The Destructiveness of Remote U.S Wars
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.
America’s wars are remote. They’re remote from us geographically, remote from us emotionally (unless you’re serving in the military or have a close relative or friend who serves), and remote from our major media outlets, which have given us no compelling narrative about them, except that they’re being fought by “America’s heroes” against foreign terrorists and evil-doers. They’re even being fought, in significant part, by remote control -- by robotic drones “piloted” by ground-based operators from a secret network of bases located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the danger of the battlefield.
Their remoteness, which breeds detachment if not complacency at home, is no accident. Indeed, it’s a product of the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice, not wars of necessity. It’s a product of the fact that we’ve chosen to create a “warrior” or “war fighter” caste in this country, which we send with few concerns and fewer qualms to prosecute Washington’s foreign wars of choice.
The results have been predictable, as in predictably bad. The troops suffer. Iraqi and Afghan innocents suffer even more. And yet we don’t suffer, at least not in ways that are easily noticeable, because of that very remoteness. We’ve chosen -- or let others do the choosing -- to remove ourselves from all the pain and horror of the wars being waged in our name. And that’s a choice we’ve made at our peril, since a state of permanent remote war has weakened our military, drained our treasury, and eroded our rights and freedoms.
Wars of Necessity vs. Wars of Choice
World War II was a war of necessity. In such a war, all Americans had a stake. Adolf Hitler and Nazism had to be defeated; so too did Japanese militarism. Indeed, war goals were that clear, that simple, to state. For that war, we relied uncontroversially on an equitable draft of citizen-soldiers to share the burdens of defense.
Contrast this with our current 1% wars. In them, 99% of Americans have no stake. The 1% who do are largely ID-card-carrying members of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower so memorably called the “military-industrial complex” in 1961. In the half-century since, that web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and retired military types who have passed through Washington’s revolving door has grown ever more gargantuan and tangled, engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington. They are the ones who, in turn, have dispatched another 1% -- the lone percent of Americans in our All-Volunteer Military -- to repetitive tours of duty fighting endless wars abroad.
Unlike previous wars of necessity, the mission behind our wars of choice is nebulous, confusing, and seems in constant flux. Is it a fight against terror (which, as so many have pointed out, is in any case a method, not an enemy)? A fight for oil and other strategic resources? A fight to spread freedom and democracy? A fight to build nations? A fight to show American resolve or make the world safe from al-Qaeda? Who really knows anymore, now that Washington seldom bothers to bring up the “why” question at all, preferring simply to fight on without surcease?
In wars of choice, of course, the mission is whatever our leaders choose it to be, which gives the citizenry (assuming we’re watching closely, which we’re not) no criteria with which to measure success, let alone determine an endpoint.