What it is: A strong belief that military might and military values provide power, prestige, security and a cause for national pride.
What it means: Armies help to build empires. The militarist trappings of the Nazi regime echoed the style and appearance of the Roman Empire's famous legions (who never subdued the ancient Germanic tribes). Precision marching, flags and banners, displays of martial apparatus, and, of course, colourful (or menacing) uniforms are associated with militarism. They are what people see and are encouraged to applaud. But one way to understand modern militarism better is to study the history of America, which first declared war on a foreign country (Spain) in 1898 and so began an imperialist career. (Indeed, US militarism grew at a time when military dictatorships in other continents were collapsing.) The American government's dedicated spending on armies and armaments ballooned during the Cold War. They spent hugely on the Vietnam War as well, and then on new weapons systems, and research and development for the 'Strategic Defence Initiative' (nicknamed 'Star Wars'). After the terrorist attack on New York in 2001, defence spending surged yet again. By now USA forces, instilled (during training) with militarist ideals, were stationed in over 720 military bases round the world: a new kind of colonialism, a new kind of 'self-defence'. Militarism had also become established in other ways. From the 1950s the arms industry dominated the US economy, affecting the lives and jobs of millions of civilians. More and more high government posts were held by ex-military officers or defence industry representatives. These men encouraged policies which made military supremacy a high priority. By the 1990s the US military leadership, based at the Pentagon, was influencing many aspects of foreign policy. At home, the Pentagon has found legal ways of getting military recruiters into schools and universities, it has 'helped' the media to portray the military in a good light, it controls the secret 'black budgets' for defence spending, and began in 2002 to infiltrate civilian 'National Security' systems by bringing counter-terrorism and immigration controls under Security's umbrella. Abroad, regional officers supervising US military bases carry out Pentagon policies. The Pentagon has increased its power by sub-contracting private military companies which the US Congress has no control over and often knows nothing about. All that, and much more, is what militarism means. In 2002 George W Bush said 'Our nation is the greatest force for good in history'. The greatest 'force', certainly - but history may show that 'good' (whatever the president meant) is the wrong word for it.
Although in the UK there is less military involvement in government than in the USA, there is much military involvement with young people. There are military visits to schools, even primary schools; youngsters from the age of 13 are encouraged to join the cadet forces, some based in schools, where they train in the use of weapons. Military scholarships are available to A-level students and military bursaries to university and other students, all based on a prior commitment to join the military.
Think about it:
(1) A US columnist wrote in 2001 - before the attack on New York: 'America is the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome. It is in a position to reshape norms, alter expectations, and create new realities. How? By unapologetic and implacable demonstrations of will.' What price change and 'new realities' if these ideas are imposed by force, instead of being allowed to evolve?
(2) A journalist in 2003 reports: 'American flag idolatry is practised all over. The pledge of allegiance (see under Patriotism) has become a tool of social intimidation. One is pressured to recite it in the classroom, on the sports field, in the theatre, at the beginning of every kind of meeting. Singing of the national anthem is incessant. The country is taking on a tone reminiscent of an authoritarian state. The distinction between patriotism and militarism is getting blurred.' It's true that many American citizens are aggressively patriotic. But it's also true that for the last 100 years relatively few of them have actually wanted to take part in war. Soldiers were raised by compulsory military conscription until the Vietnam War, which meant that most of them were unwilling civilians - civilians who weren't students and so exempt, or who couldn't afford to buy out. Most modern recruits choose training in non-combat jobs. Many are in the forces because they can't get a decently-paid job anywhere else, and come from disadvantaged backgrounds. So, with an unwilling army in a country that prides itself on its democracy, is there a chance that civilians could vote for demilitarisation?
(3) Militarist propaganda appears in many disguises. In the UK the Ministry of Defence has backed two in-school schemes for teenagers excluded from school, truanting, and turning to crime. One started in 1996: the Army Cadet Force Association's 'Outreach' project, in which volunteer adult instructors, and cadets 'as peer group role models', provide personal development training to disaffected 12-14 year olds. 'There is no military content in this scheme,' says the MoD. The other project is Skill Force, teaching 'team-building and problem-solving, and raising self-esteem'. This kicked off in 2000, funded and managed mostly by the MoD, run under the UK's Education Department's 'Behaviour Improvement Programme', but aiming to become an independent charity within a few years. Most of the staff on both projects are experienced army instructors, with backgrounds in the military police, physical education, adventure training and the like. And many of their students have benefited: they have revised their attitudes to education, and gained vocational skills and self-respect. Where's the propaganda? The MoD says: 'These are not recruitment exercises. The benefit to defence comes from positive contact with young people which research shows increases positive attitudes about Service life which may, in time, have an indirectly positive effect on recruitment.' Think about it!
(4) 'Militarism and the armaments inseparable from it made war inevitable. Armaments were meant to produce a sense of security in each nation - that was the justification put forward in defence of them. What they really did was produce fear in everybody.' Those words are about the First World War, written by a British politician in power when war began. 'Security' is still offered as a good reason for having armies and weapons. How might people be persuaded that armies and weapons actually make everyone insecure?