Micro militarism: pro-military practices squeezed into small cultural spaces.

By Michael Schwalbe

My ATM receipts now tell me, beneath my checking account balance, that the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union SUPPORTS THE TROOPS!  The classical music station I listen to runs a dedication to “the men and women of our armed forces, who work so hard to protect us; without their sacrifices, none of our freedoms would be possible.”

When I browse for information about public universities in North Carolina, an ad pops up showing a young man in camouflage combat fatigues, holding a laptop computer.  The text of the ad reads, “Advance Your Military Career with an MBA.”  The ad is for an online MBA program at the University of North Carolina.

A few months ago the home page of my university, NC State, greeted viewers with an image of a young man in the cockpit of a U.S. air force fighter jet.  The text, as I recall, was to the effect that NC State is training tomorrow’s leaders today.  The fall issue of the university’s alumni magazine ran an adoring profile of army general Ray Odierno, a 1986 graduate.

The local weekly independent newspaper, which fashions itself as alternative and leftish, runs a feature called the “social activist calendar.”  Events are grouped under headings such as Community, Environment, Politics, Government, and LGBTQ.  In a recent issue, four events were listed under Troop Support.

Though the requests have abated lately, for a time earlier this year cashiers in grocery stores and gas stations consistently asked if I wanted to donate a dollar to support the troops.

The above are examples of what can be called micro militarism: pro-military practices squeezed into small cultural spaces.  Any one such practice might seem trivial.  Yet on the whole micro militarism does much to normalize militarism on a large scale.

Militarism on a large scale is what the U.S. is all about.  This is militarism on the scale of foreign invasions and occupations; on the scale of maintaining hundreds of military bases around the world; on the scale of drone fleets used to carry out political assassinations wherever the enemies of empire might roam; on the scale of spending half of our nation’s collective wealth every year to pay for weapons and war; on the scale of an economy in which the profits of nearly every major corporation, and many small ones, derive in part from military contracts.

From the standpoint of political and economic elites, militarism on a large scale is a fine thing.  It is how wealth is transferred from the working class to the capitalist class via taxes to pay for “defense systems.”  It is also how U.S. corporations maintain access to raw materials, cheap labor, and markets around the world.  The problem is that, absent the fever of war, large-scale militarism generates popular resistance.

After a while, people begin to wonder why their sons and daughters are being killed and maimed in countries half a world away, countries that have not attacked us and with which we are not at war.  People begin to wonder about the competence and morality of politicians who engage in imperial adventures that seem to have no clear purpose, no clear endpoint, and no clear benefits for anyone who doesn’t stand to make a profit on weapons, military supplies, mercenary services, or someone else’s natural resources.

People begin to wonder why there is not enough money for schools, public transportation, libraries, parks, and health care.  They begin to wonder where our collective wealth is going, and why there is always enough money for the tools of war but not enough for the things that give regular people security and prosperity at home.

Some people also begin to wonder whether invading and occupying foreign countries, and carrying out drone attacks that kill innocent bystanders, might give rise to legitimate grievances, and whether it would be wiser to mind our own business and stop trying to dominate the rest of the world.

To maintain support for militarism on a large scale, people must be propagandized.  They must be made afraid of alleged enemies abroad; they must be told, as often as possible, that the U.S. is, unlike all other empires in history, concerned only about promoting freedom and democracy when it uses military force; they must be led to see military service—of which the essence is obedience, not courageous independence—as noble and heroic.

Some of the cultural practices through which this management of consciousness occurs are easy to see.  The martial-spirited national anthem is sung en masse before sporting events.  Military jets are flown over crowded stadiums.  College basketball games are held on air force bases and aircraft carriers.  Films and TV shows (e.g., “Stars Earn Stripes”) celebrate the skill and virtue of U.S. soldiers.  G.I. Joes and other military toys fill whole aisles in big box stores.

Micro militarism is harder to see.  An individual instance can look like nothing more than an expression of support for people who have given several years of their lives, and perhaps their entire futures, for national service.  The intentions behind many acts of micro militarism are good.  But intentions do not determine consequences.

