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Memorial Day in America... War is the Health of the American State

Von: Raymond (bluerhymer@aol.com) [Profil]
Datum: 30.05.2010 01:09
Message-ID: <a94e056f-c5e2-4471-afa3-338bdae5014f@y21g2000vba.googlegroups.com>
Newsgroup: alt.war.iraq alt.politics alt.war alt.politics.bush
Memorial Day in America... War is the Health of the American State

Americans Love Their Wars...With the shock of war the State comes into
its own again and the mass of the people, through some spiritual
alchemy, become convinced that they have willed and executed the deed
themselves....it is precisely in war that the urgency for union seems
greatest, and the necessity for universality seems most unquestioned.

In times of peace, we usually ignore the State in favor of partisan
political controversies, or personal struggles for office, or the
pursuit of party policies. It is the Government rather than the State
with which the politically minded are concerned. The State is reduced
to a shadowy emblem which comes to consciousness only on occasions of
patriotic holiday.

Government is obviously composed of common and unsanctified men, and
is thus a legitimate object of criticism and even contempt. If your
own party is in power, things may be assumed to be moving safely
enough; but if the opposition is in, then clearly all safety and honor
have fled the State. Yet you do not put it to yourself in quite that
way. What you think is only that there are rascals to be turned out of
a very practical machinery of offices and functions which you take for
granted. When we say that Americans are lawless, we usually mean that
they are less conscious than other peoples of the august majesty of
the institution of the State as it stands behind the objective
government of men and laws which we see. In a republic the men who
hold office are indistinguishable from the mass. Very few of them
possess the slightest personal dignity with which they could endow
their political role; even if they ever thought of such a thing. And
they have no class distinction to give them glamour. In a republic the
Government is obeyed grumblingly, because it has no bedazzlements or
sanctities to gild it. If you are a good old-fashioned democrat, you
rejoice at this fact, you glory in the plainness of a system where
every citizen has become a king. If you are more sophisticated you
bemoan the passing of dignity and honor from affairs of State. But in
practice, the democrat does not in the least treat his elected citizen
with the respect due to a king, nor does the sophisticated citizen pay
tribute to the dignity even when he finds it. The republican State has
almost no trappings to appeal to the common man’s emotions. What it
has are of military origin, and in an unmilitary era such as we have
passed through since the Civil War, even military trappings have been
scarcely seen. In such an era the sense of the State almost fades out
of the consciousness of men.

With the shock of war, however, the State comes into its own again.
The Government, with no mandate from the people, without consultation
of the people, conducts all the negotiations, the backing and filling,
the menaces and explanations, which slowly bring it into collision
with some other Government, and gently and irresistibly slides the
country into war. For the benefit of proud and haughty citizens, it is
fortified with a list of the intolerable insults which have been
hurled toward us by the other nations; for the benefit of the liberal
and beneficent, it has a convincing set of moral purposes which our
going to war will achieve; for the ambitious and aggressive classes,
it can gently whisper of a bigger role in the destiny of the world.
The result is that, even in those countries where the business of
declaring war is theoretically in the hands of representatives of the
people, no legislature has ever been known to decline the request of
an Executive, which has conducted all foreign affairs in utter privacy
and irresponsibility, that it order the nation into battle. Good
democrats are wont to feel the crucial difference between a State in
which the popular Parliament or Congress declares war, and the State
in which an absolute monarch or ruling class declares war. But, put to
the stern pragmatic test, the difference is not striking. In the
freest of republics as well as in the most tyrannical of empires, all
foreign policy, the diplomatic negotiations which produce or forestall
war, are equally the private property of the Executive part of the
Government, and are equally exposed to no check whatever from popular
bodies, or the people voting as a mass themselves.

The moment war is declared, however, the mass of the people, through
some spiritual alchemy, become convinced that they have willed and
executed the deed themselves. They then, with the exception of a few
malcontents, proceed to allow themselves to be regimented, coerced,
deranged in all the environments of their lives, and turned into a
solid manufactory of destruction toward whatever other people may
have, in the appointed scheme of things, come within the range of the
Government’s disapprobation. The citizen throws off his contempt and
indifference to Government, identifies himself with its purposes,
revives all his military memories and symbols, and the State once more
walks, an august presence, through the imaginations of men. Patriotism
becomes the dominant feeling, and produces immediately that intense
and hopeless confusion between the relations which the individual
bears and should bear toward the society of which he is a part.

