Militarism and Racism; Weapons and War

November 18th, 2021 - by Diana Ohlbaum / Friends Committee on National Legislation

Breaking the Addiction to Weapons and War

Friends Committee on National Legislation

 (August 17, 2021) — Without understanding what motivates US policymakers to seek global military domination, we will have trouble convincing them to abandon this counterproductive and morally repugnant course.

At FCNL’s 2019 Annual Meeting, I asked the following: “Why is the US government so reliant on the use of threats, coercion, and military force around the globe, and why can’t our policymakers admit it’s not working? Why are we so stuck in this way of relating to the world, and what do we have to do to change it?”

Without understanding what motivates US policymakers to seek global military domination, we will have trouble convincing them to abandon this counterproductive and morally repugnant course.

Like addicts, foreign policy elites resort to the drug of violence to avoid dealing with the fundamental causes of conflict and end up making the situation far worse. They won’t be ready to hear our policy solutions until they admit they have a problem.

Over the past year, FCNL has been working with the Center for International Policy, a progressive research and advocacy organization, to understand why the US foreign policy establishment clings so stubbornly to a course that is so harmful to so many people, particularly people of color.

With the support of several foundations and individual donors, we convened a high-level working group that met virtually for two hours, twice a month, for six months, from October 2020 through April 2021.

The diverse group included a cross-section of advocates, activists, organizers, faith community leaders, and scholars in the fields of US foreign policy and national security; racial, economic, and environmental justice; peacebuilding; migration; labor; human rights; feminism; and constitutional law. From our various perches, we explored the underlying reasons for such an aggressive, bullying approach to the world.

What we found may come as little surprise to many: there are deep-rooted economic, political, and ideological forces that are very difficult to dislodge and disentangle.

On the economic side, there are the millions of jobs — some in practically every congressional district — that depend on the Pentagon and its contractors. The arms industry and military installations not only provide employment that can be highly lucrative, often with union protection and good bene ts, but also make investments that can be lifelines for local economies.

Corporate welfare through the Pentagon budget is further entrenched by political contributions and lobbying, which are subject to few limitations and minimal transparency. Given the vast racial wealth gap and the commanding role of money in US politics, it is extremely dif cult for those who are most harmed by a bloated Pentagon budget and forever wars to challenge the overwhelmingly white power structure and its revolving door of influence-peddling.

The political forces are equally daunting. Institutions that have long been considered essential to the functioning of American democracy are, in fact, responsible for many of its failings. The Senate, which gives every state two votes regardless of population, privileges rural states with largely white populations over larger and more ethnically and racially diverse states.

To make matters worse, the filibuster allows a minority of these small states to dictate or impede nationwide legislative and policy decisions. The Electoral College, which was designed to boost the weight of slave-holding southern states, has twice in recent years resulted in the election of presidents who lost the popular vote. Through the mushrooming efforts in nearly every state to suppress Black, Latino/a, Native American, and other voters, our system prevents massive numbers of voices from being heard.

Finally, and in some ways most importantly, most white Americans and many others accept the notion that the United States has the right, the responsibility, and the power to set the rules for everyone else. They hold America to different standards than other countries, ascribing only good intentions to US nuclear threats, economic coercion, shows of force, and armed invasion, while assuming the worst motives in the actions of others.

This sense of American exceptionalism and national superiority is based on the poisonous belief, often subconscious, that American lives—and speci cally white lives—are more valuable than others. And it relies on the militarist myth that violence is both necessary and effective as a tool of foreign policy.

Our group had little dif culty developing a vision for a human-centered US foreign policy rooted in peaceful cooperation, global solidarity, and adherence to international law. But we struggled with nding ways to break through the barriers that keep policymakers hooked on the status quo.

Ultimately, we agreed that the path forward starts with unmasking the false narratives about US conduct and acknowledging our country’s history of genocide, slavery, and imperialist expansion.

It requires showing that there are more ethical and more effective ways to address the real challenges that face our nation. It demands that we connect with campaigns and movements around the country and around the globe, using our combined power to seek positive change.

In the end, this kind of long-term, large-scale paradigm change will come not from political elites or Washington insiders, but from a higher power: a broad groundswell of ordinary people who take extraordinary action to shift our country to a more peaceful, just, and sustainable course.

Diana Ohlbaum is FCNL’s senior strategist and legislative director for foreign policy. The report Dismantling the Racism-Militarism Paradigm by Diana Ohlbaum and Salih Booker was posted online in September at

Dismantling the Racism-Militarism Paradigm — Excerpt

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Executive Summary

(September 2021) —The major challenges facing Americans today—pandemic disease, climate change, economic inequality, racial and gender injustice—cannot be solved without international solidarity and human compassion.

The prevailing, militaristic conception of “national security” is steeped in racism and perpetuates white supremacy. The Racism-Militarism Paradigm is a way of looking at the world, widely shared among the US policymaking community and much of the public, that arises from a largely unacknowledged doctrine of white supremacy and the necessity of using violence to uphold it. This paradigm establishes a rigid hierarchy, based on race, that values white lives more than any other—at home and abroad. It embraces militarism as the most effective mechanism to guarantee this ordering of society and the world.

