“What if someone gave a war and Nobody came?”
― Allen Ginsberg, The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971
“Aim high, fly – fight – win!”
“The few, the proud.”
“Forged by the sea.”
Andrea Mazzarino at the TomDispatch site wrote an opinion piece last week about how militarization has become frighteningly widespread in the United States. In effect, she said that our endless wars are coming home. As a military spouse, she knows what the armed-to-the-teeth, renegade militias in this country are capable of. Her fears are better-informed than those of civilian citizens. She, her husband, their friends, families, and all their counterparts throughout the armed forces can accurately envision worst-case scenarios for the United States, because they have firsthand knowledge.
Also at TomDispatch, Mandy Smithberger just published an article about the utterly outrageous level of current and projected military spending, especially in light of the ravages of the pandemic and the unmet material needs of our citizens.
These two commentaries bookended my thoughts in the last couple days. I had posted a comment in response to Ms. Mazzarino’s take on our current situation:
“The U.S. military and its enablers and mouthpieces elicit support via sloganeering and flashy commercials. ‘Be all you can be,’ and so on. Or, as in the Bush II parlance, ‘Fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.’ The MIC has convinced a large swath of the country that our undeclared wars overseas are keeping this country safe. Somehow, reducing villages in the Middle East to rubble and murdering thousands of innocent civilians is ‘saving democracy’ in the U.S. Unless we can eliminate that ‘patriotic’ mindset that is so prevalent in this country, and do away with the delusion that killing people in illegal conflicts on foreign soil is ‘serving one’s country,’ instead of merely serving war profiteers and their captive politicians, the scenario that Mazzarino laments will never end.”
Wars have been characterized as ennobling as long as they’ve been fought. Military service is constantly glorified. Today, recruits (formerly, draftees) are sent to other countries to complete missions on the battlefield (or in the air or on the sea) in the name of saving the country from the latest bloodthirsty foe. Countless movies have been made featuring this or that Hollywood star braving enemy fire or parachuting into combat or crouching in a submarine while depth charges boom. The banners whip in the breeze, the uniforms are crisp, the faces resolved and brave. Very seldom do films portray the depth of the horror and ugliness, while in real life, we no longer even see caskets returning on planes. All the death and anguish are conveniently swept under the rug, leaving only the high-sounding phrases about honor and patriotism and service. This practice is consciously dishonest and dangerous to our society.
As for the manufactured reasons for war and its expenditures, in a high school history class, I was taught about the domino theory, used as a pretext for U.S. involvement and escalation in Vietnam. I learned that if the Communists were allowed to spread from China into other Asian countries, pretty soon they’d swallow up the continent, and their next target could very well be South America. If we didn’t stop them there, we’d be fighting them in our own streets, so the teaching went.
Obviously, Bush II, Cheney, et. al. took that load of malarkey and revamped it to use for purposes of invading Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, the terrorists managed to attack targets on our own soil, so unless we went over there and visited shock and awe upon those people, we remained in danger. It was irrelevant that the 9/11 attackers were neither Iraqis nor Afghanis. Nevertheless, I’ve spoken with people who were quite convinced that Iraq would declare war on the U.S. and attempt to kill us all. We saw the various presentations about weapons of mass destruction, all very ominously staged by experts, people who should have been worthy of trust. I watched dozens of news reports, but never once heard anyone ask the quite logical question of whether Saddam Hussein was suicidal. If he was not, why would he even contemplate deployment of WMD? Any attack on his part would have resulted in almost instantaneous retaliation on an unstoppable scale, so….other than the desire to be personally annihilated, along with most of his countrymen, what would have been his reasoning? The Bush cabal eschewed such logic. Instead, they pounded the drums of fear for months, ceaselessly, despite the biggest anti-war demonstrations in history. Much of the country was against the invasion, but the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly for its authorization.
The truth is that, in the seventy-five years since World War II, there’s been no real threat to this country (leaving aside the Cuban Missile Crisis). Nothing even close. No opposing naval forces massed off our coasts, no troop build-ups in Mexico or Canada, or even in the part of Russia that Sarah Palin could see from her window. Red Dawn has never been more than a warmonger’s fantasy. The lack of threat doesn’t matter, however. It’s all about the money to be made. Because there’s arguably been no reason for the United States to send troops anywhere in over seven decades, wars must necessarily be sold by fear, if the public is to buy into them. If Joe and Jane Average actually knew that their hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were being flushed down a rat hole merely so that military contractors could profit, they might bestir themselves to yank the plug on the conveyor belt of boondoggles.
The United States, then, has developed a unique system to justify endless wars, with each aspect magnifying and supplementing the other. There’s the continuing appeal to saving democracy, serving the country, and achieving glory in battle to attract more bodies to conduct the wars. Then there’s the 24/7 propaganda machine, cranking out bulletins to ratchet up the fear quotient, keeping the public supportive of the 800 military bases and operations on almost every continent. If there is ever to be an end to the cycle, the noble façade needs to be dismantled first. The entire population of potential recruits needs to be disabused of the notion that they’re saving their country or bringing democracy to the downtrodden. War needs to be stripped of its glory. Only then will young people stop offering themselves up as cannon fodder. Once the false shine is gone, then the fear bandwagon has to be smashed. I don’t know how to bring it about, but news outlets have to tell the truth about nonexistent enemies’ menacing our way of life. There are enough genuine perils represented by climate change, poverty, disease, hunger, and our own homegrown extremists that there’s no need for the chimera of threat produced and sold by military contractors and ambitious politicians. We have to fight to end the endless wars, or we will be defeated by our own foolishness and hubris.