War Made Invisible

Usually, when I read an interesting book I’m reviewing and being a journalist, I often find myself inspired to write an article that delves further into some aspect the book brushed on. But in the case of Norman Solomon’s infuriating, well-documented and much-needed book War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine, I’m stymied: He’s covered it all in such depth and in a very readable and not imposingly lengthy volume, it’s hard to find something else to say.

Solomon does a masterful job of explaining how since the American war on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and early ‘70s, which led to massive protest at home and even to insurrection among the troops doing the fighting, a bi-partisan strategy has been developed and refined of insulating the American public from the realities of what has become a trillion-dollar-a-year US policy of permanent war.

By ending conscription, the dirty work of asserting global dominance and of, slaughtering large numbers of civilians and destroying whole countries is done by young Americans who have enlisted in the various services — a professional army whose soldiers a much less inclined to complain about what they are ordered to do. Protest s minimized as increasingly America’s war-fighting, as Solomon explains, is conducted by air, either using piloted planes that stay far from where the rockets they launch explode. In recent years cruise missiles and missile-firing drones are used to do the killing which is hundreds or thousands of miles away from the Starbucks and Coke-swilling joy-stick jockeys on US military bases who are the pilots. These control centers are located in places like Burkina Faso, Germany, Italy, Turkey and town next to mine, Horsham, PA.. (Some of those killer drone have become whistleblowers, but their stories get short shrift or aren’t reported by American news organizations.)

I imagine many Americans walking through a bookstore or scanning new titles on Amazon’s book site, running across one that says it’s about how the US makes its wars invisible, will find themselves asking, “What wars?”

And that’s what the goal is of Washington’s leaders of both parties: To allow Americans to forget that our country is at war almost everywhere and all the time around the globe.

This was, basically, he writes, the object of President Biden’s ludicrous assertion early in his presidency in a 2021 address at the United Nations after the last US troops had been pulled out of the 20-year war on Afghanistan, when he said, “I stand here today for the first time in twenty years, with the United States not a war. We’ve turned the page.”

As Solomon comments dryly: “Actually the ‘turned” page was bound into a continuing volume of war. Biden’s claim was mendacious on a global sale. In September, the same month as his pronouncement at the UN, a new report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University showed that the US “war on terror” launched two decades earlier was still underway on several continents” — indeed in some 80 countries!

Furthermore, as Solomon writes, in the week that the last remaining US troops flew out of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, Biden, who was getting hammered by Republicans and some Democrats for “abandoning” the people of Afghanistan, assured America not to worry, because the US would continue to “exercise its ‘over-the-horizon’ muscle“in that country.This In a country where 75 percent of those being killed by US bombs and rockets and troops have been non-combatants.. Biden was telling Americans, “Don’t worry, we’ll keep killing Afghans, but America is at peace.”

“Over-the-horizon muscle” is a term or art for the use of drones, or sometimes piloted bombers or cruise missiles. That would not be “war” in the new US construct because no Americans would be dying. Just Afghanis or whatever other nationality is the target. As Solomon notes, Our Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama claimed he didn’t need to seek Congressional approval for his war ousting the government of Libya because it was just American planes attacking the country and no American troops were dying it ‘wasn’t a war.”

Solomon spends a good deal of time excoriating the corporate media, which he explains plays a crucial role in helping the government hide its wars and the damage they do to the people and countries that the US military attacks, and to the US men and women who pilot the drones and make the decisions to fire the Hellfire missiles.

Indeed, “War Made Invisible,” even as it so thoroughly exposes the machinations of the US military, the White House and the State Department to hide the country’s wars and interventions, and even as he provides details of the horrible war crimes and genocidal killing that the US has been perpetrating around the globe, this book is also a kind of update to that classic Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky media analysis work Manufacturing Consent. It is entirely focused upon the way the mainstream corporate media work hand-in-glove with the national security state and Pentagon to hide the costs and the bloody reality of America’s 21st- Century militarism and endless war policy.

In painful detail, he documents how major news organizations and their top journalists and talking heads avoid asking the hard questions when US bombs slaughter civilians, and base most of their reports on US wars and counter-insurgencies on unchallenged press releases issued by the Pentagon and the State Department.

We do see the horrors of war on our TV screens to be sure, but what we see is the horrors visited on the white people of Ukraine by America’s “evil-doer” du jour, Vladimir Putin. It’s the kind of reporting the US media should have done when those same horrors, though on an even larger scale, were being visited on Afghanistan and Iraq by the US troops. We didn’t see those things though in our homes, or even read about them (or didn’t until Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange’s Wikileaks made them available).

In fact, Solomon tells how senior management removed a rising star at NBC News from the air for mentioning this travesty of censorship at a college talk. Senior corporate management let it be known when she came back to work that whenever US soldiers caused an embarrassing killing in those wars, the reporter was to mention the dead in the US from the 9-11 attacks.

This is not a book for reading to your young kids at bedtime, but it is a book to hand to your teenage son if he ever talks about wanting to be a helicopter pilot for the Army, to join the Marines, or to fly an F-35. It’s a good book to buy for relatives and friends who don’t know the US is a nation at war.

And it’s a book we all should read cover-to-cover and talk about when we’re done.

CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.