Why is militarism so rampant?
Why do governments employ various mechanisms to promote the armed forces and the ideology of militarism?
There was a time when armies did not need much affirmation. When empires ruled the world, an imperial army was an integral part of the ruling mechanism. The kings and the sultans needed huge armies to invade and acquire land and keep the population in their lands under control.
When empires disappeared, the army as an institution lost its primary function. As new forms of government and the notion of democracy started to dominate, the status of the army became more uncertain. Imperialism, of course, did not disappear when old empires collapsed. It evolved into worldwide imperialism which required an ever-expanding and specialised armed forces.
Now many governments employ various mechanisms to promote the armed forces and the ideology of militarism. Take Armed Forces Day in Britain, for instance. It takes place on the last Saturday of June every year. This year it took place on 24 June and the centre of the activities was Liverpool.
Britain has one of the largest armed forces in Europe and in the world. When the military force is big, the efforts to promote the military have to be big, too. It is more difficult now to convince the society that the military is a mechanism full of good intentions. The military needs a large number of cosmetic touches and an even larger number of deceptions. That is where militarism comes into play.
ARMED FORCES DAY
Armed Forces Day (AFD) in Britain provides a blend of public relations and militarism and deserves a close examination. Here is how the Armed Forces and the AFD are introduced:
The UK Armed Forces defend the UK and its interests. They are busy working around the world, promoting peace, delivering aid, tackling drug smugglers, providing security and fighting terrorism.
Showing support for the Armed Forces provides a much-valued morale boost for the troops and their families. You can find out more about what they are doing at home and around the world by visiting the official sites of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force.
It is now standard practice to use social media to promote militaristic events. The reasons are easy to grasp: Social media users are everywhere and so are their smart phones. It is not difficult to reach millions of social media users if the images are good and the strategy is a clever one.
This year both Facebook and Twitter were used to spread the messages of AFD. Twitter users were directed to @ArmedForcesDay and were asked to tag their tweets with #SaluteOurForces. The idea was simple: Do a military salute and take a photo or video of yourself. Or have it taken by someone. Put the photo on Twitter with #SaluteOurForces, and show how much you love the armed forces.
Military personnel used the same channels to send their messages, photos and videos from Bosnia, Iraq and other locations. Britain now has armed forces in some twenty countries. But it was very important to attract the civilians. Civilian images are almost always more interesting than photos of men in uniforms and that means attracting attention. When civilians sent photos of salutes, it was going to be civilians imitating soldiers and saying “We love the military!” And there would be many politicians and aristocrats in the photos, telling the public that Britain really needs the military. Smart strategy, indeed.
SPONSOR: BAE SYSTEMS
Social media activity is pervasive but could never replace ceremonies that the royal armed forces deserved. Royalty means grandeur, after all. And grandeur has a high price. But that is not a concern when there are companies willing to pay for it. As might be expected, these are companies allied with the military, producing weapons and services. The day and the location of AFD might change, but the backing never does.
This year it was BAE Systems backing Armed Forces Day. It might take days to expose how big and scary this company is. Therefore, it would be a good idea to focus on how the company presents itself to the public. The company’s official web site does not hide the fact that its business is global arms trade and it operates across the world:
We design, manufacture, upgrade, and support combat vehicles and provide ammunition, precision munitions, artillery systems and missile launchers to a global customer base.
BAE Systems is a global defence, aerospace and security company employing around 83,100 people worldwide. Our wide-ranging products and services cover air, land and naval forces, as well as advanced electronics, security, information technology, and support services.
But when it comes to convincing the public, the “global company” suddenly starts talking local. The discourse switches from “global” to “national”. This is most obvious in the section devoted to aircraft carriers. BAE Systems has labelled its aircraft carrier production effort as “Queen Elizabeth Class Programme” and promotes it with a slogan “Built by the nation; for the nation.” Aircraft carriers are, by definition, built for overseas military operations and are tools of imperialism. Their primary function is to carry a formidable air force to destinations that are far away. So if a company is producing aircraft carriers, this effort will sound much more palatable if it is associated with nationalism, rather than a global empire. And it would look even better if it is associated with the queen’s name. Thus, BAE Systems turns into a company producing lethal weapons for the nation, with the nation.
FAMILIES, SCHOOLS, SPORTS TARGETED
All of this might sound foolish but it seems to work. The military industry spends a lot of money on public relations campaigns and knows how marketing works. But militarism needs more than that. This is why AFD is necessary. One of the psychological strategies employed on AFD is organising some family activities. The organisers know that it is critical to indoctrinate children early on, as early as possible. When children find themselves in militaristic settings, they grow up getting used to them. But this is known to have limited impact. That is why the military spends a lot of energy penetrating learning environments.
In Britain, just like in the US, the military is very persistent in seeking opportunities to influence schools and indoctrinate young people, as early as possible. And the Ministry of Education helps the military enter schools. There are very few organisations standing in the way. One of them is ForcesWatch. This organisation has been monitoring the way militarism gets promoted in the society and is currently running a campaign titled, “Military Out Of Schools”.
In the US, the military is bigger and militarism is far more pervasive. But none of it can be explained away as a cultural issue. Militarism is political: It exists and persists because it is reproduced, marketed, and distributed continuously, just like Coke. A soft drink or beer company pay millions to be associated with sporting events. Militarism is promoted in the same way. The Pentagon pays millions for the militaristic shows at professional sports events. Public funds are spent on promoting militarism, which destroys lives in the US and across the world.
MILITARISM RAMPANT IN TURKEY
In Turkey, too, militarism is also continuously reproduced, marketed, and distributed. The current regime is eager to invest in “national” weapons, tanks, helicopters and so on. Arms fairs are organised and deals are made. Pro-government media promote arms fairs diligently. The plan to re-design the Middle East, beginning with the invasion of Iraq, has turned the entire region into a playground for militarism and imperialism. The regime in Turkey is not shy about its imperialistic desires and that is one reason why militarism is becoming more rampant. But militarism is first and foremost a domestic problem in Turkey. That is so obvious as the regime gets ready to celebrate the anniversary of 15 July failed coup attempt.