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Tomgram: William Astore, War Is Strictly Business in Twenty-First Century America

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Here's the strange thing: almost 20 years into a series of chaotic, staggeringly expensive, failing wars across significant parts of the planet, the U.S. military "the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known" (George W. Bush), aka "the finest fighting force that the world has ever known" (Barack Obama) continues to eat taxpayer dollars as if they were nothing at all. According to the Costs of War Project, the U.S. has sunk almost $2.3 trillion dollars into the failed Afghan War from which it's now retreating and a minimum of $6.4 trillion into all the major conflicts of the Global War on Terror (not even counting future costs caring for the war's vets). And all of this happened in years in which little indeed went into American domestic infrastructure. And yet, even as it leaves Afghanistan, the Biden administration is actually upping the already stratospheric Pentagon budget, and Republicans in Congress, who normally fight spending a cent on anyone other than corporations and billionaires, are urging the president to spend even more. Worse yet, the American public generally seems remarkably satisfied with such spending. Somehow, what the U.S. military machine has done over all these years just never seems to sink in here.

The latest polling figures show that only 14% of Americans saw this country's "defense" efforts (as they're always called, despite those "forever wars" in distant lands) as too much and would like to see military spending lowered. Half of all Americans consider the U.S. defense posture "just right" and 35% would like more of the same (up from 25% last year). In January, a Gallup poll indicated that 74% of Americans were "very or somewhat satisfied with the nation's military strength and preparedness" and, in that context, the military always has a sky-high positive image in polling here and it only rose in pandemic year 2020.

It's as if Americans were simply not living in the world that the U.S. military was operating in and, in a sense, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore, who runs the Bracing Views blog, suggests today, they may not be. That military and the "industrial complex" that goes with it may, in fact, represent another universe entirely, one that Americans look at from afar as if it were all happening to someone else as, in a sense (ask the Afghans, Iraqis, or Somalis), it is. Tom

Endless War Is A Feature of Our National Programming
On Pulling the Plug on the War Machine

By

Why don't America's wars ever end?

I know, I know: President Joe Biden has announced that our combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 9/11 of this year, marking the 20th anniversary of the colossal failure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to defend America.

Of course, that other 9/11 in 2001 shocked us all. I was teaching history at the U.S. Air Force Academy and I still recall hushed discussions of whether the day's body count would exceed that of the Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day of the Civil War. (Fortunately, bad as it was, it didn't.)

Hijacked commercial airliners, turned into guided missiles by shadowy figures our panicky politicians didn't understand, would have a profound impact on our collective psyche. Someone had to pay and among the first victims were Afghans in the opening salvo of the misbegotten Global War on Terror, which we in the military quickly began referring to as the GWOT. Little did I know then that such a war would still be going on 15 years after I retired from the Air Force in 2005 and 80 articles after I wrote my first for TomDispatch in 2007 arguing for an end to militarism and forever wars like the one still underway in Afghanistan.

Over those years, I've come to learn that, in my country, war always seems to find a way, even when it goes badly very badly, in fact, as it did in Vietnam and, in these years, in Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed across much of the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa. Not coincidentally, those disastrous conflicts haven't actually been waged in our name. No longer does Congress even bother with formal declarations of war. The last one came in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. During World War II, Americans united to fight for something like national security and a just cause. Today, however, perpetual American-style war simply is. Congress postures, but does nothing decisive to stop it. In computer-speak, endless war is a feature of our national programming, not a bug.

Two pro-war parties, Republicans and Democrats, have cooperated in these decades to ensure that such wars persist" and persist and persist. Still, they're not the chief reason why America's wars are so difficult to end. Let me list some of those reasons for you. First, such wars are beyond profitable, notably to weapons makers and related military contractors. Second, such wars are the Pentagon's reason for being. Let's not forget that, once upon a time, the present ill-named Department of Defense was so much more accurately and honestly called the Department of War. Third, if profit and power aren't incentive enough, wars provide purpose and meaning even as they strengthen authoritarian structures in society and erode democratic ones. Sum it all up and war is what America now does, even if the reasons may be indefensible and the results so regularly abysmal.

Support Our Troops! (Who Are They, Again?)

The last truly American war was World War II. And when it ended in 1945, the citizen-soldiers within the U.S. military demanded rapid demobilization and they got it. But then came the Iron Curtain, the Cold War, the Korean War, fears of nuclear Armageddon (that nearly came to fruition during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962), and finally, of course, Vietnam. Those wars were generally not supported not with any fervor anyway by the American people, hence the absence of congressional declarations. Instead, they mainly served the interests of the national security state, or, if you prefer, the military-industrial-congressional complex.

That's precisely why President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his grave warning about that Complex in his farewell address in 1961. No peacenik, Ike had overseen more than his share of military coups and interventions abroad while president, so much so that he came to see the faults of the system he was both upholding and seeking to restrain. That was also why President John F. Kennedy called for a more humble and pacific approach to the Cold War in 1963, even as he himself failed to halt the march toward a full-scale war in Southeast Asia. This is precisely why Martin Luther King, Jr., truly a prophet who favored the fierce urgency of peace, warned Americans about the evils of war and militarism (as well as racism and materialism) in 1967. In the context of the enormity of destruction America was then visiting on the peoples of Southeast Asia, not for nothing did he denounce this country as the world's greatest purveyor of violence.

Collectively, Americans chose to ignore such warnings, our attention being directed instead toward spouting patriotic platitudes in support of "our" troops. Yet, if you think about it for a moment, you'll realize those troops aren't really ours. If they were, we wouldn't need so many bumper stickers reminding us to support them.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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