When the Wars Come Home

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol, January 6, 2021 (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

W.J. Astore

When I taught the core course in military history at the U.S. Air Force Academy, it focused on “major” wars. A review of my syllabus from 20 years ago confirms that we spent most of our time teaching military cadets about the American Revolutionary War, the U.S. Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and the Cold War, and Vietnam. There were special lessons that focused on airpower history and strategic thinkers like Clausewitz and Jomini, but the main focus was on “conventional” wars. I was OK with this, since mastering the course material was my main challenge, not challenging subjects within the course.

An astute student of U.S. military history would quickly note what’s missing. Genocidal wars against Native Americans were rarely mentioned. There were no specific lessons devoted to the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Filipino Insurrection, or any of America’s frequent regime-change wars in Latin America. American imperialism wasn’t specifically addressed. Critiques of American imperialism by critics like Mark Twain and General Smedley Butler were rarely (if ever) heard.

What that means is this: America’s young officers go out into the world with little knowledge of America’s military interventions beyond the victories (more or less) in World Wars I and II, stalemate in Korea, and a misbegotten war in Vietnam that America could (and perhaps should) have won with better tactics and/or less civilian interference, or so they are often taught. Small wonder that disasters like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and others occur and persist, though I wouldn’t put the blame for these simply on a lack of critical teaching about America’s various for-profit cock-ups and screw-ups.

This was on my mind as I read Kevin Tillman’s recent article at TomDispatch.com. As Tillman notes, America’s regime-change wars and propensity for foreign coups came home to our own country on January 6th with the storming of the Capitol. That such an action so deeply shocked Americans is a sign of our collective amnesia when it comes to remembering the totality of our military history.

Here’s an except from his article, which I encourage you to read in its entirety at TomDispatch:

Kevin Tillman, Capitol Blowback

Just about everyone was shocked by what happened at the Capitol building on January 6th. But as a former soldier in America’s forever wars, horrifying as the scenes were, I also found what happened strangely familiar, almost inevitable. I thought that, if only we had taken our country’s imperial history seriously, none of us would have found that day either shocking or unprecedented.

Honestly, it could only seem that way if you imagined our domestic politics as completely separate from our foreign policy. But if we’re to learn anything from that maladroit attempt at a government-toppling coup, it should be that they are anything but separate. The question isn’t whether then-President Donald Trump incited the assault on the Capitol — of course he did. It is rather: Since when have we cared if an American president lies to incite an illegal insurrection? In all honesty, our commanders-in-chief have been doing so abroad for generations with complete impunity. It was only a matter of time before the moral rot finally made its way home.

Back in 2007, I actually met Nancy Pelosi whom those insurrectionists were going after — “Tell Pelosi we’re coming for that b**ch. Tell f***ing Pelosi we’re coming for her!” — in that very Capitol building. That day, my family was testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform concerning the U.S. government’s disinformation campaign about how, three years earlier, my brother Pat Tillman had died in Afghanistan (as a result of “friendly,” not enemy, fire). We would testify alongside former soldier Jessica Lynch who had suffered a similar disinformation fate in the wake of a tragic ambush of her convoy in Nasiriyah, Iraq, where soldiers died and she was taken prisoner. After the hearing, we discussed the case with Pelosi, who then took us on a brief personal tour of the halls of the building. Given the circumstances, it was a thoughtful gesture and a humbling experience.

So, it was personally quite unsettling to watch that rabid mob of insurrectionists storm our Capitol, some actively seeking to kill the woman who had walked our family through those same halls, wearing her signature green business suit. To see people desecrating that building over grievances rooted in demonstrable and absurd untruths manufactured by President Trump was both grotesque and shameful.

And yet, however surreal, disappointing, disqualifying, even treasonous that assault and the 57-43 Senate acquittal of the president would be, what took place should, in another sense, not have been a shock to anyone. The idea that January 6th was something new for this country and so a unique affront to the American idea of democracy, not to speak of common decency, was simply wrong. After all, ever since 1945, this country has regularly intervened in elections all over the globe and done far worse as well. What’s disorienting, I suppose, is that this time we did it to ourselves.

Around the Globe, Generation after Generation

My own limited experience with American interventionism involves the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. After the September 11th attacks, I enlisted in the U.S. Army with Pat. We would be assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment and our unit would in March 2003 be sent into Iraq, one of so many tools in the Bush administration’s war of aggression there. We would help remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by force. It was hardly the mission I had in mind when I signed up, but I was naive when it came to foreign policy. Being part of illegal invasions, however, leaves lasting impressions.

