The Progressive Hawk

Memorial Day seems to have sent out a series of semantic echos, little stories that bounce around after the holiday and that offer a kind of gloss for the nationalistic pomp and circumstance. It’s a little creepy, frankly, because the ones that caught my attention all involved president Obama and election year military posturing. I’m not surprised at the president’s use of militarism to fight Romney but I am a little creeped out that his reelection campaign is rooting itself so deeply in celebrations of state sponsored violence.

Obama, as a recent New York Times article suggests, is using what we might call a “progressive” imperial rhetoric rooted in tropes of  technological sophistication and personal responsibility and underwritten by a reactionary understanding of the Vietnam War.  This isn’t Bush’s Hobby War, run secretly by Darth Cheney, with its crude spectacles and “shock and awe” slogans and sweeping, indiscriminate murder. Obama’s War is surgical and professional, over-seen by someone who thinks carefully about what he’d doing.

This started with the killing of Osama bin Laden, and then Lybia, but the campaign for “progressive” militarism is expanding, perhaps as the economy contracts. It’s myth all the way down, if not cynical falsification.  The drones are no more surgical than the Patriot missiles of a previous era of militaristic rhetoric– this isn’t large-scale violence by that standard but it is hardly discriminate– and veterans were not spit on when they returned, despite the oft-repeated story . (See, “The Legend of the Spat-Upon Veteran.”)

There was a brief moment at the end of the Cold War when we had a chance of purging American liberalism of its militaristic fetish. There would still be imperialists calling for state sponsored violence, of course, but maybe we could dismantle some of their tools. Clinton was a start (but disappointing) and then 9-11 handed the Bush gang their chance. Obama, though, had what seemed like authentic anti-war credentials…  We can hope its just the election but I have a feeling the hawkish progressive is going to have a long shelf life.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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