Whatever Happened to Gary Cooper?

In a perceptive article, Retired Lt. Colonel William Astore writes about the pervasive militarism in American society and provides some ideas on how we can begin to counter it. He says,

“I’m tired of seeing simpleminded magnetic ribbons on vehicles telling me, a 20-year military veteran, to support or pray for our troops. . .  I’m underwhelmed by gigantic American flags — up to 100 feet by 300 feet — repeatedly being unfurled in our sports arenas, as if our love of country is greater when our flags are bigger. I’m disturbed by nuclear-strike bombers soaring over stadiums filled with children, as one did in July just as the National Anthem ended during this year’s Major League Baseball All Star game. Instead of oohing and aahing at our destructive might, I was quietly horrified at its looming presence during a family event.”

Here is a summary of Lt. Col. Astore’s seven-step program to stop the rampant militarism of the society we live in today:

  • We should stop bulking up our military ranks, as is now happening, and shrink them instead.
  • It’s time to stop deferring to our generals, and even to their commander-in-chief. They’re ours, after all; we’re not theirs. . . generals have no monopoly on military insight.
  • It’s time to redefine what “support our troops” really means. . . If you’re looking for a clear sign of a militarized society — which few Americans are — a good place to start is with troop veneration. The cult of the soldier . . .  helps . . . to hide the true costs of, and often the futility of, the wars being fought.
  • It’s time to recognize that we rely ever more massively to prosecute our wars on companies that profit ever more handsomely the longer they last.
  • Let’s not blindly venerate the serving soldier, while forgetting our veterans when they doff their spiffy uniforms for the last time.
  • How about — as a first tiny step toward demilitarizing civilian life — banning all flyovers of sporting events by modern combat aircraft? War is not a sport, and it shouldn’t be a thrill.
  • I don’t need humongous stadium flags or, for that matter, tiny flag lapel pins to prove my patriotism — and neither should you. In fact, doesn’t the endless post-9/11 public proliferation of flags in every size imaginable suggest a certain fanaticism bordering on desperation?

Col. Astore goes on to say that, “none of this is likely to be easy as long as this country garrisons the planet and fights open-ended wars on its global frontiers. The largest step, the eighth one, would be to begin seriously downsizing that mission. In the meantime, we shouldn’t need reminding that this country was originally founded as a civilian society, not a militarized one.”

Read the entire article here.

I think he is right–but I wonder how we can garner the will and the resources to succeed in demilitarizing the U.S.  How can we get more people to wake up and do something about our country’s huge number of foreign bases (between 650 and 1,000, depending on how you count) and our forever wars–a militarism that is bleeding our own country dry and desperately harming others?

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1 Response to “Whatever Happened to Gary Cooper?”


  1. 1 Nik September 8, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    It seems to me that our country is hardly unified in its worship of the soldier…and that militarism varies from family to family, place to place. While there are many who oppose militarism, and many who revere it, I wonder if even combined they would form the majority. I wonder if there aren’t more who just take war and militarism to be natural–and thus have no opinion of it that would lead to action. You many like or hate broccoli, for instance, but hardly feel a need to fight it. Seems to me that war is much the same for many Americans. The opinions only go skin-deep, while the responsibility for it always seems to reside in a far-away office somewhere “out there.”

    I wonder how we might take greater responsibility for demilitarizing our society. How might we offer alternatives that are attractive, viable? How might we effectively silence the support and awaken the apathetic to making a decision?

    Many have spoken of how the draft made war personal. How do we make war personal again?


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