The Permanent Warrior Mentality
To be number one in a system is always dangerous
The first Cold War played out between the East and the Western Occident and the East lost with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Both built, more or less faithfully, on Western mechanical thinking, one on Marx and other Socialist/Communist philosophers, the other on twisting moral philosopher Adam Smith into a God’s hand individualist utility market prophet and pair him with various types of liberal, parliamentary democracy thinking.
The Soviet and East European system had come to the end of its history, but what about the twin Occidental brother, the US-EU system? The latter had not only survived or ‘won’, it had also forced the Soviet Union to spend an unsustainable proportion of its resources on the military.
And now the Second West is destined to follow suit.
The point I shall make is that the West, US-EU-based system to put it crudely, is now falling into the same fateful trap leading to civilian and cultural decline and soon, a fall. It happens because of its own unwise, confrontational and arms-addicted thinking, arrogance and global full-spectrum dominance aims which are all out of sync with the emerging real world.
The Occident is not threatened in any vital way by anybody else, it’s all psycho-political projection, paranoia and indicative of a deep, perhaps unconscious, manifest irrational destiny.
To be number one in a system is, without exception, always dangerous. You get obsessed with teaching and mastering, avoiding to learn and be humble vis-a-vis the achievements of others, rely on groupthink, we cannot possibly be wrong, and end up overdoing the sphere where you may still think that you have a comparative advantage: Ever-growing militarism and war-planning (although the wars have been lost).
A permanent warrior mentality coupled with the incremental implementation of a war economy. Brilliant scholar Michael Klare called his 1972 book, War Without End. I have, for decades, called it MIMAC, the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex, leading to militarism without end.
But there is much much more to militarism than weapons. They, and warfare, are always only symptoms of the deep-lying conflicts and full-spectrum civilisational malaise which is something the militarists, the media and politics as well as most of the peace movement has never really appreciated. And from a peace-making point of view, this is as effective as a doctor who mistakes the symptoms for the causes.
In 1978, with the guidance of Johan Galtung, then at the Chair of Peace and Conflict Research at Oslo University, I published a small theoretical book with the long title, “The New International Military Order, The Real Threat to Human Security. An Essay on Global Armament, Structural Militarism and Alternative Security.”
I went through virtually all existing theories about militarism from Alfred Vagts and onwards and decided to define militarism in four components:
Increasing isomorphism between the civilian and the military spheres of society, whether symmetric or asymmetric integration. The civilian sphere is influenced more and more by the military that can be employed to handle refugees, human rights, change other governments to be like us, etc, and the military sphere that employs more and more civilian techniques in, say, management, communication and way of arguing its interest policy.
Radical monopoly of the military, inspired by Ivan Illic’s concept of radical monopoly in which elites (here MIMAC elites) deprive people of initiative and genuine security by offering their professional ’services’ which, de facto, serves themselves rather than the citizenry.
Social vulnerability of all other sectors than those that can be defended by the military, take a modern example, the Corona pandemic: There was no defence and security when it happened since security is defined basically by what can be met with military means, which climate, health, social issues and cultural challenges can not.
Manifest insecurity as a result of all this, of national military, deterrence-based thinking instead of individual-global civilian, common security-based and peace-oriented thinking. Or, perhaps, a civil-military defensive defence in which the two components are never mixed by separated in time and space.
And what does perceived insecurity lead to? A call for and acceptance of even more weaponry based, of course, on a permanent production of more or less invented ’enemies’. In short, the perfect perpetuum mobile that leads society deeper down into unstoppable addiction, health decline and final self-destruction.
Contemporary militarism is a rather sophisticated, multi-dimensional and levelled social phenomenon that virtually nobody does research on. Long gone are the days when it was defined by excessive use of weapons, code of honour, duels, marches, uniforms and parades on the central square of capitals.
Perhaps, today's best metaphor today would be a cancer with metastases in the social body and not easy to detect by the untrained, innocent eye?
So out of the normal, the regional and global ramifications of what is associated with the catchword ‘Ukraine’, the de facto NATO-Russia War from 2022, seem to me that we need to talk about it in completely different ways from those employed since the war broke out.
Gone from virtually all Western decision-makers and the large majority of citizens seem most of the characteristics of what we used to be proud of in so-called Western culture: a fair hearing of all sides, self-criticism, analysis/diagnosis, impact assessment, rationality, human rights (e.g. vis-a-vis the Russian innocent citizens who are met with collective punishment), balanced media reporting with competing interpretations promoting debate, political prudence, the anti-militarism of political parties from the left-social democracies to the Left, normal decency, and condemnation of public and political lying.
Further, we witness a mind-boggling construction of demonstrably false narratives, emotionalist politics, lack of vision and foresight of the consequences of one’s own actions on even a two-week time horizon; blue and yellow clothes and flags and other symbol politics replacing every substance, mainstream/maelstrom media going pro-war and pro-armament against every public service criteria. The list could be longer.
It’s taken about a year only to destroy large parts of the core way of thinking of the Western Occident. 85 percent of the world’s people live in countries that do not support the West’s policies. It’s increasingly self-isolating but still believes it speaks for the ‘international community.’
Tragically beyond words is that today’s West lives on hatred and warfare as its main, if not only, socio-political glue. (Yes, it may fragment when people have suffered enough economically and begin to understand how much they have been fooled by their media and politicians).
Other, much more important,issues for the West itself and humanity are cancelled to mobilise the resources demanded by the militarist society, the garrison state. No leader or government operates on a vision of the good society, the desirable future, instead, it’s 24/7 militarist muddling through, and make believe.
There is much more to say. I am sharing only my deep worries and grappling thoughts on how to possibly understand the times we live in. At this moment I am grateful for Buddhist thinker and TFF Associate, David Loy, who has suggested that people in our culture are haunted by some kind of deep feeling of void, of lack of meaning and understanding, and, in that situation, choose militarism as a new secularised religion, the standing together about at least something rather than nothingness.
When I listen to Western leaders defying every negotiated solution and diplomacy and stating that war is the road to peace, I believe it cannot be understood intellectually-analytically but only as a belief. And thus, that NATO is the new church and the media, politicians, researchers and citizens who believe in militarism at all costs even to ourselves make up the congregation with God’s own country as the saviour on their side in the struggle to finally get rid of the other Western ‘evil brother’ and thereby gather imagined/dystopian strength to take on China and other non-West.
I am not a believer. My analysis and intuition lead me to believe that Ukraine is that militarist religion’s Waterloo and spells the end of the Western-dominated world. If we survive the demise of the global US Empire and concomitantly of NATO, a new much more balanced, multipolar, cooperative and peaceful world becomes both thinkable, desirable and possible.
It can’t be excluded that 2023 will show which way it goes.
Jan Oberg, PhD, is the Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF, in Sweden. Views expressed are the writer’s own.