America’s Disastrous 60-Year War

W.J. Astore

In my latest for, I tackle America’s disastrous 60-year war (1961-2021), which began with Ike’s warning of the pernicious threat to democracy of the military-industrial complex and ended with last year’s humiliating retreat from Afghanistan. Has America learned anything? Based on recent events with Russia and Ukraine, together with bellicose acts toward China, it doesn’t seem so.

Here’s an excerpt from my article; you can read it in its entirety at

Three Generations of Conspicuous Destruction by the Military-Industrial Complex


In my lifetime of nearly 60 years, America has waged five major wars, winning one decisively, then throwing that victory away, while losing the other four disastrously. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as the Global War on Terror, were the losses, of course; the Cold War being the solitary win that must now be counted as a loss because its promise was so quickly discarded.

America’s war in Vietnam was waged during the Cold War in the context of what was then known as the domino theory and the idea of “containing” communism. Iraq and Afghanistan were part of the Global War on Terror, a post-Cold War event in which “radical Islamic terrorism” became the substitute for communism. Even so, those wars should be treated as a single strand of history, a 60-year war, if you will, for one reason alone: the explanatory power of such a concept.

For me, because of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation in January 1961, that year is the obvious starting point for what retired Army colonel and historian Andrew Bacevich recently termed America’s Very Long War (VLW). In that televised speech, Ike warned of the emergence of a military-industrial complex of immense strength that could someday threaten American democracy itself. I’ve chosen 2021 as the VLW’s terminus point because of the disastrous end of this country’s Afghan War, which even in its last years cost $45 billion annually to prosecute, and because of one curious reality that goes with it. In the wake of the crashing and burning of that 20-year war effort, the Pentagon budget leaped even higher with the support of almost every congressional representative of both parties as Washington’s armed attention turned to China and Russia.

At the end of two decades of globally disastrous war-making, that funding increase should tell us just how right Eisenhower was about the perils of the military-industrial complex. By failing to heed him all these years, democracy may indeed be in the process of meeting its demise.

The Prosperity of Losing Wars

Several things define America’s disastrous 60-year war. These would include profligacy and ferocity in the use of weaponry against peoples who could not respond in kind; enormous profiteering by the military-industrial complex; incessant lying by the U.S. government (the evidence in the Pentagon Papers for Vietnam, the missing WMDfor the invasion of Iraq, and the recent Afghan War papers); accountability-free defeats, with prominent government or military officials essentially never held responsible; and the consistent practice of a militarized Keynesianism that provided jobs and wealth to a relative few at the expense of a great many. In sum, America’s 60-year war has featured conspicuous destruction globally, even as wartime production in the U.S. failed to better the lives of the working and middle classes as a whole.

Let’s take a closer look. Militarily speaking, throwing almost everything the U.S. military had (nuclear arms excepted) at opponents who had next to nothing should be considered the defining feature of the VLW. During those six decades of war-making, the U.S. military raged with white hot anger against enemies who refused to submit to its ever more powerful, technologically advanced, and destructive toys.

Please read the rest of my article here.

29 thoughts on “America’s Disastrous 60-Year War

  1. I really liked being in SAC hearing how these old D Model B-52’s. scored 2– Mig 21 kills in the Vietnam War w/ the 50 Cal. Tail Gunner’s. The only Enlisted on a BUFF Air Crew. When I was in SAC we had the “H” Models, but there was on old D on Base. Capable of carrying a H Bomb as well in the Blk. underside paint scheme very intimidating. “Peace is our Profession” I imagine this pic. was on Guam!


