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.

March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
Ron Jacobs
All the Livelong Day      
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail