FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Two Americas

by BRIAN M. DOWNING

Divisions between red and blue America and between rich and poor are well known. But another one, related but not quite identical, exists as well. There is a deep divide between those who honorably live the traditions surrounding war and those who dishonorably capitalize on them, between those who fight wars and those who plan them. This divide, troubling if not infuriating to most veterans, is perhaps even more dangerous than the others.

Venerable beliefs regarding war permeate American life: in professed war aims, news stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, the ageless repartee of soldiers, and tributes we pay to those who do not return. From our nation’s birth ­ not coincidentally in war ­ these sentiments have been with us, providing a cultural basis not only for military service but also for patriotism. War defends home and nation, instills honor and courage. The wisdom of leaders is proven, their fortitude annealed. It establishes continuity through the generations, from Valley Forge to Antietam, the Argonne Forest to Dak To, and beyond. War service is sacred, even redemptive, absolving transgressions, and should one’s blood be shed, imparting lasting honor. War ends injustice and spreads progress.

Drawing from a national reservoir of war traditions is necessary for any armed conflict ­ just or not, in the national interest or elective quagmire. War traditions are vital parts of local community, the armed forces, and national integration. And they must not be used thoughtlessly or in any manner that erodes them.

The breadth and depth of war traditions have varied over American history, waning after the First World War, peaking after the Second, declining again after Vietnam, but returning, at least in parts of America, with the spate of quick small conflicts and the restoration of tradition in the eighties and nineties. We are fortunate they were with us in 2001. But the honorability of later use, when we were told we went to war to protect our nation, end tyranny, and build democracy in the Middle East, is dubious. Noble intents were repeated so insistently, at the outset and for years afterwards, and by such callow politicos, as to invite suspicion.

Not long ago, there was no division between those who plan wars and those who fight them. Wars were embarked upon, usually only reluctantly, by leaders in whom war traditions dwelled. They dwelled in them because of forebears who had served, their own military service, and memories of those, from many social strata, with whom they had shared a hard education. Instilled in them, as deeply as a creed, was empathy for young soldiers’ lives, and it weighed on them before mobilizing war traditions and sending young people, including many of their own family and caste, to their hard educations.

Few observers of social trends have failed to note that war traditions today thrive mainly in working and lower-middle classes and have only atrophied forms in more privileged strata. In the think tanks, campaign offices, and lobbies of Washington, they are dead. Nonetheless, the inhabitants of those bureaus ­ the neo-conservatives foremost among them ­ diligently study war traditions and their utility. They conjure them, repeatedly and seemingly passionately. They invoke these traditions but never lived them, call for war but skillfully avoided serving in one.

Their speechwriters and consultants help them with the appearance of compassion, but the words and affect are hollow. They regard the lives of young soldiers, with whom their upbringings and careers brought little acquaintance and inculcated more than a little condescension, as low-value chips in an immense and abstract game they profess to be masters of ­ Risk and Strategy by other means.

The divide between planners and fighters is more harmful than that dividing red and blue, rich and poor. Indeed, many of our foreign policy troubles stem from the inattention of the public to world affairs and the canniness of adepts in rallying war traditions and channeling them into directions they see fit, irrelevant as they might be to American security. War is too serious to be left to them. And our young people should not be low-value chips in their great games.

They exhort us, from the comfort of Washington, to hold fast to a war with little prospect of progress, let alone victory. Their catch phrases “stay the course,” “see it through,” and “remember the fallen” play on war traditions in order to deflect criticism while they scurry about for more marketable lines and a way to blame others for failure. Presumably they seek something that will keep war traditions intact for later use.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is a veteran of the Vietnam War and author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

© BRIAN M. DOWNING

 

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of  The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com (Copyright 2015 Brian M Downing) 

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail