Army strong. The few, the proud, the marines. Support our troops. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure. Aim high! These are some of the most common slogans Americans have heard on TV promoting membership in the US armed services. Since the formation of this country, service in one of the five branches of the military has been a point of pride for many Americans. “Thank you for your service,” is a common statement made to current or former US service members. However, something left out of the public discourse is a critique of that service, the purpose of the US military, and the role it plays in geopolitics. Some readers might be offended by criticism of the US military, but nothing should be above critique. Some of the worst periods of human history occurred when people didn’t question authority or question the course their society was taking. For generations, Americans have been told that the US military and foreign policy protect the freedom of US citizens. This is not true. For over one hundred years, US foreign policy has not been one of defense but one of offense. The goal of US foreign policy has been to secure land in the global south by colonialism, neo-colonialism, and economic warfare to expand the profit margins of U.S. corporations and ensure the US remains the number one global superpower.
At the end of the American Revolution, the US chose to take a path of isolationism. That meant that other than trade, the government chose not to get involved in the dealings of other countries. Despite France having been such a key ally in the American Revolution, the US refused to come to its aid in 1791, when a slave revolt in the colony of Saint Domingue got out of hand and became the Haitian revolution. At that time, the US was busy expanding westward and building the wealth and power of its ruling class through the transatlantic slave trade.
The Monroe doctrine of 1823 was the first sign that the US was beginning to look outside its borders by declaring that it would no longer tolerate further colonization in the western hemisphere by European nations. But it wasn’t until the Spanish-American war of 1895, thirty years after the end of slavery, that the United States began its own journey into imperialism. At this time, future president Theodore Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and a forceful proponent of the war with Spain in order to spread US influence outside its borders to secure land and resources. The fact that slavery had ended 30 years prior is an important one. The US economy was shifting gears from agriculture to manufacturing, Americans did not want to see slavery within its borders, however Latin American was rich in natural resources, the building blocks of production from steel to clothing. With imperialism, the US could virtually enslave black and brown people in Latin America and US citizens would generally not even know about it. As a growing economic superpower it could pressure governments in the region to bend to its will. The island of Puerto Rico became a colony of the US, turning it into a giant sugar plantation. Cuba became a neo-colony. A neo-colony is different from an official colony. For all intents and purposes, a neo-colony is a sovereign nation, but its leadership is under the total control of the imperial nation. Neo-colonialism has been the common strategy of US foreign policy from 1895 until today. The US found its new acquisitions very lucrative. Cuba quickly became known as the “whorehouse of the Caribbean,” a haven for gambling and organized crime, Puerto Rico was mainly used for agriculture, medical experimentation on its citizens, weapons testing, a tax haven for US corporations, and a place where the military could recruit uneducated, desperate young men to fight in its many wars. After the Spanish-American war, the US turned its sights further South, towards Central and South America.
Since then, the US empire has grown substantially. It now has 800 bases in more than 70 countries. One of the highlights of US imperialist effort is the creation of the nation of Panama in 1903 when the US funded and trained rebels to secede from Colombia. “With the support of the U.S. government, Panama issued a declaration of independence from Colombia. The revolution was engineered by a Panamanian faction backed by the Panama Canal Company, a French-U.S. corporation that hoped to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with a waterway across the Isthmus of Panama” (History.com editors 2020).
In 1963 the first democratic elections took place in the Dominican Republic. The country had previously been under the control of the brutal right-wing dictator Rafael Trujillo who was a close ally of the US. Trujillo let US companies pillage whatever they wanted on the Dominican side of Hispaniola Island. The cold war was in full swing by this time, and the US made it a priority to make sure that Latin American countries were led by right-wing governments. If they weren’t, the US would make it happen. Juan Bosch, the first president of the Dominican Republic elected through a democratic process, was a populist who vowed to put his citizens first and stop letting US companies have free rein with the country’s many natural resources and cheap labor force. Six months after winning the office of the presidency, the US marines invaded the Dominican Republic, exiled Bosch, and installed a new right-wing dictator as president. “President Johnson declared that he had taken action to forestall the establishment of a “communist dictatorship” in the Dominican Republic” (History.com editors, 2009). The Dominican Republic remains a US neo-colony to this very day. In his 1968 book, Pentagonism, a Substitute for Imperialism, Bosch argued that the US went into a new phase of imperialism he called Pentagonism which included much more direct military intervention and would result in the economies of the colonial powers starting to decline in a form of self-colonization. “What is being sought is not a place to invest surplus capital for profit; what is being sought is access to the generous economic resources being mobilized for industrial war production; what is being sought are profits where arms are manufactured, not where they are employed and these profits are obtained in the pentagonist mother country, not in the country that is being attacked.” (Bosch 1968 p. 21-22). Here Bosch discusses the military-industrial complex, not a widely known industry in 1968. During World War II, factories that produced everyday products began producing military equipment and weapons. There wasn’t a permanent weapons industry in the US at that time. That was to change. An entire industry centered around the building of weapons of war was created and worst of all, the companies were subject to market forces and had to compete against each other for market share. Their shareholders wanted to see an ever-increasing return on their investment. That meant added pressure for endless war and conflict around the globe. The lobbyists for these companies would get the ears of the leadership in Washington. As President Bosch’s book on Pentagonism was going to print, the US military was in the process of invading Vietnam, a country that had just won its revolutionary war against France after 100 years of brutal colonialism. In his 1961 farewell speech, World War II general and 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, warned the nation of the growing US military-industrial complex and the likelihood that the US would find itself in endless war (Eisenhower Farewell Address (Best Quality) – “Military Industrial Complex” WARNING, 2015). The message of these two former presidents couldn’t have been more prophetic. From the late 60’s until this day, the US has been perpetually embroiled in military conflict.
Among many examples, Operation Condor was a US-led terror campaign that lasted from 1970-1979 that saw the ramping up of US intervention in Latin America. The US installed dictatorships in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Peru. These were the official neo-colonies of the US led by brutal fascist dictators. 60,000 people died in Latin America as a result of Operation Condor. These dictatorships overthrew democratically elected leaders like Salvador Allende, who died on September 11, 1973 from a coup jointly perpetrated by the US and the military dictatorship of Brazil. Allende vowed to nationalize the copper mines and create a government that put meeting its citizens basic needs before the needs of the US multinational corporations that were extracting resources without giving anything back to the people of Chile.
One tool the CIA often used was the funding and training of fascist death squads in these countries. “It has taken decades to fully expose this system, which enabled governments to send death squads on to each other’s territory to kidnap, murder and torture enemies – real or suspected…Most Condor victims disappeared for ever. Hundreds were secretly disposed of – some of them tossed into the sea from planes or helicopters after being tied up, shackled to concrete blocks or drugged so that they could barely move” (Tremlett, 2021). Latin America has never recovered from over 100 years of invasions, assassinations, terrorism, covert operations, and economic warfare in the form of blockades and embargoes.
Just in the past few years, the US supported the overthrow of the president of Bolivia, supporting the illegitimate far right government of Jeanine Anez. The coup was due to the government’s talk about nationalizing their lithium mines. Lithium has become a hot commodity due to increased use of lithium ion batteries. Elon Musk, owner of Tesla motors which uses lithium in their car batteries commented on twitter about the coup, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” Thankfully, the next year, the illegitimate government held elections and they lost in a landslide to the party they had previously expelled.
The events of 9/11 permanently changed the world. Entire volumes have been written about the direction the US took after this terrorist attack. Under the foreign policy of the Bush administration, the US invaded Afghanistan. A month into the invasion, the Taliban offered to give up Osama Bin Laden, but the US refused in order to continue a war that lasted over 20 years in which thousands of Afghans died, thousands of soldiers died, and a domino effect began that destabilized the Middle East (Reporter, 2001). Weapons manufacturers and other multinational companies made trillions in profits. Next was the Iraq war, after the executive branch lied to the nation about weapons of mass destruction. The Valerie Plame incident revealed that the CIA didn’t even want to go to war. Plame, a high level CIA agent, was outed as a spy because she and the rest of the intelligence community refused to support the lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (Plamegate Finale: We Were Right; They Were Wrong, 2015). Many Americans vividly remember these events and the betrayal they felt when it was uncovered that these wars were based on lies. The millions of lives lost, the members of the military suffering from life-altering injuries and PTSD. Americans were encouraged to “support our troops,” and if people spoke out against the wars, they would receive heavy criticism or be “cancelled,” like the country music group the Dixie Chicks (Dukes, 2021).
The US is an ultra-nationalist country where the lines between patriotism, nationalism, and ultra-nationalism are blurred. It’s also a nation in which many of the things discussed in this paper are not taught, are not mentioned in the media, and are not often discussed by the public.
The US has some of the lowest educational standards in the developed world, ranking 14th overall in worldwide education rankings (LaRock, 2012). Math and reading comprehension are heavily encouraged while history, critical thinking, science, and life skills are neglected. Manufacturing jobs that were once unionized and paid a living wage are almost completely gone. Wages have remained stagnant for the past 40 years while cost of living and inflation have increased steadily. Many people who join one of the five branches of the military don’t know the brutal history of the US military. They believe the propaganda that they’re just keeping America safe, and they don’t have many other options to build a career for themselves. Many members of the military come from parts of the country decimated by neoliberal economic policies where the options for work are to move to a big city or stay in their town and work at Walmart or an Amazon fulfillment center where they will earn minimum wage, yet still qualify for welfare because they earn so little. Working conditions are harsh and there’s little to no opportunity for career advancement. That said, the US military offers an amazing opportunity to the young person fresh out of high school who might need to take out thousands of dollars in student loans, which they would be paying off into their 50’s. Even with a college degree, they might not find work due to the millions of disappearing jobs. Or, they can consider joining the army, navy, air force or marines. Whether young men and women join the reserves or enroll in full-time service, they immediately gain the opportunity to buy a home, have free healthcare, and get college tuition assistance. They could serve the country, protect the nation, and gain the respect of everyone who admires men and women in the armed services. They would travel the world, gain career skills, and be part of something greater than themselves, something that almost all people want to feel. The majority of military personnel believe they’re doing something beneficial for society.
