Cowen on Gun Control and Militarism

Tyler Cowen writes:

Chris Blattman cites a recent estimate that Americans own 42% of the civilian guns in the world.

You’ll also see estimates that America accounts for about half of the world’s defense spending. I believe those numbers are a misuse of purchasing power parity comparisons, but with proper adjustments it is not implausible to believe that America accounts for… about 42% of the defense spending. Or thereabouts.

I see those two numbers, and their rough similarity, as the most neglected fact in current debates about gun control.

I see many people who want to lower or perhaps raise those numbers, but I don’t see enough people analyzing the two as an integrated whole.

I hate to be a downer, but I’m going to make the case for coincidence on this one. I don’t really think that gun culture is at work here. Or if it is, it’s certainly not in the driver’s seat.

American history is long, and the eras in which the above correlation did not hold seem much longer than those in which they did. Consider the entire nineteenth century, during which the United States was – if I am not mistaken – nowhere near the world’s leader in defense spending. (True, the Civil War may be an exception. It often is.)

Meanwhile per capita we surely owned way, way more guns back then. Just as surely: Per capita gun ownership must be the correct metric for considering the influence of gun ownership on American values, rather than the silly estimate of our share of world gun ownership. The latter has nothing to do, so far as I can tell, with how the American public feels about guns and/or militarism. The latter barely registers in the public mind at all, I would think.

So I see very little case for correlation in the longer term. I also see a pretty big counterexample in the present day, namely the pro–gun control center-left constituency that nonetheless is fairly militarist abroad: They may not be a majority, but the share of people who have supported every single one of Obama’s foreign interventions, and who also support strict gun control, is likely larger than the share of people whom Tyler takes to task for not considering that gun culture and militarism are supposedly linked.

Moreover, if we had had a stronger antiwar left throughout the Obama administration, it seems doubtful to me that Obama could have been as militarist as he was. The decisive constituency here, the one that has enabled American military intervention, has been made up of leftists who support gun control, but whose antiwar sentiment dissolves whenever a Democrat is in the White House. (I take it for granted that right-wing parties will be militarist in their foreign policy. I don’t consider this to be a special feature of American politics, and still less one that depends on America’s love affair with the gun.)

Acting over time, the same constituency of pro–gun control center-left militarists has been decisive in shaping our bloated defense budgets, which tempt us into doubtful military adventures in the first place.


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Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and editor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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144 thoughts on “Cowen on Gun Control and Militarism

  1. I’d be much more curious about any relationship between gun culture & the rise of SWAT/tactical policing (a trend driven itself by aspects of the military) .

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  2. “Meanwhile per capita we surely owned way, way more guns back then.”

    I wonder if that is true? Having helped excavate nearly 20 pre-1900 sites I can tell you that we find very, very little evidence of gun use. No lead bullets or musket balls, no flints or percussion caps. Post-1880 or so we begin to see shell casings, but usually in small calibers like .22 Short. Of course, this is my anecdotal experience, but I think it rings true based on my (limited) historical research on the topic.

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    • We were a farming nation in the nineteenth century. I presume a gun to have been a standard part of a farm’s operating equipment back then, as it commonly is now.

      Today we’re an urban nation. I don’t think it’s so likely that urbanites have guns.

      One possible flaw emerges, then, in the above comparison: It could be that owning a gun meant something very different in the nineteenth century than it does today. Today’s gun culture is politically self-conscious in a way that the nineteenth century maybe wasn’t.

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      • A few points:

        1) Prior to mass-manufacturing techniques really ramping up during the Civil War, guns were expensive and also very hard to care for. If someone lived on the frontier, yes, a gun was probably a good thing to have. Once that frontier was settled, I don’t think they would have been considered a necessity.

        2) A gun as a self-defense item wasn’t super-great unless you had a place you could get behind to shoot from (in KY these were called ‘stations’). Indian raiding parties usually outnumbered the settlers and they usually had guns as well.

        3) If they DID have a gun, they probably had one or two at most. Maybe a rifle and a shotgun/fowling piece. I currently own 9 guns and in the past I owned as many as 12. And that’s a very modest collection. I have friends with much larger collections because they collect guns like others collect baseball cards. Gun collections are much, much larger today, which I believe skews the data towards the present in terms of more guns per capita.

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        • Regarding your point number three, isn’t one of the reasons for owning multiple weapons the fact that different kinds of guns are good for taking different kinds of game? You wouldn’t use the same kind of gun to take a duck as you would a deer, for instance. I think that is something that gets lost when you hear people complaining that there are 300 million guns for 300 million Americans.

          With that said, I know some urban and suburban people who collect very large numbers of handguns, often many of similar characteristics. A “different needs at different times” justification seems a little weaker in such a case. ‘Course, the handgun collectors with fifty, sixty, a hundred pistols in their collections aren’t using these weapons on people, either: they just like having the guns in their collections and pretty much only use them on the range.

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            • That would be incorrect. Smaller fur bearing animals like beaver, mink, etc would have been trapped. Pretty much everything else would have been taken with a gun. I think it’s fair to say that people in the 18th and 19th century would have considered trapping and hunting to be different things. They are lumped together now for convenience, but there are many hunters who don’t trap and vice versa.

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          • Anecdotally, between “I’m building myself an armory/I have an expensive hobby” and “I own a single gun” there appears to be a third class — the inheritor.

            My father-in-law’s gun collection has…bloomed…over the past thirty years. He’s got a number or rifles in the same caliber, because — well, a lot of relatives of his have died over the years my FiL was the obvious choice to leave their guns to. He hunted, he was responsible, etc.

