America’s Chronic War Habit

America, with the world’s mightiest military force, being the most warring nation on the globe, and the only nation whose president authorizes deadly drone strikes, has a chronic war habit.

I have a saying: “America was born in the womb of war. Will she die in the arms of war?” It’s not a rhetorical question. A habit passed down through generations subjugated and led by the military/industrial/political triumvirate has yet to be kicked and if it isn’t could eventually lead to America’s epitaph: “She died in the arms of war.”

The aim of this short essay is to analyze America’s war habit, what its nature is, what sustains it, and what can be done to end it before it leads to America’s destruction some time in this century.

Habits: Part of Our “Life’s Equation”

Habits are repetitive behavior. That’s their nature. They are nearly reflexive, occurring without much or any forethought whenever circumstances trigger them. A chronic habit is an ailment that won’t go away on its own.

Habits are a part of all humanity’s “life equation.” It’s not mathematical and it just may be the most important equation you will ever encounter because you own it and it affects your life. Here’s what the equation looks like in its general form for everybody:

Personal Characteristics + Circumstances = Behavior + Its Consequences

Of course, every person has his or her own particular equation, sort of like the person’s unique DNA code but the particulars of the equation can change from day to day. Since a habit is repetitive what changes about it are the many different forms it can take such as, for instance, going to military parades or scoffing at pacifists like I.

The equation is really common sense. It simply means that every one of us behaves in various ways, those ways have consequences, and our behavior can be explained by our own personal characteristics in circumstances where we find ourselves or that we help create.

The War Habit Sustained

Habits, even though repetitive, need to be sustained. We look to the left side of the equation for the primary sustainers. There are six of them.

Sustained by Our Psychological Make Up

We are a complex species. Each of us has our own psychological make up (PMU), and it is complex. Multiply us exponentially and you get an idea of the complexity. My field of knowledge, psychology, has been around for over a century and still does not fully understand our species, and that’s not a criticism of the field.

Our PMU is like a soup with many ingredients. Swish it around, add some circumstances, and you get us. The ingredients that are the PMU’s primary sustainers of the war habit are our needs, values, beliefs, personalities and knowledge.

Consider our needs. One basic need is the need for physical security. Americans are constantly having it drummed into their heads that they can’t be secure without the war habit.

Consider our values. For some people their “instrumental” values are stronger than their “end” values. People with an ingrained war habit have a strong instrumental value.

Consider beliefs. For some people believing is seeing, not the other way around. Ideology is a hardened belief buttressed by pseudo intellectual thinking. It perfectly characterizes neoconservatives who haven’t met a war they don’t like. Beliefs, hardened or soft, reflect little or no unbiased, critical thinking about the matter believed.

Consider personalities. In vogue within the psychological field is the theory of the “big five” personality traits. One of them is “openness to new experiences,” the opposite of an embracing of recurring experiences and routines. Another is “agreeableness.” Disagreeable people care less about other people and make good soldiers.

Finally, consider knowledge. It is one of the pillars of a true democracy. Ignorance, on the other hand is a pillar of a bad habit. I was once honored to debate the “father” of total quality management, Dr. W. Edwards Deming when he was in his 90’s. One of his mantras was “knowledge is everything.” I respectfully replied, “No sir, applying the knowledge the right way for the right ends is everything.”

Sustained by Our Gender and Genetics

Our chromosomes, anatomy and hormones make a big difference. Aggression and war are mostly the preoccupation of males with their brawn and their testosterone. There have only been two women in history I believe who started a war, Cleopatra and Margaret Thatcher. Every U.S. warrior-in-chief from George Washington forward has been a man and each, with the exception of Benjamin Harrison who died of pneumonia after barely a month in office, have sent countless people to their graves.

Sustained by Our Past

What we did yesterday we will probably repeat today given the same circumstances. That’s axiomatic for any habit or routine.

Sustained by Our Geography

Our geography is one huge circumstantial influence on our behavior. Living in America is tantamount to living with endless wars. Living in, say, Scandinavia is living with peace.

Sustained by Our Culture

Another particular circumstance is our culture. It has a profound effect on our behavior because we are social, not hermetic beings. America is a melting pot of different cultures, yet the most predominant one is a culture of war in which Americans have come to expect and accept endless wars.

Cultures do not die out unless their people do, yet the culture of war still needs to be sustained, and it is sustained to the hilt by its people and its institutions, the latter being most notably the military/industrial/political triumvirate, the media, and religious and educational establishments. Take, for example, religions that preach and prattle about peace in the abstract. I have never heard my pastor at the pulpit denounce drone strikes and I know of no organized religion in America that officially denounces them.

America’s Crucible of War

America would not have a chronic war habit were it not for its crucible in which concentrated forces are constantly preparing for and waging war and other military aggressions. That crucible has a name, the military/industrial/political triumvirate. It exists for no other reason than protection and expansion of American imperialism. I have written about this triumvirate so often and at such length that I am becoming sick and tired of it.  ((See, for example Chapter Nine in my book, The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; and in such articles as A Deadly Monster Parts 1-3, December 11, December 19, 2012 and January 18, 2013, Dissident Voice.))

Can America’s War Habit be Kicked?

The only way to kick this habit is to kick the triumvirate out of America, figuratively speaking. I have enumerated many times how that could be done through launching “two-fisted democracy power” or some variation of it.  ((Two-fisted democracy power is described on my website, and in my articles such as Organizing and Unleashing Two-Fisted Democracy Power at a Treadmill Pace, February 23, 2012; and Democracy Pow!er: The USCD and the Peoples’ Reignbow Coalition. Dissident Voice, April 2, 2010.))  Will it be done? I am beginning to seriously doubt it from what I am seeing and have been experiencing in my efforts at promoting a unified strategy of reforms coupled with political pressure from unified grassroots movements.

My friend, the sociologist Charles Derber, says regimes go too far in their excesses and eventually self-destruct, as happened, for example, after the First Great Depression.  ((Derber, C. Regime Change Begins at Home: Freeing America from Corporate Rule., San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004.)) Well, Charles, that’s hardly encouraging or a consolation. Regimes bounce back with new emperors in new clothes but sustained by the same old war habit. And the present empire faces no serious opposition. If it should ever come in the form of violent rebellion, and I hope it never does, the Department of Homeland Security will roll out its thousands of tanks and use its millions of rounds of ammunition.

Gary Brumback, PhD, is a retired psychologist and Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. Read other articles by Gary.