The key insight to understanding America’s wars

President Obama’s speech make this clear to anyone paying attention.  As does his pop in the polls following the decision to expand our wars.

  • The wars are not those of our ruling elites.
  • Our wars are not our those of our  military.
  • Americans like our wars.
  • Their appeal crosses party lines.
  • We’re almost indifferent to the supporting reasons, as seen in their flimsy ever-changing nature.
  • The wars’ benefits might be imaginary.  The costs ruinous.
  • That’s the core reality we must address.

21 thoughts on “The key insight to understanding America’s wars

  1. I wonder how much of this popularity is due to so few serving. We no longer have a draft that cuts across wide swaths of the population. (Incidentally, I believe the draft was immoral.) Note that most of those serving in uniform are from small towns.

    I think it’s gotten too easy to distance ourselves from the human reality of war. The economic aspect of it could be “Large Number Fatigue”-we get so used to Millions, Billions and Trillions being thrown around that they no longer have much meaning.
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    FM reply: Agreed! This is an important element. Much like the French Foreign Legion, sent to fight often pointless foreign wars. Few at home cared.

  2. I’m trying to understand the bullet points. The elites and the military are not the sponsors and in fact are against the wars– IS that correct? Only we the people are in favor – IS that correct?

    And not only are we in favor but we don’t need reasons. We just like war for its own sake, even though the cost might be ruinous and benefits are imaginary.

    Well if I have understood the points – we the people are a pack of bloodthirsty morons. If I have not understood will somebody please explain the bullet points correct meaning.
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    FM reply: Let’s take this in steps.
    (1) No, these say nothing remotely like “in fact are against the wars.”
    (2) “but we don’t need reasons” — Yes.

    (3) “we the people are a pack of bloodthirsty morons”

    Violent conflict (“wars”) have been a popular pursuit throughout human history. And are today in Afghanistan — and the USA. So your statement is true if you wish to describe most of our species in this fashion. Which might be correct. The key point is, IMO, that we can do better. From a speech by Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon“.

    Anan 7: “You realize what you’ve done!”

    Kirk: “Yes, I do. I’ve given you back the horrors of war. Vendikar will now assume that you have violated the treaty and are preparing to wage real war with real weapons. They’ll want to do the same… only the next attack they launch will do more than count up numbers on a computer. They’ll destroy your cities, devastate your planet. You, of course, will want to retaliate; if I were you, I’d start making bombs. Yes, councilman, you have a real war on your hands. You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative – put a stop to it! Make peace.”

    Anan 7: “There can be no peace! Don’t you see – we’ve admitted it to ourselves! We’re a killer species! It’s the same with you – your General Order 24!”

    Kirk: “All, right – it’s instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings, with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it! We can admit we’re killers, but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes. Knowing that you’re not going to kill… today. Call Vendikar; I think you’ll find them just as horrified, shocked, as appalled as you are — willing to do anything to avoid the alternative I’ve given you; peace or utter destruction. It’s up to you.”

  3. Quelle Surprise!!! Oh my goodness, the current crop of Americans like War? The Military likes War? The love of War crosses party lines? …we don’t need “reasons”? I am shocked!!! PLEASE…..pffft.

    “A core reality we must address?”

    HUH? Who is this “we”, Maximus would refer us to? History would perhaps show us that a country only addresses such a core reality after — long after —- the blood of the “we” has been spilled in a quantity that that forces reflection.

    None of this is “news” or insight that Maximus would make it appear to be. Nope. Je n’ais c’est pas SURPRISE! If perhaps one has not dealt with the reality of USA as the perpetrator and comrade in socialized Violence, well one wonders when you might notice.

    Greg
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    FM reply: Let’s see some citations to back up your assertion that this is a widespread belief. It’s not “new”, as few or no insights are truely new.

    “Who is this “we””
    The American people.

    “History would perhaps show us”
    Then we’ll have to beat the odds, again. How many nations fought a civil war to end slavery?

  4. FM reply: “Let’s see some citations to back up your assertion that this is a widespread belief. It’s not “new”, as few or no insights are truely new.

    Misreading Maximus…… I did not assert “it” is a widespread belief. You offer these ideas as insights and news….and as an adjunct a piece of possible consideration, as belief I offer only that it is NOT news to moi! As you well know these ideas you offer are NOT news to many. No? You do not agree? Try Google.

