The essence of the situation begins, but doesn’t end, with civilian control of the military, where direction, oversight, and final decision-making authority reside with duly elected and appointed civil officials. That’s a minimalist precondition for democracy. A more ideal version of the relationship would be civilian supremacy, where there is civically engaged public oversight of strategically competent legislative oversight of strategically competent executive oversight of a willingly accountable, self-policing military.
What we have today, instead, is the polar opposite: not civilian supremacy over, nor even civilian control of the military, but what could be characterized as civilian subjugation to the military, where civilian officials are largely militarily illiterate, more militaristic than the military itself, advocates for — rather than overseers of — the institution, and running scared politically (lest they be labeled weak on defense and security). Continue reading
But money in politics is not the only major institutional factor in which everyday and state violence are nourished by a growing militarism. As David Theo Goldberg has argued in his essay “Mission Accomplished: Militarizing Social Logic,” the military has also assumed a central role in shaping all aspects of society. Militarization is about more than the use of repressive power; it also represents a powerful social logic that is constitutive of values, modes of rationality and ways of thinking. According to Goldberg,
The military is not just a fighting machine…. It serves and socializes. It hands down to the society, as big brother might, its more or less perfected goods, from gunpowder to guns, computing to information management … In short, while militarily produced instruments might be retooled to other, broader social purpose – the military shapes pretty much the entire range of social production from commodities to culture, social goods to social theory.
King addressed the issue of the relationship between the struggles for peace and civil rights in his Riverside Church speech. He began the speech by addressing the criticisms of those who suggested that it was not his “place” to speak out against the war:
“”Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known my commitment, my calling or me. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.” Continue reading
America’s celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr. typically focus on his civil rights activism: the nonviolent actions that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The last few years of King’s life, by contrast, are generally overlooked. When he was assassinated in 1968, King was in the midst of waging a radical campaign against economic inequality and poverty, while protesting vigorously against the Vietnam War. Continue reading