Democracies should be slow to start wars and quick to end them. James Madison taught us that. Why is America today the very opposite of this?
I thought of this as I read Danny Sjursen’s fine article at TomDispatch.com. Sjursen, a retired Army major, is a strong critic of America’s forever wars. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and lost soldiers under his command. He knows the bitter cost of war and expresses it well in his article, which I encourage you to read. Here’s an excerpt:
Recently, my mother asked me what I thought my former students [West Point cadets] were now doing or would be doing after graduation. I was taken aback and didn’t quite know how to answer.
Wasting their time and their lives was, I suppose, what I wanted to say. But a more serious analysis, based on a survey of U.S. Army missions in 2019 and bolstered by my communications with peers still in the service, leaves me with an even more disturbing answer. A new generation of West Point educated officers, graduating a decade and a half after me, faces potential tours of duty in… hmm, Afghanistan, Iraq, or other countries involved in the never-ending American war on terror, missions that will not make this country any safer or lead to “victory” of any sort, no matter how defined.
Repetition. Endless repetition. That is the theme of America’s wars today.
Remember the movie “Groundhog Day,” with Bill Murray? Murray’s character repeats the same day, over and over again. He’s stuck in an infinite loop from which he can’t escape. Much like America’s wars today, with one exception: Murray’s character actually learns some humility from the repetition. He shows a capacity for growth and change. And that’s how he escapes his loop. He changes. He grows. The U.S. military’s leadership? Not so much.
But I don’t just blame the senior leaders of the U.S. military. They’re not that dumb. It’s the system of greed-war they and we inhabit. Why change endless war when certain powerful forces are endlessly profiting from it? War, after all, is a racket, as General Smedley Butler knew. It’s a racket that’s contrary to democracy; one that buttresses authoritarianism and even kleptocracy, since you can justify all kinds of theft in the cause of “keeping us safe” and “supporting our troops.”
Danny Sjursen, a true citizen-soldier, remembers that war is supposed to be waged in accordance with the Constitution and only to protect our country against enemies. But being a citizen-soldier has gone out of style in today’s military. Everyone is supposed to identify as a warrior/warfighter, which has the added benefit of suppressing thought about why we fight.
Eager to fight, slow to think, might be the new motto of America’s military. Such a motto, consistent with forever war, is inconsistent with democracy.