    You, as an obviously young man, will need to assemble your contemporaries (the “we” American People) and convince THEM that the American Exceptionalism (CIVIL WAR—SLAVERY) requries them (and you) to “beat the odds”, as you say and confront a reality of a love of War. Or maybe not?

    Your choice. Rest assured you are correct in my view —- most Americans cannot imagine that what you describe — so well, actually — is in fact almost endemic to the Culture today.

    Greg
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    FM reply: As I said in my reply, “no ideas are new.” If your point was that you already knew these things, fine (the breast-beating about that seems excessive, IMO — half-again longer than my original post). The rest makes no sense to me.

    ” as an obviously young man”

    Obvious to you, but incorrect. I am old, in terms of a cabbage. I am middle aged, as people go. As mountains are reckoned, I am just getting started. It’s a matter of perspective.

  5. The wars are not those of our ruling elites? Your evidence is an opinion poll reprinted in Asia Times? Goodness, who could doubt that? Yet i remember reading about something called the Project for the New American Century.
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    FM reply: After 8 years of war, I think most folks understand the key elements of the situation. No propaganda campaign is that powerful. This is not NAZI Germany, with the anti-war voices surpressed. Unless you believe the American people to be children, sheep — which is an ever bleaker assessment.

  6. “How many nations fought a civil war to end slavery?”

    I thought it was fought over preserving/disolving the union? (As in the North wasn’t against slavery in the South – It just didn’t want it in the North.) But my knowledge of American history is limitted – So I’m open to being corrected.
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    FM reply: Records at the time show that the people involved thought that slavery was the key issue. Such as the Cornerstone Speech. Apologists since then have sought to revise history, putting the South’s rebellion on most respectable grounds.

  7. Poll results show just how succesfull the desinformation measures are, so the interpretation is possibly flawed. We have no proof, who is behind the desinformation. I think, the public really thinks, we have it good, it should stay as it is. Simple egoism.
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    FM reply: These responses — as usual, the majority on this website — show the American mantra at work. It’s not our fault! They made speeches on TV, before which we were helpless!

    This implies that you all believe the American people are either incapable or unwilling to assume the responsibility of self-government. Perhaps you should practice bowing and saluting, for such a people will always be led. Sheep have shepherds; it’s the way of the world.

  8. America has set some unhappy precedents – Events in 1945 in Japan determined that the destruction of civilian populations with nuclear weapons was not necessarily a war crime. And since then America has determined that “regime change” is a valid reason for embarking on war.

    Put those two together from a Mussie perspective perhaps and the fear just could be Here’s ya own spit in ya eye?

    This doesn’t shape up for a happy future given that America is not known for saying Jeez … We stuffed up; Genuinely sorry about that – Is there anything we do to show we’ve changed? And Mussies are not known for saying That’s OK mate – Forget about it – We’re sure you’ll not re-offend.
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    FM reply: Another “best of thread” winner!

  9. Baa, baa. Hm, i meant BAH! Oh, maybe this…

    “It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it.” — Robert E. Lee

  10. “FM reply: After 8 years of war, I think most folks understand the key elements of the situation. No propaganda campaign is that powerful. This is not NAZI Germany, with the anti-war voices surpressed. Unless you believe the American people to be children, sheep — which is an ever bleaker assessment.”

    I have to agree with the above. I have spent a non trivial amount of time in the last eight years interacting online with americans; while I can’t say that what I have read or have been told is a statistical sample nevertheless one cannot avoid the impression that there is a lot of enthusiasm for war in general, comparable perhaps to Europe pre WW1.
    While only a minority will say openly and plainly “the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business” or something to that effect most will support essentially the same thing, if coated with enough bullshit to make them feel self righteous about it.
    Most of the pro war propaganda is trite bullshit, with the endless cries of Munich, tired parallels of the villain du jour to Hitler and absurd claims. While trite bullshit can be quite effective once in while it cannot work all the time unless the people swallowing it do want it to work; after all most people in the communist bloc did not believe they lived in a worker’s paradise just because the propaganda told them so.