  2. Not that I know, but …
    During the Reagan Years the USA became a service-based economy, with heavy industry shutting down, union busting and “outsourcing.” Going global. Except it didn’t work. So we had to go back to being on a war-time footing, which had stomped The Depression to atoms and kept rolling until the Fall of Saigon.
    We need to maintain a constant state of conflict in the world. The outcome of American involvement doesn’t matter, as long as there’s another “hot spot” on the horizon. As shallow as they are, I believe Congress understands and agrees with this. Otherwise, how could you justify increasing the military’s budget when a major (20 years!) deployment & occupation has shut down?
    But I truly don’t believe it can go on indefinitely. My reasons can wait for another time. But the US has become like the New York Yankees of my youth. They still had the Big Guns (The Mick, Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson & Tony Kubek), but they were suspect most everywhere else. They lost the World Series in 1960 (to Pittsburgh), beat Cincinnati and San Francisco (1961, 1962), but then lost to Los Angeles in ’63 and to St. Louis in ’64. In ’65 they dropped off the radar, 25 games out of first place, and stayed there for a long time.
    I think the USA’s 1965 is up ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. William, I like and appreciate your writing, and this is another necessary POV that must be shared to inspire others to question, think and act.
    But I have to say all your secular words are reflections of old Biblical writing. There really is nothing new under the sun.

    Money is not the root of all Evil. It’s the love of money over People that’s the root of all Evil, and you make that very clear here.

    Have you noticed the Christian Establishment in most Christian America never expound on why The Christ teaches ‘you cannot serve 2 Masters. You cannot serve God and money at the same Time, and hardly ever will a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven?’
    The Christian Establishment cannot see the rich of this money driven Material World, are also the stumbling Block in opposition to The Lords’ Prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ as it becomes becomes only a vain repetition without doing the Works to change the Status Quo, corollary to this image,

    In the whole Bible, The Christ singles out and censures only the rich, the Religious Establishment and the Lawyers. Is money Religious or secular?
    It’s what is done with the surplus beyond any human need in this World of great need determining that.
    More People made in the Image and Likeness of God die of Starvation than from Covid, and where is the World effort to change that Man – greed with that Man-Made reality?

    Conservative Prime Minister Harper misspent Public funds years ago to build a Monument to the Victims of Communism.
    That money would have been better spent building a Monument to the Victims of White Christian European Colonization of this Whole Earth.
    There are many more Victims to this very Day as it is written, As I live, says the Lord GOD, Sodom your sister has not done, she nor her daughters, as you have done, you and your daughters.
    Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
    And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.

    That reads like the nominally Christian Nations, The Royal Oil Islamic Sheikdoms, and the wealthy Jewish State.

    The US Christian Establishment believes God gave the US a Divine Mandate to Lead and Guide the World.
    Have you seen any American Christian Establishment Leader publicly cite and expound on these explicit words in their Bibles?
    ‘Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.Biblical words, ”

    It’s only 1 line in one Book of the Book of Books, but looking at the Truth and Reality in this Material World Today, most Christian America is the Biggest Arms Merchant in the History of Nations, Leading this World to where?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love that Noah cartoon, Ray.

      Yes, there’s truly nothing new under the sun. And you can’t serve God and mammon, as Clint Eastwood explains in one of my favorite scenes from “Pale Rider”:

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That was a curious movie. It had appeal because it backed up Christianity with its antithesis, violence. Turn the other cheek only to reveal that behind that cheek was a gun, so to speak. I don’t know if it was popular but I’d think it would have been, what with so many “Christian” Americans loving the display of muscle whether domestically or internationally. We are a paradoxical nation.


      2. The character Clint Eastwood plays is not really a preacher. He’s a gunfighter, given a second chance in answer to a young woman’s prayer. If there’s Christianity in it, it’s of the Book of Revelations sort, where death (Eastwood) is the pale rider.

        It’s not a great movie, but this scene has stayed with me. Supremely well done. No violence at all, yet such tension — and considerable truth.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Things I’ve found out in my years on the planet & living in America: 1. people are a lot of them anyways dead inside…2. America was built by religious extremists who still think they know what’s best for the Nation & World ie. Puritans, nut-jobs, hucksters, zealots, and slave owners, 3. most if not all people can’t form an original thought– waiting for the Media, or their friends to emote some first. 4. You can be a King, or a Pawn, but we’re all going back in the same box at the end of the game. 5. Lastly love is giving someone the ability to destroy you, but trusting them not to… Sorry for the “Hello Darkness my Old Friend” Rant! The human beings will always be few in numbers…

    Liked by 4 people

  5. When you say “disastrous,” I’m wondering what benchmark you’re using. A disaster for those killed and wounded on both sides, certainly. And yet people will always die, in ways known and unknown, for reasons good, bad, and indifferent. One could certainly claim the widespread adoption of the automobile to be a greater disaster, if death is the only metric.

