What is it about enemies that make them so necessary to us? We have them in a variety of ways expressed through the nasty edged gossip about others that we share with one another, the life long grudges that separate family members, the blood feuds between neighbors, and, most of all, the national enemies that inspire large armies with the latest weapons.
I wonder about all of them, but most of all about national enemies that inspire large armies with the latest weapons. Even small government conservatives and fringe libertarians agree on one essential role of government – the national defense. If nothing else, they want a big, strong national defense establishment to protect us against our enemies. It’s ironic, considering that many of the so called founding fathers feared a standing army more than anything else as a threat against the young republic.
The key to understanding this is the concept of enemy. There is no point in having beefy armed forces if there is no enemy against whom they can protect us. The issue isn’t about defense at all, it’s about the need to have an enemy. I’m convinced, in spite of border clashes all over the place, that large scale acquisition of empire by conquest is a thing of the past. The 20th century put an end to that. That doesn’t keep significant members of the public, including some leaders, from raising the specter of WWII all over again in the form of a revitalized Russia or greedy China as they do their best to scare the hell out of us. It takes only a moment of casual observation to learn that the big nations now know that building empire has little to do with territory and everything to do with market share.
If not invading armies of major powers, then who? We have a number of useful candidates. Hordes of illegal aliens, meaning Mexicans, invading us from the south. That’s a good one. Terrorists, meaning Muslims of any stripe but especially Middle Easterners, is another good category of enemy. What exactly a large nuclear tipped military is supposed to do about that is unknown, but it doesn’t really matter, because what we need is an enemy, and these two are adequate in the absence of anyone else.
Why? Is it that we need an enemy to more clearly define who we are as Americans? Is that what enemies help us do? Maybe we need them to give us a way to flex our muscles and prove our national manhood. I don’t know about groups of women getting together for general conversation, but in any sizable group of men there will always be a few who only speak in a pugilistic tone of voice, accompanied by fist thumping and finger pointing, because its the only way they think anyone will take them seriously. North Korea does that a lot. They just look like idiots. Do we Americans act that way too?
Jesus Christ, Carl Jung, Rene Gerard, Pogo, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter all have one thing in common. They recognized the role of enemy as an expression of our own “dark” side that must be recognized and faced if we are to be made whole and healthy. Externalizing the role of enemy the way we do, both as persons and as a nation, is a psychological (and political) recognition of that truth, but one that, by keeping its locus external, enables us to avoid recognizing it as a truth about us. A window through which we can see our enemies is so much better than a mirror reflecting our own image.
In the meantime, the news isn’t all bad. We’ve got the biggest military establishment in the world, which means we also have a very profitable military-industrial complex, underwritten by the taxpayer, and providing the best in killing power to buyers in every jerk water trouble spot with enough money to pay for them. For special friends, we’ll even throw in “foreign aid” in the form of chits redeemable for armament. It’s a living.
PS Some of my military friends will take offense, claiming I’m ignorant and disrespectful of the service to their country to which they have dedicated their lives (literally). They would be wrong about that. That’s not what I wrote about.