What Is True National Security?

He promises safety and security.  You just have to kneel.

W.J. Astore

What is true national security?  Recent answers to this question focus on the U.S. military, Homeland Security, various intelligence agencies, and the like.  The “threat” is usually defined as foreign terrorists, primarily of the Islamist variety; marauding immigrants, mainly of the Mexican variety; and cyber hackers, often of the Russian variety.  To “secure” the homeland, to make us “safe,” the U.S. government spends in the neighborhood of $750 billion, each and every year, on the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA (and there are roughly 15 more agencies after those two goliaths).

But what makes people truly secure?  How about a living wage, decent health care, and quality education?  Affordable housing?  Some time off to decompress, to pursue one’s hobbies, to connect with family and friends, to continue to grow as a human being?  Water without lead, air without toxins, land without poisons?

These thoughts came to me as I read the usual anodyne statement put out by Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, nominated as President Trump’s new National Security Adviser.  “The safety of the American people and the security of the American homeland are our top priorities,” McMaster said in his statement.

I agree that safety and security are important, but I wouldn’t place them as America’s top priorities, even in the realm of national defense.  Our top priority is supporting and defending the U.S. Constitution, including all those rights and freedoms that are often threatened in nervous and excitable times.  Institutions like the press, freedoms like the right to assemble and protest, the right to individual privacy, and the like.

When the powerful threaten those freedoms, as President Trump is doing by denouncing the press as the enemy of the people, that very act is a bigger threat to national security than ISIS or illegal immigrants or Russian hackers or what-have-you.

Security is not just about weapons and warriors and killing terrorists and other “bad hombres,” and safety is not just about guarding your money and property or even your person from physical harm.  Safety and security draw their strength from our Constitution, our communities, and our societal institutions, not only those that catch and punish criminals, but those that enlighten us, those that make us better, those that enrich our souls.

In the USA, we have a very narrow and negative definition of safety and security.  It’s a definition that’s been increasingly militarized, much like our government, over the last few decades.

We’d be wise to broaden and deepen our view of what security and safety really mean; we’d be especially wise not to allow leaders like Donald Trump to define them for us.  In their minds, security and safety mean doing what you’re told while shutting up and paying your taxes.

Kneeling before General Zod (to cite Superman for a moment) or indeed any other leader is not what I call safety and security.

Update: Just after I wrote this, I saw these two headlines from today: “Trump on deportations: ‘It’s a military operation,'” and “Trump adviser Bannon assails media at CPAC: Of media coverage of Trump, Steve Bannon said: ‘It’s not only not going to get better — it’s going to get worse every day… they’re corporatist, globalist media.'”

There you have it: militarization (at least of rhetoric) and scapegoating of the media before the fact.  Judge Trump, Bannon, and Co. by their deeds, but also by their words.

Update 2: Last night, a PBS report noted that the USA, with less than 5% of the world’s population, accounts for 80% of opioid prescriptions.  The overuse of powerful and addictive painkillers points to serious problems in national morale.  Even as many Americans have poor access to health care or overpay for it, America itself is awash in prescription drugs, many of them either highly expensive or highly addictive, or both. This reliance on prescription drugs is a sign of a complex communal malaise, yet the government seems most focused on policing the use of marijuana, which is now legal in many states.

6 thoughts on “What Is True National Security?

  1. Calling into question the veracity of the press or criticizing the press for (in Trump’s view) biased coverage, is not the same as calling into question the Constitutional and societal importance of a free press nor impeding its exercise thereof.
    I agree with your ideas of a more just society and of course safety and security is worth a broad discussion.
    But I have to say, when sectors of the “free press” consistently lie to people, well then that in fact is evidence of being in enmity to the people that they lie to. This observation certainly isn’t to say that the “free press” shouldn’t exist, it is simply to say that they shouldn’t lie.


