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Wednesday, Jul 7, 2010, 3:01 pm

America’s Never-Ending Way of War

By Jeremy Gantz

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America is a nation at war. Forever.

Well maybe not quite forever, but any American under, say, age 75 can be forgiven for thinking the country has been in "perpetual war for perpetual peace" (as Gore Vidal once termed it) since the attack on Pearl Harbor. One war seems to slide directly into another: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and of course, bracketing all of these save the first, the Cold War, which encapsulated so many smaller, often covert, military actions around the globe, many of which we didn't even know about as they were happening.

When, and where, does it all end? Certainly not with President Barack Obama, who ran as an anti-war candidate, but then doubled-down on Afghanistan. Actually, to be fair, he ran as an anti-Iraq war candidate (calling it a "dumb war"), and never said he'd pull out of Afghanistan. In fact, he said he'd send in at least two more brigades of soldiers (about 10,000 soldiers), and then proceeded to escalate the conflict far beyond that (adding a total of about 50,000 troops).

Which just goes to show, you can't get elected as U.S. president unless you support at least one American war at a time. Or, at least, continue one. Good old-fashioned isolationism died with the Depression, replaced with a sprawling and very expensive national security state. Since America's "strategic interests" span the globe, its "Department of Defense" (perhaps the country's most prominent oxymoron) must do so as well, building and maintaining hundreds of military bases around the world. It is now nearly impossible to imagine an America that does not have soldiers stationed near and far, on various continents, giving force to American foreign policy, the true home of which is now the Pentagon rather than the State Department.

For nearly eight years now, Tom Engelhardt has been ably critiquing America's imperial (mis)adventures at, with rare insight and depth. (He has a little help from his friends, as well.) Today Alternet excerpted his forthcoming book, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, and the piece doesn't disappoint as it explores the new normal that seems more deeply embedded in Washington with each passing year: America is a nation at war. War is peace, and peace is war, as he writes:

What kind of a world do we inhabit when, at a time of mass unemployment, the American taxpayer is financing the building of a three-story, exceedingly permanent-looking $17 million troop barracks at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan? This, in turn, is part of a taxpayer-funded $220 million upgrade of the base that includes new "water treatment plants, headquarters buildings, fuel farms, and power generating plants." And what about the U.S. air base built at Balad, north of Baghdad, that has fifteen bus routes, two fire stations, two water treatment plants, two sewage treatment plants, two power plants, a water bottling plant, and the requisite set of fast-food outlets, PXes, and so on, as well as air traffic levels sometimes compared to those at Chicago's O'Hare International?

What kind of world are we living in when a plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq involves the removal of more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment? Or in which the possibility of withdrawal leads the Pentagon to issue nearly billion-dollar contracts (new ones!) to increase the number of private security contractors in that country?

What do you make of a world in which the U.S. military has robot assassins in the skies over its war zones, 24/7, and the "pilots" who control them from thousands of miles away are ready on a moment's notice to launch missiles -- "Hellfire" missiles at that -- into Pashtun peasant villages in the wild, mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan? What does it mean when American pilots can be at war "in" Afghanistan, 9 to 5, by remote control, while their bodies remain at a base outside Las Vegas, and then they can head home past a sign that warns them to drive carefully because this is "the most dangerous part of your day"?


Newspeak, as Orwell imagined it, was an ever more constricted form of English that would, sooner or later, make "all other modes of thought impossible." "It was intended," he wrote in an appendix to his novel, "that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought should be literally unthinkable." When it comes to war (and peace), we live in a world of American Newspeak in which alternatives to a state of war are not only ever more unacceptable, but ever harder to imagine. If war is now our permanent situation, it has also been sundered from a set of words that once accompanied it. It lacks, for instance, "victory." After all, when was the last time the United States actually won a war (unless you include our "victories" over small countries incapable of defending themselves, like the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983 or powerless Panama in 1989)? The smashing "victory" over Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War only led to a stop-and-start conflict now almost two decades old that has proved a catastrophe.

Read the full excerpt here.

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

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