James B. Rule Responds

James B. Rule Responds

My friend and colleague Ian Roxborough draws from a fund of expertise in military matters rare among our Dissent circle. He properly points out some unanswered questions in my exposition; let me try to return the compliment.

Two kinds of issues are at stake here— technical and political. Roxborough argues that “it may be more costly to keep the peace than to wage a cold war,” and goes on to detail how U.S. military forces and procurement would have to change in order to meet this challenge. As a matter of military calculation, all this is convincing.

So far, then, so good. But how do we know that the purposes that will guide future applications of American military might will indeed involve “keeping the peace” in ways that Dissent readers would endorse? True, one can point to heartening examples. Most of us, for instance, have been relieved that ethnic cleansing in Kosovo could be blocked at costs that appear—thus far, at least—acceptable. But how do we know that the next venture in American arms will not involve something vastly less acceptable—for example, propping up disagreeable regimes in Mexico, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia? Such ventures would no doubt also be packaged by American elites as “peacekeeping operations.” And how do we know that future humanitarian disasters like the one in Kosovo will be deemed worthy of the attentions of American geopolitical planners?

The fact is, we simply don’t know who the next “freedom’s enemy of the month” will be. The left doesn’t come close to choosing the targets for application of U.S. military muscle; we hardly even have a distinctive position in these matters. Instead, we mostly find ourselves, after the fact, reacting to the use of an outlandishly expensive military establishment constituted according to principles few of us would want to be associated with.


James B. Rule  is professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.