The military and modernity

Red states

In his brilliant history of the US war in Vietnam, which I’ve been reading desultorily, Gabriel Kolko writes:

By early 1963 … W. W. Rostow had initiated discussions among Washington planners of the military’s role in the Third World, bringing the then fashionable military “modernization theory” to the executive’s attention. In effect, he argued, the reliance on civil authorities in the Third World after 1945 had been an error. The military establishments were far better transmitters of Western values and the most promising modernizers of the traditional orders. And because the United States controlled aid to them as well as direct training, Rostow urged much greater exploitation of these levers to advance US interests. Its “benevolent authoritarianism” would both create national unity and hold power in trust for the less competent civilians. … In Indonesia or Vietnam there were few options to a reliance on the military; the idea was then, as it is today, quite respectable among decision makers.

Kolko wrote this in 1985, at the Reagan administration’s height. But when you look at the regimes the US supports now in places like Egypt or Uganda, one has to wonder how differently the decision makers imagine “modernity” today.