“Militarism has been by far the commonest cause of the breakdown of civilizations. The single art of war makes progress at the expense of all the arts of peace.” – Arnold J. Toynbee
Pablo Picasso’s Guernica depicts the tragic results of militarism. In this epic painting he captured the horror suffered by the residents of a small village in the Basque countryside, bombed mercilessly into ruins. It is a powerful display of the reality of war in that it shows the victims are disproportionately civilians, animals and the earth itself.
Since World War II more civilians have been killed in armed conflict, despite having protection under international law. Americans have largely been shielded from the atrocity that is war. We do not see the bodies of children blown apart by US drone strikes or the humiliation and terror that comes from being occupied by a foreign army. It is because of this ignorance that militarism has flourished.
Militarism is the aggressive reply to every social problem. It is extremely profitable and therefore a perfect partner of capitalism. Its merchants have been successful in convincing the public over and over to believe the insane contradiction of war bringing peace, bombs bringing democracy and occupation bringing justice. They are masters at massaging our innate fears, those fears that produce the most visceral responses to manufactured illusions of imminent danger.
The powerful pull out the most primitive emotional reactions in us, responses we developed in ancient fields when we needed to escape the very real predators that lurked around us throughout the long history of our evolutionary heritage. They stoke primal paranoia of the other and encourage scapegoating as a means of alleviating the anxiety associated with the unknown and the responsibility of ethical conscience. They distract us from their malfeasance. They provoke rage at imaginary threats against the homeland, the religion, the tribe. In essence, they manufacture the belief that militarism is inevitable, even desirable.
The boogieman needed to maintain militarism changes faces, but they are almost always two-dimensional figures whose evil is absolute. Whether they be communists or Islamists, the pretext is always the same; they are cast as an immediate threat to western civilization and must be dealt with in the most violent way possible. Unsurprisingly, this ideology has wreaked havoc around the world.
Decades of neoliberal economic policies, arms deals, military coups, toppling of democratically elected governments, and the support of practically every despotic and corrupt regime the world has ever known has created a 21st century map of the world that contains more human caused catastrophes than it does countries. This long and bloody history of exploitation has enabled fanatical or extremist movements, loosely based on religion, to sweep entire regions. It has deftly created them with each new massacre and atrocity borne as a gruesome trophy to its fury.
But the mayhem abroad inevitably returns home. Militaristic societies create a machine that eventually consumes them from the inside. They lurch towards self-destruction because they feed on the pillars that support them. The arts, humanities, and science all become casualties of their rapacious appetite for growth. Jingoism replaces critical thinking. Infrastructure crumbles and the social safety net is dismantled. The well being of their citizens is reduced to a hollow promise of protection against an imaginary enemy, while the real needs and dangers are ignored. Civil rights and liberties become nuisances that get in the way of the machine, and are therefore crushed.
Militarism is the religion of America. It is the cornerstone of our culture and the currency with which the state interacts with its citizens as well as its neighbors. It is the language mass media uses in its denigration of the poor, the immigrant and the downtrodden. It is the method used to address all forms of crime. It is the very core of our economic system, based upon the rape of the natural world and the exploitation of the weakest among us. And it is the wall that prevents us from achieving lasting peace and true justice.
Picasso’s Guernica serves not only as a warning, but also as a prediction. His painting underscores the tragic futility of militarism and how it always targets the most vulnerable. It is an ideology of death that builds nothing and takes everything. It is a monster that feeds off fear and, sadly at the beginning of the 21st century, shows no sign of slowing down.
Kenn Orphan 2014