As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the quest for a new enemy is underway. The armed services who are fighting over shares of the threatened defense budget (the Air Force and Navy pitted against the Army), select corporations (in particular those that manufacture big weapon systems), and politicians who wrap themselves in the flag--are all zeroing in on China.
Sociologists readily see the secondary gains one can reap by choosing a new enemy when we are told that old ones, in the Middle East, are in retreat. Secondary gains are generated when an activity that by itself is a loss nevertheless generates a whole slew of benefits. For example, not having to show up to work or help with chores when you have the flu. War is bloody and fraught with risks and costs, but preparing for it provides strong justification for protecting one's share of scarce resources as well as a rationale for acquiring more. Suiting up gives meaning to what is otherwise a dull life in the barracks. Marshaling the troops feeds patriotism and unity in an age in which division is rampant. And preparing for war can be used to gain funds for activities that would otherwise find few sponsors. Thus, during the Cold War, investing in basic research was charged to DARPA a Pentagon unit, and foreign language acquisition was supported by the military's Defense Language Institute.
The making of an enemy is often facilitated by the other party, in this case, China. It has its own line of generals, corporations, and ambitious politicians who attain parallel secondary gains by framing the United States as an aggressor.
Read the rest at Huffington Post.