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Fredric Jameson's War Machine

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The total acceptability of militarism extends well beyond the neoconservatives, the racists, the Republicans, the liberal humanitarian warriors, the Democrats, and the masses of political "independents" who find any talk of dismantling the U.S. military scandalous. Fredric Jameson is an otherwise leftist intellectual who's put out a book, edited by Slavoj Zizek, in which he proposes universal conscription into the military for every U.S. resident. In subsequent chapters, other purportedly leftist intellectuals critique Jameson's proposal with hardly a hint of concern at such an expansion of a machine of mass murder. Jameson adds an Epilogue in which he mentions the problem not at all.

What Jameson wants is a vision of Utopia. His book is called An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army. He wants to nationalize banks and insurance companies, seize and presumably shut down fossil fuel operations, impose draconian taxes on large corporations, abolish inheritance, create a guaranteed basic income, abolish NATO, create popular control of the media, ban rightwing propaganda, create universal Wi-Fi, make college free, pay teachers well, make healthcare free, etc.

Sounds great! Where do I sign up?

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Jameson's answer is: at the Army recruiting station. To which I reply: go get yourself a different subservient order-taker willing to participate in mass murder.

Ah, but Jameson says his military won't fight any wars. Except for the wars it fights. Or something.

Utopianism is seriously much needed. But this is pathetic desperation. This is a thousand times more desperate than Ralph Nader asking the billionaires to save us. This is Clinton voters. This is Trump voters.

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And this is U.S. blindness to the merits of the rest of the world. Few other countries in any way approach the militarized environmental destruction and death generated by the United States. This country lags very far behind in sustainability, peace, education, health, security, and happiness. The first step toward Utopia need not be such a harebrained scheme as a total takeover by the military. The first step should be catching up with places like Scandinavia in the realm of economics, or Costa Rica in the realm of demilitarization -- or indeed realizing full compliance with Japan's Article Nine, as mentioned in Zizek's book. (For how Scandinavia got where it is, read Viking Economics by George Lakey. It had nothing to do with forcing kids, grandparents, and peace advocates into an out of control imperial military.)

In the United States, it is the liberals in Congress who want to impose selective service on women, and who celebrate every new demographic admitted into greater status in the military. The "progressive" vision is now of slightly or radically leftist economics, side by side with a heaping platter of militarized nationalism (to the tune of $1 trillion per year) -- with the very idea of internationalism banished from consideration. The reformist view of the ever expanding American Dream is of the gradual democratization of mass murder. Bombing victims across the world may soon be able to look forward to being bombed by the first female U.S. president. Jameson's proposal is a radical advance in this same direction.

I hesitate to call attention to Jameson's book because it is so bad and this trend so insidious. But, in fact, the bits of his essay and of those critiquing it that address universal conscription, despite its centrality to Jameson's project, are few and far between. They could be contained in a small brochure. The rest of the book is a rambling assortment of observations on everything from psychoanalysis to Marxism to whatever cultural abomination Zizek just stumbled across. Much of this other material is useful or entertaining, but it stands in contrast to the apparently dim-witted acceptance of the inevitability of militarism.

Jameson is adamant that we can reject the inevitability of capitalism, and of just about anything else we see fit. "Human nature" he points out, quite rightly, does not exist. And yet, the notion that the only place where a U.S. government could ever put any serious money is the military is silently accepted for many pages and then explicitly stated as fact: "[A] civilian population -- or its government -- is unlikely to spend the tax money warfare demands on purely abstract and theoretical peacetime research."

That sounds like a description of the current U.S. government, not all governments past and future. A civilian population is unlikely as hell to accept universal permanent conscription into a military. That, not investment in peaceful industries, would be unprecedented.

Jameson, you'll notice, relies on "warfare" to motivate the power of his idea of using the military for social and political change. That makes sense, as a military is, by definition, an institution used for waging war. And yet, Jameson imagines that his military won't wage wars -- sort of -- but will for some reason go on being funded anyway -- and with a dramatic increase.

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A military, Jameson maintains, is a way to compel people to mix with each other and form a community across all the usual lines of division. It's also a way to compel people to do exactly what they are ordered to do at every hour of the day and night, from what to eat to when to defecate, and to condition them to commit atrocities on command without stopping to think. That's not incidental to what a military is. Jameson hardly addresses the question of why he wants a universal military rather than, say, a universal civilian conservation corps. He describes his proposal as "the conscription of the entire population into some glorified National Guard." Could the existing National Guard be more glorified than its advertisements now depict it? It's so misleadingly glorified already that Jameson mistakenly suggests that the Guard answers only to state governments, even as Washington has sent it off to foreign wars with virtually no resistance from the states.

The United States has troops in 175 nations. Would it dramatically add to them? Expand into the remaining holdouts? Bring all the troops home? Jameson doesn't say. The United States is bombing seven nations that we know of. Would that increase or decrease? Here's all that Jameson says:

"[T]he body of eligible draftees would be increased by including everyone from sixteen to fifty, or if you prefer, sixty years of age: that is, virtually the entire adult population. [I can hear the cries of discrimination against 61 year-olds coming, can't you?] Such an unmanageable body would henceforth be incapable of waging foreign wars, let alone carrying out successful coups. In order to emphasize the universality of the process, let's add that the handicapped would all be found appropriate positions in the system, and that pacifists and conscientious objectors would be places in control of arms development, arms storage, and the like."

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http://davidswanson.org
David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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