces a particular kind of alienation. Creative measures are needed to help those who must navigate the transition between the war and the mall.

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There is a problem with how the United States and its allies exercise power, a problem rooted in forces deeper than the imperfections of any one president or government. This problem was pithily summarized by a widely circulated photograph of a written statement on a whiteboard in a forward operating base in Iraq: "America is not at War. The Marines are at War. America is at the Mall." (1) As it happens, this statement in some ways is an inadequate summary of the ripples the war in Iraq generated. It ultimately stretched beyond the frontline and affected home society deeply, from the war's contribution to the debt-deficit crisis that has swept the Euro-Atlantic world to the unexpectedly large number of maimed and wounded personnel, the extent of whose care our societies are unprepared. But the statement does summarize how a dysfunctional set of social relations shapes the way the state exerts force in the world and begets a confusion about what it means to be "at war." To borrow a phrase Leon Trotsky, albeit used in a different context, "no war, no peace."

The rise of the Anglo-American "market-security state" in the past few decades has created particular problems in how countries both conceive and conduct their armed conflicts abroad. Due to confluent forces and choices, countries like Britain and the United States wage war (and augment state power to do so) by invoking the moral language of great national wars, while in other ways resisting the status of being "at war" as a political condition, that is, not declaring war, not making material demands of the people directly, and going to great lengths to insulate their populations from the conflict.

For the nation as a whole, this contradictory condition helps bring about a situation in which the state applies military power continuously in the name of an existential struggle, but trying to do so "on the cheap" while encouraging "the people" to look on as passive consumers--or to look away. For those who bear the brunt of the fighting, killing and dying, the accentuated political distance between the frontline and the civilian world produces a particular kind of alienation. This distance does not warrant nostalgia for the twentieth-century's "total wars" that mobilized an engaged, nationalist, and even conscripted population. But it does warrant concern for "the consequences of lessened levels of mobilisation for war on the quality of democratic citizenship." (2) It suggests greater attention is needed to bridge the gap, and greater support is needed for creative measures to help those who must navigate the transition between the war and the mall. More ambitiously, it means greater demands should be made of the people on whose behalf such wars are fought, and in return, a more robust civil society is needed to exert greater civilian supervision of government.

War Time and Peace Time

In her ground-breaking study of conceptions of "war time" and "peace time," Mary Dudziak observes as the Global War on Terror dragged on, it left society in a strange state of limbo. "It is not a time without war, but instead a time in which war does not bother everyday Americans." (3) In her account, the root problem is how the collective memory of the twentieth century creates an outmoded way of thinking, where people suspend vital political questions--of state power, its limits, and authority--because they wrongly await the end of the war to get back to a post-war normality. …

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