    A disaster for America? Since 1960 life expectancy has increased by about 10%, even on top of all of the medical advances that came before, such as vaccines and antibiotics. While still high, and the definition open to debate, the US poverty level has almost halved. Real median family income has almost doubled. The high school graduation has more than doubled, while the college graduation rate has more than quadrupled.

    There are other statistics and markers, but you get the idea. No doubt the echo chamber will ring with protests of missed chances and opportunity costs, but those are all hypothetical. No one knows what would have happened if America had followed a peace at any price, zero-intervention policy over the last few generations. Would everything have been better? Maybe. Could things have gotten much worse? Certainly possible.

    I despise the diseased patriotism of the “love it or leave it” mob. There is so much in this country (as in every country) that needs to be improved. But I also find it difficult to dispute with those who risk everything to come here.

    Please don’t respond with claims that the rest of the world is worse off, and thus wants to come here, solely and simply because of America’s actions and/or inactions. That is a patronizing view that assumes that somehow Americans are the only peoples in the world with the desire to exploit, conquer, and oppress. Believe me, every society, in all times, has wrestled with these issues.

    Was the last sixty years truly disastrous for America? Not from where I’m sitting.


    1. What benchmark I’m using? Several, actually. The financial costs of avoidable wars (trillions of dollars). The body count in lives, both American and foreign (foreigners paying a far higher price). The warping of American culture (militant nationalism driven by never-ending wars). And the decline of democracy as the military-industrial complex and surveillance state gain in power.

      Those benchmarks can’t be dismissed by citing slight increases in life expectancy, which, by the way, are skewed toward affluent Americans living longer. Higher graduation rates? Maybe — but many of our high school “graduates” are totally unprepared for college. Real median family income has almost doubled — truly? Controlled for inflation? And does this “median” truly take into account increasing wealth inequities, as nearly all the wealth has flowed upward to those already at or near the top?

      I’m glad you’re doing well and that things look good from where you’re sitting. Other people are sitting none too pretty, and our constant wars are a big reason why.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. * The cost of the wars is just that, a cost, not an outcome.
        * The American body count (and you are the one who framed this as a disaster for America) is negligible compared to auto deaths or other causes, as I mentioned.
        * The “warping of American culture” is a perception, not a benchmark. I agree that American culture has changed, but all cultures change, all the time. Can every change over the last sixty years be laid at the feet of “militarism”? Americans are now far more tolerant of homosexuality, inter-racial marriage, as well as other cultural markers.
        * I find your dismissal of tens of millions of extra life-years gained through longer life spans to be hypocritical, since you argue that the loss of tens of thousands of life-years lost through war is of vital concern.
        * No doubt some high school graduates are lacking in basic skills – but what’s your point? That has always been true. Certainly you can’t believe that all high school graduates prior to say, WW2 got great educations, and most everyone after 1960 has come out illiterate.
        * Yes, income has risen compared to inflation – that’s why I identified “real income.” And yes, median income is much more representative than average income, as anyone who stuck out the first week of Statistics 101 knows.

        You will get no argument from me that there is a LOT to fix in America. Income inequality is a cancer that will destroy this country if we can’t address it. Democracy is decaying – not to militarism, but (in my opinion) the right-wing refusing to adapt to changing demographics and culture, and using the mechanisms of democracy against itself in a desperate bid to stay in power. There are other reasons, of course, but that’s not the topic under discussion.

        So I say again: your thesis is that something called militarism has caused a disaster for this country for the last 60 years. You are free to claim whatever you wish, but to my eyes you are relying on feelings and emotional vehemence to make your point, in the absence of structured arguments. I would hope that you, who teach our youth, would insist on actual critical thinking your classroom.