The patriot loses all sense of the distinction between State, nation,
and government. In our quieter moments, the Nation or Country forms
the basic idea of society. We think vaguely of a loose population
spreading over a certain geographical portion of the earth’s surface,
speaking a common language, and living in a homogeneous civilization.
Our idea of Country concerns itself with the non-political aspects of
a people, its ways of living, its personal traits, its literature and
art, its characteristic attitudes toward life. We are Americans
because we live in a certain bounded territory, because our ancestors
have carried on a great enterprise of pioneering and colonization,
because we live in certain kinds of communities which have a certain
look and express their aspirations in certain ways. We can see that
our civilization is different from contiguous civilizations like the
Indian and Mexican. The institutions of our country form a certain
network which affects us vitally and intrigues our thoughts in a way
that these other civilizations do not. We are a part of Country, for
better or for worse. We have arrived in it through the operation of
physiological laws, and not in any way through our own choice. By the
time we have reached what are called years of discretion, its
influences have molded our habits, our values, our ways of thinking,
so that however aware we may become, we never really lose the stamp of
our civilization, or could be mistaken for the child of any other
country. Our feeling for our fellow countrymen is one of similarity or
of mere acquaintance. We may be intensely proud of and congenial to
our particular network of civilization, or we may detest most of its
qualities and rage at its defects. This does not alter the fact that
we are inextricably bound up in it. The Country, as an inescapable
group into which we are born, and which makes us its particular kind
of a citizen of the world, seems to be a fundamental fact of our
consciousness, an irreducible minimum of social feeling.

Now this feeling for country is essentially noncompetitive; we think
of our own people merely as living on the earth’s surface along with
other groups, pleasant or objectionable as they may be, but
fundamentally as sharing the earth with them. In our simple conception
of country there is no more feeling of rivalry with other peoples than
there is in our feeling for our family. Our interest turns within
rather than without, is intensive and not belligerent. We grow up and
our imaginations gradually stake out the world we live in, they need
no greater conscious satisfaction for their gregarious impulses than
this sense of a great mass of people to whom we are more or less
attuned, and in whose institutions we are functioning. The feeling for
country would be an uninflatable maximum were it not for the ideas of
State and Government which are associated with it. Country is a
concept of peace, of tolerance, of living and letting live. But State
is essentially a concept of power, of competition: it signifies a
group in its aggressive aspects. And we have the misfortune of being
born not only into a country but into a State, and as we grow up we
learn to mingle the two feelings into a hopeless confusion.

The State is the country acting as a political unit, it is the group
acting as a repository of force, determiner of law, arbiter of
justice. International politics is a “power politics” because it is a
relation of States and that is what States infallibly and calamitously
are, huge aggregations of human and industrial force that may be
hurled against each other in war. When a country acts as a whole in
relation to another country, or in imposing laws on its own
inhabitants, or in coercing or punishing individuals or minorities, it
is acting as a State. The history of America as a country is quite
different from that of America as a State. In one case it is the drama
of the pioneering conquest of the land, of the growth of wealth and
the ways in which it was used, of the enterprise of education, and the
carrying out of spiritual ideals, of the struggle of economic classes.
But as a State, its history is that of playing a part in the world,
making war, obstructing international trade, preventing itself from
being split to pieces, punishing those citizens whom society agrees
are offensive, and collecting money to pay for all.

Government on the other hand is synonymous with neither State nor
Nation. It is the machinery by which the nation, organized as a State,
carries out its State functions. Government is a framework of the
administration of laws, and the carrying out of the public force.
Government is the idea of the State put into practical operation in
the hands of definite, concrete, fallible men. It is the visible sign
of the invisible grace. It is the word made flesh. And it has
necessarily the limitations inherent in all practicality. Government
is the only form in which we can envisage the State, but it is by no
means identical with it. That the State is a mystical conception is
something that must never be forgotten. Its glamour and its
significance linger behind the framework of Government and direct its

Wartime brings the ideal of the State out into very clear relief, and
reveals attitudes and tendencies that were hidden. In times of peace
the sense of the State flags in a republic that is not militarized.
For war is essentially the health of the State. The ideal of the State
is that within its territory its power and influence should be
universal. As the Church is the medium for the spiritual salvation of
man, so the State is thought of as the medium for his political
salvation. Its idealism is a rich blood flowing to all the members of
the body politic. And it is precisely in war that the urgency for
union seems greatest, and the necessity for universality seems most
unquestioned. The State is the organization of the herd to act
offensively or defensively against another herd similarly organized.
The more terrifying the occasion for defense, the closer will become
the organization and the more coercive the influence upon each member
of the herd. War sends the current of purpose and activity flowing
down to the lowest level of the herd, and to its most remote branches.
All the activities of society are linked together as fast as possible
to this central purpose of making a military offensive or a military
defense, and the State becomes what in peacetimes it has vainly
struggled to become — the inexorable arbiter and determinant of men’s
business and attitudes and opinions. The slack is taken up, the cross-
currents fade out, and the nation moves lumberingly and slowly, but
with ever accelerated speed and integration, toward the great end,
toward the “peacefulness of being at war,” of which L.P. Jacks has so
unforgettably spoken.


--- Randolph Bourne
War Is the Health of the State
B U R E A U   O F   P U B L I C   S E C R E T S

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