This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
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This year, 155,754 recruits joined the active-duty U.S. military with the Army leading the way to the tune of more than 64,000 soldiers. Many more Americans, however, went to war.
Virtual war, that is. On a single day last month, to be exact, 3.3 million citizens responded to the call of duty or, more accurately, played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 -- simultaneously, together -- via Microsoft Xbox LIVE. Millions more played that combat-packed, first-person shooter video game on the Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, or personal computers.
While relatively few young Americans smell cordite on the battlefield, increasing numbers of them experience war through ever more screens: televisions, computers, smart phones, and tablets. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is only the most successful of these digital draft calls, and if you're wondering what success means, consider that this virtual portal into World War III "shattered theatrical box office, book, and video game sales records for five-day worldwide sell-through in dollars," according to its producer, Activision Publishing, Inc. That is, over five days it generated $775 million in sales, beating the previous record, set by last year's Call of Duty: Black Ops (which raked in a mere $650 million), and trouncing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (just $550 million in 2009).
Fighting their way through virtual world capitals -- from New York to Paris, London to Berlin -- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 gamers are immersed in a virtual world of war. Then there are those mainlining combat through this year's other popular first-person shooters like Battlefield 3 (which boasts that it provides "unrivaled destruction") or forays into fantasy fighting like Resistance 3 (in which a human resistance movement battles alien invaders in the ruins of 1950s America).
With so much virtual war to worry about, who has time to keep up with other conflicts, like America's real wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, or even the one just now winding down in Iraq? Who among us can spare a moment to ponder the fact that those wars, too, are increasingly being waged by men and women staring at screens, disconnected from the homes they turn into rubble, cars they turn into flaming heaps, and blood they spill thousands of miles from their climate-controlled trailers in the Las Vegas desert? Thankfully, TomDispatch regular Bill Astore has been thinking long and hard about the remote nature of America's wars, while so many of the rest of us are racking up hours liberating Lower Manhattan from the Russians. (Yep, they're the new Occupy Wall Street crowd in Call of Duty!) Nick Turse
Fighting 1% Wars
Why Our Wars of Choice May Prove Fatal
By William J. Astore
America's wars are remote. They're remote from us geographically, remote from us emotionally (unless you're serving in the military or have a close relative or friend who serves), and remote from our major media outlets, which have given us no compelling narrative about them, except that they're being fought by "America's heroes" against foreign terrorists and evil-doers. They're even being fought, in significant part, by remote control -- by robotic drones "piloted" by ground-based operators from a secret network of bases located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the danger of the battlefield.
Their remoteness, which breeds detachment if not complacency at home, is no accident. Indeed, it's a product of the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice, not wars of necessity. It's a product of the fact that we've chosen to create a "warrior" or "war fighter" caste in this country, which we send with few concerns and fewer qualms to prosecute Washington's foreign wars of choice.
The results have been predictable, as in predictably bad. The troops suffer. Iraqi and Afghan innocents suffer even more. And yet we don't suffer, at least not in ways that are easily noticeable, because of that very remoteness. We've chosen -- or let others do the choosing -- to remove ourselves from all the pain and horror of the wars being waged in our name. And that's a choice we've made at our peril, since a state of permanent remote war has weakened our military, drained our treasury, and eroded our rights and freedoms.
Wars of Necessity vs. Wars of Choice
World War II was a war of necessity. In such a war, all Americans had a stake. Adolf Hitler and Nazism had to be defeated; so too did Japanese militarism. Indeed, war goals were that clear, that simple, to state. For that war, we relied uncontroversially on an equitable draft of citizen-soldiers to share the burdens of defense.- Advertisement -
Contrast this with our current 1% wars. In them, 99% of Americans have no stake. The 1% who do are largely ID-card-carrying members of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower so memorably called the "military-industrial complex" in 1961. In the half-century since, that web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and retired military types who have passed through Washington's revolving door has grown ever more gargantuan and tangled, engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington. They are the ones who, in turn, have dispatched another 1% -- the lone percent of Americans in our All-Volunteer Military -- to repetitive tours of duty fighting endless wars abroad.
Unlike previous wars of necessity, the mission behind our wars of choice is nebulous, confusing, and seems in constant flux. Is it a fight against terror (which, as so many have pointed out, is in any case a method, not an enemy)? A fight for oil and other strategic resources? A fight to spread freedom and democracy? A fight to build nations? A fight to show American resolve or make the world safe from al-Qaeda? Who really knows anymore, now that Washington seldom bothers to bring up the "why" question at all, preferring simply to fight on without surcease?
In wars of choice, of course, the mission is whatever our leaders choose it to be, which gives the citizenry (assuming we're watching closely, which we're not) no criteria with which to measure success, let alone determine an endpoint.