By WILLIAM S. LIND at The American Conservative
When we think of militarism, Prussians in spiffy uniforms goose-stepping down Unter den Linden probably comes to mind. Prussia’s fixation on her army was less an “ism” than a product of her geography, which stranded the country between two great land powers, France and Russia, with no natural defenses on her borders. Nonetheless, a cartoon from the Kaiser’s time depicts such militarism well. It shows a Berlin street full of people in various uniforms, all staring pop-eyed at a man in a suit. The caption reads, “A civilian! A civilian!”
A book a friend recommended offers a supplementary definition of militarism, one that touches closer to home for Americans. The work, A History of Militarism by Alfred Vagts, was first published in 1937. Vagts makes an important distinction at the outset:
Every war is fought, every army is maintained in a military way and in a militaristic way. The distinction is fundamental and fateful. The military way is marked by a primary concentration of men and materials on winning. … Militarism, on the other hand, presents a vast array of customs, interests, prestige, actions and thought associated with armies and wars and yet transcending true military purposes. Indeed, militarism is so constituted that it may hamper and defeat the purposes of the military way [emphasis added].
Modern militarism has … specific traits … modern armies … are more liable to forget their true purpose, war, and the maintenance of the state to which they belong. Becoming narcissistic, they dream that they exist for themselves alone … perpetuating themselves for the purpose of drawing money.
This definition of militarism is alive, well, and running the show on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon. As Vagts warns, the