When militarism is squeezed into the small cultural spaces of everyday life, we are subtly reminded, again and again, that war and violence and soldiering are normal.  We are thus being taught that war and violence and soldiering are not political matters subject to contention or debate.  The message is that war and violence and soldiering are normal parts of who we are and what we do as a people, and anyone who questions this is beyond the pale—unpatriotic, a traitor.

Many of the examples of micro militarism cited earlier are exhortations to support the troops, or assertions that the troops deserve appreciation.  The pervasiveness of these messages creates the impression that supporting the troops is a consensual expectation.  It is simply what good people do.  If you do it, you can feel good about yourself as a right-thinking member of the community, and if you don’t do it, you should feel guilty.

Micro militarism makes it harder to ask, What are the troops doing, on whose behalf, such that we should support them?  Micro militarism also makes it harder to ask, How is it possible that we spend as much on war-making as the rest of the world combined, and yet our troops do not have adequate support?  We are of course not supposed to ask these questions.  We are supposed to equate “the troops” with all things military, then open our wallets while closing our minds.

Micro militarism has another pernicious effect, especially when it takes the form of touting the notion that the troops make great sacrifices to “protect our freedoms.”  The effect is to encourage indifference to atrocities.  If “our boys” are doing a hard, terrible job to protect us, then we ought to cut them some slack if they occasionally make a mistake and blow up a civilian wedding party.  Regrettable, yes; but it’s just the reality of war—a reality that micro militarism leads us to accept as normal.

Professional marketers say that the most effective marketing messages are those not recognized as such.  These messages slip past our conscious defenses.  We’re not on guard, because we don’t realize we’re hearing a sales pitch.  Micro militarism works the same way, going a step farther by getting non-marketers to pick up the feel-good messages—SUPPORT THE TROOPS!—and propagate them uncritically.

So how do we resist?  Awareness is the first step.  We can’t resist micro militarism without recognizing it.  The next step is to call it into question.  What’s difficult is calling micro militarism into question without impugning the motives of those who participate in it with good intentions.  Any implied moral indictment will elicit defensiveness.

Perhaps what we can suggest to our friends and neighbors is that the best way to ensure domestic security and long, prosperous lives for our sons and daughters is to denormalize war and make it harder for political and economic elites to use mass violence in pursuit of their selfish interests.  Perhaps we can find ways to say this sort of thing in gentle and hearable but uncompromisingly firm ways.

Even gentle objections are likely to evoke strong reactions.  Widespread micro militarism implies that a pro-military consciousness has already taken deep root.  Overcoming it will not be easy, and ultimately can’t be done without also changing the political and economic arrangements that make war profitable and limit democracy.  In the short run, however, challenging micro militarism is a way to carry on the struggle to build a more peaceful, egalitarian world, one small objection at a time.

Michael Schwalbe was first published on Counterpunch.


  1. Garry H says:

    I feel one problem that perpeptuates the current lack of awarness of the electorate in regard to the I issues raised in this atlrticle is the public’s disengagment from them becuase of some form of collective apathy. Of course, a corporate and bias media set the political narrative and deflect attention from the real issues in an obvious deliberate attempt to dumb down the population. On ‘elections’, we don’t talk about inequality, the debt, health care or slave wages, we talk about same sex marriage, abortions, immigration (always a winner) racial divide (another popular winner) sex scandles or religion (the ultimate winner). Perpetual consumerism also dominates the public mood in the land that worships money and materilasm, celebrity worship and sports stars alsk distract the public from engaging in the real issues. ‘Democrat’ or Republican’, it.matters not, as they are all one and the same with the things that REALLY MATTER to their interests are always going to be brought to fruition…more so after an extravaganza like a ‘ new Pearl Harbour’! The return of the PNAC’s John Bolton to the ‘center of power’ should have us all scared. No doubt he will ‘guide’ President Trump in the RIGHT, ULTRA RIGHT direction! As long as we have a smart phone glued to us 24/7 and a Facebook page, I suppose the mandnes will.continue! Garry H. South Carolina. RAF retired.

