No longer a danger, but a reality: bloodlust in our minds, an inevitable side-effect of a long war.

Summary:  The response of America to 9-11, encouraged by our leaders, was fear.  Abject, bed-wetting, hysterical fear.  Fear exacts a many-fold price from those who surrender to it.  Slowly one symptom has emerged, tarnishing our history and corrupting our thinking:  bloodlust.  Exultation at assassination — a kind of killing usually considered unheroic or despicable (and distinct from our typical glorification of battles).


  1. An important and cheerful reminder.  But he does not see our greatest danger
  2. Predictions from the Sixth Century, BC — and 2009
  3. America Today
  4. Glenn Greenwald explains what we will not see
  5. A closing thought
  6. For more information

(1)  An important and cheerful reminder.  But he does not see our greatest danger

Perhaps most importantly, {my new book} documents the fact that even when all other intended checks on government excesses fail — when the media, the Congress and the courts are co-opted or are otherwise neutralized — Americans always have the ability, inherent in our system of government, to put a stop to abuses and excesses, provided they choose to exercise that power.
— “How Would a Patriot Act?“, Glenn Greenwald, 25 April 2006

As an attorney specializing in Constitution law, Greenwald was of course correct about the nature of our political system.  But he overlooked an effect of a long war:  it corrupts the people who wage it.  Seven years later this has become clear to all who wish to see.

(2)  Predictions from the Sixth Century, BC — and 2009

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War (text here)

He hasn’t the faintest notions that it is possible that our victory, if we win dirty and betray every principle of value, will turn us into monsters. Then we won’t really need an enemy. We will have become out own worst enemy.
— ”Lt. Col. Ralph Peters on Journalists: ‘Kill Them All’“, Richard Silverstein, posted at Tikun Olam, 21 May 2009

Might there be a psychological basis for our wars? Or might we suffer psychological damage from our long wars? Perhaps they might warp our values, perhaps even awakening an atavistic bloodlust. Already we can see signs of this in our newspapers and on television.
Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war?, FM website, 11 August 2009

(3)  America today

Quotes provided by Glenn Greenwald at Salon.

To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now.
— Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast, 20 October 2011 — He’s mistaken about the qualities Americans’ esteem in Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt

As the President began his statement announcing the death of Osama bin Laden inside the White House, a large crowd of people, about 200 and growing, had gathered outside the White House gates on Pennsylvania Avenue, waving flags and dancing. They sang the “Star Spangled Banner” in unison and chanting “USA! USA! USA!” They also just sang, “Na na na na — na na na na …Hey hey goodbye” in reference to Osama bin Laden. The crowd is swelling by the minute. People are running to join the group with American flags and there is lots of dancing and cheering. Complete jubilation.
ABC News, 1 May 2011

We came, we saw, he died.
— SecState Clinton jokes with a reporter about Qaddafi, CBS News, 20 October 2011

“Ummmm, guess you ought to be more careful when associated with and visiting known terrorists. I love them drones!!”
— One of countless comments posted to articles about the assassination of al-Awalki’s 16-year old son, a US citizen apparently collateral damage in a US strike — details (of course) still secret.

“America, Fuck Yeah!” is basically our foreign policy.
— Jeremy Scahill (journalist), on Twitter, 21 October 2011

Our clueless leader explains that assassination is the story of our history:

The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Remarks by President Obama about the death of Osama Bin Laden, 1 May 2011

(4)  Glenn Greenwald explains what we will not see

That sentiment of national pride had in the past been triggered by putting a man on the moon, or discovering cures for diseases, or creating technology that improved the lives of millions, or transforming the Great Depression into a thriving middle class, or correcting America’s own entrenched injustices. Yet here was President Obama proclaiming that what should now cause us to be “reminded” of our national greatness was our ability to hunt someone down, pump bullets into his skull, and then dump his corpse into the ocean.

… That’s how foreign policy greatness is established: by how many heads the Emperor can display on a pike. The President is not just entitled to kill anyone he wants in multiple countries around the world — with no oversight, transparency or accountability, no evidence presented, no obligation to capture or try them, no need to even explain the principles that guide these killings — but is to be celebrated for doing so. And the piles of corpses of innocent people produced by this onslaught — of teenagers, infants, innocent women and men — are simply to be ignored.