Does the US military do anything positive for society, for the world? Yes. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approximately 37,000 dedicated Civilians and Soldiers delivering engineering services to customers in more than 130 countries worldwide. Our men and women are protecting and restoring the nation’s environment including critical efforts in the Everglades, the Louisiana coast, and along many of our nation’s major waterways. The Corps is also cleaning sites contaminated with hazardous, toxic or radioactive waste and material in an effort to sustain the environment (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters, n.d.).” Most members of the military never see combat, don’t sign up as infantry, and oftentimes learn valuable educational and life skills that would make them a much more productive member of society than if they stayed in their small town or city with few educational opportunities or career prospects. They should not to be shamed for the decision that they made. They felt that there was no other option and that they were doing the right thing.
Progressive activists and a few elected officials have called for a “Federal Job Guarantee” as part of the Green New Deal legislation promoted by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Under the proposal, the federal government would guarantee a well-paying job, with benefits and a high enough salary to pay for rent, transportation, and food, to every citizen who wants one. Anyone could go into a local office or government agency — call it the Works Progress Administration, maybe — and walk out with a regular government position paying a livable wage and offering health, dental, and vision insurance, retirement benefits, and child care for their kids (Matthews, 2018). This sounds like an amazing idea due to the nation’s shrinking workforce. But it’s not a new idea. The US did something like this during the Great Depression. It even has something like it now, the US military! It is tantamount to a federal job guarantee. The only difference is that all the careers are geared directly or indirectly to serving the US war machine.
Due to the intertwined nature of capital and the state, the US government bends over backwards to serve corporations. The bigger the corporation, the more money they have for lobbyists to put in the pockets of elected officials, the more they will have a say in US domestic or foreign policy. These companies have shareholders that demand an ever-increasing return on their investments. Peace is not profitable and it’s so easy to find an excuse to disturb the peace. The US can label some leader or government of a poor country as illegitimate, invade, and install another Augusto Pinochet, as they did in Chile in 1973. The majority of Americans won’t bat an eye. A cultural revolution is necessary which includes reforming the media, the economy, and the education system. Until that time, the US military will have unquestioning loyalty by the masses of citizens who believe they’re defending our shores, remaining in a country, as they did in Iraq, even though its government demanded that they do so. More young people will lose their limbs, their sanity, and their lives. For what? For US hegemony and the need to stay the number one global superpower. As bad as things are stateside, it doesn’t seem worth it. The US should close the majority of its 800 international bases, respect the sovereignty of other nations, and use the military the way most other countries use theirs as state-funded organizations that primarily serve their citizens domestically and provide assistance to other countries in times of disaster.
Bosch, J. (1968). Pentagonism, a Substitute for Imperialism (First Edition, First Printing ed.).
Dukes, B. (2021, March 10). Remember When Natalie Maines Criticized the President? Taste of Country. https://tasteofcountry.com/natalie-maines-dixie-chicks-bush-controversy/
Eisenhower Farewell Address (Best Quality) – “Military Industrial Complex” WARNING. (2015, May 18). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyBNmecVtdU
History.com Editors. (2020, October 30). Panama declares independence from Colombia. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/panama-declares-independence
Our Documents – Monroe Doctrine (1823). (1995). Our Documents. https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=23
LaRock, J. R. (2012). Countries at a glance: OECD indicators 2012. OECD Better Policies for Better Lives. https://www.oecd.org/unitedstates/CN%20-%20United%20States.pdf
Matthews, D. (2018, April 24). Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker proposals: Job guarantees, explained. Vox. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/9/6/16036942/job-guarantee-explained
Plamegate Finale: We Were Right; They Were Wrong. (2015, June 29). The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/plamegate-finale-we-were-right-they-were-wrong/
Reporter, G. S. (2001, October 14). Bush rejects Taliban offer to hand Bin Laden over. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/14/afghanistan.terrorism5
Tremlett, G. (2021, September 8). Operation Condor: the cold war conspiracy that terrorised South America. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2020/sep/03/operation-condor-the-illegal-state-network-that-terrorised-south-america
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters. (n.d.). About — Headquarters U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.usace.army.mil/about/