Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Culture Drives the National Interest

Arnold Wolfers makes it clear in "National Security" As an Ambiguous Symbol, that "numerous domestic factors such as national character, tradition, preferences and prejudices will influence the level of security which a nation chooses to make its target". By analyzing American culture, it is readily apparent that a high level of national security will always remain a key tenet of the American national interest.

Though some may argue that democracies should not be violent in nature, it is imperative to realize that though there may be a paucity of wars amongst democracies, that democratic societies themselves are often violent. With this in mind, we should take a look at our own society. In doing so, it readily becomes clear that security is upheld as our most critical national interest by our character, traditions, and our preferences.

We are a nation that emerged as a result of a violent revolution. That revolution is glorified in our history books, movies, and folklore. Our society upholds the heroes of the revolution, and carries forth from that era a belief that weapons are integral to the security of our homes and our nation. Furthermore, the American frontier was also won through struggle. The violent expansion westward was made possible in many ways by the right to bear arms.

With violence, comes the need for security. Americans are not only violent in their dealings with the outside world. The American culture embraces violence in nearly every part of society: sports, movies, musical lyrics, and video games. In The Clash with Distant Cultures (1995), Richard Payne cites numerous staggering statistics that depict the American tendency toward violence.

  1. 1991 poll: 72% of Americans believe force is appropriate to maintain international justice, whereas, 70% of Japanese feel it is inappropriate

  2. 400,000 students carried weapons to school...in 1987!

  3. 66 Million loaded weapons reported in American homes...for the purpose of security

  4. Gun accessibility - only 75 of 35,000 license requests denied in 1990.

  5. Murder rates (reflects use of violence to solve problems, per 100,000 citizens -1998 stats) US – 8.4, Canada – 5.5, Germany – 4.2, UK – 2.0, Japan – 0.8

  6. Average 16 year old has witnessed more than 200,000 acts of violence

When cultural values and norms reflect a nature of violence and an emphais for security against that violence, it is only logical that a nation immersed in violence will be more liklely to hold security as a supreme national interest. The reality is that culture, not realism, accounts largely for the American tendency to place national security as the main focus in terms of national interest.


rhymenoceros said...
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rhymenoceros said...

Robert Kagan argues that America, in spite of the high ideals of the founding fathers, has always been viewed as a dangerous nation by the international community.

American ideology has a moral basis in which we seek the vindication of our principles by their adoption in other cultures. This has led to wrongly identifying our tactical interests - those situations which if left un-handled will erode the perception of our power by other nations. These tactical interests involved us in a variety of situations which have nothing to do with the protection of our supreme interest of survival.

Is force warranted to repel injustice? Certainly you would think so if you saw a woman being raped on your way home from class. How do you take the instinctive reaction you feel on a personal level to help when you are able and apply it on a grand scale? I believe these thoughts led the concepts of 'just war' and all the nuances that thinking involved.

It's also interesting to note how the Age of Reason and the development of just, fair, government of the people all occurred within one of Europe's bloodiest periods prior to the World Wars. Is there something inherently non-violent about democracies? I don't think it's historical development could ever lead to that conclusion.