In One-DimensionalMan, Herbert Marcuse offered a handy metaphor for the ritual use of militarypower in the modern world. This was 1964, full-on Cold War, both the U.S. andSoviet Union bristling with nuclear missiles and racing each other to buildmore, and everyone living under the perceived threat that a nuclear holocaustcould break out tomorrow. If you were born before, say, 1980, you'll rememberthe feeling. Not a day-to-day dread for most people, just a kind of soberingeveryday reality you kept locked away somewhere in the back of your mind.
Well, forgetabout nuclear war, Marcuse said. (I'm brutally paraphrasing here, and from memory,but the sense of it's right.) Never happen, he said. The Soviet elite dependon the U.S. elite to stay in power, and vice versa. They need to keep theirhome populations in a constant state of fear, and their economies on a constantwar footing, and they can only do that if each superpower can cite the opposingsuperpower as the cause. So they'll never blow each other up. In fact, Marcusesaid, it's more useful to picture all those missiles not pointing outward atsome enemy across the sea but inward, at their own populations. That's whatnuclear arms are for: not defense against foreigners but to defend the rulingelites against their own citizenry. Crowd control on the grandest scale. Whatwas the term back then? Civil defense? You bet.