            He’s sold some, keeps others to ‘loan’ (target shooting on private land, skeet shooting for people who don’t own a shotgun, etc) but he’s probably got 20+ guns (mostly rifles, some shotguns, perhaps two handguns) — including one antique and one antique replica — and the man has bought exactly one gun in 20 years.

            When he dies, someone’s likely to inherit 20+ guns (likely my sister in law, actually).

            Fewer hunters, fewer people living in rural areas (they retired to one, with plenty of land including some good hunting land), more concentration that way.

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          • You can hunt most game species in North America with a single 12 ga shotgun. We like specialization though. Plus, more guns means access to more season in some places.

            Most people just have large collections because they like to collect them. My friends with large collections have some guns that will rarely (if ever) get taken to the range or afield. It’s similar to many other collectibles that way.

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            • I agree wit this, but still wonder: is there a point where it simply becomes too much to chalk up to collecting?

              I’m thinking about the Farooks in San Bernardino, whose small Redland apartment housed 6,000 rounds of ammunition. When I first heard about that, I thought, “someone somehow should have been aware of that, and it should have triggered some alarm somewhere.” But is that flawed reasoning — is there no line of stockpiling that should raise questions, be discouraged, or be verboten? Or is “how many and for what purpose” simply not for us to judge?

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              • No, there is no limit that you ought to judge, except if you want to make stores illegal too.

                Because I can damn well run a store, and have my stockpile at the same time.

                For people who don’t particularly need their guns at any point in time, they can even hire other people to run the damn store.

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              • Regarding ammunition storage:

                I think it’s fine to have a supply of ammunition in your house roughly equivalent to what you use in a month, including range and hunting practices.

                Once you get to the point where the amount of ammunition would require a facility to store it properly if it was broken down into its chemical components, that’s a different issue.

                I dunno, if I’m a firefighter and I get called to a house, I probably won’t be too freaked out if I know the owner has a couple of boxes of bird shot somewhere. Once you get to the point that the ammo storage qualifies as a potential explosive hazard….

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                • Once you get to that point, you ought to be taking proper precautions.
                  Nothing any different than dynamite, and nobody’s proposing we stop letting folks buy as much of that as they want (private quarries and all that, if nothing else).

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                • It only takes one bullet to kill someone. Yes, as a firefighter I imagine I’d be more freaked out as the amount of ammo, and the number of locations it’s stored in, grew. But all it takes to kill someone is a single bullet reached by the flames at the wrong moment.

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                  • Nearly all homes on fire have multiple small bombs (aerosol cans) stored under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, too.

                    To Patrick’s point, there’s “reasonable” danger, then there’s “hell no, I’m not going in THERE, that’s a near-certain deathtrap” danger.

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                    • When the “fun police” show up, they’re generally asking about trampolines and wood stoves.

                      My husband’s response: “We don’t have a chimney.”
                      They looked up. And then they went around the back.
                      Still no chimney. Left without a word.

                      [WHY do the fun police show up? Because my beloved husband decided to joke about having trampolines. Insurance companies do not have a decent sense of humor].

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                  • Well, there’s also the fact that absent a gun to direct the bullet, an exploding cartridge is not really that much of a danger.

                    I mean, I wouldn’t throw a box of 9mm rounds into a campfire for laughs, but if you did, the likelihood that you’d kill somebody is probably very small. When cartridges go off outside of a gun, there’s no gun to direct all the explosive power in one direction; the bullet does go one way, but the spent case goes the other with most of the propellant going everywhere.

                    Compare that with dropping any compressed gas chamber into a fire, which would explode with a nice fireball and likely cause severe burn injuries.

                    Sure, I’m not a firefighter, so I may be talking out of my behind here, but I’d guess that you should be more afraid of a couple of cans of Pledge and Lysol than you should be of a few boxes of .22LR.

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              • Well honestly, there’s sales too….I mean you stock up if the price is low, assuming you’re a regular shooter.

                OTOH, there really is a point where your collection becomes an ‘armory’.

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              • If you are a recreational shooter, most of them feel like they can never have too much ammo. With a tactical rifle, 30-round mag, you can easily burn through 1,000 rounds in an afternoon of shooting with your buddies. If I shoot sporting clays, which I do occasionally, it’s 100 rounds of shotgun ammo for a two-hour shoot.

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                • If you’re willing to share… how much do you keep around the house, and how do you store it?

                  Do you feel like it’s stored adequately, or are you makin’ do? I have a gas can in the garage that bugs me, I need to store it better… chemicals in the cleaning supplies closet (and I’m a disaster guy, so I beat myself up for it every time I pass the closet, I just haven’t fixed it yet).

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                  • I’ll share, if you like.
                    I don’t keep a gun around the house, even though I have more than Mike does. Stored in decent inventory and all that.

                    I don’t know how to shoot, though I suppose I could learn.

                    Maybe next time I go panning for gold, eh?

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                  • I keep about 500 rounds of shotgun ammo, for hunting. This is probably 8 different sizes, so it’s roughly less than 100 rounds per type. I keep less than 50 rounds of nearly everything else, except .22LR which I have about 1000 rounds of. And that’s because my wife and kids like to shoot it. But I do not consider myself a recreational shooter, so I really just have enough for hunting season.

                    I keep my ammo in the gun safe. Most of my friends that buy big quantities have some kind of locked cabinet or safe.

