Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House when Ronald Reagan was president in the 1980s, liked the saying, “All politics is local.”
Carl von Clausewitz, the famous Prussian theorist of war in the time of Napoleon, taught that war is the continuation of politics by other (violent) means.
Does it follow from this that all wars are, in a sense, local?
It doesn’t seem so at first glance. Americans tend to see wars like Iraq and Afghanistan as distant events that are disconnected from our daily lives. (Obviously, if a loved one is in the military and deployed overseas, concern and connection are greatly heightened.)
But when we begin to see the local costs of war, fully to see them, the way they poison lives, infect and erode democracy, and compromise the very climate we live in, we may finally act to put a stop to war.
No matter how distant and obscure America’s wars may be (and who among us really knows what’s happening this minute in Somalia, to cite one example), there are effects that are local. And until we calculate those costs, and confront the waste and inhumanity of them, we simply won’t work synergistically to end them.
What are some of these local costs? As President Eisenhower said in his famous “cross of iron” speech, every warship we build, every rocket we fire, every warplane we launch, represents a theft from those who hunger, a theft from projects such as building schools or repairing roads and bridges. Every dollar we spend on war is a dollar we don’t spend here in America on our own sustenance, our own health as a civil society. Meanwhile, the dreadful costs incurred by wasteful wars, which will eventually exceed $8 trillion for the Iraq and Afghan wars, drives up our national debt, which is then cited, rightly or wrongly, as a reason to curb domestic spending. Profligacy for war, austerity for ordinary Americans, seems to be the new American way. And it’s impoverishing our democracy and our civic culture.
Other effects of war would include the costs of aiding veterans who are wounded, whether in body or mind or both, in our local communities. It would include the militarization of local police forces with surplus military weaponry that is then used to suppress legitimate dissent. And, if you’ve lived on or near a military base, you’ve likely experienced noise pollution to go with environmental pollution and degradation, much of it kept classified or otherwise hidden from view.
America’s wars, in short, are never truly distant and disconnected from our lives. They are instead connected to us, shaping our vision of what’s possible and impossible, what’s inevitable and what’s preventable, what’s normal and what’s abnormal.
A state of permanent war is not normal, America. Its effects are all around us and they are not good. But the good news is that, just as the effects of war are local, so too can the fight against war be local. Raise your voice and take a stand against war. If all politics is local, the political fight against war can and should be local too.