A Perpetual War Machine

Fighting in Kabul in August. The Afghan capital is increasingly under attack by militants, highlighting the lack of Coalition progress in the war (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

W.J. Astore

Scientists tell us a perpetual motion machine is impossible (that pesky 2nd law of thermodynamics about entropy), but America’s leaders are proving a perpetual war machine is quite possible, as events in Afghanistan prove.  The USA is now entering the 18th year of its Afghan war, with regress rather than progress being the reality of nearly a trillion dollars committed to this war.  At TomDispatch.com, Tom Engelhardt notes that “Though few realized it at the time [in 2001], the American people married war. Permanent, generational, infinite war is now embedded in the American way of life, while just about the only part of the government guaranteed ever more soaring dollars, no matter what it does with them, is the U.S. military.”  At Slate.com, Fred Kaplan notes that the Afghan War

has been going on for 17 years now… making it the longest war in American history. Yet we are no closer than we have ever been to accomplishing our objectives, in part because those objectives have been so sketchily, inconsistently, and unrealistically defined.

In fact, the Taliban is gaining strength; other jihadist groups, including ISIS and a revivified al-Qaida, are joining the fight (against the Afghan government, Western forces, and the Taliban); the Afghan Army is suffering casualties at an alarming rate; the chaos is spiraling to unsustainable levels.

Nevertheless, the USA persists in its folly.  There are many reasons for this, but I’d like to focus on one: the warrior ethos in the U.S. military.  “Warriors wanted,” say new U.S. Army TV ads and web campaigns.  The warrior ethos, according to the Army, compels us to never accept defeat.  Check out goarmy.com/warriors to get your lesson on America’s warrior ethos.  The site says the Army must be “unbeatable.”  The site says “We never accept defeat.”

But this is ridiculous.  All armies lose battles.  The greatest generals of history suffered setbacks. In fact, it’s often wise to accept defeat or to make a strategic retreat.  And some wars aren’t worth fighting to begin with.

Apply the warrior ethos to Afghanistan: The USA will never accept defeat. Which means the war will go on forever, since it never was ours to win to begin with.

Waging a no-win war is not a measure of warrior toughness; it’s a sign of stubborn stupidity.

12 thoughts on “A Perpetual War Machine

  1. Gods, they’re still using that terrible slogan? Like any bureaucracy, the Army thinks if it makes soldiers chant stuff over and over again that substitutes for actual material proof in the matter. The whole ‘warrior’ thing gets soundly mocked among enlisted soldiers. Officers care about that nonsense, Scouts and Grunts and Tankers just want to go home without getting blown up or shot.

    What is ‘defeat’ anyway? If the US walks out of Afghanistan tomorrow, does that mean our soldiers (some of whom could have, after 17 years, spent an entire military career in Kabul!) were ‘defeated’? Does a negotiated end to a conflict mean you were ‘defeated’?

    I say America’s military personnel are only defeated if America itself is destroyed. Anything short of that is simply retreating to regroup and resupply. And decide if the objective/mission/policy is worth the cost in lives. Which, being a Clausewitzian, I hold to be the entire point of the thing.


    1. Trump could walk away, since his followers will believe anything. But the Democrats are always afraid of being labeled soft and weak, so they continue to support the “war on terror,” with occasional criticisms that don’t amount to much. No one ever mentions peace. No one ever mentions downsizing the U.S. military’s presence overseas, even with all the “America First” rhetoric. Trump and the Republicans, joined by most Democrats, continue to throw money at the military in the name of safety. Safety? Well, senators actually argue that because there hasn’t been another 9/11-like event, the Afghan war has succeeded!

      But “success” apparently never leads to the end of war, and certainly not to any downsizing of the military or its missions.


  2. So many speak, as you do here, from the view of “the people,” from rationality, reason, and what the “choices” of those “we elect,” can and should be making. The arguments you make are correct, and the reality is, that we already know, and understand what the solutions are to this perpetual war and the rest of the things that plague our country.

    As correct as these arguments you make are, they completely miss the point.

    That point is that what we call failure, those who control the strings of power consider a success. These corporate oligarchs own the entire military industrial complex which only makes money through war. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon and all the rest, can only continue to exist and produce money for them, if their “product” is used up. Bullets need to be fired, bombs dropped, and drones flown. Weapons systems need to be sold to fearful countries, and to dictators wanting greater power. Everything these war mongers dictate, and all those politicians they own, faithfully do, is done on purpose, and with complete understanding. The only logic involved for them, is that which supports more greed. For them everything is a commodity, including people, to be used until exhaustion, and then discarded.

    Until we openly, and angrily, confront this painful reality, and the ideology of greed behind it, we are playing their game. We will accomplish nothing by talking, as you do here in this column, by passively observing what is right, and nodding in solemn agreement, that these politicians should do the right thing.

    These powers that be, fear only action, and not words! It is only when the people get out in the streets and threaten them, that real change will happen.