        1. “The American body count … is negligible …” Yes, it’s true we lose roughly 40K Americans per year on the roads; roughly 30K per year by guns; and now roughly 100K per year via opioids and drug overdoses.

          But to suggest these figures somehow make the U.S. body count “negligible” is ghastly. I’m not just talking about KIA but WIA as well. Think of all the veterans suffering from TBI, PTSD, and similar maladies. Think of the number of veterans who commit suicide daily. There are many, often hidden, wounds of war that destroy the lives of our veterans. And of course the Vietnam War was even worse; I lost a neighbor due to the delayed effects of Agent Orange (cancer).

          And of course we shouldn’t just talk of the “American” body count. The destruction the U.S. visited on Southeast Asia killed as many as three million people, and possibly more. The Iraq and Afghan wars killed hundreds of thousands and made millions refugees. You can look at all the stats here:

          So, 900K dead; a total cost of $8 trillion; for two lost wars. Yes: I call that “disastrous.”

          And I don’t think these disastrous wars and their effects should be downplayed by arguing that a few indices show improvement, such as graduation rates or income.

          Finally, I come back to Ike’s warning in 1961. What he warned us about has come true. The MIC has warped our democracy and militarism is rampant. I’m hardly the first to say this. Indeed, consider these words from Senator Fulbright in 1970:

          Liked by 3 people

  6. Couple of items…

    1. US Life expectancy (decreasing, not steady or increasing):


    “The researchers noted that all-cause mortality had increased across all racial groups by 2014. Specifically, the researchers found increases in midlife mortality began among whites in 2010, Hispanics in 2011, and African Americans in 2014. According to the researchers, the increases in mortality rates largely stemmed from rising rates of deaths related to:

    Alcohol misuse;
    Drug overdoses;
    Organ-system diseases—including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart and lung diseases, hypertension, and stroke—and injuries; and

    Put another way the ‘richest country’ on Earth with the ‘most advanced health care system’ on Earth actually is not very good at enabling maintenance of health and wellness for a large majoriy of us.

    2. Focusing on cost(s) is important obviously. How you do it is where a lot of the problem(s) arise.
    Understandably many focus on dollar costs or an accounting approach. Important, yes, but for evaluating complex issues as discussed by Prof. Astore additional costs should be included. Some are tangible, some intangible. For example…land mines killing people many years after deployment, or, Agent Orange killing our own people years later as well as fouling countless acres of land in Vietnam.

    Take auto accidents that lead to death and long-term disability. When have you ever seen an accounting for the loss of income (countable) for either of these when the issue of traffic deaths is discussed? Similarly the costs of not just the US deaths from the wars in the GME but the seldom measured costs, direct, indirect, tangible, and intangible, of the WIA gets scarce mention let alone analysis.

    From Death of a Salesman:

    “I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”

    There are a lot of us ‘old dogs’ aren’t here?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Another superb essay WJA! The historical perspective is always welcome. I enjoyed the alternative view point by BENTONIANEA58F25768 as the points made do need to be addressed which they were and rebutted soundly.

    I tend to align with the sentiments of Ray in this matter. I am not formally a Christian, but I do believe in the message that Jesus brought, especially Luke 10: 25 – 37 the parable of the Good Samaritan where mercy towards even those we do not like is the right thing. I always equate that parable with Jesus saying, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”, although this is in Matthew 25: 40. The theme of mercy and goodwill is what attracts me to these verses.

    There are many threads to pick up on in WJA’s essay but cutting through all the financial, military, social, historical, etc. I see a moral question that is not being asked and that is:
    What kind of a nation and a people do we want to be?