    Iraq has thankfully cooled things a bit by injecting some reality; I have personal witnessed several hotheads calming down a bit once they realized that wars are not necessarily about US wunderwaffen obliterating the enemy followed by the populace throwing flowers at the liberators.
    Still the effect may only be temporary.

  11. A new drone built by my company arrives somewhere traveling at 600 mph. The desktop joystick locks up. The drone crashes and burns up everything in sight. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of drones in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one. — (almost) said by the narrator in the movie “Fight Club.”

  12. “When I found out we were going to Fallujah, I was so excited….PUMPED!”
    From: http://alturl.com/y6yv

    If you ever go to NORMANDY and visit the Arromanches Beaches—Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword or ever see the Cemetery or stop in a town at the Gare and have coffee with an old Frenchman….you will never imagine any American soldier offering excitement as an emotion in THAT War. Go figure….if need be.

    Greg
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    FM reply: That’s an interesting observation. What’s the reason for the difference? Perhaps fighting folks with no training and few arms is more exciting than fighting the Wehrmacht?

  13. “In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.”

    Why not have a war? Did you notice taxes decrease with the “peace dividend” at the end of the Soviet Union?

  14. FM: “That’s an interesting observation. What’s the reason for the difference? Perhaps fighting folks with no training and few arms is more exciting than fighting the Wehrmacht?

    Perhaps. No doubt the “enemy” is an element. The biggest difference is that fighting a human enemy is very different from fighting an emotion. Terror. Global War on Terror.

    If you can travel from the tip of Denmark, out in Jutland, witnessing the huge Gun Emplacements aimed to fire across towards Norway and then head along the Atl Coast all the way to Arromanches you will see how the Germans literally had encircled all of Europe with guarded and emplaced fortresses ALL along the coast…incredibly in 4 plus years.

    Visit the Museums. Watch the B & W movies. Note how England had used the last of it steel, oil and gas. 30,000 British and Canadian men at Arromanches. Then down to Omaha…34,000 American men led by Rangers up the cliffs. 2400 Americans dead just that day. THAT was a War. A just war. A mobilized War in spite of opposition within the USA.

    Go to a village in Normandy and find an old man, like Ihave a few times and revel in the feeling of pride when he tells you (in French!)how happy he is to see an American and how much they (the French) owe us and how they love the Americans who fought and saved their wonderful Country.

    After witnessing just the Beaches of Normandy I suspect most people would never again consider the forays by the USA since as “Wars”.

    In fact I find these adventures that are “exciting” to the paid mercenaries we use today to be the antithesis of the men buried in that incredibly beautiful Cemetary at Omaha Beach.

    But that is just me…………… Greg

  15. I found the comment “If you ever go to NORMANDY and visit the Arromanches Beaches …” interesting – Given that relatively few Americans actually do visit such places perhaps?

    A obvious nation (for me) to compare that to is our Soviet allies from that conflict. With the Soviets losing something like 24 m people ie a little over 14% of their 1939 population in the conflict (something under half of which [9 or 10 m] were military deaths); As opposed to the US which lost about 418 k people ie 0.32% of its population (with those deaths being overwhelmingly military – and abroad of course.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties#Human_losses_by_country

    The Russian collective rememberance of that conflict seems high from what I’ve seen. Just travel around normally in a Russian city that was contested at the time and it is impossible to NOT see the memorials. (As opposed to having to travel to Normandy.)

    Plus two anecdotal examples:

    * I phoned a Russian friend (in 2006 maybe) – G’day; How is it going; What did you do today? – It is “soldiers day” – We visited grandfather’s grave.

    * Talking to another Russian friend last year – Yes, grandfather served – He was a sergeant in the Guards – Wounded 11 times – He survived the conflict but died young of course – So I never knew him. (I subsequently found out that Soviet military units that had served with “distinction” were awarded Guards status.)

    So for them, war seems to be very much a close to home, in your face and personal thing – In ways that to many others it is not.

    While not a nation as such, the Jewish collective rememberance of that war must be difficult to imagine I guess. A world wide population of some 13 m reduced to 7 m I believe. With virtually all the deaths being civilian. And many in quite horrific circumstances.