The US quest for global military supremacy causes immense harm at home and abroad, particularly to people of color. The policies that emanate from this paradigm rob us of economic resources, corrupt our political system, endanger our lives, and offend our most fundamental moral values. They perpetuate a system that discriminates against, disempowers, disrespects, dehumanizes, and brutalizes Black and brown people and other communities of color at home and abroad. Continuing the US quest for global military domination not only harms the people of other countries and the earth we share, but also makes the vast majority of Americans less secure.

Racism and militarism are deeply embedded in the US economy. The number and quality of jobs tied to the military-industrial-carceral complex, the corporate profits extracted from it, and the dependence on it of so many other sectors—oil, gas, and extractive industries; media, think tanks, and universities; lobbyists and Congress—all make the disentanglement extremely difficult. Racialized wealth and income gaps, regressive tax systems, and the deleterious effect of money in politics all perpetuate the status quo.

Political, legal, and constitutional structures keep the current paradigm entrenched. Unequal representation of Americans in Congress and exclusion from political decision making — through the lack of voting representation for the District of Columbia, the denial of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico and US territories, and the expanding avenues of voter suppression and gerrymandering — among other measures — keeps Black, Indigenous, and other people of color from exercising their rights and power.

Antidemocratic institutions such as the Senate — which disproportionately benefits small, rural, less-diverse states — and the Electoral College — which has twice in the last five elections resulted in a president who lost the popular vote — must be significantly reformed or abolished.

The arcane Senate rule known as the filibuster only amplifies the power of a small minority to prevent all Americans from exercising their legal and constitutional rights. And the Supreme Court now has a majority of justices appointed by presidents who lost the majority of the electorate, confirmed by a Senate whose members represented a minority of the American people.

An array of foundational myths undergirds America’s addiction to war and anti-Black racism. American political culture celebrates the nation’s virtues while demonstrating collective amnesia about its sins. Particularly, but certainly not exclusively in the foreign policy and national security sphere, elites ignore, reject, and rationalize the enormous harms that the United States has caused through its history of slavery, genocide, and imperial expansion.

Such whitewashing is possible because of a widespread, but largely unacknowledged, belief in the racial superiority of whites and their entitlement, exceptionalism, and indispensability. The narrow interests of wealthy and powerful white men are mythologized and legitimized as the “national security interests” of the United States.

This is then used to justify global military domination and economic exploitation by the United States, bolstered by the myth that violence is both necessary and effective as a way of advancing those interests. While acceptance of these myths is widespread, it is largely unconscious. The paradigm is so pervasive throughout US society that it masquerades as objective truth, blinding most Americans and their leaders to its origins and purpose.

Only a mass movement for change, uniting a wide variety of organizations and activists, will be able to overcome these obstacles. To peacefully and democratically dismantle this paradigm, we must establish a compelling alternative vision of the US role in the world. We must build a paradigm designed to repudiate racism and militarism that is based on principles of justice, peace, equality, rights, dignity, shared wealth, and sustainability. The objectives of US foreign policy must be to promote the social, political, economic, and physical well-being of all people.

Dismantling entrenched racism and militarism — and the political and economic structures that reflect and reinforce them — will require new ways of working together. Systemic change will come not from a small group of elites or political insiders who revise policies, but from broad grassroots movements that fundamentally shift the dynamics of power.

It is these movements that provide the truth-telling necessary to educate a country willfully ignorant of its past and it is these movements that can force the political and economic changes necessary to create space for an urgently needed alternative role for the United States in the world.

Working Group on Dismantling
Racism and Militarism in US Foreign Policy

Participants List

Titles and organizational affiliations are provided for identification purposes only.

Alan Barber
Policy Director
Congressional Progressive Caucus Center

Shailly Gupta Barnes
Policy Director
Kairos Center

Nadia Ben-Youssef
Advocacy Director
Center for Constitutional Rights

Jarvis Benson
Policy Team Member
Kairos Center

May Boeve
Executive Director

Salih Booker (Co-Chair)
President & CEO
Center for International Policy

Perry Cammack
Program Director, Peacebuilding
Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Natalia Cardona
Associate Director for Justice & Equity

Tobita Chow
Founding Director
Justice Is Global

Neta Crawford
Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science
Boston University

Diana Duarte
Director of Policy and Strategic Engagement

Cathy Feingold
Director, International Department

Nana Gyamfi
Executive Director
Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Kia Hamadanchy
Legislative Affairs Manager
Congressional Progressive Caucus Center

Leila Hilal (Facilitator) 
Progressive Governance International

Patrick Hiller
Executive Director, War Prevention Initiative
Jubitz Family Foundation

Greisa Martinez Rosas
Executive Director
United We Dream

Alex McCoy
Political Director
Common Defense

Diana Ohlbaum (Co-Chair)
Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Khury Petersen-Smith
Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow
Institute for Policy Studies

Diane Randall
General Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Adam Russell Taylor
President-Elect and Acting President

Jose Vasquez
Executive Director
Common Defense

Vincent Warren
Executive Director
Center for Constitutional Rights


Discussion paper published September 2021 by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) Education Fund.

The FCNL Education Fund is a Quaker nonprofit that promotes civic engagement
to advance peace, justice, and environmental stewardship.