    1. An excellent point, Mr Herr. A Free Press doesn’t mean a license to lie. About anything. We all ought to remember when Vice President Dick Cheney would leak his lies — about Saddam Hussein’s putative WMD and rumored ties to Al-Qaeda — to Judith Miller of the New York Times. Ms Miller would dutifully copy down those lies and her paper would dutifully publish them. Then Vice President Cheney would go on the Sunday talk shows, especially his favorite, Meet the Press with Tim Russert, saying: “See, Tim, even the liberal New York Times agrees that Saddam Hussein has WMD and ties to Al-Qaeda.” Even the “liberal” New York Times? Some “liberality.” More like Corporate/military defamation and libel. We actually do have laws against abusing the free press like that.

      I can still remember my high school days in the early 1960s when that same “liberal” New York Times and “liberal” Washington Post would dutifully publish every lie the U.S. Government could think of regarding the Bay of Pigs, the Gulf of Tonkin, the endless stream of military “victories” in Vietnam, et cetera. So whenever I hear the wealth-worshipping, cutlure-ar-loving Republicans scream bloody murder about “the liberal media,” I have to laugh until I damn near puke. If not for the so-called “liberal” media, who would credulously publish their hypocritical sanctimonius bullshit? I learned early in life that when a Republican starts yapping about “the liberal media” one should immediately suspect that a rare and errant item of truth about the Repubican party just might have escaped the mono-think corporate censorship that prevails among the few rich men who own and operate most of the American media.

      And now the so-called Democrats — always trying to get to the right of the Republicans — have fallen in love with CIA, NSA, and Pentagram spying on both private citizens and government officials, then anonymously leaking selected — if not simply made up — versions of their conversations to dutiful scribes like Fred Hyatt and David Ignatius of the Washinton Post. So, lots of lying all over the place in the U.S. media, and every bit of it justifying whatever criticism our corrupt and generally worthless “fourth estate” gets.

      Thank you for making an extremely important and timely point.


      1. As a follow-up to the above points about the craven and worthless U.S. media so deserving of criticism for acting, essentially, as a lapdog conduit for government propaganda, regardless of which right-wing party inhabits the White House at any given time, Glenn Greenwald has another spot-on article at The Intercept (February 24, 2017 ) entitled The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook. Just one brief excerpt here:

        What makes [I. F.] Stone’s body of work so valuable is not its illumination of history but rather its illumination of the present. What’s most striking about his newsletters is how little changes when it comes to U.S. government propaganda and militarism, and the role the U.S. media plays in sustaining it all. Indeed, reading through his reporting, one gets the impression that U.S. politics just endlessly replays the same debates, conflicts, and tactics.

        So, here we go again with another round of U.S. media group-think hysteria, this time featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin as Emmanuel Goldstein somewhere “out there” ceaselessly undermining Big Brother’s every effort to keep Oceania “safe” — although perpetually terrified — while allied with Eurasia (Al-Qaeda) gainst Eastasia (ISIS), or the other way around, who even knows any longer? How lame. How unoriginal. How pathetically predictable. For some reason, I find myself remembering my eighth-grade social studies class in the fall of 1960 when our teacher, Mr Christensen, showed us a film about the Army-McCarthy hearings where “tail gunner Joe” finally got his own red-baiting shit flung back in his face. Our teacher stopped the film at that point and said to our class: “He doesn’t like it when someone does it to him.” What an appropriate memory. Or do I only wish that I could see someone giving Rachel Maddow and Howard Dean a dose of their own Kremlin-baiting bullshit for once? Do people like this have absolutely no memory of the past or the slightest degree of self-awareness? It certainly does not appear so.


      2. Michael,
        That is a very cool 8th grade memory…I love what your teacher did! Thank you for fleshing out my point.


    2. Yes, I agree. Criticize the press for bias, for lies, for mistakes, for colluding with the powerful, for corporate ties, and so on. But don’t vilify the press, in toto, as “the enemy of the people.” There’s only one small step from “enemy of the people” to banning the press in the name of “safety” and “security.”


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