the news business treats shelling out trillions on the military like
it’s a simple iPhone update.
By Adam Johnson
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – One of the most effective rhetorical
tools in normalizing massive military budgets is to treat spending
billions — and sometimes trillions — of dollars as
something one has to do in order to be “modern.”
“Modernization” is, after all, an attractive label.
Who doesn’t want to be modern? Consider just a
examples from recent reporting on military spending.
“The Department of Energy said the money was needed to
modernize and restore the country’s nuclear weapons complex,”
reported of a $15 billion, one-year budget request for nuke
“Pentagon Budget Seeks Billions for Modernizing Nuclear
Arsenal, Missile Defense,” The
Hill mumbled about a related $37 billion request.
The Army, meanwhile, will get many billions more “as the
service struggles to modernize while simultaneously fighting wars in
current conflicts,” wrote
the National Interest.
“U.S. nuclear policy is aimed at deterring Russia,”
explained, “through the modernization of the U.S. arsenal.”
Finally, notes a
Reuters headline on the world’s most expensive (and still
not operational) fighter plane, the “F-35 Fighter Modernization
Could Cost $16 Billion Through 2024.”
Then there are variations on
the code word
Other variations include the verbs “overhaul” or
“rebuild.” The idea is that something has fallen into
disrepair and simply needs to be put back together.
How vast new expenditures on weapons that can already end
civilization can be justified in either financial or moral terms is
simply breezed past. A “modern” United States is
self-evidently preferable to a pre-modern one, and the United States
must be “modern” to “keep pace” with
perennial bad guys like Russia and China.
As the media monitoring group FAIR has shown time and again,
media almost always frames the U.S. as reacting to
escalations by others.
The idea that Russia and China could themselves be responding
long-existing U.S. plans for a military buildup is never entertained.
Nor is it often pointed out that the U.S. spends roughly
times as much on its military as China — whose population is
more than quadruple ours — and about 10 times as much as
It’s essential, after all, that the United States —
when it’s not stumbling around like a hapless giant —
always be the party responding, not provoking.
“modernization” frame plays into this narrative nicely:
The U.S. military is simply updating its massive arsenal, as you
would your iPhone software — an inevitable and therefore not at
all hostile act.
Words: a framing tool used by
the news business
don’t often tell the back story
Indeed, “modernization” has been a popular framing
used by the media to casually report on the United States’
constantly growing empire for over a hundred years.
Look at the New York Times alone: “Our
to Be Modernized,” a Times headline declared in
“Alliance Plans to Modernize Armed Services,” it reported
in 1953. “Air Force Seeks to Modernize and Strengthen U.S.
Defense System,” was the paper’s report in 1972. In 1980,
a Times story was “Navy Plans to Modernize World
Things the government is somehow never obligated to
include health care, education, and family leave policy.
Instead, the potential funds spent on bringing these programs
to the standard of other wealthy countries are framed as massive tax
hikes, and those who promote such programs are challenged to “find
the money.” They’re often not treated as any part of a
“modern” norm for which the U.S. must strive.
But a slick, sprawling U.S. military — with all the latest
toys and bombs — certainly is. And anyone suggesting otherwise,
the story suggests, is clearly stuck in the past
a contributing analyst for FAIR.org a national
group that has been producing well-documented
criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986.
mission is to “to invigorate the First Amendment
advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing
media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and
dissenting viewpoints. It is also
anti-censorship organization that seeks to
neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are
muzzled. This report first appeared at
Otherwords.org and is
reprinted here with permission.