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                  • FWIW, my father in law stores his guns in a large gun safe, and his ammo in a separate locked safe. While that might be out of an excess of caution, I think it’s just out of convenience. (And also because he happens to have ended up with two gun safes. Inheritance again. :) )

                    I’ve seen him store ammo with his guns a few times, but even then it was generally in a locked case inside the gun safe unless he had plans to use it within the next day or so. If he’s planning on shooting again the next day, he might leave a box or two in the gun safe next to whatever weapon he plans to use.

                    He’s not a fan of loose ammo, and is a stickler for gun safety. (One reason I’m aghast at the more visible members of the ‘pro-gun’ club. They are, by and large, apparently idiots tempting auto-Darwinism).

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                • I’m not sure what you call a modest purchase but I generally don’t buy anything less than a 1000 round case at a time b/c of the price. The best time to buy ammo is at gunshow on Sunday as the sellers don’t want to load it all up again and might give you a discount especially if you have cash.

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                      • Well, if “ammo” isn’t considered an “arm”, than can we ban it? I mean, the Constitution doesn’t guarantee a right to ammo… does it?

                        More seriously though, I don’t object to the situation NotMe described in a vacuum. But I’d rather see gun shows more tightly regulated overall.

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                        • How so? Any lisc. dealer still have to comply with all applicable state and fed laws. No different from a guy going to a gun store. Oh, you want to regulate a private transition. Nah.

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      • If I remember correctly, in the wake of the Bellesiles debacle, the tentative research suggested that a majority of white male landowners in the colonies owned at least one firearm. Everyone else — slaves, women (except as inherited), non-property owners, etc. — was either banned from owning fine arms or generally did not.

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  3. Hey Jason, totally OT, would you mind if I e-mailed you about a post idea that I wanted to get your take on? If it’s cool, just shoot me a mail at the e-mail addy on this comment, I don’t think I have an address for you, and I don’t Tweet.

    If you are too busy, no worries. It’s not time-sensitive or anything.

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  4. The first thing I did this morning was check my email and saw that this post in the notices circulated to the editors about posts submitted for review. I made a suggestion to you ten, , before I realized that the post had already been published. (Your prose, as always, is crisp and powerful. Damn I like your style, man.) So I repeat the suggestion here, because I think the point deserves explication.

    Do you have an example of a politician or some other political actor who is in favor of gun control, was opposed to foreign military intervention when Bush was in office, but then with Drew opposition after Obama took the White House?

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    • Thanks! Somehow I didn’t see the suggestion, and when I posted it, the post went up immediately without editing. That wasn’t what I had expected to happen.

      Anyway, for an example of an antiwar but pro-gun control politician who later changed their tune about war: Obama himself would be one. We all know his frequent public calls for gun control, and we know the way he has been eager to deploy American military power abroad. And here he is before becoming president and tasting that sweet, sweet presidential power. He’s not a total pacifist, but definitely a critic of the Bush administration’s all too similar policies.

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      • And we could add that both the Democrats in Congress and the liberal/progressive bloggers who were opposed to the Iraq War have been, at the very least, significantly less vocal in opposing military intervention in Libya and Syria, the expansion of the drone program, particularly in Pakistan and Yemen (though at least once upon a time this was a common criticism of Obama from the “left”), support of the Saudis in Yemen, extra-judicial killings of “enemy combatants” even if they’re American citizens, etc., continued presence in Afghanistan, etc. In large part, Obama’s has been a low-key Bush foreign policy in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Subcontinent, and the criticisms of that foreign policy from the “left” have been largely even lower key.

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        • This may be a bit over the top, but I’ma say it anyway:

          I think that’s cuz Democrats and liberals, being Americans and all, largely accept and embrace the post-WWII American value of using military force to achieve geopolitical goals as a legitimate first option. They accept that US military power is a “global force for good”. But that’s of a piece with the another core American value: that folks who don’t fit into a particular paradigm of thought and action deserve to be punished. (Punition!)

          If I had to identify a uniquely American value it’d be the glorification of pure power as an end in itself, an end which justifies the ways power is used merely (and circularly!) by the fact that it exists – is held! – and can be exercised. Seems to me our prevailing social norms wrt conflict and conflict resolution are fundamentally built around a purely power-based decision calculus. So on this view, the expression of power-based foreign policy measures as an accepted form of geopolitical policy is just an extension of social-norms prioritizing power concepts as determinative of social dynamics. (As well as being the prevailing methodology for analyzing social dynamics.)

          Solutions based on violence and force tend to be, collectively, our reflexive first choice, a choice which can only be defeated by arguments which are increasingly viewed as distinctly UnAmerican.

          There. I said it.

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          • Oh I agree, and while I had hoped that things like the drone program would be scaled down during the Obama administration, I fully expected many of those who were in the streets in the first months of 2003 to be mostly silent on the subject of whatever military adventure Obama undertook, because I figured their anti-war stance then was context specific, and they would largely be pro-whatever it was Obama chose to do with our bombs. I felt that way about the new faces at anti-war protests back then, even.

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          • The greatest weapon the left had in their argument against the war was the pictures of bodies of soldiers who got shot, hit with IEDs, and came home either visibly damaged or in a flag-draped box.

            Drones are a perfect solution. No scar tissue, no coffins. Some of the pilots might complain about having a little bit of PTSD after a while, but we have shrinks for that.

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            • Indeed, and none of the nasty footage of our soldiers “puff the magic dragon-ing” a wedding and the scores of bodies it generates. If there’s drone footage, it’s nice and safe behind a classified wall–with fewer people to witness the event, easier to bury it.

              Nice and clean….for us. Not so much for the civilians were still killing.

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              • Last I looked, there’s still a fairly consistent stream of gun camera footage, from drones and manned-vehicles, in the usual not-quite-underground places. It’s just that no one cares.

