Oh, and he messed up the debate this week because of a bad format, bad camera angles, and bad coaches. Never mind that four years ago he could talk about closing Gitmo, ending the very mindset that gets us into wars, providing universal healthcare, restoring the rule of law, reforming NAFTA, creating the right to organize in the workplace, ending the Bush tax cuts, and so forth. Now, you can blame his failure to actually attempt any of those things on the Republicans or Rahm Emanuel or his dog Bo, but all the post-debate analysis ignores the real way in which Obama must now debate with one hand tied behind his back. If there were debate insurance, neither candidate could buy it given their pre-existing positions.
OK, so I just meant to say congratulations on 30 years and ended up on a five-page-long tangent. Now what I really wanted to do was to go back further than 30 years.
One place to look for the origins of war, as well as religion and many other things, including goose bumps and the little muscles that make hair stand up on the back of your neck if you have any hair on the back of your neck, is in early foreign relations -- that is, relations between tribes of humans and the ferocious wild beasts that liked to eat them. As Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out so well in her book "Blood Rites," early humans were not so much hunters as hunted. The supposed weapons marks on early human bones turn out to be teeth marks. We were what's for dinner. We lived in fear, and we still do. Fear still makes us do things that made sense then and no longer make any sense at all. We're easily moved by dangers that resemble those our ancestors faced, and largely indifferent to greater dangers that kill more of us but don't resemble predatory attacks. More of us die from unsafe workplaces, lack of healthcare, cigarettes, automobiles, too much McDonald's, etc., than from terrorism. But which one scares us?
Bears and lions couldn't be reasoned with, and so, preemptive war carried a certain logic that it lacks in intrahuman relations today. But when the wild beasts had been largely eliminated, war took on its true purpose, the purpose it has fulfilled right up through those taxes you earned yesterday to pay for nuclear submarines or that groping I got at the airport this morning. The purpose of war became the propagation of war itself.
Which came first, the wars or the weapons? The answer is the weapons. They came for defense from animals. But when the animals had been killed off, the warrior class that didn't feed itself or arm itself but lived as parasitically as Mitt's vision of 47% of us, didn't want to just give up the warrior status any more than a president would. A ready substitute for tigers and leopards was found in the warriors of other human tribes. By fighting each other, warriors could continue their accustomed lifestyle. Which is not to say that they sat down and planned it that way together, any more than Americans sat down and planned to waste 40% of their food each year. Small conflicts between tribes were no doubt more easily escalated without a common four-footed enemy to fight off. The substitution happened. The animals became gods. Animal killings of humans became intentional human sacrifices. And other humans took the place of the animal enemies.
These many years later, labor unions (with a few wonderful exceptions like the Chicago teachers) go on pointless one-day strikes as a vestigial reenactment of strikes that once halted production. And fathers give their daughters away to grooms who carry them over the threshold, even though daughters aren't owned and brides aren't kidnapped anymore. Similarly, we continue to glorify war, to speak of the war dead as making the ultimate sacrifice, to imagine that war is a means of keeping us safe, and to suppose that by funding war profiteers we hold off the menace of foreigners, who are still depicted as wild animals in editorial cartoons. We sanctify the troops even as the warrior class has been shifted from the wealthy to the poor and is in many ways treated as that would lead one to expect. Our homeless shelters are full of discarded warriors, revealing clearly which group is master and which servant. War as it was is no more. But old ways can hang on tenaciously.
The history of war is of a behavior that has been spotty and sporadic. War has only been around for a small fraction of human existence. And as long as it's been around, it's been a part of some cultures but not others. Nations have limited and eliminated war. China and Japan have had periods of peace. One in Japan lasted from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century as culture flourished until the United States came knocking. Costa Rica has thrown away its military -- put it in a museum in fact. Numerous nations never go to war, or participate after a campaign of bribes and threats. Coalitions of the willing are not coalitions of the eager. Some tribes in pre-Columbian America, Australia, and elsewhere did not know war. During a lengthy cold war, two nations chose to avoid actual war. Western Europe has chosen not to go to war with itself for 65 years. Some cultures are so far removed from war that their people cannot even understand it. A Batek man in Malaysia was asked why his ancestors did not use their poison darts (which they had for hunting animals) to shoot slave-raiders. His shocked reply was "Because it would kill them!"
