On The Road To A Banana Republic

In my studies of military history, one of my particularly notable interests was in the relationship of the military with civilian culture as well as the political elites of society. Given the high status and high expenditures received by an imperial military for the massive duties that they are expected to underate for the good of the republics and empires that hire them, it is important to know that those militaries are performing their jobs in such a way as defends the people and does not threaten the legitimacy of the republican order itself through excessive militarism or attacks on the freedoms that are essential for the preservation of republican virtue. Republics are in grave peril when armies no longer see themselves merely as the defenders of national borders, but the defenders of the national order from those who would be social reformers within. And it is that danger that we find ourselves in today in the United States.

The United States is not alone in facing that danger. The Roman Republic tottered after its Republican virtue had been decimated by imperial excesses, by growing economic inequality, and by the support of some members of the political elite for the causes of the common people, whose desire for a better life became substituted with the giving of bread and circus [1] to the common folk as a way of providing for the welfare of the body without providing a way for those commonfolk to live meaningful lives of service to God and their fellow man. After the Gracci and the Social Wars and slave rebellions, eventually the Roman Republic died with a whimper in dictatorships and failed triumvirates. The nation of Chile, itself a robust and strong Republic for much of its history, has twice suffered under military dictatorship when its military elites, once under a fellow named Ibañez and the second time, more famously, under Pinochet, decided that they were more capable of ruling over Chile than supposedly corrupt and deeply divided political elites. Other nations, like Thailand, suffer military dictatorships and the overthrow of legitimate civilian governments with far more alarming regularity than that.

We who are Americans and who have never suffered under a military dictatorship ought to reflect seriously on the course that we are traveling as a nation. Our president (and the government agencies beneath him and accountable to him), courts, and elected Congress and legislatures do not possess the confidence and trust of the people at large, no matter what political party or ideology is in charge. Nevertheless, those organs of government are either elected directly or chosen indirectly by the people, and so we are ultimately responsible for their being in positions of power, even if we dislike their actions or politics, and consider them betrayers of the causes for which they were chosen for those offices. The development and honoring of republican virtue is a responsibility of all people of a republic, and we all share a responsibility in developing those qualities of virtue and honor and decency within ourselves. If we fail in disciplining ourselves and living godly and moral lives, we lack the credibility to condemn others for their similar failures and corruption.

It ought not to come as a surprise that there is a wide and growing gap between the civilian political elite and the military that we depend upon to put our imperial aims into practice. This is an immensely dangerous matter. Let us consider one example. A well-respected journalist whose work helped demonstrate the contempt and disrespect that were held for President Obama by the general in charge of the war in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, recently died in a car crash that can only be termed as greatly suspicious, given that it was a one-car accident in Los Angeles and that the body was so badly burned that the Los Angeles police and county coroner will not identify the body [2]. Interestingly enough, the articles (published in the Rolling Stone in 2010) that brought McChrystal down were the not the result of unfriendly or antagonistic spycraft and espionage, but were rather the result of those generals having behaved in an openly disrespectful manner to their boss, the Commander-in-chief, while having granted an honest and fearless reporter unfettered access to them for what they hoped would be a flattering article that would result in increased popularity for the military among a young audience.

When military leadership invites journalists to follow them around and then write about it, and cannot control their tongues enough to show respect for their civilian bosses, and then when those same journalists die mysteriously under suspicious circumstances afterward, it would appear as if the integrity of our military elite and their supporters could be even less than the integrity of our media elite. At what point do we recognize that the problems of our society are not limited to one particular type of elite, or even to our divided and fractured elites as a whole, but extend to the deepest levels of our society. Our elites are supposed to be our best and brightest, those who have the highest capacity for virtue, and those who have the deepest devotion to public service. If this is not the case, we need to examine ourselves closely, to make sure that we do not have contempt for other people while avoiding holding ourselves accountable as well.

If a jouranlist is not safe to write openly and honestly about what he sees and hears for fear of retaliation from those who do not respect our political order, we are in a very perilous state as a nation. As a people, we ought to know that our military leaders have a respect for the offices of civilian authority, regardless of the fitness of their occupants for those offices. We too as citizens are commanded by God to have a respect for authorities in general, irrespective of the moral fitness and honor of the people in those offices, because the people in those offices have been either placed in office or permitted to remain in offices for the purposes of God, for either national glory or national humiliation. When that respect fails, and when a military that is not supported or respected by a large part of the body of the population at large also loses its respect for the civilians who are officially in control over it, the result can only be disastrous, for the contempt and disrespect of a highly armed group of people tends to lead to efforts to use the weapons granted to it by civilian governments for defense of the country are turned against those governments in supposed defense of the nation, with the horrors that dictatorship and totalitarian rule bring for those who are free and open about their hostility to abuses.

At this very moment we remain free, but even the most sanguine among us ought to recognize that our moral and economic bankruptcy as a nation threatens the freedoms that we cherish and hold dear. We ought not to see the dangers only on one side of the camp or another, for they are threatened by a wide variety of difficulties simultaneously, and by widely disparate factions which respond to the behavior of other factions and to the wishes of the electorate at large. We all have some share in the responsibility for the dangers that we face today. Our irresponsibility, our corruption, our contempt and disrespect are all factors in the dangers that we face as a society. If we are on the road to a banana republic, we cannot point the fingers merely at outrageous media stories, philandering or corrupt generals, or a corrupt political and cultural elite, but we too have contributed to this mess, and if we are to avoid its consequences, we must turn our hearts and cleanse our ways while there is time to do so.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/panem-et-circenses/

[2] http://news.yahoo.com/journalist-brought-down-u-general-killed-los-angeles-033806044.html

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Christianity, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On The Road To A Banana Republic

  1. Pingback: Samizdat | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Five Thousand Year Leap | Edge Induced Cohesion

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