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Afghanistan and War Weariness

By       Message HPatricia Hynes       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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CBS polls find that the majority of Americans no longer support the war. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has called for a timetable to withdraw from Afghanistan. Conservative columnist George Will has called the current war strategy a failure and proposes an offshore counterinsurgency plan. Op-ed pieces decrying the war are surfacing in the major print media.

In the weeks ahead our military involvement in Afghanistan will come under more scrutiny and heat. The Pentagon has been briefed on the report prepared by U.S.Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal regarding our future involvement there. President Obama will be briefed for discussion the week of September 7. A recommendation for more troops is expected, although Vice-President Biden counsels against it. And grassroots groups are planning a major national anti-war protest next month with the epicenter in Washington.

For many of us, Afghanistan has been off the national radar screen for too long; so this is important news. But war fatigue is not new news; we are still recovering from it in Iraq. Further, this ad-hoc public sentiment -- the wearying of another war with no gains, timetable, or exit strategy - will scarcely plumb the depths of the U.S. military reach into culture, economy, and global geography. That is, unless the call to end this war also takes on the metastasis of militarism.

The Cultural Looking Glass of War

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War mirrors the culture of a country. U.S. militarism -- from its training, tactics, and logistics to its reasons for going to war and its weapons of war -- is distinctly shaped by core elements of American identity. These determining cultural forces are, according to military historian Victor Davis Hanson: manifest destiny; frontier mentality; rugged individualism and what he calls a "muscular independence"; unfettered market capitalism; the ideal of meritocracy (no matter what one's class, one can rise to the top in the U.S. military); and a fascination with machines, modernity, and mobility. All converge to generate bigger, better and more destructive war technology. He adds that the integration of military into society is smoothed through the GI bill for housing and education and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Given American cultural values, what is the future of American warfare? According to Hanson, two models of war will predominate. Small-scale rapid and nimble war will involve killing from a distance with drones or unmanned aerial vehicles and, likely, robots on the battlefield (permitting war anywhere on the globe without U.S. fatalities). For larger conflicts, U.S. military power is strategically positioned on every continent and on all the seas. More than seven hundred overseas bases with about million soldiers, civilian contractors and families in 130 countries are listed by the Department of Defense in its "Base Structure Report." Others estimate the number of overseas bases to be more like 1000. (1) The bases trace an arc from the Andes to North Africa across the Middle East to Indonesia, the Philippines and North Korea, sweeping over all major oil resources.

The proposed U.S. 2009 DOD defense budget lines up pretty symmetrically with this military outlook for the 21st century: Military "muscular independence" for big wars and military mobility and remote battlefield technology for small wars.

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Weapons Expansion and Pentagon Bulk Up

U.S. weapons sales abroad have soared since 2000, with arms sales to more than 100 countries many of which flagrantly abuse the human rights of their citizens. Two-thirds of the world's conflicts and wars involve weapons supplied by the United States. "Weapons could be the single biggest export item over the next ten years," according to an arms industry consultant. (

The expansion in the weapons industry parallels the massive bulk up in the Pentagon over the past 8 years. Discretionary military spending exceeds spending for education, environment, housing, justice, transportation, job training and agriculture, energy and economic development. The Pentagon has 30 times the funding of the State Department for non-military foreign aid and operations, relegating diplomacy abroad to a second tier status. Of all the federal agencies, only the Pentagon develops blueprints and "visions" for decades to come, a presumption of power unseen elsewhere in government. With the metastasis in mission, money, and footprint, U.S. militarism eludes the checks and balances of the country -- despite growing war weariness.


1. Chalmers Johnson. The Sorrows of Empire. New York: Metropolitan /Owl Book. 2004.

Chalmers Johnson. Nemesis: The Last Days of the AmericanRepublic. New York: Holt and Company. 2006

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H. Patricia Hynes, a retired Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health, is on the board of the TraprockCenter for Peace and Justice


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H. Patricia Hynes, a retired Professor of Environmental Health from Boston University School of Public Health, is on the board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice

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