    To put such things in perspective from an American point of view perhaps, it would seem that the American Civil War (which the US still has some bitter memories of – or at least some southerners do?) resulted in 620 k military deaths and perhaps 970 k deaths in all … ie 3% of the population.

    http://turtledove.wikia.com/wiki/American_Civil_War

    The UK lost a bit under 1% of its population in WWII, Germany about 9% and Australia (my mob) about 0.57%

    In WWI – The UK lost 2.1% of its population, Australia – 1.38% (we [Oz] felt that one is my understanding of it), the US – 0.13%, Germany – 3.82% and the Ottomans close to 14%.

    Lots of interesting stats for anyone who cares to look. While also bearing in mind that population losses are only a part of the storey.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties

    But all in all my perception would have to be that America has had minimal reason to collectively perceive its wars to date as having been especially “unkind” to it? The one truly “bad” war preserved the union without which America as such would not have existed and gone on to be the world power it did. So that war was similar to Russia’s WWII perhaps – A very bad and painful business – But something that had to be done almost irrespective of cost. Vietnam seems to an interesting (albeit relatively minor) exception though?

  16. War is our favorite metaphor. We make war against terror, against drugs, against poverty. We even have a “war” against multiculturalism. I anticipate great wars against smoking, pornography, obesity. Who knows, maybe next, the great war against illegal parking.

  17. In relation to Vietnam I suspect one of the things that hurt America was that pretty much irrespective of how one looked at it, it simply wasn’t possible to dress it up as anything but a loss.

    Australia was there too of course – But just in our usual post WWII tag along with America capacity – “All the way with LBJ” as our then PM said – So no particular commitment to the cause or investment of Oz national pride was involved – Just our usual limp wristed approach of fulfill the treaty obligation in the ongoing hope that if we ever really are in trouble then our big powerful best buddy will remember us. So for us, if the US won then good, “we” won. And if not then nevermind, the US lost – No failing of our’s sort of mentality. And with no real fear that the evil yellow horde [of pyjama wearing VC who spent their days hiding underground and didn’t have a navy to speak of] really were that likely to erupt forthwith on our northern shores.)

    Iraq has actually been a right pig in that regard of course – Put enough lipstick on it and one could pretend it was/is a “win” perhaps? But my accountant commented to me around about the time the US started Quantitative Easing that it looked to him like the terrorists were winning.

  18. A true cynic might suggest my accountant meant Goldman Sachs – But I don’t think he did … Although he could have revised his opinion? (Smile.)

  19. “A obvious nation (for me) to compare that to is our Soviet allies from that conflict. With the Soviets losing something like 24 m people ie a little over 14% of their 1939 population in the conflict (something under half of which [9 or 10 m] were military deaths); As opposed to the US which lost about 418 k people ie 0.32% of its population (with those deaths being overwhelmingly military – and abroad of course.)”

    Very good historical perspective. The REAL WW II was certainly between Russia and Germany.

    In Vietnam what did we see: 50,000 Killed, 500,000 WIA? …and that was absolutely a stupid waste of citizens.

    Sure I was shocked at 9-11 but 3,000 dead and the 9 years of “War” from THAT tells us something about the American mind-set. Greg

  20. From FM:

    The wars are not those of our ruling elites. Our wars are not our those of our military. Americans like our wars.
    Their appeal crosses party lines. We’re almost indifferent to the supporting reasons, as seen in their flimsy ever-changing nature.
    The wars’ benefits might be imaginary. The costs ruinous. That’s the core reality we must address.

    Thanks, FM, for putting it up there so starkly… what I’ve discovered myself in years of talking with family, freinds and random people about the “Long War”/”Global War On Terror”/”Overseas Contingency Operation”/”Whatever It’s Called This Week”.

    Talking with some very intelligent people, about these wars, I’ve often discovered that once you argue through the protective crust of rationalizations and fears, what you enter is a central zone of indifference, combined with a need to believe that the people in charge know what they are doing. You can still change minds. But the people have to be ready for the teachable moment, and you have to hit them at the right angle.

  21. A thought just came to me in relation to 9/11:

    “Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power, that is not easy.”
    — Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, book IV, chapter 5

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    FM reply: Yes, that is a powerful insight. It is a core theme of the FM website, stated often in the hope of reigniting spirits in a nation that grows chill. To see these posts click here.

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