    Paul Scott


    1. Thanks for your comment, Paul. I’ve addressed greed and the military-industrial complex in many posts at this site. Here is one of them: https://bracingviews.com/2016/10/08/greed-war-the-power-and-danger-of-the-military-industrial-complex/

      Yes, actions often speak louder than words. At the very least, we must act by voting against warmongering candidates. The act of writing can also help — what America needs, among other things, is a better-informed citizenry.

      In sum, we need words and actions — and more.


    2. True that!

      I have been wondering, the past couple years, why Progressives haven’t tried to organize national strikes. Demonstrations accomplish little to nothing, voting the lesser of two evils works just about as well. The D.C. machine’s critical vulnerability lies in the federal tax system, the actual mechanism that hoovers up 50%(+) of all income tax receipts and directs them to the Pentagon.

      A national strike, where those who can sustain the loss reduce their income and tax liability, would reduce tax receipts and force more borrowing/deficit spending – which can’t last forever. It would also send a powerful signal that Americans are willing and able to get organized and make sacrifices.

      Oddly enough, no major Progressives or the ‘Resistance’ seem willing to do more than put together protest marches.

      Another avenue of effective resistance would be creative legislation, where states intercede between their citizens and the IRS in some way. Essentially pushing back against the centralization of power in D.C. If nothing else, it’d swamp the Supreme Court with difficult cases.

      But I have this sneaking suspicion that on both the left and right the powers-that-be are actually fine with everything that is happening. Politics is a market, and the politicians are brands. They get along just fine no matter how bad things get for regular Americans.

      So the point you make is exactly the problem. Too many people profit from the status quo, and the worst profiteers fill the ranks of both major parties. There *could* be a much more aggressive and effective resistance, but already we’re being told that change can only come via the ballot box, where we vote for whichever brand seems less evil.


  3. Thanks for your response and your blog. I am a regular reader of your columns and have been for a long time. I have saved many and passed them along to friends. I consider you a must read. You are someone who makes me observe, and consider. You have helped shape my understanding and thinking! Thanks for that!

    Paul 🙂


  4. I note on the army website they want warriors “armed with more than good intentions” We have forces in many countries “aiding” authorities in the art of death dealing or, if there is no authority we recognize, doing the death dealing entirely by our own leave. Every one of these countries is as alien to U.S. culture as it could be. How many of the warriors we field have even the most basic knowledge of the people who have no option but to be in war zones that our warriors can’t wait to leave? How many of those our warriors kill or injure have any identity beyond that of a target? How many of our warriors know even ten words of the local language?

    Our warriors unquestioningly take orders from a man of no known morals who decides things on whatever feelings he might have and doesn’t want to hear the details of any situation. Being the warrior has absolutely nothing to do with his or her intentions, only with taking orders. There is one over-riding goal in training these warriors and that is to make them cohesive and efficient killers on command. Advertising is frequently deceptive, but when put to use for armed forces, it is obscene.

    And speaking of intentions, what if we follow the self-interested advice of Erik Prince and go with mercenary armies? Then we will definitely have warriors who love the excitement and danger and money, a “bring it on” mentality with no questions to ask even if questions were allowed. That will signal our country having lost its soul.

    I urge everyone to vote on November 6th. We’ve got to put the guy in the White House under restraint along with the war lobby. If there is no major change in Congress after two years of proven incompetence, with an obvious dedication to the welfare of the 1%, I will have to admit my impression of what Americans value has been all wrong.


    1. I remind people their votes aren’t worthless — for if they were worthless, all these powerful entities wouldn’t be spending millions, even billions, to influence or buy or even to suppress your vote.


  5. “The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.”

    “You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just like you. You’re wrong. Dead wrong.”

    The above quotes are from a John Carpenter movie – They Live, which was released in November 1988.

    John Whitehead writes:
    Hidden messages being drummed into the people’s subconscious include: NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONFORM, SUBMIT, STAY ASLEEP, BUY, WATCH TV, NO IMAGINATION, and DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY.

    This indoctrination campaign engineered by the elite in They Live is painfully familiar to anyone who has studied the decline of American culture.

    A citizenry that does not think for themselves, obeys without question, is submissive, does not challenge authority, does not think outside the box, and is content to sit back and be entertained is a citizenry that can be easily controlled.

    We’re being fed a series of carefully contrived fictions that bear no resemblance to reality.
    The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers).
    They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being.
    They want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats.

    Most of all, they want us to continue to march in lockstep with their dictates.

    Tune out the government’s attempts to distract, divert and befuddle us and tune into what’s really going on in this country, and you’ll run headlong into an unmistakable, unpalatable truth: the moneyed elite who rule us view us as expendable resources to be used, abused and discarded. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/10/24/has-america-become-a-dictatorship-disguised-as-a-democracy/
    What a perfect description of today’s America. Art imitates life and we have been warned by books like 1984 and Animal Farm and movies like They Live.

    The bombs in the mail are just one more threat, like the caravan that approaches our borders to be exploited, possibly to create the conditions where more freedoms are taken away, because we Proles cannot be trusted.


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