  2. Garry H says:

    A very insighful article with a very plausible premise. I am British by birth and naturilzed as a U.S. citizen in February of this year. I fully identify with what you say. The narrative over here is very much pro military. The narrative, however, is a very I’ll informed one. I belive the U.S. is an oiligarchy within a corpoate and wealthy elite plutocracy and a antion that has become encapsulated into a permanent war ecconomy. Oil and gas feature in the hegomny of U.S. military full.spectrum dominace and energy us the number 1 national security concern to any industriazed nation. The military fight for corporate interest primarily and geoplitical access to areas of shared intetest. 911 was the ‘ new Pearl Harbour’ that set the current status quo of events as Islamic terror becomes out new enemy. The 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr King reminds me of how relevant his Vietnam speech is today in terms of the sheer inequality and poverty that is ripe in the country today where so many of us are strugelling to pay the bills, wages have not risen for 30 years a growing 20 trillion dolllar national debt threatens us all like a meligment tumour, we are the only developed nation in earth not to have single payer health care for all, but over half of all tax revenues goes to a 60 trillion annual Pentagon budget that is never under threat in times of growing financial uncertainty. There may not even be any social security checks for all that need them in the next 20 years. America is my home, a nation that I love like my own and as my own, and like anything that I care about, I am greatly concerned.

  3. Marc Dickens says:

    I read a very interesting article on RT yesterday, as follows..

    “Those who lobbied to have George W. Bush and Tony Blair tried for their role in the Iraq War have finally got their wish. Though the verdict of the court carries no legal weight, its supporters believe its symbolic value is beyond doubt.
    The court in Malaysia where the trial took place may not have the power to convict, but the verdict against the former British and American leaders was unanimous.

    “War criminals have to be dealt with – convict Bush and Blair as charged. A guilty verdict will serve as a notice to the world that war criminals may run but can never ultimately hide from truth and justice,” the statement from the Perdana Global Peace Foundation read.

    The foundation was set up by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, who was always a staunch opponent of the war against the regime of Saddam Hussain in 2003. He previously branded Blair and Bush “child-killers”.

    The tribunal, which consisted of a former federal judge and several academics, paid particular attention to the failure of the Western military to find a single weapon of mass destruction in Iraq. WMDs were cited by the Western coalition as a major reason for their military intervention. It also declared the war to be in contravention of the will of the United Nations.

    “The evidence showed that the drums of war were being beaten long before the invasion. The accused in their own memoirs have admitted their intention to invade Iraq regardless of international law,” said the tribunal.

    The tribunal has no powers of enforcement, and as yet there has been no response from Bush or Blair. But the Perdana Peace Foundation says it hopes to maintain pressure from the international community on the two leaders, both of whom have now retired from domestic politics.

    Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence during the Iraq War, is next on the list to have his case heard by the mock court.”

    I wrote and asked them why Howard had not been included, answer pasted as follows.
    Dear Marc,
    Thank you for your email. Yes we did find Bush & Blair guilty of war crimes at a formal Tribunal hearing organised by our sister organisation, The Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War & sent the judgement to the UN and all heads of government as well as the ICC. I agree with you that John Howard of Australia went along with and supported Bush & Blair all the way. Although we would have liked to host Tribunal hearings against warmongers like Howard, given our limited resources, we had to focus on the US and Britain.

    Thank you again.

    Good to know that there are some out there who have not let the matter drop. I wish them success.

    1. David Marchesi says:

      even before Dr King, the Eisenhower warning about the military-industrial complex was an alarm call, almost totally ignored by the power-brokers and , sadly, by the general public. Appalling, so one can only repeat:”nil carborundum” (“don’t let the bastards wear you down”) and continue to do what we can to alert as many as we can.

  4. David Halpin says:

    Thank you Marc, very much. You show yourself to be a ‘universalist’. Most humans can get along with each other, especially humble, poorer people as I embraced in Gaza during my ten visits. But the elites, and the psychopaths in particular make sure there are enemies. (I wonder how many young Britons know of Russia’s sacrifice which saved Europe’s bacon, as the terrible lies spew forth from Salisbury.)