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              • If there’s drone footage, it’s nice and safe behind a classified wall–with fewer people to witness the event, easier to bury it.

                It’s an interesting question how such a thing *can* be classified.

                It was a military attack. The other side…knows it. It is public knowledge among the ‘bad guys’.

                I mean, okay, in *some* cases it might not have been noticed yet, but that’s just an argument for a three day waiting period on the footage or whatever.

                From what I understand, the general capabilities of drones are well understood. Everyone knows roughly what height they fly from, roughly how fast they can fly, etc. Yes, some of the targeting methods are secret, and classified information gets *discussed* during a drone strike, but that wouldn’t be in the drone footage.

                The only possible reason for classifying drone footage of actual attacks that I can see is that *our side* wouldn’t like it. Which is exactly why classifying it shouldn’t be allowed.

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                • There are lots of reasons to classify something.

                  For the reasons you mentioned
                  Because they can
                  Because they want to
                  Lots

                  The State department communications that got posted on wikileaks were classified and NO military info was in those posts, but there was embarrassing info on the people we were communicating with and with our own comments. Best to keep that all hush hush. The american people don’t need to know how their gov’t conducts foreign policy.

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          • Agreed. Plenty of centrists and D’s have always been hawkish. The liberal wing of the D’s where you find most people who want less bomby bombing. But through cold war there were many hawkish D’s and Hills is right in line with that tradition.

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          • I agree. And suspect that one of the reasons for our collective love affair with power is that we have so much of it. What’s the saying? When you have a hammer in your hand, every thing starts to look like a nail?

            While I don’t have much of an “activist” streak, I was/am profoundly disappointed in Obama’s handling of the use of force. And I don’t know how to make sense of liberals who suddenly want to look the other way on the drone program. It is one thing to say, “Well, yes, I was anti THAT war but I’m pro THIS war because the circumstances are totally different.” Maybe that is legitimate, maybe it is bullshit, but there is at least the air of legitimacy. But to say, “Drone strikes were evil in 2006 but awesome in 2012,” is just ridiculous.

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            • Libya I don’t have a problem with.
              Syria, I’m not certain enough of the origins or implications to have a valid opinion, but I tend toward favoring action there.

              The drones are definitely disconcerting, not so much the equipment, but how it is being used.

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  5. “Just as surely: Per capita gun ownership must be the correct metric for considering the influence of gun ownership on American values”

    I have a quibble with this, because it doesn’t track adequately with household access to a firearm.

    From my understanding of the really bad gun numbers we have, the general assessment is that it is likely that there are a lot of people who own no guns, and there are a lot of people who own one gun, and there are a smaller number of people who own a **lot** of guns.

    The trouble is particularly that we don’t know enough about that last class of person to understand how badly it skews our per capita assessment, which is based upon a very loose measure of guns that are bought domestically.

    We don’t measure any of this stuff directly, and our indirect measures are very often through two sorts of proxies, which reduces both reliability and accuracy.

    If we presume that “gun culture” has an effect on the broader culture, the thing we would want to measure is whether or not folks participate in “gun culture”. Just buying one gun is probably a bad measure of that, and per-capita measures for gun ownership doesn’t even measure how many folks own one or no gun.

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  6. Considering that GPS is run by the US Air Force (and that DARPA, which engages in many sorts of research not specifically militaristic, is under the US DoD) that “42% of the world’s military spending” may be as misleading as any other statistic.

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    • NSF gets tons of money from the military and our intelligence. What’s the split? 25% for “military research” (Let’s Make Robocop!), and the rest for whatever they like? [No, of course they’re not supposed to admit to what’s being bankrolled by someone else. But some of it has obvious military applications]

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  7. I think is some common factors in between the level of gun ownership and militarism. Many americans believe in righteous violence as a good and productive thing. Bomb them, shoot them, violence will solve problems. Of course self-defense when needed is good and war is sometimes necessary, but many of us see violence in a far to rosy light. My guess would be that many other parts of the world, like western and central europe, were ripped with war for centuries so they have been scarred enough to see how often violence works out poorly for all involved.

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  8. Cowen is mistaking warrior culture and martial culture. Warrior culture is based around honor gained by the ability to use and own weapons and fight on an individual basis. It favors singular acts of valor during battle like the Vikings dying to get into Valhalla, medieval knighthood or the samurai. Martial culture is one based respect and involvement for the military like Imperial Japan or Germany but it is a group rather than an individual endeavor. American gun culture is a warrior culture because of it’s high individualism. It is based on the individual honor of ownership and proficiency with arms rather than group honor through the military.

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    • Now this is an interesting distinction. American Gun Culture does seem based heavily on Warrior Culture and also cultures of honor. I know you don’t like the Albion’s Seed school of thought but it does seem like a lot of the hot-head stuff we see comes
      from honor and warrior cultures. A person avenges their honor via self-help and violence.

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      • I think you’re doing American Gun Culture a disservice.

        For starters, assuming there’s just one. I can think of at least two, laying aside police and armed services entirely (and any sort of military culture stuff). Just civilian gun owners.

        There’s hunters and sports shooters. For them, the gun is a tool — used for the hunt. Or for being really good at putting holes in paper. It’s not a culture based on the gun, the gun is simply a common tool. So you can have bow-hunters and gun hunters as part of the same culture. Maybe it’s not even really a gun culture, but when you think of “Americans with guns” this is a large group, but virtually all of them will own (or have owned) firearms, be very comfortable with them, and quite knowledgeable about them.