    This may seem too moralistic, too idealistic, too out of touch with realpolitik, too New Age, etc. but it is one that everyone must first ask themselves when supporting or not supporting the last 60 years of nearly non-stop war. I am not saying to let evil triumph without acting to prevent it. Jesus again gives an example. When he saw the desecration of the temple by the money changers, he did not reason with them which he knew would be useless. He grabbed a whip and used it on them while over turning their tables full of money. He also said to turn the other cheek, which meant if that will satisfy your opponent, then so be it in order to prevent an all out fight to the death. It is a fine line to walk as to when one turns the other cheek and when one grabs the whip. That is where deep soul searching is needed, and one needs a solid moral foundation on which to stand to do either course of action.

    I have trouble with the above and can only say that violence should be used as a last resort when one’s existence is threatened. This does not mean using faulty intelligence to make up weapons of mass destruction as a justification for invading Iraq, or in Viet Nam the entirely made up Tonkin Gulf incident.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “I’ve chosen 2021 as the VLW’s terminus point because of the disastrous end of this country’s Afghan War…”

    I’d submit that the VLW has not ended, but is continuing apace, just a bit farther under the radar, so to speak. Just as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were not formally declared wars, along with the Global War on Terror, so the U.S. armed forces’ presence in Syria, Yemen, and various other countries is military action without “war.” We’re looking at scaled-down, not-newsworthy operations, but to me, the VLW has no end in sight. The venues and players may change, but hostilities and military actions are ongoing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post, Bill. Did I send you my note to Bacevich when he ran his take on it? Main point of it was that the real start wasn’t Vietnam, but Korea. There may have been some chance of avoiding the military-industrial complex’ takeover of things here before Korea, but that war killed any chance of that happening. H/t to Cumings there.

    So the key question for today, two days after the official DC prediction of war in Ukraine did not happen, is just what are our objectives with this policy? Perhaps it is mostly economic, an attempt to keep Russia from stepping out of the dollar zone. If so, it is both sordid and an impossibility. My big wonder isn’t the motive, but what the results will be when the invasion doesn’t happen, and our policy foolishnesses openly publicly unhideably fail. The insult and injury to the standing of this country and its peoples should be beyond the ability of our propaganda establishment to paper over and hide. If not, well then we are in worse trouble than we realize and our next stupidity will be far worse than our current one in Ukraine.

    Finian Cunningham’s latest provides another view of what you and Bacevich are talking about. It distresses me that no one in the American intelligentsia (present company excepted) sees things like this and so accurately describes what this country has become and what it has cost us to become what we now are.


    Dan [×600.jpg] The U.S. Needs Cold War but the Real Enemy Is Within — Strategic Culture The U.S. has a date with destiny as it faces up to its own inherent failings and its very real enemy within – the national security state. Georgy Arbatov, the witty Soviet diplomat, remarked for an American audience at the end of the Cold War: “We are going to do a terrible thing to you.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Dan. Yes, you could certainly start with Korea. The U.S. bombing of North Korea was devastating to the point of being unhinged. And the Korean War set a precedent for more wars in Asia, helping to contribute to our involvement in Vietnam, replacing the French in Indochina. What a genius move that was.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a consequence of believing in the US delusional, self-proclaimed “exceptionalism.”

        Matthew 23 & Luke 14 records,
        whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased;

        Since WWII, the US has invaded and bombed only poor, 3rd World Nations and couldn’t get a win in any of them.
        The humiliating loss after spending $2 Trillion over 20 years in impoverished Afghanistan is indisputable evidence the spirit of that letter being fulfilled in Real Time.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah….what is it about the U.S. military’s mindset that it has to take over failed wars from other countries (see also: Russians in Afghanistan)?? “We can ‘win’ when others can’t”? Uh….yeah…


  10. SILVER SCREEN REVIEW Feb 16 2024

    American cinema and theater have been in the doldrums. For many, the very thought going out to see the latest dreary creation from Hollywood or Broadway is enough to send them searching Netflix for the colorized rerun of Lassie Finds A Home. So, it is understandable that Washington – out of its deep concern for the mood of its citizenry – should go out of its way to provide us with a tension-laden, extravagant production worthy of comparison to Thirteen Days or Zero Dark Thirty. War On The Dnieper was meant to be in that vein. A drama of heroic proportions to keep Americans, and much of Europe, trembling in dread as the Slavic dogs of war strain on their leash and the vise tightens on America, on Russia, on NATO and – of course – Ukraine..