    “If Clinton had been held to account and prosecuted over the bombing of Serbia …..” That is the key Marc, and the more paramount psychopaths and war criminals like Blair go Scot free, the freer are others to slaughter millions of mothers and children. Look again at the quote re the hospitals and clinics blown up by the allied forces in Basra. We think of sick people in hospital beds being crushed under concrete.

    Iraq, Libya, Syria, the Yemen, Somalia. So read this Marc – it shows what is called, in vile words, the long game. Yinon’s plan for decimation of all Arab entities is never found in our so-called media. I learned of it from Ralph Schoenmann and I have written of it for at least 10 years. The plan has been underlined thrice since – the last PNAC.


    And thank you David Marchesi

  5. Marc Dickens says:

    I grew up in Australia during the 50s and 60s and at 12 joined the Sea Cadets, an institution ran by ex-naval servicemen, on 25th of April we joined the ANZAC dawn services and parades to remember those who given their lives for freedom during the 2 world wars and Korea. The atmosphere was something one couldn’t describe, comradeship old stories, stories about mischief not about death.

    When the US entered the Vietnam war, we in Australia being part of the ANZUS treaty joined the war also, the reason, Communism had spread from Russia into China and was heading south and unless we stopped the progress of communism in Vietnam, Australia would also fall to communism. At the age of 16 I joined the RAN, wanting to serve my country and join the fight, at the time I was peeved, too young to go to Vietnam to fight the Red Peril, angry, this wasn’t right our news papers, TV and radio was continuously broadcasting of the evils of the Viet Cong and the war crimes they committed, and about the good acts we were involved in, saving people from death at the hands of the evil invader from the North. We lost Vietnam the US and its allies got their backsides kicked good and proper, but funnily enough to this day Australia hasn’t fallen to communism. It was years later that I read about the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

    After 4 years in the RAN I discharged, and joined started a career in the Merchant Navy as a seaman, I travelled the world and met people from many different countries, I socialised with people from all over the world and found we are all the same, we just speak a different language or our skin is a different colour. In 1975 the ship I was on visited the Persian Gulf and we spent 6 months there offloading cargo in many various ports, on two occasions we were in Iraq, in my opinion it was the best place in all of the Gulf, there were night clubs and one could have a drink and watch the cabaret, very civilized considering in the UAE drinking was illegal then.

    In 1976 I joined the Royal Engineers and spent 6 years in Germany BAOR and found nothing really changes, having been fed my daily ration of BS in the RAN, I was now being fed my daily ration of BS in the British Army, but this time it was Russia that was the evil entity, they were perched on the other side of the boarder just waiting for the right time to pounce, the land did not produce enough food, they needed the European farm lands. Having been to Russia and having met many Russian seamen during my time in the merchant navy, I really took it all with a pinch of salt, and then in November 1982 expecting the ground to be froze the tank corps bogged every operation tank they had during an exercise, a week later the ground froze and it took 3 months to get the tanks out using every piece of trackway in NATO for the recovery, but the Russians never came. When the wall came down and the Warsaw Pact disbanded, NATO against every agreement expanded up to Russia’s border, and now if Russia holds military exercised, it is accused of aggression, in contrast to NATO or even the US in Korea, where it is called defense training.

    Then came the Falkland crisis, a war I believe was avoidable until Thatcher ordered the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano outside the exclusion zone, an action I consider a war crime and no different than telling troops to come out with hands raised then shooting them. The sinking of the Belgrano escalated the situation and prevented Argentina from walking back. The action cost the lives of many British servicemen. I was posted to the Falklands in 1984 for 7 months and was amazed the amount of money the British government spent and wasted, money that was said was not available for health and education.

    After discharging in 1986, my career took the construction path and I again travelled the world, working along side people I was told were an enemy when I was in the military, friendships were forged and never once did anyone challenge me on Australian foreign policy being linked to that of the US. In 2000, soon after Australia walked into East Timor I returned to Indonesia, the Australian government was warning Australians travel advisory not to go unless urgent, unsafe. Thinking I might not get through Indonesian immigration, I was amazed how easy it was and no questions, thinking then that the hotel might obstruct my reservation I was again wrong, and during the month I was there, not once was I asked what my government was doing putting troops into East Timor.

    I was against the Iraq invasion, I believed Hans Blix when he said there is no WMD, I also believe, if he had Iraq would not have been invaded, North Korea is a good example. I also look at the fact that the west interferes in these countries and have no idea of the cultural, historic, religious and ethnic issues that someone like Saddam kept in check and where shopping at the market was safe. He may not have been Mr Nice Guy according to the west, but there would be many Iraqi’s who wish he were still in power today.

    I was also against the Libya war and the attempted destruction of Syria, I don’t understand why the west feels it can decide who should be leading a county, surely the removal of one individual is not worth the killing of tens of thousands, and we have seen from the previous wars that the new are not necessarily any better than what was there before and is in many cases worse. Democracy is not democracy when it is forced upon you with an installed government.

    The Iraq war was the last war where we saw significant protests to end the war, the US and it’s western allies have changed tactics and have stopped putting troops on the ground, they now have proxy wars, using rebels and in some cases known terror organisations, drones and air strikes, and where trainers and advisors are kept well away from the firing line, so with the cessation of body bags returning fallen soldiers so to have we seen the cessation of anti war protests. People don’t care any more when it doesn’t involve them

    Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, Syria, wars based on lies developed by people behind the scenes that are vocalised by politicians and broadcasted by media outlets that have become too powerful and then when an alternative gives a different viewpoint the government calls it a propaganda network.

    We are seeing the illegitimate use of NATO a defense organization being used as an aggressor, the UN being used by some as a tool to accuse and seek justification for war and in the case of the US and some allies the breaking or misinterpretation of international law and agreements to justify unilateral action. We see one country lambasted or sanctioned for so called human rights violations and we see a country such as Israel that is protected for doing far worse.

    We are also seeing war crimes committed by the west being lied about, justified, swept under the carpet or going unpunished, we are seeing parliament such as in the UK where recent accusations by the UK government against Russia has seen politicians become judge, jury and executioner instead of waiting for investigations to conclude and reports submitted and we have seen politicians and people who stand up and question the appropriateness of the allegations accused of treachery to the cause, we have seen flagrant abuse of legal treaty’s and agreements where the accused is not given a chance to prove their innocence and we have seen the usual group who get involved with every recent war take orchestrated actions that is nothing lest than vigilantism. But what we don’t see is these same people resigning when they are proved wrong, we also do not see them punished for their action, instead we see them rewarded. If Clinton had been held to account and prosecuted over the bombing of Serbia and had been imprisoned maybe Bush, Blair and Howard would never have decided to invade Iraq, and if they had and they were also prosecuted and imprisoned for their crimes, there is a very good chance that Libya and Syria would not have suffered the same fate.

    What can be done to stop this madness, I don’t know but I don’t think it is necessarily just about voting out politicians, I think it is also cleaning out the vast majority of civil servants who advise the politicians, lets face it, how many are protecting their jobs by crying “WOLF”, What I do know is, the Hypocrisy has to stop.

    1. David Marchesi says:

      a fascinating comment from Marc Dickens, to which I could add that, growing up in Oz in the 40’s and 50’s, I was suspicious of the Korean adventure. Cloaked by the UN, the US-inspired crusade against the Reds was an early example of “humanitarian interventionism” (the phrase not then current, but the idea was that the (South ?) Koreans would be better off dead than Red, and we must help them) Older readers will recall that Gen MacArthur thought the atomic bomb could solve the problem, but was over-ruled. The war was profitable to Oz, not because of the arms trade, but partly through the high prices for wool, stimulated by the need for uniforms; and the seeds of anti-Communism were sown, contributing to the occasional hysteria and persistent brain-washing against the Australian Labour Party, which was, of course, essentially a social-democratic organisation with some socialists. The protest marches over Vietnam were good indicators that the media and the Big Boys had not entirely suppressed the popular feeling that wars of intervention were wrong. Arthur Calwell,a decent man, like Corbyn today, lost the election to the flag-waving Liberals and remarked “it is better to lose on principle than to win on lies.”
      We face now a stream of lies and double standards to warm Goebbels’s heart (not that he had one) Collective narcissism is the issue , and I would urge folk to view RT (while we are allowed to ! ) and/or, to look at the media in India etc rather than rely exclusively on the collective-ego pandering MSM here. Not, obviously, because we accept the alternative views uncritically, either, but so as to have some perspective. In day-to-day terms, must we let our children invade foreign countries and, if they do their job, kill lots of foreigners at the behest of the Toffocrats ? Is this not a ghastly repeat of WW1 ? Keep calm, and answer the militarists and arms -makers who encourage the UK’s allies to murder Yemenis, Syrians, Palestinians etc etc .
      …O wad some Power the giftie gie us
      To see oursels as ithers see us!
      It wad frae monie a blunder free us… “

      We are talking killing here , than which there can be no more grave a matter.

  6. David Marchesi says:

    it is becoming more and more urgent to answer the militarists, whose mindless (but calculating) campaigns seek to brainwash the public.In a comment tonight by a senior RAF spokesman, he regretted that fewer (he said) have the military in their background . Decoded, we must regret that direct experience of “conflicts” has escaped us; no doubt because “our boys” have kept us free, one is supposed to conclude. Therefore , so as to improve the moral fibre of the nation, we ought to increase the armed forces in man/womanpower and, of course, in weaponry. Preferably, the aim should be to find plenty of “conflicts” which require
    considerable personnel, so that more of us can experience the military at closer hand. The problem is, of course, that modern armaments, notably nukes and chemical/biological weapons, imply far fewer personnel than this grand programme calls for.Robotised warfare is close, notably with drones; more bang for the buck implies weapons of mass destruction, some smaller ones for use (so our military boffins plan) on the battlefield.
    The only response worthy of decent human beings to this monstrous brainwashing and hysteria is to keep calm and ask for neutrality. Switzerland so far has upheld this principal, and, I believe, Costa Rica has no regular army (militarised police perhaps, but not for invading other countries) It surely isn’t too much to grasp that invading other countries is always questionable, and that we must reject the Blair Doctrine of “humanitarian interventionism”. Equally, it would be useful to promote a “civil services” (fire, ambulance, coast guard etc) day as a counterpoint to the Gordon Brown “Armed Forces Day”. It is also, of course, vital to point out, as Dr. Halpin reminds us,that the RAF’s record is to be placed in the context of air warfare generally, with its inevitable “collateral damage” on a vast scale. The record includes to killing of tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians, and, if all the world’s air forces are put together, some millions, a very small proportion of whom have been “combatants”. (e.g., the soldiers at Dunkirk mowed down by Stukas alongside the many thousands of those men ,women and children killed in Dresden and Hiroshima by our side).

  7. David Halpin says:

    Excellent article. I tell Michael Schwalbe that there is plenty of micro and militarism in Britain, with ‘terrorism’ the vehicle for a lot. And by featuring the Muslim in particular, it will be easier to aim the big machinery at Iran.

    The 100th anniversary of the inception of the RAF is being flogged hard. I do not detract from the terrible sacrifices in WW2 but we do not hear of its dropping mustard gas on Iraqis in 1925 at Churchill’s behest, or so I am told, the bombing of Basra’s Children’s and General Hospital in 1991.
    “Many hospitals and health centers were severely damaged during the bombing and ensuing civil uprisings. Dr. Said Shakir Mahmoud, director of the Ministry of Health’s planning section, reported that a total of 20 hospitals and 38 health centers were physically damaged and looted during the course of the Gulf crisis.”
    May I post this article Mr Schwalbe on my web site please?

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