Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Civilian United States Support for Military and Imperial State Crime

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Civilian United States Support for Military and Imperial State Crime

Article excerpt


Militarism, war, and imperialism have changed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but are still serious social problems. Despite this, two disciplines that can help us better understand such problems-criminology and sociology, have shown insufficient interest. This complaint about sociology's neglect dates back at least to Hooks and McLauchlan's (1992, pp. 1939-1989) work, while in criminology calls for more attention to war are fairly recent (Barak, 2008; S. Bonn, 2011; Friedrichs, 2008; Hagan & Greer, 2002; Hallett, 2009; Hogg, 2008; Kramer & Michalowski, 2005; Maier-Katkin, Mears, & Bernard, 2009; Michael & Adler, 2001; Rothe et al., 2009; Ruggiero, 2005). One area still almost untouched in the criminological literature is the domestic cultural and psychosocial role of civilians in their governments' war-making (Klein, In press).

A smaller portion of U.S. citizens serves in the military than at any time since World War II. Yet U.S. military spending and coercive global reach are massive, and reflect a long and continuing history of often unjust and illegal aggression (Blum, 1986; Chomsky, 1993; Churchill & Glenndinning, 2003). This history of U.S. violence is seldom critically examined in academic, policy, or popular arenas (Gonzalez, 2010; Shalom, 1993; Solomon, 2005). . Political violence and its supporting culture are not just occasional problems of U.S. society. Furthermore, the U.S.' comparatively high rate of violent crime, unusual enthusiasm for the death penalty, and foreign policy unilateralism suggest connections bewteen militarism abroad and crime and justice at home. Such connections seem recently more direct or more obvious, as the boundary between war and crime is blurring. It is a premise of this article that the blurring of war and crime is not so much the crossing of a bright shining line as it is an expression of the deep continuity. Class divided society, with its coercive institutions and culture, promotes criminal aggression and violence (Ven & Colvin, 2012).

Though Gottfredson and Hirschi might object to using their famous definition of crime this way, war may be defined as a massive instance of force and fraud for private gain (private referring here to an elite or upper class). This fits with Ruggiero's suggestions that theoretical tools in criminology may be useful for the criminalization of war (2005, p. 255). The argument of this article is that though seemingly indirect and remote, civilian involvement with war is part of the socio-political context of military aggression, and this involves very personal social forces, which influence individuals' selves.

Hooks and McLauchlan (1992, p. 757) note that U.S. war-making includes ongoing preparations for war. Civilian thoughts and feelings about defense, war, and threats are not causes of military aggression and U.S. civilians do not drive militarist policies. In fact, a more honest discussion in the U.S. of foreign policy and input that is more democratic would probably lead to less militarist policies. There is extensive public opinion evidence of majority support for more peaceful policies (Joseph, 2007). Furthermore, individual people and population segments can have very different responses to militaristic social pressures. The processes that militarize individual selves are complex. Individuals in similar circumstances and up with opposite views. Well-known examples are the peace activist parents whose children signed up to fight in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. So socialization is not an either/or process.

Yet, virtually ignored by scholars and others, civilian support for militarism makes them indirect participants in, and often enablers of, war politics. Civilians are part of the broader story of war and peace, imperialism and international cooperation (Klein, 2012). The most obvious connection between civilians and war politics is that, as elites know and populations occasionally discover, erosion of mass support for war can constrain policy and even bring down governments. …

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