        Frankly, if that was the only gun culture in America, no one would give two craps. It’s the only gun culture I’ve even been vaguely a part of it, so my closeness to it probably skews my perspective.

        Then there’s the other main gun culture. They’re probably split into a few big groups, but you can sum them up as “Paranoid”. Whether it’s criminals or jackbooted thugs, these are people who own guns because they feel it’s very likely they’re gonna have to shoot another human being with them. Some of them seem to actively fantasize about doing it. Their gun culture is one of fear — which owning a gun alleviates. Fear of the other, fear of government, fear of minorities, fear or alien invasion, whatever. They do often style themselves warriors or other form of ‘strong man’, heroes ready to take on evil-doers.

        The gun about talking about guns and gun control is the rapid shuffle between groups. What’s true about one isn’t always true about the other, and you can shift between groups as need be. Someone make a point about a guy playing with his handgun in a Starbucks? Start talking about a hunter faced with a bear. You want him to die?

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        • I’ve been face to face with a bear. (granted, it wasn’t a grizzly). They aren’t all that aggressive unless you’ve been feeding them.

          But even my friend who has used a concealed weapon to shoot someone hates the paranoid assholes. The paranoid assholes won’t make it when we turn to guns and cigarettes, anyhow — they don’t tend to have the friends you need.

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  9. Cowen’s idea of treating guns and defense (or what Jason K is calling “militarism,” which seems to equate with the consensus position of the American culture-state since WW2) as an “integrated whole” is much more ambitious than I think he realizes.

    Consider, for example, the notion of “cultural preconditions for successful gun control.” “Cultural preconditions” could stand for just about the entirety of human history heretofore. Just focusing on the American epoch, it could stand for attachment to a mythos of the gun, and of the armed citizen triumphing over injustice in Revolutionary, Civil, and World War – or settling the continent- or defeating the bad guys in at least 42% of our movies and TV shows – and don’t let’s get started on video games – or it could stand for a broader idea that “violence solves things” or it could stand for what some are calling “martial” and others now “warrior” culture – or it could stand for a potential for resistance to an overreaching state, which is in some ways tied to all of the above but also an independent and very American or Americanist idea whose defeat would also seem to be a “precondition” for “successful gun control.”

    The only alternative, it seems to me, to an elaboration of state power, implying a new acquiescence and support of the people for same (in American history something which has developed amidst perception of vast threat or pressing general need) would be some kind of “cultural” evolution that led to gun culture simply wasting away – maybe after the Singularity or Armageddon or Worldwide Revolution.

    The completion of Cowen’s thesis is even more speculative, which is quite a feat: After establishment of the new preconditions, “America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.”

    It does indeed seem hard to imagine that a profoundly altered America would not play a profoundly altered role in the world. Yet who’s to say what the newly culturally unified American state would be capable of in the world, or set out to do in the world, or find the world asking or forcing it to do? America or Americans might, indeed, set out to play one role, but find themselves playing a different one in time – for instance, if a general withdrawal from American “policing,” really did bring chaos in its wake, including the rise of bellicose regional powers in some new, higher-tech and more developed version of the global situation prior to “Pax Americana.” If the history of the fall of empires is indicative, the world without American “militarism” may not be a more peaceful one. The next American culture-state, originally intending pacifism, might find itself drawn into numerous wars tending toward a general global state of war.

    This is one of those cases in which saying “there is much more to be said on this topic” is a vast understatement, since the topic is world history concretely.

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  10. I stole this from somewhere, but, there IS something to it…..and it’s also a bit of signaling…but it’s still funny.

    http://www.funny.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/Funny.woa/wa/funny?fn=CDGLW&Funny_Jokes=democrat_republican_or_southerner

    Are you a Democrat, Republican or Southerner?
    Here is a little test that will help you decide.
    The answer can be found by posing the following question:
    You’re walking down a deserted street with your wife and two small children.
    Suddenly, an Islamic Terrorist with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with you, screams obscenities, praises Allah, raises the knife, and charges at you. You are carrying a 40 cal pistol, and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he reaches you and your family.
    What do you do?
    ………………………………………
    Democrat’s Answer:
    Well, that’s not enough information to answer the question!
    Does the man look poor or oppressed?
    Have I ever done anything to him that would inspire him to attack?
    Could we run away?
    What does my wife think?
    What about the kids?
    Could I possibly swing the gun like a club and knock the knife out of his hand?
    What does the law say about this situation?
    Does the firearm have appropriate safety built into it?
    Why am I carrying a loaded gun anyway, and what kind of message does this send to society and to my children?
    Is it possible he’d be happy with just killing me?
    Does he definitely want to kill me, or would he be content just to wound me?
    If I were to grab his knees and hold on, could my family get away while he was stabbing me?
    Should I call 9-1-1?
    Why is this street so deserted?
    We need to raise taxes, have paint and weed day and make this happier, healthier street that would discourage such behavior. This is all so confusing!
    I need to debate this with some friends for few days and try to come to a consensus. ….. .

    Republican’s Answer:
    BANG!
    ……………………………………..
    Southerner’s Answer:
    BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
    BANG! Click….. (Sounds of reloading)
    BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
    BANG! Click
    Daughter: “Nice grouping, Daddy! Were those the Winchester Silver Tips or Black Talon?”
    Son: “Can I shoot the next one!”
    Wife: “You ain’t taking that to the Taxidermist!”

    Incidentally, the “southern” answer is what I used to tell my wife in the event she choose to defend herself with a firearm in a home invasion scenario. Fire all rounds, reload, and when he goes down, put two in the head.

