William J. Astore on Icons of American Militarism

At this moment, it’s hard to think of a better symbol of American militarism than a giant bomb with a U.S. flag on it. President Donald Trump touted the use of the “mother of all bombs” (MOAB) in Afghanistan as a “very, very successful mission” even though evidence of that success is scant. He further cited MOAB as evidence of the “tremendous difference, tremendous difference” between his administration’s willingness to use force and Obama’s. In short, Trump loved MOAB precisely because Obama didn’t use it. To Trump, MOAB was a sort of penis extender and a big middle finger all-in-one. Virility and vulgarity.

MOAB is an icon of US militarism, as are other weapons in the American arsenal. Weapons like our warplanes, aircraft carriers, Predator and Reaper drones, and Tomahawk and Hellfire missiles. US foreign policy often hinges on or pivots about the deployment of these icons of power, whether it’s aircraft carriers and antimissile systems being sent to Korea or more bombs and missiles being used in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, among other countries.

Weapons sales further define US foreign policy. Witness the recent announcement of $100 billion in arms for the Saudis, soon to be confirmed by Trump in his forthcoming trip to Saudi Arabia. This sale sets up even more military aid for Israel, in that Washington insists Israel must always maintain a qualitative edge in weaponry over its Arab rivals.

Unlike, say, Wilhelmine Germany, which elevated Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg to iconic status during and after World War I, America today is lacking in winning generals. Sure, there have been a few pretenders. William Westmoreland in Vietnam, H. Norman Schwarzkopf in Desert Storm, Tommy Franks in Iraqi Freedom, and David Petraeus of “Surge” fame come to mind, but their “victories” were either illusory or lacking in staying power. Since we can’t idolize our generals, we celebrate our weapons instead.

These weapons are indeed iconic symbols. They capture an ideology of destruction. A predilection for spreading misery worldwide, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest must-read article at TomDispatch.com. As Engelhardt notes in his “send-out” message to his piece:

The first part of my latest post focuses on the now seven month-long U.S.-backed Iraqi military offensive against the city of Mosul, which shows little sign of ending and has reduced that city, like so many other places in the region, to ruins, if not rubble. Mosul, in other words, has been on my mind, but perhaps not completely for the reason you might expect. Its destruction (and the generation of yet more uprooted people and refugees) has led me to wonder what ever happened to the globalizers who for so many years told us about the wonders of tying the planet ever more tightly together and leveling all playing fields. It seems obvious to me that war, American-style, these last 15 years, has played a distinctly globalizing role on this ever smaller…

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