That particular intervention in Iraq began with a barrage of administration lies about Saddam’s supposed supply of weapons of mass destruction, his reputed links to al-Qaeda, and the idea that we were liberating the Iraqi people. Some of us actually were assigned to run around Baghdad, “east, west, south, and north somewhat,” looking for those nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. The whole invasion would prove catastrophic, of course, resulting in the destruction of Iraqi society, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers, even as that country’s leadership was removed and its military disbanded (mission accomplished!). Of course, neither President George W. Bush, nor the rest of the top officials of his administration were held responsible for what happened.

So, when I watched the January 6th insurrection unfold, my mind was immediately drawn to the period leading up to the Iraq war — except this time, the drumbeat of lies had to do with massive voter fraud, voting irregularities, “dead voters,” rigged software, and other fabrications. Obviously, the two events were drastically different in scale, complexity, and destructiveness. Still, they seemed to share common fundamental threads.

Examples of American interference in the governance of foreign countries via coups, regime change, and other ploys are commonplaces of our modern history. Among the best known would be the replacing of a number of democratically elected leaders like Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh with the Shah (1953), Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz with Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas (1954), Chilean President Salvador Allende with General Augusto Pinochet (1973), or Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in a U.S.-backed coup (2009). In other words, we’re not talking about a few one-off mistakes or a couple of dumb wars.

In truth, there has been an endless supply of such U.S. interventions around the globe: invasions, military coups, soft coups, economic sanctions, secretly funding candidates of Washington’s choice, the fueling of existing conflicts, you name it and it’s probably happened.

Take for example our neighbors in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. I honestly don’t know if there is a single nation in Latin America that hasn’t fallen victim to a U.S. intervention of some sort: Argentina (1976), Bolivia (1971), Brazil (1964), Cuba (1961), El Salvador (the 1980s), Grenada (1983), Haiti (2004), Honduras (1980 and 2009), Panama (1989), Paraguay (1962), Peru (1968), Suriname (the 1980s), Uruguay (1973), Venezuela (the present moment). Maybe Costa Rica was spared?

Please read the rest of Kevin Tillman’s article here at TomDispatch.com.

10 thoughts on “When the Wars Come Home

  1. Jaundice: a state or attitude characterized by satiety, distaste, or hostility
    (synonyms: animosity, animus, antagonism, antipathy, bad blood, bitterness, gall, grudge, enmity, rancor)

    “Charles Oman, in his classic study of war, spoke of the veterans of the battles of the Middle Ages as ‘the best of soldiers while the war lasted … [but] a most dangerous and unruly race in times of truce or peace.'”– Robert Jay Lifton, Home from the War: Vietnam Veterans, neither victims nor executioners

    When Jaundice Comes Marching Home
    (after the popular Civil War song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”)

    When Jaundice comes marching home once more,
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    We’ll know what its masters have in store,
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    A shiver of terror to run up the spine,
    At the thought of what’s next if we don’t fall in line
    Oh they’d like us scared when
    Jaundice comes marching home

    When Jaundice comes snarling home this time
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    We’ll spit in its face with a jeering rhyme
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    Our leaders who screwed up and shot our wad
    Will tell us they did it for country and GAWD
    But we’ll know they lie when
    Jaundice comes snarling home

    When Jaundice comes limping home to hate
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    The wars that it lost and the shit on its plate
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    The ones who deployed it to bomb and kill
    Now find that they’ve used up the easy thrill
    So they’ll have to hide when
    Jaundice comes limping home

    When Jaundice comes sneaking home to hide
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    The failure and waste and our wounded pride
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    Of no further use is the man in pain
    Who can’t be recruited to do it again
    So avert your eyes when
    Jaundice comes sneaking home

    When Jaundice has marched in its last parade
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    And laid down to sleep in the endless shade
    Guffaw! Guffaw!
    We’ll have us a wake for the late deceased
    From whose awful clutches we’re now released
    How we’ll all breathe free when
    Jaundice has died at home

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2012

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Michael, I really like and admire your writing abilities, from the 1st Time I read one on Bracing Views, to this one from 9 years ago. It was was prescient when you wrote it then.

    I searched ‘Michael Murry’ on Google and couldn’t identify you in the results so I could follow you and get an alert from Google whenever anything from you appears online.
    Are you on FaceBook? I searched for you there, but there are too many Michael Murry to identify you for your writing.
    Searching Google for ‘Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,”’ there are a lot of results.