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    • Incidentally, the “southern” answer is what I used to tell my wife in the event she choose to defend herself with a firearm in a home invasion scenario. Fire all rounds, reload, and when he goes down, put two in the head.

      I didn’t think about this the first time, but something occurred to me.

      How many times have you defended your home from a home invasion? (I assume, from your phrasing, that your wife has never done so). If the answer is “Less than once”, where did you get this advice from yourself? Who told you? Where’d that advice come from? Did you just make it up, or are you quoting someone?

      Because it occurred to me, as I read it, that the style was that of an experienced person explaining to a rookie how it works. “Hey, buddy, it’s your first rodeo, but take it from an old hand here….”. But it’s also highly unlikely, to continue the phrase, that you’ve been to the rodeo yourself.

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      • In the same vein, a good friend (Captain, USAF Reserves) told me something along the lines of: “Don’t buy a gun for home defense unless you are absolutely sure that you can shoot someone in the chest, at close range, in the dark, when you’re terrified. And don’t be embarrassed if you don’t think you can. Most people can’t, and that includes a lot of people who are absolutely sure that they can when they’re at the gun shop.”

        He went on to point out that even good soldiers in a war zone (he went to Afghanistan a couple of times) have a hard time putting bullets into people.

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        • LEOs usually recommend to female shooters to empty the clip. The odd part of what you mentioned is ‘in the dark’. Usually it is expected to be able to identify your target to insure it’s not a family member or someone other than a threat.

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          • “in the dark”?? Haven’t you ever heard the LEO saying “better to be judged by 12, then carried by 6.” Safer to fire, after all what is the worst that could happen.

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          • Most deadly home invasions don’t occur during daytime. And if you’re taking the time to turn on your bedside light while at imminent risk of being killed by the burglar, you’re taking a huge risk. To expand on his home defense point, he further said something like:

            “If you’re serious about this, you need a shotgun, loaded but not chambered, kept at arms’ reach while you’re in bed. [I probably have the technical terms wrong. This conversation occurred over 15 years ago.] You will have mere seconds to wake up, decide to fight, reach under the bed, grab the gun, chamber the round, aim at the doorway to your bedroom and fire at the instant you see someone moving. You might not have time to turn on the light, because you need to take that time to check that your wife is in bed next to you and it’s not her coming down the hallway.”

            The point being that someone planning on using lethal force in self-defense needs to prepare for the worst case, which according to my friend was a quiet break-in while I was asleep. And since I live in LosAngeles, it never gets all that dark. So, yeah, he thought I needed to prepare myself to be ready to shoot without interior lights on.

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            • Francis,
              Your friend didn’t do the worst case. The worst case is your opponent using gas to knock you out. This is why we recommend a steel door and traps (non-lethal preferred), if you have even the slightest idea that something real is going to go down.

              And why guns are a terrible weapon for home-defense. You need to ID the target, know exactly where it is, and be conscious.

              If you take home-defense seriously, you hire a security detail to watch the place while you sleep.

              (Is this excessive? Depends on your enemies… and, sometimes, your friends).

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            • Most deadly home invasions don’t occur during daytime

              That’s because, in general, people robbing houses prefer you not to be there. They want your stuff. They don’t want to deal with you. If they’re robbing it at night, they’re either under the impression you’re gone or being quiet. That’s why those home light setups and mail forwarding is so popular.

              In fact, if you want to deter home invasions, buy a dog. Barking dogs wake people up, and anger neighbors, and generally draw attention. Also, you can’t shoot your spouse thinking she’s a burglar with a dog.

              Seriously, best deterrents are “being home” and “having a noisy pet”.

              Assuming you’re dealing with someone who knows you’re there and comes after you anyways (hence “deadly”) I hate to tell you, but you’re probably dead anyways. The guy with the gun out who has already made the decision to shoot? He’s got an advantage that only wild luck can negate.

              But really buying a dog doesn’t make you feel safe as a gun, I suppose, even if statistically you’re far better off. I mean, let’s be honest — the odds of you shooting yourself or a family member are much higher than your house being invaded. That changes a bit if you actually DO live in a crime-ridden place, but most of the people stocking up on guns for ‘home defense’ live in quiet suburbs so the dog is just all around better.

              I mean you have to clean up it’s poo, but at least they’re entertaining and useful.

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        • Sounds like something my uncle, a former Green Beret, would have said. I did hear him tell someone in rural Iowa, “You’re driving around with a loaded weapon in this vehicle that’s not in someone’s hands, who’s taking care that it doesn’t get pointed at people? Stop the car and let me out.”

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      • How many times have you defended your home from a home invasion?

        For that matter, when was the last time anyone here was in a situation where a gun would have made a better outcome?

        The above scenario is the Ticking Time Bomb of personal defense. Something always trotted out in dramatic fashion, yet never, ever happens in the universe we live in.

        If the folks above wanted to make it really funny, it should go like this:

        Imagine you are sitting at your desk reading emails, with your Walther PPK 9MM with Talon Eagle hollow point48 grain round arggh arrgharrgh arrrghhh on your hip.

        Suddenly there is a loud noise, someone cries out, and a bullet rips through your head, killing you instantly from a deranged gun nut.

        The end.

        No, sorry, couldn’t think of a punchline.

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      • Couple of tid bits:
        My ex was under the impression that “shoot to wound” or “shout the gun out of his hand” was a real thing, that people could actually do this. And by people I mean cops, regular civilians, and military. Essentially, everyone but some guy who was an expert marksman and who practiced 18 hours a day, ie no one. IF you’re going to pull the trigger, you should to kill. That’s the whole point of using lethal force.

