Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

We Are the Real Culprits: We Rightly Criticise Israeli Aggression, but Such Tactics Originated in Liberal Nations, Writes David Edgerton

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

We Are the Real Culprits: We Rightly Criticise Israeli Aggression, but Such Tactics Originated in Liberal Nations, Writes David Edgerton

Article excerpt

Israel's illegal attack on Lebanon has been rightly criticised for the number of civilians killed and for the destruction of infrastructure. Behind such objections lies an assumption, enshrined in the laws of war, that civilians and the economy should not be targeted. To justify doing so, the disgusting euphemism "collateral damage" was invented. But such criticism rather misses the point. Attacking civilians, and economic sanctions--so often thought of as an alternative to war--have long been central to "liberal militarism".

We associate militarism with armies having too great a say in domestic and foreign policy. According to this image, the military is at best all dash and chivalry; at worst authoritarian, fanatical and bloodthirsty. The term militarism is hardly ever used with respect to Britain and the United States, yet their commitment to military power has been unmistakable. The character of Anglo-American militarism is hidden by an argument that such military investment is determined by the existence of more backward, militaristic and threatening nations, run by kaisers, corporals and colonels. To be militaristic, it is argued, is not in the nature of liberal nations.

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But there is a better way of looking at it: liberal nations have developed a distinctive kind of militarism. Its main features are a belief in the economic basis of war and, thus, in the importance of attacks on civilians and industry; the use of high-tech weapons rather than manpower; and an ideological labelling of the enemy. …

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