Domination and the U.S. Military

An image of “dominance” in Mosul

W.J. Astore

Last week while getting new tires, I came across the latest Air Force recruiting brochure. Its first line: “The Air Force dominates the sky with speed, precision and air power.”

It’s fascinating to me this emphasis on global domination.  During the Cold War, the goal was not to dominate but to deter the Soviet Union, China, and similar rivals.  Deterrence suggests rough equality — and some reasonable cap to defense spending.  Domination, however, suggests something far different.  As Michael Klare has noted, it suggests we must “overmatch” potential rivals; we must be capable of obliterating them, not just deterring and defeating them.

Domination makes perfect sense, of course, if your goal is to maximize “defense” spending. If the U.S. only intended to deter a (much weaker) Russia and (a mainly economic power) China, we could probably do that at half the cost we’re paying now.  Imagine saving $350 billion a year and applying it to education, health care, infrastructure, and similar places of need in the USA.

But when the operative word is dominate, your budget is almost open-ended.  You can always find (or imagine) a weakness somewhere, a place where we must boost spending.  A Space Force, perhaps?  Not even the sky is a limit to “dominant” defense spending.

This linguistic turn, from deterrence to dominance, doesn’t get enough attention in our media and culture.  Those seeking dominance, no matter what they claim, are much more likely to breed war than to find peace.

Of course, the Air Force recruiting brochure I picked up at the auto shop showed no scenes of war: no bombs being dropped, no missiles being launched, no cities turned to rubble, and of course no casualties.  Somehow America’s airmen are supposed to dominate the sky in a bloodless manner, or so our slick recruiting brochures suggest.

Not surprisingly, recruiting brochures don’t show the horrific realities of war.  But what they do proudly announce is the U.S. military’s goal of total dominance.  Never mind the cost, whether to ourselves or others.

21 thoughts on “Domination and the U.S. Military

  1. Good image. Wish the American press was filled with images like this and the logos of the manufacturers who built the ordnance somewhere in view.

    The fact that this doesn’t end, no matter who is in the Oval Office, has destroyed the pride I once felt in being an American. Now, I have chosen to identify with my bioregion – Cascadia:

    I’d actually like Americans to start thinking through what their own USA successor region might look like, if we Amended the Constitution to allow for autonomous regions to inherit their share of the existing federal apparatus.


  2. I no longer ponder how it is that we have become what we are. Once I started thinking about how we retreated after the Vietnam War and allowed our people to no longer feel they needed to be responsible for much of anything in their lives, it all became very simple.

    After Vietnam the specter of “making our boys” die on some battlefield for no reason was eliminated by the withdrawal of the draft as a figment of anyone imagination. Instead we began to embrace the concept of the professional (i.e. “all volunteer) military.

    At the same time our educational system changed so that the only thing that was important was that young people graduated form high school armed with what they needed to get “a good job”. That meant their entire life purpose was to work, be able to buy more and more stuff, and pay taxes. The idea of an education was to make it possible to have a better life virtually disappeared with the cessation of teaching anything of substance about the history of who we are, where we came from and how we are supposed to function as a constitutionally governed, democratic republic.

    Now it is easy to instill fear in the hearts and minds of our people. We have become terribly, terribly afraid of anything much beyond our own neighborhoods because fewer and fewer of our people know much of anything about those who are beyond out neighborhoods. If and when something happens that points right or wrongly to a real or imaginary “threat”, it is easy to pump up popular enthusiasm among the ill-educated electorate to go and “fight them over there rather than fight them here.” Never mind that “they” don’t want to come here at all but wish to hell, “we” would just leave “them” alone.

    Add to that all those people and organizations that profit one way or another the more the chaos of dumbed-down, non-think and fear-fear based support or non-questioning of all of those drone strikes, and B-52 drops on mud-huts half way around the world, and you get what we’ve got now: endless war against all of “them” out there that hate us.

    It will take a true leader to emerge from the muck of civilization-soup we live in now to change this and I fear that such a figure could effect change in either direction. The current leader at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is too focused on his own psychological needs to make the worst of changes happen, but if we get someone deranged who is also smart, we could be in serious trouble and the turn in direction could be….well, there IS recent historical precedent now, isn’t there?


    1. By coincidence, I was reading an article by Robert Kaplan (“Imperial Grunts”) today from 2005 published in The Atlantic. Basically, Kaplan wrote with approval of how a master sergeant in Special Forces could call for a B-52 strike without any higher authorization in the cause of pacification in places like Afghanistan. After which he suggested that Special Forces were being hamstrung by Pentagon red tape, preventing them from taking swift action in a winnable war that America appeared, in 2005, to be not winning.

      Well, here we are in 2019 and for all our bombing, and all our efforts “to take the gloves off” and so on, we’re still not winning. Perhaps we’ll win when privates can call in B-52 strikes with no higher authority?


      1. Hey, I trained to do that once upon a time – as a private first class, too. Well, really calling in *any* airstrike is the same, once you’ve got GPS coordinates. Oh, and a Pentagon that will declare any resulting casualties to belong to some insurgent group or another, without any evidence.

        Anyhoo, Kaplan is the type who positively adores writing about enlisted types being all heroic and patriotic – so long as they do what officer-types like him say. When that master sergeant *doesn’t* call in the airstrike, despite the insistence of his superiors, because there’s a real risk of civilians getting caught in it, Kaplan stays silent.

        You give those actually-experienced strategic corporals true freedom of action, and you probably will get a better result, because anybody with half a brain understands that pulling that particular trigger, and getting it wrong, makes the situation on the ground even more dangerous for you and your people.

        But they aren’t represented in the discourse, except as props for some college-educated wannabee officer like Kaplan who is deeply sad that he doesn’t get to command any fleets or armies and tries to pretend he has the first clue of what life is like for any of the hundreds of thousands of “Imperial Grunts” people like him send to fight and kill and die in the name of his pathetic American Empire.


  3. After leaving active duty as a JO in the mid-90s, I worked for the Naval Air Systems Command for 20 years as a consultant then civilian employee. I left last summer to do something else outside the mil-industrial complex, which has increasingly added both ignorance and arrogance to its well-known self-licking ice cream cone nature. About two years ago the 3-star head of Navair came to tell us (townhall kind of thing) that the Navy was in a state of existential crisis because it was recently facing peer competition. As one who started out during the Cold War, it was a little tough to process the notion that merely experiencing a competitive operational climate was an existential threat. But the admiral clearly meant an existential threat to the Navy’s once supposed domination of the earth’s waterways since the end of the Cold War. This, along with many other clues, led me to believe that today’s “leaders” are not mentally equipped for competition. The trend since the early 90s has been nearly unfettered expansion of our ever-busy nose into the world’s business. Which means ongoing good paydays for the revolving door…

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    1. I honestly believe that if it ever comes to a real fight with a peer-adversary, America’s shiny-button Pentagon brass will walk into a disaster and get a lot of personnel killed. France and Britain and the US all learned in 1940 and 1941 that a desperate challenger (Germany, Japan) can surprise and defeat what looks on paper to be an unbeatable force.

      Whenever I think of the potential for a spat in the South China Sea, I remember this:

      And I wonder how long it will take for history to try a sequel.


      1. It’s a good example, AT. The British thought they could send a couple of big ships as a show of force to coerce the Japanese, and those ships were promptly sunk as they had no air cover. Then the Japanese quickly overran Malaya and forced an ignominious surrender at Singapore (the latter a supposedly impregnable fortress-city).

        All this talk of domination — well, we’ve heard it before, and it often doesn’t end well for the “dominator.”


  4. Jane Fonda’s “Free The Army” (FTA) tour was named with a double pun on F**k the Army (standard troop expletive, whether meant or not) and “Fun, Travel and Adventure” which was the recruiting slogan before they got to “Be All You Can Be.”
    Maybe they should go back to Fun, Travel and Adventure. The recruiters could give out cheap tourist trinkets as inducements. (ha :-)))

    I enlisted in 1968 in the Air Force (having been in Civil Air Patrol since 1960 I wanted to be sure I wound up in the Air Force). It seems to me I was looking forward to fun and travel and maybe even adventure. Actually I did wind up in a great job I’d never heard of (geodetic surveyor) with great travel on TDY, but not everyone did.


  5. When President Agent Orange announced a withdrawal of US forces from Syria, the cable News McMega-Media: CNN and MSDNC took the immediate approach that since it was President Agent Orange’s idea it had to be wrong.

    The McMega Media “hosts” on CNN and MSDNC quickly responded with a revolving group of musical chair pundits and experts warning of a premature withdrawal and all the dire ramifications to “Middle East Peace”. Of course the pundits and experts brought in the Macho Man argument that Putin made us blink.

    Recently some reporter was given air time to report on the situation in Syria, with some of our puppet fighters. He or she ( I cannot remember the gender) had a flak jacket on with the words “Press” in English on the back even though clearly the people escorting the reporter spoke little or no English.

    These puppet fighters explained ISIS or what ever they are called now had went underground so to speak and were ambushing the puppet fighters and making it difficult to determine who actually controlled the terrain. Does this sound familiar Vietnam War Vets???

    A village was pointed out in the distance as having ISIS fighters in it. The puppets launched one mortar round after another into the village. You could see the explosions as they “walked” the rounds through the village. This of course brought back memories of -> We have to destroy the Village to Save it – Domination requires nothing less!!!!


    1. In any local context, there are vital interactions between people that remain totally invisible to higher-level authorities (whether military or civilian). These were present before any outsider intervention, and they remain after. Resistance is often a part-time job, with fighters smoothly transitioning between combatant and non-combatant depending on the need for their labor and who has $ to pay them.

      And/or, the worst resistance organizations (like IS, al-Shabaab, the Taliban) use forced labor (often child labor) to handle basic tasks (including those that involve gathering in a large group that might attract an airstrike) to avoid being targeted.

      Occupations, bombings – they fail to address the essential dynamics that sustain insurgent movements. So they never work in the long run. IS will be back in 2 or 3 years, in an altered form, starting the whole cycle over again.


  6. I wrote my senators about out of control military spending. Here is a short excerpt from the reply I received from Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a disabled vet who, after running down quite a list of places and enemies from North Korea to Boko Haram, wrote…

    “A strong and robust military is a principal instrument of our Nation’s power, and will play an important part in confronting these threats. As you know, our forward-deployed troops are the guarantors of our freedoms, and I will always do everything in my power to support them.”

    I find equating the sending of our troops all over the world to the defense of our freedoms a non-sequitur, the mouthing of which indicates a comfy seat on the military industrial complex bus. Well, I tried. At least I got something in reply.


    1. I got a similar response from that commie radical, Elizabeth Warren, who fully supports our troops and their deployment around the world.


    2. This is why I’ve adopted the the rhetoric of throwing the Ring of Power (D.C.) into the fire. The whole system has been turned against the majority of Americans to enrich the well-connected few.

      What I don’t entirely understand is why so few are willing to recognize the tell-tale signs of stagnation leading to collapse. All I can figure is that they’re all committed to the idea that they just have to wait things out, delay and pray, and wait for 2020 to somehow naturally restore balance. That seems to be the pattern with Brexit.

      More and more, America looks like a corporation with a dwindling supply of customers. I know the American identity no longer holds any source of pride for me personally, and the helplessness I hear in the voices of people trying to figure out what is happening leads me to believe that I’m not alone.


  7. Trouble in Venezuela, time for regime change. Venezuela did have an election and maybe it was rigged and tainted. MBS in Saudi Arabia (not elected – but selected) orders a “hit” on a journalist has his body chopped up or dunked in acid like the Mafia, but that is now all forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, ML. But living in France everyone is noting the only “real” dictators of the world, sit on oceans of oil. It’s interesting no ‘celebrities’ support the Yellow Vests around the world, but think Maduro is a “dictator”. Jim Jatras points out he’s the “1st “Dictator” in history, whose Parliament has always been against him, but never dreamed, nor tried, of closing it down”. In fact, “Guido”* heads it. (*Being a cynic, with hopefully a sense of humour, I love Pompaeo’s “Freudian Slip”. Italian heritage himself, ‘guido’ is a derogatory for Italians!)
      I won’t bother to research his actual name, but it’s close. Don’t ever think you American folks we “won” the Spanish American War! We left behind-and protected- the old Spanish aristocracy to run our new territories. A long time ago. Big win economically, but not socially.
      But times change. Cuba laughed at us – still does.
      Trump’s coop in Venezuela (or try) shows what he’s really all about – World Domination. He will lose, like Bush, Clinton, Obama. They destroyed countries with plenty of oil, at GREAT expense, but never got a drop. Venezuela is the last chance which I predict will also fail.
      It’s a new world emerging, using other sources of energy.
      The ‘Filets Jaunes’ know this, paid for it, only to be bruised by higher taxes. ‘Celebrities’ like Cher & Streep are quite silent on Venezuela – because stealing oil for private jets & limousines reduces their budgets.


  8. Thank you for writing this. I have heard our public rhetoric change from “deterrence” to “dominance” and have been concerned that both sides of the political isle support this kind of military craziness. I came to your blog from an article on Why we don’t have an anti-war movement today. You really hit the nail on the head. I wish for you a large audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right Christine, though “deterrence” lost it’s meaning after Vietnam won, and the “domino theory” was a deadly farce. For both Americans & others. Admittedly, USSR spent plenty for their ‘victory’, but had no stomach for further conquests.
      After the USSR fall, after Afghanistan, the NeoCons read it the wrong way: Russia was not dead; their political system was. The horror of Yeltsin as their 1st “Free” President delighted the West! A case of vodka gets you an oil field! Cheap!
      The West hates Putin because he put an end to it. He’s a Russian, not a communist; just wants fair treatment.
      But the West, after this blatant (hoped) overthrow of Maduro, proves to me they’re after “Dominance”. Note the washed up Empires backing “Guido”, all has beens. With severe poverty in the streets, and severe debts in their banks.
      I’ve now come to the conclusion Empires can’t exist without exploitation of other’s resources.
      And sadly, as an old man, realise that’s what WW1 & 2 were all about. Kaiser Wilhelm II was not guilty! He built a railroad to Baghdad to fuel his great ships, knowing coal was passé.
      “Great” Britain & France declared war on HIM!
      Think if he had “won”. No Hitler, no Holocaust, perhaps no Soviet Union.
      That’s what we must think of as NeoCons in the West want to steal Venezuela’s oil.
      But I give a warning: It will not make MAGA again. We’ve had a disastrous election – both sides wrong. Let’s hope sanity happens!


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