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America's Chronic War Habit

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America, the world's mightiest military force, the most warring nation on the globe, and the only nation whose president authorizes deadly drone strikes, has a chronic war habit.

I find myself asking: "Since America was born in the womb of war, will she die in the arms of war?" It's not a rhetorical question. A habit passed down through generations dominated and led by the military/industrial/political triumvirate has yet to be kicked. It's reasonable to assume that, if the habit isn't kicked, it could eventually lead to this national epitaph: "She died in the arms of war."

The aim of this short essay is to analyze America's war habit, what its nature is, what sustains it, and what can be done to end it before it leads to America's demise sometime in this century.

Habits: Part of Our "Life's Equation"

Habits are repetitive behavior. That's their nature. They are nearly reflexive, occurring without much or any forethought whenever circumstances trigger them. A chronic habit is an ailment that won't go away on its own.

Habits are a part of the "life equation" for all of humanity. The equation is not mathematical, but it just may be the most important one you will ever encounter, because you own it and it affects your life. Here's what the equation looks like in its general form for everybody:

Personal Characteristics + Circumstances = Behavior + Its Consequences

Of course, every person has his or her own particular life equation, sort of like each person's unique DNA code, but the particulars of the equation can change from day to day. Since a habit is repetitive, what changes about it is the many different forms it can take: for example, going to military parades or scoffing at pacifists like me.

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The life equation is really common sense. It simply means that every one of us behaves in various ways, that those ways have consequences, and that our behavior can be explained by our own personal characteristics and the circumstances in which we happen to find ourselves or that we help create. 

The War Habit Sustained

Habits, even though they are repetitive, need to be sustained. We can look to the left side of the equation for the primary sustainers. There are six of them:

Sustained by Our Psychological Makeup

We are a complex species. Each of us has our own psychological makeup (PMU), and it is complex. Multiply us exponentially, and you get an idea of the complexity. My own field of knowledge, psychology, has been around for over a century, but still does not provide all the answers we need to fully understand our species. Of course, that's not a criticism of the field. 

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Our PMU is like a soup with many ingredients. Swish it around, add some circumstances, and you get us. The PMU ingredients that serve as primary sustainers of the war habit are our needs, values, beliefs, personalities, and knowledge.

Consider our needs. A basic one is the need for physical security. Americans constantly have it drummed into their heads that they can't be secure without the war habit.

Consider our values. For some people, "instrumental" values are stronger than "end" values. People with an ingrained war habit have strong instrumental values.

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Retired organizational psychologist.

Author of The Devil's Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; America's Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying; and Corporate Reckoning Ahead.

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