    Like

      1. Thanks, Jack! I searched, added it to my Firefox browser and I’ll see what it does?
        I don’t like the fact Google lists my now disconnected home phone but current address.
        Do you know how I can get Google to remove it? Maybe Duck Duck Go will?
        Searching my name with quotation marks has 30 pages of results exclusively on my Internet footprint.

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        1. I’m sorry Ray, I am not very good with tech; so I wouldn’t know how to get them to remove that short of getting ahold of their tech support.
          After reading Surveillance Valley and Snowden’s book Permanent Record, I kicked Google to the curb and started using Duck Duck Go. It was recommended and I have been completely satisfied with their results for my meager needs. I’m not comfortable with the intrusion that is happening with these big companies. I don’t want to be part of their club, so to speak.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ditto about Duck Duck Go. I was using Ask (formerly Ask Jeeves), but about six months ago, my search results started to return almost no hits, and nothing directly on topic. I suspect one of the big players bought Ask and is trying to shutter it.

            Boggles the mind how many people use Alexa and similar devices, not caring that every move they make is being recorded somewhere.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind remarks, Ray. I don’t know about Google reporting notifications of things that I have written and I don’t have the time right now to explore alternative search engines like duckduckgo.com. I’ve gotten about halfway through doing a transcript of Scott Horton’s recent interview with Danny Sjursen at anti-war.com and hope to wrap that up today or tomorrow. Then, Matt Taibbi on “useful idiots” (Substack) has an interview with Daniel Ellsberg that I want to save, as well.

      So, just to economize on your search time, I’ll post here links to the two websites that I have set up over the years to collect and organize my own fledgling attempts at written expression. The first of these, http://themisfortuneteller.blogspot.com/, I began at the end of 2005 and continued up until 2012. I then discontinued posting to that blog up until just recently when I published a comment from here at Bracing Views in December of 2020. I may continue doing that for prose essays going forward.

      In 2012, I decided to create my own blog on a server account that I pay for annually which allows me to do my own HTML coding for however I want the blog to look. I began it as something of a autobiographical narrative, “Memoirs of a Misfit,” with my time in Vietnam as the starting point for the overall direction of my life afterwards. This blog, http://themisfortuneteller.com/
      contains all the poetry that I moved over from blogspot plus all the verse that I have composed to date under the menu heading “Poetic License.” Another menu heading contains a pronunciation guide to the Japanese version of the Threefold Lotus Sutra (which took me seventeen years to complete). A third menu heading, “Reference Library” contains various reading material that I have found interesting and/or helpful. I have a further goal of adding a “Gargoyle Gallery” for pictures of my Taoist inspired relief sculpture-paintings, but I haven’t begun any coding for that yet.

      Anyway, you can look over the websites at your leisure and decide for yourself whatever value you might think they contain. Any comments or critiques you might care to offer, I will gladly entertain.

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  3. One thing that Tillman doesn’t specifically mention is that most, if not all, wars/conflicts/police actions against vulnerable populations with weak economies is the motive: profit, profit, PROFIT. Many times, the goal is resource extraction in one form or another; in the Middle East, obviously, it’s maintaining control over oil supplies and assuring access for new pipelines.

    It’s been the same story with the U.S. for probably 150 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoy leaving this third dimensional planetary sphere to acquire a higher perspective on the American experience. When meditating from a heavenly viewpoint it becomes easier to glimpse our nations footprint upon this bountiful earthly orb. From these heights one can learn a lot about our hundreds of military installations and our actual active ongoing combat engagements. When I read Kevin’s article yesterday I was reminded about our decades long finagling inside the Central and South American landscapes. From such a lofty orbit one can see the border aspects of each demarcated nation; and the many populations that are transiting these ideological boundaries. People on the move; fleeing difficult and destructive outcomes.
    It brings to mind some ancient farming truths. What one sows…. one will reap…
    With that antediluvian framework holding the lenses of my celestial spectacles; I have been watching the southern border of our dear USA. I see that much strife and confusion colors the panorama. I see alienated families knocking to be welcomed.
    I also see those three letters that represent this nation woven into the fabric of our countries adventurers that occupy foreign soil. Our representatives seem to be causing native communities to flee the boarders of their homelands, to seek refuge within unfamiliar cultures.
    I am amazed that gaining a creators eye view of this fantastic farmers field; we can see the seeds we sow over there are producing such a bountiful harvest right outside our very own brand new, shiny, boundary wall.
    Some of my fellow country folk don’t want to partake of the creators bountiful harvest. Even after I tell them that this is our rightful yield. Why? Because we have toiled, plowed, and plundered peripheral lands and this is our seeds return.
    Who are we to forsake our creators blessings?

    Like

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