Small Wars Journal

How We Became a Nation of Warriors

How We Became a Nation of Warriors: Over the Last Century, Militarism Has Warped our Foreign Policy -- And Our Soul. Can the Budget Crisis Save Them? By Stephen Glain at Salon - a condensed excerpt from Stephen Glain's new book, State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America's Empire, available August 2 from Crown.

BLUF: "State vs. Defense, the century-old competition between those who would confront America's overseas challenges through diplomatic means and those who would subdue them by force of arms, is all but decided. The economic and political resources commanded by the latter group are vast and powerful, while the former has been reduced to a cadre of supplicants forced to beg before the lavish table of the national security state. Such a lopsided state of affairs has been abetted by a citizenry generally uninterested in the policies carried out in its name and un—to share in the burden of their prosecution. Only now, with the specter of bankruptcy looming over the national accounts, are some in Washington daring to contest the bill for, if not the value of, unchecked global hegemony."


Publius (not verified)

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 10:09pm

I'm at a loss as to why anyone would object to the term "militaristic" when discussing contemporary American society and values. When your nation is hell-bent on changing the culture of other nations whether they wish to change or not, and does it through military action, it's hard to escape the conclusion that your nation is militaristic.

It's very unfortunate that such a militaristic nation is also such a poor imperialist.

Peter Munson is on the right track.


Sun, 07/31/2011 - 10:01pm

Ken and Bob,
I agree on the Cold War influences, yet I think that the ideology has a much longer influence that can be traced back to the concepts and debates of the Founding Fathers and the concept of American exceptionalism. Too long to go into here, but I'm actually working on a book chapter that touches in part on this. It is relatively shallow, you could write a whole book on the legacy of the universal history, end of history, perpetual peace lineage in the U.S., but I think is nonetheless important. The Cold Warriors, in my opinion represent what you get when you cross the U.S. ideology as an exemplar (the city on the hill) with the world leading role in the postwar era: the crusader. I borrow the terminology from two scholars who wrote on Jefferson's policies (Tucker and Hendrickson). So it isn't just chasing out the Cold Warriors, it is deeper, but the lineage needs to be broken. Like Hamilton said, we need to moderate our diplomatic ambition.

As far as Kennedy, I wish this quote from 1961 would have been publicized as much as his bear any burden speech: "[W]e must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient--that we are only 6 percent of the world's population--that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind--that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity--and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem."

Bob's World

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 9:43pm


In 1950 Containment morphed from a realist, physical containment of Sovietism into Europe and the Middle East to a much more ideological containment of "Communism" as Mao prevailed and we realized that China was not the ally we had seen them as. That forced us to back off of principled positions such as "self-determination" that we had long held dear, to adopt much more ideological positions such as the promotion of "Democracy" (Clearly we could no longer promote self-determination as so many movements working to throw of the vestiges of colonialism enforced by our Western allies were self-determining to go with Communism...).

I really think that since the end of the cold war our continued pressing for these idological positions is as much out of habit as anything, which brings us right back to laziness. Nothing fails like success, and since the fall of the Berlin Wall the US has been riding on the momenetum of past efforts along the old path they had laid out. Why change, right? I'll tell you why, because all of our Cold War baggage is creating massive friction among allies and foes alike and our outdated approaches, policies and institutions are showing their age.

No, Washington DC is full of good Cold Warriors, they know how to succeed in a world that no longer exists, and are showing an amazing inability to adapt to the emerging world we live in today. Easier to just fall back on trite positions like "You are either with us or against us(Bush)." or "US values are universal values (Obama). Might makes right, like it or lump it, etc.

Frustrating. We're way better than this. We just need to break from the inertia of 60 years of Cold War thinking and activity.


Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 9:38pm

Sheesh. C'est moi, 8:35 PM

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 9:35pm

<b>Peter J. Munson:</b><blockquote>"Maybe I'm wrong and it is just laziness, but I really believe the driving ideology of our foreign policy is poison."</blockquote>You aren't wrong and while there is laziness involved, two far more significant drivers are our arcane budgeting system which rewards activity no matter how detrimental and that badly poisoned foreign policy.

The poison is in parts inadvertent but some is deliberate and that segment is due to partisan politics in this country more so than it is to any foreign influences. Watch the so-called 'default crisis' in DC. It's an exercise in political gamesmanship that is predicted far more on benefit to the two parties than it is to any national requirement. Regrettably, our foreign policy is subject to the same idea and whims...

John Kennedy and his "bear any burden..." crowd that got embedded inside the Beltway -- many or their clones are still there -- have much to answer for...


Sun, 07/31/2011 - 8:33pm

I disagree that it is lazy leadership and bullying that has gotten us to this stage. I'd argue that it is the "end of history" idea that we need to make everyone else like us (liberal democracy, open market economy) in order for us to be secure. Thus, differing ways of life, instability, and illiberal governments become dire threats to our core values. These values replace interests and we pony up the military to the values threat of the day. Everyone thinks that we're in these things for ulterior motives like oil because they can't believe that a nation as great as ours would be crazy enough to embark on these adventures just for the thin ideological justification we give for them, but the truth is that we are that crazy. Crazy and impatient. These flaws do reside at the leadership level, but for all the zealots that want to blame W, Obama, etc, it is important to remember all the flunkies in the military, the think tank world, academia, etc, that beat the drums along the way.

Maybe I'm wrong and it is just laziness, but I really believe the driving ideology of our foreign policy is poison.

Robert C. Jones (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 5:15pm

Why put the energy and thought required of diplomatic solutions when "might makes right"?

We suffer from the lazy leadership of a country grown used to being able to bully our allies and enemies alike into doing what we want them to do. This does not make us a "Warrior Nation," it makes us a nation who's political leaders have grown too used to going to the "last argument of Kings" earlier and earlier in the debate.

As the latest era of US hegemony continues to wane we will find ourselves having to relearn an art of diplomacy that we were never very sophisticated at in the first place. We will also most like take a major appetite suppressent on all many things that we currently demand that others do to our tune (No sign of that appetite suppressent in the current National Security Strategy, but hopefully in the next?).

We will learn to manage our money like people who are not rich, and we will learn to lead like people who are not physically dominant as well. Those are both positive things. Too bad we had to grow poorer and weaker to wake up to leaning things we should have been doing all along.


Sun, 07/31/2011 - 3:59pm

While people with a vested personal interest in Defense (i.e. military and the non-industrial circles surrounding them), need to correct bias in works like these, we must do it without becoming overly defensive. We have the most to lose by the militarization of U.S. foreign policy as we are the ones left holding the bag when no one else can do it and we are the ones given idiotic or impossible missions from time to time. We are the ones left to deal with the ridiculously distorted spending that lines others' pockets while not making our jobs any easier or our efforts more effective. We bemoan things like reflective belts, etc, but this all stems from the incredibly fat, arrogant, decadent man that our bureaucracy has become. We need to welcome these inquiries, while adding context and corrections in the proper venues.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 3:42pm

I do not like to prejudge the book but it will be hard to avoid doing so. His pejorative use of the 'militarist' terminology tends to obscure what is an important point; the declining value of DoS due to a number of circumstances -- and not all those can be laid at the feet of the militaristically inclined.

The article appears mostly factual but I think it -- or he -- misses a number of nuances and unintended consequences, not least the role of several successive Presidents who deliberately fostered many of the changes, not least the destruction of USAid, USIA and VOA (and the CIA...). I wonder if he notes, in the book, the fact that US domestic political concerns have led to virtually all the things he decries (and those I mentioned here) or that the rise of the GCCs was by default, not by design...

I'll wait for the book

Robert (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 3:35pm

I don't think that this is a black or white issue. Obviously this trend of the use of military force is on the one side of the scale while vehement opposition to the use of force would be at the other side of the sliding scale. Our current elected officials have the power to change this perceived imbalance at any time. Should they decide that diplomatic measures are the way to go they could most certainly entertain a balanced budget with diplomatic means more substantial while ebbing the resources of military power. This is all within the power of the Congress and Executive branches to fix this imbalance. Historically it has been ongoing at least a hundred years. A great example is the fact that the State Dept. was unable to do their part at the end of World War II, so the Marshall Plan was enacted by the government through military means.

Joe (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 2:49pm

The tone of this is somewhat off-putting. How exactly is militarism defined? It is a loaded term harkening back to fascism and perhaps that is what he uses it, as a term to inflame versus illuminate, but it detracts from the merits of his argument. I also disagree with his characterization of "State vs. Defense, the century-old competition between those who would confront America's overseas challenges through diplomatic means and those who would subdue them by force of arms, is all but decided." Again, an unusual tone that is somewhat apocalyptic. This suggests the old peace-time and conventional divide between diplomacy/war and civil/military tasks which can explain a lot but is incomplete when it comes to situations that conflate both e.g. irregular warfare. Additionally, the U.S. has a global role not just a narrow national one, ensuring the safety of the seas, etc...I'm glad we're doing it an no one else.