Endless Wars, Marching Bands and Patriotism

On November 27 ABC News exposed the deviousness of the US Department of Defense which had failed to inform the American public of the true numbers of troops in war zones. There are, for example, “thousands more American troops serving in Iraq and Syria than has been previously acknowledged by the Pentagon,” and ABC gives other unsavory details.

Along the same lines, the New York Times had noted on October 22 that there are “just over 240,000 US active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories,” which is a staggering total. And it is particularly intriguing that there are a further 37,813 troops deployed “on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as ‘unknown.’ The Pentagon provided no further explanation.”

It is not surprising that Washington’s war-spreaders do not supply information to US citizens concerning the location of their soldiers (to use an inclusive term) involved in clandestine operations around the globe, because this might expose the lack of justification for such fandangos. Concurrent with denial of information, however, is an energetic campaign aimed at convincing Americans that everything to do with US military power is laudable and that those who voice the slightest criticism of the armed forces are unpatriotic or even traitorous.

The American public are in general (if one may use that word in this context) much in favor of the military. For example, they love seeing and hearing uniformed marching musicians at public functions. But it is not the love of music that has motivated the Pentagon’s conductors to allocate over 400 million dollars a year to 130 military bands.

Don’t get me wrong : as a former soldier I am much in favor of these bands.  There are few things more rousing and toe-tapping than a drumming, thumping, immaculately dressed, triple ranked, step-perfect batch of boomers, hooters and tooters.  They’re marvelous.  And they’re one of the best psychological operations weapons that the Pentagon has devised with which to convince the citizens of America that their military is perfect.

The bands draw vast crowds at sports events and all sorts of community gatherings, and even the most kind-hearted, sweet tempered, pacifist-inclined citizen can hardly fail to be moved to ecstatic flag-happiness by the joyful tunes of unbridled patriotism.

Then across the sky roar some superbly-piloted military airplanes, flashing, twisting, jerking at unbelievable speed with immaculate precision and wonderful professional technique.

The  twelve aerial display teams of the US military services are astonishing in their skillfulness and the USAF Air Combat Command F-16 Demonstration Team is performing no fewer than 25 times this year, while the Blue Angels, the Navy’s wonderful aerobatic artists, appear at 35 airshows, of which I was at the first in 2017, after their winter training, on March 11 at the Naval Air Facility El Centro in California.  It was a classic display of aerial mastery. Their virtuosity is breathtaking.

And so is the expense to US taxpayers, because the military services are giving 290 aerial displays in 2017, all attended by thousands of people who leave them, understandably, with memories of wonderful military pilots performing amazing feats of dexterity.

Aerobatics and bands have the effect of pumping up the public’s already high regard for the armed forces, but even then there’s secrecy.  In a telephone interview from Doha, Qatar, the leader of the Air Force rock band, Max Impact, Master Sergeant Ryan Carson, said that “Until you see what we do, it’s hard to really understand the impact music can have,” which is certainly true;   but then he told the interviewer his band had played in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait — and a number of what he called “undisclosed locations.”  Now why should the US public be denied information about where Max Impact performs?  By definition, it’s difficult to keep bands quiet about where they are, and their whereabouts must have been known to their audiences.

It’s difficult to believe that Max Impact has an undercover mission, but perhaps they are tasked with playing to some of the 37,813 troops deployed “on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as ‘unknown’.” You could sing a song about it, but it’s a great deal more serious than that.

Following the debacle in Niger on October 4 in which four American special forces soldiers were killed by unknown assailants there were questions asked concerning numbers and locations of US troops engaged in combat in Africa and elsewhere. The Secretary of Defence, General James Mattis, declared that the soldiers in Niger were there because the US is involved “in the campaign to throw ISIS and the terrorists, the radicals, those who foment instability and murder and mayhem, off their stride.”  It is questionable whether this is consistent with the general’s insistence that “any time we commit our troops anywhere it’s based on answering a simple first question. And that is ‘is the well-being of the American people sufficiently enhanced by putting our troops there?’ [where] we put our troops in a position to die.”

To judge from the mainstream media’s cover of the Niger tragedy many citizens of the United States do not appear overly concerned about soldiers dying. The magic of marching bands and swooping wings has gone far in persuading citizens that wherever their armed forces are fighting, there must be good sound patriotic rationale for their operations, as made clear by Senator Lindsey Graham who announced that “If we have to, we’ll go to war [against North Korea]. I don’t want to, but if we have to, we’ll go to war. And I’ll tell you who’ll win that war: We will” which is fairly typical of the mood in Congress, just as it was in the quagmire years of the catastrophic Vietnam War and the equally disastrous war on Iraq.

Graham was forced to admit that “I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger,” although he quickly added that after he “got a little insight on why they were there and what they were doing. I can say this to the families: they were there to defend America. They were there to help allies. They were there to prevent another platform to attack America and our allies.”  But even Graham had to confess that “We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing” which is the most open acknowledgement of utter confusion to emanate from Congress in some time.

US forces are engaged in open warfare in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, in addition to carrying out offensive military operations — mainly drone and other airstrikes, but also involving CIA and special forces’ crash and bash night raids — in many other countries, including Libya, the Philippines, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. There will continue to be increases in the numbers of troops, ships, assassination-drones and strike aircraft based in the 172 countries in which the New York Times states US forces are already present, and Washington’s wars will expand in complexity and expense.

Unfortunately, the American public appears unconcerned about the spread of war around the world, and it has to be remembered that two days after the US invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, a Gallup poll showed that 72 percent of Americans supported Washington’s war.  In November 2001, while Afghanistan was being attacked by US forces, Gallup indicated “that Americans favor the use of ground troops in Afghanistan by more than a four-to-one margin, 80% to 18%.”

When the Vietnam War ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon, after 58,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese had been killed, the NBC reporter David Brinkley stood among the rows of gravestones in Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC, and delivered a most pungent warning. Clearly and impassively he said  “When some future politician for some reason feels the need to drag this country into war, he might come out here to Arlington and stand right over there somewhere to make his announcement and tell us what he has in mind. If he can attract public support speaking from a place like this, then his reasons for starting a new war would have to be good ones.”

Are there good reasons for the Pentagon having all these the troops and tanks and planes and drones and ships and nuclear missiles based all over the world?  Are there good reasons for all the airstrikes and drone assassinations and clandestine special forces operations?

Were there good reasons for the deaths of the four special forces soldiers in Niger in October and the Navy Seal in Yemen on January 29 and the special forces soldier in Afghanistan on November 4?  Who will be the next soldier to die for nothing in Afghanistan?  And how many Americans will die if Trump goes to war against North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”?

It seems that most American citizens have no problems about being kept in the dark about where their military forces are deployed and are prepared to accept expansion of Washington’s wars, all in the name of patriotism.

And the bands go marching on.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.