Now there's opposition to the motto of "Live Free or Die" if I've ever heard it. These people's motto must be "Be enslaved rather than kill." Of course, both of those attitudes are easily conceived of in too-simplistic a manner, by neglected the power of nonviolent action to resist tyranny without killing -- and often without prematurely dying either.
The idea that war is in our genes is an incoherent proposition because so many people have lived and do live without war. Taking part in it traumatizes us, whereas avoidance of war -- war deprivation -- has never given anyone post traumatic stress disorder. But war in the genes is an incoherent concept for another reason as well. Namely, humans are free, no matter how they behave or what they put on their license plates, they are free. We can choose not to eat or drink or have sex or even breathe. There is nothing we are compelled to do. The idea that we could be internally compelled to join together to construct such an elaborate activity as war is absurd. Many have inclinations that lead them willingly toward war when it's offered in the absence of anything better, but that is a very different thing from having no choice in the matter.
Wars used to profit the victors with territory, slaves, and treasures. Now wars only profit specific war profiteers, not their whole nation. Wars and war preparation drain away the resources of a nation, and because one of those resources traded away for war is education, we aren't able to recognize what is happening. We see people with jobs at BAE or in the military and we imagine that without war spending they'd have no jobs. In fact, military spending produces fewer jobs than most ways our government could spend that money, and even than tax cuts for working people. The choice is not war jobs or nothing. The choice is war jobs or peace jobs and more of them. In fact the choice is peace jobs and more of them or war jobs and economic collapse " and war. Beyond that, in fact, the choice is jobs in a massive emergency campaign to save our natural environment or war jobs and economic collapse and environmental collapse and civic and cultural collapse and war. This is not a difficult choice. The Senator Ayotte, McCain, Graham road show is right to finally say we need government spending, but is pushing the only kind that doesn't help.
The vast majority of Americans want the war on Afghanistan ended, and this Sunday it will enter its 12th year. Some may be convinced that the 12th year is really going to be the charm. But President Obama wants to continue this war for over two more years beyond that, and then at a smaller scale for 10 years beyond that. Two years is longer than entire wars used to take, but Obama calls this the "winding down" process.
Of course the so-called surge ended, or so we were recently told. But let's remember what happened to troop levels in Afghanistan. Obama promised to escalate them if elected, and we elected him. So, early in 2009, selecting this as the promise he would keep, Obama sent 21,000 so-called combat troops and 13,000 support troops and at least 5,000 mercenaries, plus other contractors. There was no major media debate or Congressional debate. And the fact that this had happened was erased from all memory. Obama had sent the first 17,000 prior to holding his first meeting to try to develop any plan or purpose for them to serve. Sending the troops was an end in itself. It was war for war's sake. Not only did it go unquestioned, but it no longer exists in recent U.S. history. It's gone, vanished from all reporting.
Then, in the fall of 2009, there was a big media debate over whether Obama should escalate the war, as if he hadn't already done so. It was largely a public debate between the commander-in-chief and his generals (who should probably have been dismissed for insubordination, as we are supposed to have civilian control over the military), but members of Congress popped up in cameo roles. In fact, it began to look like a Congressional vote on funding a so-called surge might not be easily passed. So, what happened?
Congress passed a standard massive military bill and put off the surge funding vote until 2010, while Obama went ahead with the surge unfunded, sending another 30,000 troops plus support troops plus mercenaries and contractors. Once Obama had more-or-less agreed with his generals, the media reporting and polling ended. The story was complete, the debate over.
The surge funding was relabeled war funding, and Congress -- now with the choice to fund or not fund something that had already happened -- passed it easily. Obama then continued to send more troops with less fanfare, raising troop levels from about 34,000 when he took over from Bush to about 100,000 plus an even larger number of contractors, etc. The so-called "surge" troops were the only ones that counted in the corporate media because they had been a news story.
So a week and a half ago, the media told us that the surge was finally over. There were then 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, or twice as many as when Obama had taken office, and somewhere around 100,000 contractors, who are rarely mentioned and about a quarter of whom are from the United States, plus of course that new favorite form of Washington warrior: drones. Drones fit nicely into a policy of never talking to people. Bush not only bothered to lie to Congress before his wars, but he negotiated an end to one of them. Iraq is still a disaster. Afghanistan is worse and could remain worse following the departure of the last U.S. helicopter from the roof. But it would look weak for our government to talk to Afghans or Iranians . . . or to Osama bin Laden in a court of law.