The good thing about war

Sam Smith

There is some good news. This is the first time in modern history that the American public has gotten its leaders to back off on their war plans – at least for a while.

Even if not permanent, what has happened in the past few days has been extraordinary. But, although we don’t talk about it, this achievement didn’t come out of nowhere. Quietly, and without media or official admission, our approach to war has been changing for some time. And as the charts below show the change has been dramatic.

The nature of war has also changed dramatically, symbolized by, among other things, the increased use of drones that – capricious, illegal and deadly as they may be – don’t come close to another Normandy Invasion, Battle of the Sommes or even the Vietnam war.

And it is hard to conceive, in earlier times, of an American leader promising in defense of an attack on a country that it will “unbelievably small.”

Yet if you look at frequency rather than casualties, there is a different story. One of a country obsessed with throwing its weight around in foreign lands even if the results – including nearly three dozen bombing attacks since World War II – have been overwhelmingly stunning failures. While less deadly, America seems more war prone.

But contrary to what the media and the rest of the establishment tell you, the general public is sometimes ahead of its leaders. Consider the the drop in births, in a part a voluntary understanding of the risks and costs of excessive children. Or popularly driven ecological issues such as recycling and local food. Or, in the case of war, the successful elimination of a military draft, now about four decades ago. Just consider how little the draft is even mentioned these days.

The revolt against American involvement in Syria is an off spring of the end of the draft and the lessons we learned about war in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It reflects a public that has lost its enthusiasm for war, and for some extremely good reasons such as the examples our leaders have forced upon us in recent years.

So why do we keep having wars? There are several reasons

– War has moved from being a matter of conquest to one of control. As our industries increasingly move offshore, our politician feel compelled to protect their campaign contributors even if they are also economic deserters. If you think of the world not in terms of countries but of markets, if ou want safe pipelines and not colonies, the nature of war changes dramatically. For example, we do not invade countries with tens of thousands of troops, but we have between 700 and 800 bases in over a 100 foreign lands.

– Because the nature of war has changed the level of elite paranoia in this country has increased dramatically. I mentioned this some time back in connection with the Boston bombings:

Writing in US News about the Boston bombing, Paul Shinkman notes, “Law enforcement officials believed it was only a matter of time before the improvised explosive devices that have defined the conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq and even Northern Ireland would be used against Americans on their home soil.”

A few months ago, I was talking with a friend who had fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the major WWII conflict that killed 19,000 Americans, wounded 47,000 others and left 23,000 missing or captured. He noted that he felt great sympathy with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I asked him to elaborate and he said that when the soldiers of his era left the battlefield, they also left the danger for awhile. In Iraq and Afghanistan there was no such relief. All you had to do was walk down the block and an IED might explode.

The melding of domestic law enforcement and military behavior is not accidental. In the minds of our leaders we are in perpetual conflict.

– Finally, wars are the stimulus package for the biggest slice of our budget: the Pentagon and its contractors. The industrial-military complex is America’s largest recipient of welfare and the only one that the conservatives don’t attack. There is no longer any real military strategy, just military subsidies.

It will probably take decades to wear the practice of war down significantly further, but we should at least be cheered by the fact that the people of this land have shown that they can scare Obama and Kerry as much as can Assad and Putin.

Think of war as the slavery of the 21st century and recall what a long struggle that predecessor required to finally collapse.

Meanwhile, don’t let anyone tell you it’s just up to the White House or Congress. Progress comes from us despite their objections.

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