    Instead, we are offered a comic tragedy that faintly resembles Dr. Strangelove – on Valium. Here’s a review of “War On The Dnieper” in calm decompression. Plot: imaginative but fanciful. Dots not well connected – numerous incongruities hint at clever stratagems never revealed. Endless repetitions leaves an empty feeling. Script: ”hackneyed” and stale – lacks strong personalities. 100-word vocabulary cap leaves feeling that I’ve seen this one before – Presidential ‘debate?’ Directing: ambitious but fails to live up to excited expectations. Bloodless Action film doesn’t hack it. Stock characters stilted, monotone. Acting: jarring combination of monotonous cue card recitation and overacting. Amateur cast. Exceptions are two key supporting players, seasoned professionals whose facial expressions hint at acute boredom: “how did I ever get roped into something this tedious and silly?”

    Soon, at a theater near you – maybe.


    Joe Biden teams up with the Obamas as co-producer of an HBO series of historical dramas titled: When Conquer We Must. The first program to air is Havana – to be followed by Chapultepec, Tonkin Gulf, Shock & Awe and Rumors Of War. The last comprises five segments: Tehran, Benghazi, Damascus, Odessa, Quemoy & Matsu.

    Tony Blinken is closing in on Hillary’s record performance as Secretary of State in chalking up most flight miles with no evident effect – at least his suit is, anyway. Jake Sullivan is deepening his anonymity as a highly placed administration source by cutting all ties with Facebook, Linked In, Instagram Tik Tok and the Oprah book club. Victoria Nuland is settling in at NATO headquarters as its new Secretary General. In her inaugural address to the ambassadorial corps, she insisted that the Alliance should stop waffling on the grave issues that confront it – proclaiming: “extremism in the cause of democracy promotion is no vice, moderation in pursuit of the West’s rule-based international order is no virtue.”

    Boris Johnson has announced that the Royal Navy will deploy a flotilla of miniature warships, with the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth II as flagship – in the Serpentine at Hyde Park. He proclaims that HMG wants to show all and sundry that Britain still punches above its weight (especially to those sundries who vote). The German government of Olaf Scholz falls as leaders of the 3 coalition parties cannot agree on a definition of key concepts: e.g. ‘ambiguous,’ ‘unity,’ ‘maybe.’ A still rattled Swedish government petitions NATO to join the alliance, assuming that the ‘open door’ policy remains in force – bolstering their case by underscoring their nonpareil anti-submarine capabilities in shallow waters. Jen Stoltenberg opens a consulting firm in Washington following the model of his predecessor Fogh Rasmussen. Its specialty: “Conflict Resolution & Conciliation.” Liz Truss opens a ‘Special Relationship’ consulting office named GEO with dual headquarters in London and Washington – where she awaits the imminent arrival of Kamala Harris as her American partner. Vladimir Zelensky returns to his career as a comedian specializing in impersonations of public figures. His Café Bandara is a roaring success as a boisterous crowd of Azov veterans nightly applauds his imitations of Biden, Blinken, Austin, Nuland, Poroshenko, Macron, Stoltenberg, Erdogan and Scholz.

    Vladimir Putin is still in the Kremlin – occasionally amusing himself by rewatching the famous Battle On The Permafrost scene in Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky or planning for the annual celebration of February 16 at 3:00 A.M. in honor of the historic triumph in the Mother of All Phony Invasions. This year’s special guest will be Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, who will lay a wreath at the Monument to the Unknowing Journalist.

    Xi Jinping is said to be resting at a mountain clinic where he was treated for recurrent hiccups brought on by bouts of uncontrollable laughter.


    There is nothing more dangerous than a dim leader who has been convinced of his cleverness by schemers selling a nostrum that promises to write his name in the history books forever.

    Michael Brenner

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