It's hard to imagine how I would have done my work at TomDispatch over the last decade without one crucial resource: Brown University's Costs of War Project. After all, that website has offered a remarkable look at America's misbegotten twenty-first-century wars. Since it was launched in 2010, it's been a constant source of crucial information on this country's forever wars with a focus on their costs (in every sense of the term).
If you visit that site now, for instance, you'll find out that a reasonable (if breathtaking) estimate of the cost of those wars over the last two decades would be $8 trillion (not including the $2.2 trillion needed to care for the American veterans of those conflicts over the next 30 years); that the now-ended war in Afghanistan alone cost the American taxpayer $2.313 trillion; that, by the estimate of that project's researchers, close to a million people have already died in those very wars, including almost 400,000 civilians; that those same conflicts have created at least 38 million refugees and displaced people and so, thanks to growing streams of desperate migrants, helped change the politics of the planet (for the worse); and that this country has conducted counterterrorism operations in 85 countries. And mind you, that's only to begin to summarize the work produced by the Costs of War Project.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the way the interests of this website and that project have intersected, TomDispatch pieces have regularly cited information from it and, in the case of Stephanie Savell and today's author, Andrea Mazzarino, have even featured some of the leading scholars and researchers there. Strikingly enough, Mazzarino, a military spouse, therapist, and TomDispatch regular, was one of the founders of that crucial antiwar website and has never hesitated to express her own critical views of America's disastrously damaging conflicts. In her latest piece, she offers a deeply personal sense of what it's felt like to hold such views and still remain associated with the U.S. military and how, in the post-9/11 years, that military has become part and parcel of a distinctly all-American "surveillance" culture. Tom
Eyes Are Always on You
Life in the Post-9/11 Military
I know what it means to be watched all too carefully, a phenomenon that's only grown worse in the war-on-terror years. I'm a strange combination, I suspect, being both a military spouse and an anti-war-on-terror activist. As I've discovered, the two sit uncomfortably in what still passes for one life. In this country in these years, having eyes on you has, sadly enough, become a common and widespread phenomenon. When it's the government doing it, it's called "surveillance." When it's your peers or those above you in the world of the military spouse, there's no word for it at all.
Now, be patient with me while I start my little exploration of such an American state at the most personal level before moving on to the way in which we now live in ever more of a yes surveillance state.
A Navy Wife's Perspective on Military Life, Post-9/11
"The military sounds like the mafia. Your husband's rank determines how powerful you are." That was a good friend's response, a decade or so ago, when a more experienced Navy wife shamed me for revealing via text message that my husband's nuclear submarine would soon return to port. Her spouse had been assigned to the same boat for a year longer than mine and she headed up the associated Family Readiness Group, or FRG.
Such FRGs, led by officers' wives, are all-volunteer outfits that are supposed to support the families of the troops assigned to any boat. In a moment of thoughtless excitement, I had indeed texted another spouse, offering a hand in celebrating our husbands' imminent return, the sort of party that, as the same woman had told me, "All wives help with to thank our guys for what they do for us. It's key to command morale."
She had described the signs other wives had been making under the direction of both the captain's wife's and hers, as well as the phone chain they had set up to let us know the moment the boat would arrive so that we could rush to the base to greet it. In response to my message, she'd replied in visibly angry form (that is, in all capital letters), "NEVER, EVER INDICATE IN ANY WAY OVER TEXT THAT THE BOAT WILL BE RETURNING SOON. YOU ARE ENDANGERING THEIR LIVES." She added that I would be excluded from all boat activities if I ever again so much as hinted that such a return was imminent.
Alone in my apartment in a sparsely populated town near the local military base, my heart raced with the threat of further isolation. What would happen because of what I'd done?
And yes, I'd blundered, but not, as became apparent to me, in any way that truly mattered or actually endangered anything or anyone at all nothing, in other words, that couldn't have been dealt with in a kinder, less Orwellian fashion, given that this was a supposedly volunteer group.
It was my first little introduction to being watched and the pressure that goes with such surveillance in the world of the military spouse. Years later, when my husband was assigned to another submarine, an officer's wife at the same naval base had burst into tears telling me about the surprise visit she'd just been paid by three women married to officers of higher rank on other boats stationed at that base.
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