        And from a cop source long ago, paraphrasing, if the other guy is dead, there’s a whole lot less evidence to dispute your claim on how you acted and what happened.

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      • morat20,
        I do know someone who “defended his home” from a “home invasion” (read: people setting fireworks off outside his apartment) — I take it he was a bit jumpy that day (didn’t actually fire, but did get to the point of having a loaded gun drawn).

        He’ll be the first to tell you (and, yes, he’s worked with insurance, so he’s dealt with enough issues for other people too), that the best defense against a home invasion is a good solid steel door, behind which you retreat and then call the cops.

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        • It’s why I hate the whole “oohhh, airline pilots should be armed” thing. Like, what, some guy who flies a plane is gonna go all Charles Bronson and take out an unknown number of assailants who’ve had time to get ready for him?

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    • Perfect reflection on Cowen’s point that even a libertarian who his against rampant militarism goes hard for jokes like this and double tapping the dead body lines. Even the peacniks are violent in the US>

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      • Who said I was a peacenik?

        And the posting was entirely in agreement of libertarian values. It’s a defense against violence against oneself.

        The reason I think it’s funny is I KNOW people who would say what the “democrat” said. Of course, they aren’t all democrats either. Still doesn’t make it not funny.

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        • I think comment threads netwide would be a much less vitriolic place if, instead of CAPTCHA “verifications”, people were forced to actually meet in person someone whose views they were caricaturing.

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          • Usually when those folks on the left, far left, and center, run into me, and “I’m on my soapbox”, the universal comment is “I can’t believe you think like that”. Their exposure to me opinions, and their reactions to them, just indicate how much of a bubble they are in.

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        • I mean, in this scenario you’ve given them arbitrarily “expert” marksmanship. If you’re just talking about “someone with a gun”, sure, just point in the right direction and think about when to stop firing when you get a chance, but if we’re in the already unlikely event where a random militant carrying only a largish knife charges a gun-wielding father of two an his family…

          The best solution to any philosophical dilema is usually to dodge somehow, and there’s usually a way to do it.

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  11. I would say that the critical constituency enabling American militarism, if we’re going to let the right off the hook because they’re scorpions who are going to sting regardless (which I do understand doing), is not the part of the anti-war left that is only vocal under Republicans. It is simply the center-left political establishment per se, which, compared to its counterparts in other developed countries, is, under any administration and under any circumstances, in general much more pro-intervention compared to anti-interventionist center-lefts in Europe and elsewhere. Hillary Clinton provided critical support for the Iraq invasion. John Kerry voted to support the diplomacy that led to the Iraq war. Joe Biden did the same. The entire center-left political establishment supported the Afghanistan invasion, as well as the idea of using bombs from the air to target terrorists after 9/11. (Which is supposedly such a discontinuity from their support for Obama doing so today, but isn’t.) This was all in the face of an anti-inerventionist left (such as it was) that was fully engaged (such as it was) under a Republican president, not in a supposed give-the-Dem-in-the-WH-a-break mode.

    Which is to say, the critical constituency is the broad pro-intervention (or at least not particularly anti-intervention) center-left-through-to-most-of-the-right. (Except we’re letting anyone who identifies as right off the hook because of low expectations in this regard, so it’s just the broadly pro-interventionst center(-left).) As against that array of support, an anti-war left that was somewhat less willing to give Democrats breaks on interventionism that it’s won’t give to Republicans would have essentially no effect on American foreign policy’s overall interventionism. Because the anti-interventionist left is isolated and small. An isolated anti-interventionist left that’s somewhat more consistent across administration parties, or somewhat less consistent (i.e., gives Dems breaks) – I mean, it just wouldn’t make much difference. The centrist political establishment being broadly pro-interventionist – sending out quite far in both directions, though certainly somewhat further toward the right – that’s why the U.S. is quite interventionist/militaristic/aggressive in its perceived self-defense. If you want to let the entire right side of the political establishment off the hook because militarism is part of their identity, I get that. I don’t reject that. So then it’s the militarism extending out into the center-left further than in other countries that makes the U.S. more militaristic. That’s what it is. The anti-war left would not be strong enough to change that whether they were somewhat more or somewhat less consistent in their anti-interventionism under Democratic versus Republican administrations.

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    • I dispute the claim that the center-left in Western Europe is less interventionist than that in the US. The simplest example is that Odyssey Dawn (the Libyan campaign) was pushed by France and Italy above all others.

      France sent troops to their former colonies for peacekeeping and other activities rather routinely in both the Chirac and Sarkosy administrations, and continues today under Hollande. The UK famously goes wherever the US and/or Europe wants to go. Parliament did reject an intervention into Syria with the exception of the popular backlash to a Syrian strike two years ago, but for one, that wasn’t a centre-left rejection, that was a populist rejection, and two, they went back and approved some airstrikes this month.

      The third of the three big dogs, Germany, has, for obvious reasons, longstanding antipathy towards foreign intervention that transcends the political spectrum, but the death of the WW2 generation and the use of troops in Afghanistan have served to undo to political and constitutional limitations on using the German military to get their internationalism on.

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      • Okay, so then the U.S. is not even particularly interventionist compared to the most comparable cultural and economic referents. (I.e., as your comment below suggests, should we for any reason expect ex ante for U.S. foreign policy to look more like Nepal’s than France’s?)

        Not sure I agree, but I think it’s a point worth considering.

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        • Why presume that there is or can be a valid comparison on such terms at all? You don’t have to be a vulgar American exceptionalist to acknowledge that the American position in the world is unique.

