• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The American Way of War

The most striking fact about the United States of America is not its supposed founding principles — more often lauded than observed — but how often “the greatest country on earth” has waged war. If we count wars against internal “enemies” (i.e., the Indians), covert foreign wars, and aid to other states’ aggressive external and internal wars, we can see the United States has been at war almost continuously since it broke free from Britain.  By one estimate this nation has been at war 214 out of the 228 years since the Constitution took effect — that’s 94 percent of the time — and there were wars during the Articles of Confederation period too. Contrary to popular misconception, the war state did not begin in 1945. From the start, war was an acceptable means to national policy ends, whether to open markets or to install friendly regimes.

It’s a gross understatement to call this record shameful. It’s criminal when you calculate the predictable butcher’s bill — including the killing of noncombatants, deliberately targeted and so-called collateral damage — not to mention the destruction of scarce resources that would have made all people better off.

 

Do Americans have any clue? The information is readily available, but you have to want to look for it. Most do not. They don’t want to know the truth. They’d rather laud “the troops” for their heroism and hear pundits describe America as a “force for good in the world.” It’s a state-worshiping worldview that resembles religion from which the ruling elite profits politically and financially.

Of course, that word — America — is intentionally ambiguous. It includes American inventors, entrepreneurs, workers, traders, and all kinds of artists, who have benefited the world. But it also includes self-serving politicians and military bureaucrats, their chests ostentatiously adorned with ribbons, who could not do a tiny fraction of the damage they do if they did not have the state’s machinery of violence at their disposal. How many voluntary contributions could they have raised to finance their wars and domestic oppression? If that isn’t an indictment of the state in itself, I don’t know what is. It also takes some of the gloss off “limited government,” seeing as how it would be “limited” to the military, the police, and the jailers. Libertarians have long argued over whether they should “hate the state,” but how can you not hate it once you have seen its destructive essence?

Some of America’s many wars eventually lost favor with the public — Vietnam is a case in point, though not until two million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans had perished  — but the harshest thing that you can say about such wars in polite company is that they were well-meant mistakes committed in “noble causes.” Call the wars criminal and you will be struck from the invitation list. You certainly won’t be published in the respectable U.S.-based media. If you’re a famous investigative reporter with a long track record of documenting American war crimes, you’ll be banished to the London Review of Books or Germany’s Die Welt.

But let’s be fair about this. War does have its uses besides making a few folks rich and powerful. It’s good for distracting the people, who may otherwise get fed up with the obvious scam we call government. Shakespeare understood this, as he showed when he had Henry IV tell his son, “Therefore, my Harry, be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out, may waste the memory of the former days” (Henry IV Pt. 2). Thus the need for a constant supply of invented enemies, with Russia always available for the lead villain.

Trump, the alleged Great Disrupter, may not read, but he has demonstrated that he understands Henry’s advice. Trump’s attacks on Syrian and allied forces have won him plaudits even from avowed political enemies. That those enemies have quickly gone back to hating him probably only taught him that he needs to do more of the same. His latest warning to Bashar al-Assad seems to indicate this. So does his statement about Qatar, which stands accused — can you imagine it? — of aiding terrorists by Trump’s new friends in Saudia Arabia. His cynical campaign against Iran is another indication of where he’s heading. And then there’s Ukraine. And North Korea.

What’s more likely to distract Americans from their problems, tweaking the health-insurance rules or a venturing into another splendid war? There are no Purple Hearts for fixing the infrastructure.

If we step back we might appreciate the big picture. What kind of country spends so much time and money making, facilitating, provoking, and underwriting war? Certainly not a progressive — in the everyday sense — or liberal — in the original Adam Smith sense — country. (The original liberals despised everything connected with war.) We Americans thankfully do not live in a totalitarian state. There is still a line the politicians not to cross. But that line has been moving — and not in favor of liberty. Where were the crowds of protesters when the news broke that the government was spying on Americans en masse in the “war on terror” — something we learned, thanks to Edward Snowden, just after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, swore it was not happening? Not only were there no protests, Clapper today routinely appears on the news networks as a credible source on how Russia is waging cyber war on America. That speaks volumes. Lying under oath if you believe it’s for national security is just fine. We’ll believe whatever you tell us next as if it never happened.

Afghanistan has replaced Vietnam as the site of America’s longest war, but Americans have long stopped paying attention. The war party knows what this means: keep American casualties low, call the troops “advisers,” and a war can continue indefinitely — even occasional surges will be acceptable. Thanks to special ops and drones, wars can be extended to or intensified in other countries with impunity: Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and who knows where else. The casualties and hardships inflicted on indigenous populations don’t count. They are only foreigners, brown-skinned Muslims. Besides, didn’t we get attacked on 9/11 while minding our own business? Just keep saying that.

Members of Congress either approve of wholesale American state violence or are too cowardly to stop it. Occasionally one of them wants a new authorization for the use military force in Syria because the post-9/11 authorization has been stretched beyond recognition. But it never gets far. I hear the Constitution says something about Congress having the power to declare war, but that’s long been a dead letter. Presidents are free to make war anywhere anytime. (John Quincy Adams, who famously orated that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” thought those who conducted the coup d’etat in Philadelphia had erred in not lodging the war power in the executive branch so that American presidents would have the same power as European kings. He needn’t have worried.)

At any rate, for constitutional sticklers, an authorization for the use of military force is not a declaration of war. Rather, it is a delegation of the war power to declare to a president. Forgive my quaint notions.

I see no signs this is going to change anytime soon, which should concern libertarians because the U.S. empire (that is, American super-sovereignty), militarism, and war profiteering jeopardize liberty like nothing else.

More articles by:

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Jonah Raskin
Here’s Hoping
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
Arshad Khan
The Turkish Gambit
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Rare Wildflower vs. Mining Company
Dianne Woodward
Race Against Time (and For Palestinians)
Norman Ball
Wall Street Sees the Light of Domestic Reindustrialization
Ramzy Baroud
The Last Lifeline: The Real Reason Behind Abbas’ Call for Elections
Binoy Kampmark
African Swine Fever Does Its Worst
Nicky Reid
Screwing Over the Kurds: An All-American Pastime
Louis Proyect
“Our Boys”: a Brutally Honest Film About the Consequences of the Occupation
Cesar Chelala
Donald Trump vs. William Shakespeare
Susan Block
How “Hustlers” Hustles Us
Ron Jacobs
Calling the Kettle White: Ishmael Reed Unbound
Stephen Cooper
Scientist vs. Cooper: The Interview, Round 3 
Susan Block
How “Hustlers” Hustles Us
Charles R. Larson
Review: Elif Shafak’s “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World”
October 17, 2019
Steve Early
The Irishman Cometh: Teamster History Hits the Big Screen (Again)
Jonathan Cook
Israel Prepares to Turn Bedouin Citizens into Refugees in Their Own Country
Stan Cox
Healing the Rift Between Political Reality and Ecological Reality
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail