The Costs of War

Reading the potential for hurricanes as “near normal” in the 2023 New York greater metropolitan area powered by fossil fuels in a warming environment, I thought of Don McClean’s words in “American Pie”:

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away…

Alternately, it could be the words of the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut: “And so it goes” (Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969).“And so it goes,” is how power and masses of people contend with existential threats. Remain silent: consume. Buy from the masses of big-box stores and throw the unwanted detritus into grotesque roadside storage units. Remain silent: isolate yourself.

Trying to make sense of the world, and particularly trying to make sense of the US today, is somewhat like the Ninth Circle of Dante’s hell. Here, those guilty of treachery of different kinds find themselves on a frozen lake where among other sins, breaks with community are punished. We would do well to pay attention to Dante’s poem.

The deal between the Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, which is Joe Biden’s successful effort to raise the debt limit, doesn’t contain a single silver lining. Biden sold out sane environmental policy with the Mountain Valley Pipeline. That’s electoral politics in the US: always a sellout for the needs of the many, while pandering to wealth and greed! All of the questions are now on the political, social, and economic right and anyone vulnerable is pretty much in line for a screwing over. Many right-wing states have already thrown Medicaid recipients under the bus, as are students, ordinary people through weakening the IRS, food stamp beneficiaries, those who need cash assistance, the environment, etc. It’s a big right-wing bus, so there’s plenty of room under it for most of the ordinary people in the US. The neoliberals cheer along with the right. War is the big winner and Ron DeSantis is now grandstanding against those awful leftists among us. Dissent will not be tolerated in the US! Short of the threat of nuclear war, well, it could not get much worse. Concentration camps are worse.

The Costs of War project at the Watson Institute at Brown University has long documented the trillions of US dollars going to war. The trillions are met with a yawn by those in thrall of the mass media’s pro-war propaganda.

I went to a gathering of alumni of one of the four major universities in New York State. The host of the gathering, where intelligent conversation and good food were abundant, took out a framed heirloom that contained two local newspaper articles. One of the other hosts is pictured in an article from over 50 years ago. He is bent over a poster/banner he prepares for an antiwar demonstration against the Vietnam War. The second framed article was written about 33 years later and shows the host protesting against the Iraq war in 2003. I love seeing the articles, but am dismayed at what follows and has been taken by millions of people as cant. Some of those people are from the Vietnam era and the era including the 2003 Iraq war.

“Wayne (a fictitious name) and I are against the Ukraine war and support Ukraine, ” one of the party’s hosts said. That revelation does not spoil the day or the congenial gathering, but told much about how the US public has been sold a hawkish bill of goods without any attention to the decades-long expansion of NATO at the Russian border, a border that has been violated again and again in past wars by forces from the West.

That Nazi symbols have appeared on the uniforms of some Ukraine soldiers should not surprise many who know the influence of the far right in Ukraine (New York Times, June 5, 2023).

There are those among the gathered guests who remain antiwar, but many blow with the vagaries of political winds.

There is a credible debate about Russia’s push into Ukraine as a preemptive war and the role of Crimea in this equation of war. But, it is difficult for me to understand how this war has been championed by people who know better and are educated and have seen the workings of empire in both Vietnam, Iraq, and beyond. That the government of Ukraine is littered with far-right forces is documented. That the present government there is in large part due to the intervention of the US and many European countries is also apparent. Where did the lessons of the antiwar movement go? Where did the calls for immediate diplomacy in the face of the possible expansion of this war into a nuclear conflagration go?

As much of the world calls for peace (“When Will US Join Global Call to End Ukraine War?” Common Dreams, May 30, 2023), the cheerleaders for war and war profiteers party.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).