          The centrist political establishment being broadly pro-interventionist – sending out quite far in both directions, though certainly somewhat further toward the right – that’s why the U.S. is quite interventionist/militaristic/aggressive in its perceived self-defense. If you want to let the entire right side of the political establishment off the hook because militarism is part of their identity, I get that. I don’t reject that. So then it’s the militarism extending out into the center-left further than in other countries that makes the U.S. more militaristic.

          The logic there seems rather close to “the U.S. is more militaristic because the U.S. is more militaristic.” You seem to be beginning from a position of moral judgment, as though the explanation can only be that, for reasons unknown or unstated, Americans are just – or suddenly became – more blameably “militarist” than Europeans.

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          • That’s fair enough on the comparison. I’m inclined to think that the U.S. is fairly interventionist by whatever the proper measuring stick is (even taking into account its perhaps unique role). But I’m not at all sure what the proper measuring stick actually is.

            I don’t think I said something as simple as “the U.S. is more militaristic because the U.S. is more militaristic.” Jason offered his view of what the critical constituency is, and I offered mine (the more-militaristic-than-Europe’s-center-left-establishment American center-left establish being more on board with interventions than Europe’s center-left). But I didn’t claim that was an explanation for itself. It’s just an observation – that, from where I sit, as center-left political establishments go, ours seems quite on-board for interventions. The explanation for it is indeed a fully separate conversation. I’m just saying that it is the critical piece in what actually leads to the actually-more-militaristic policy.

            But then Kolohe came along and questioned the whole premise – that the U.S. even is more interventionist than, say Europe (which I think is the proper comparison, though that too can be debated) – and also that the U.S. center-left is more interventionist/militaristic than Europe’s. And while I tend to still think the U.S. is quite interventionist, I’m more interested in assessing that question than insisting I’m right about it. I regard it as up for debate, and it’s a debate I’d rather observe to try to get a sense of whether my take is right than to take a side in. I’m not super-committed to the view I’ve expressed here.

            That is, other than the aspect that doubts that everything would be quite different if only the people who are vocally anti-war under Republicans and aren’t under Democrats would cut that out. But I could be wrong about that, too.

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            • I’m talking specifically about the centre left – Europe has more substantial left poltical factions which make them less interventionist overall. (But there’s still a ‘how many divisions the pope has’ in terms of total population and total GDP not per capita in this case – that inherently limits the size of the diplomilitary establishment and thus the capability for intervention)

              But most of all I’m pushing back against the stereotype held by large swaths of both the American right and left that across the Atlantic are a bunch of Euroweenies / civilized people that have grown out of war.

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              • Okay, I think I hear you. My point was not really to say anything in particular about Europe’s center-left – certainly not that it is particularly anti-interventionist. I only referenced them as a way to try to get some comparative purchase on the American center-left. Other comparisons could work as well.

                It’s not, in any case, crucial that we use that comparison in order for my central point to stand (or fall), which (again) is that American policy’s degree of militarism/interventionism, if, we’re just going to write off the effect of the right, hinges on the proclivities, wherever they may come from, of the center-left, not on the actions or consistency of the anti-war left. Consistent or not, the anti-war left in America is just not large or influential enough to be the critical factor in determining that policy profile.

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              • …To cash that out a bit more, I am perfectly willing to accept correction that here

                the [U.S.] center-left political establishment per se, which, compared to its counterparts in other developed countries, is, under any administration and under any circumstances, in general much more pro-intervention compared to anti-interventionist center-lefts in Europe and elsewhere.

                should have just been left at, “more pro-intervention compared to anti-interventionist center-lefts in Europe and elsewhere,” rather than going to “much more….”

                I’ll even listen to an argument that “more” alone is not supportable. As I say, I’m interested in different views of this.

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  12. We’re all practicing anthropology without a license here, but my two cents on some the above and original post.

    1) The US is more militaristic then the rest of the world – and specifically, has the most military spending in the world – because it (we) can. There is no other single nation-state in the world that has the combination of population and wealth – we’re nearly three times as big the next biggest rich country, (and well over three times the other biggish rich countries), and we’re anywhere from 5 to 10 times richer per capita than the other big countries, with one exception. That exception is Japan, which is also the 2nd biggest rich country; further, it and Germany, the 3rd biggest rich country, were put in a multigeneration time-out corner wrt military buildups (and yet, still spend more than anyone else not either on the P5 or awash in oil)

    2) So much of military spending since the end of the Cold War is just a self-licking ice cream cone. It also has the classic case of the benefits being concentrated, but the costs diffuse, thus making reductions, either overall or with ‘hard choices’ very politically difficult. This is everyone’s fault, left right and center. (When Representative Ron Dellums was in Congress, he was always against defense spending, until the post Cold War BRACs removed just about every base from the Bay Area, then he cried foul).

    3) American ‘militarism’ has always been a thing. There was the Revolution, then popular objection to the Jay Treaty, then the Louisiana Purchase, then the attempted annexation of Canada in the 1810s, then the successful annexation of parts of Mexico in the 1840s, the successful annexation of all of Native American lands in the rest of the 19th century. Even between the headline wars, there was a lot of little wars and wars by other means going on both on the continent and abroad.

    4) The distinction between ‘warrior culture’ and ‘martial culture’ is malarky. War is team sport and is always won as a team. ‘warrior code’ is fan fiction military people and their political backers tell themselves in off-peak usage times to justify there phony baloney jobs during those times.

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  13. Pingback: Still Doing It (the Animated American Way of War) - CK MacLeod's

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