… Constantly celebrating the people we kill — dancing over their corpses — is now one of the most significant and common American rituals shaping our political culture. One of the most consequential aspects of the Obama legacy is that this mentality has become fully bipartisan. And it’s hard to see how this will change any time soon: once one goes down that road, it’s very difficult to turn around and go back. That’s true both individually and of a nation.

— “A remaining realm of American excellence“, Glenn Greenwald, 22 October 2011

(5)  A closing thought

I don’t think it’s a good thing for the nation’s soul to be constantly celebrating people we’ve killed.
— Christopher Hayes (Washington editor of The Nation), on Twitter, 21 October 2011

(6)  For more information

About fear:

  1. Today’s fear-mongering (they think we’re cowards, but I’m sure they’re wrong), 4 May 2010
  2. Obama knows how to lead America by exploiting our fears,  June 2009

About our assassinations:

  1. James Bond is not just our hero, but the model for our geopolitical strategy, 18 May 2009
  2. Stratfor looks at “The Utility of Assassination”, 26 February 2010
  3. Killing the leaders of our enemy. Is this the fast track to victory – or disaster?, 25 October 2010
  4. About the strategic significance of bin Laden’s execution, and the road not taken, 5 May 2011

Speculations from August 2009 about the effects on America of our Long War:

  1. How will the Long War affect America? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Crazy? Unleash our dark side?
  2. Why we fight. Causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  3. Killing prisoners, our new tactic in the War on Terror?
  4. Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war?

11 thoughts on “No longer a danger, but a reality: bloodlust in our minds, an inevitable side-effect of a long war.”

  1. norman broomhall

    What Americans are not acquainted with is the basic undeniable fact that it was THEY that began the wars upon Islam , not the other way around . This so-called “terrorism” is just the Muslim world fighting back . It began with their support for the Zionists who stole Palestine in 1948 and then called it Israel >thankyou Harry Truman . Their overthrow of the government of Iran in 1953 and the installation of the murderous Shah . Their support for Saddam Hussein . Backing him in his war with Iran . The list goes on and on and on . But , somehow , the victims are being blamed !! What masterful manipulation of the facts !! If it wasn`t all so sick , one might admire their skill .

  2. The most damning sign over and above the forementioned, is the “Nuke them!(drop the A-bomb on their head)”, so easily uttered by Americans. I never heard any British, French, Russian, say that. This is not caused by military spending, it goes much deeper.

    1. That’s a powerful point. For example, right-wing radio talk star Michael Savage has several times advocated dropping atomic bombs on our third world enemies. The reaction of those who call in is more significant (that’s a selected sample, not a poll of course) — naked thirst for blood, exultation in our ability to kill without danger of reprisal.

      As so many have said, the US history of foreign war is that is risk less for us at home, even an economic stimulant. No other major power has such a history, so it is no surprise that our use of war is unique.

  3. The use of drones is despicable. At the point when war has become so one-sided that you can engage a foe without any danger that they can hurt you bac, there is no courage that needs to be shown. The only place courage can be shown in such a ‘battlefield’ (really, a slaughter-house) is on the part of the defeated, who may at least try to die with dignity. But the drone denies them even that – they cannot surrender even if they want to, and if their last scream is a defiant “fuck you!!!!!!!” even that gets lost in the electrosphere. Thus the drone denies both ‘sides’ any chance of military honor and leaves only the coward as the last person standing.

    Meanwhile, the young kids are weaned on games like “Black Ops” for their game consoles, presenting a sanitized version of warfare in which pointless missions involving killing mindless ranks of stereotypes “bad guys” desensitizes them to killing (“yay! Head shot!”) and mentally prepares them to be the next generation of cannon-fodder or oppressors.

    It’s all good fun when you’re the top dog but a strategy of exerting naked power means that when you fall from the pedestal, your only recourse is to beg. And you’d better not have pissed off the whole planet, or there will be nobody to turn to for mercy. It’s one thing when they’re cheering “thank god the tyrant is dead!” as they allegedly are in Libya, but when the tyrant is you… not so good.

  4. In a room full of drunks, nothing is more visible and fearsome than reasonable sobriety. The way FM throws itself against the current drunken onslaught on America’s (and humanity’s) most chrished values is both inspiring and painful to watch. This is a good post. As always.

  5. Do you really think the average American was paying attention enough over the last 10+ years to develop a “bloodlust”? IMHO it was already there and some of us occasionally made decisions and took actions (including voting) that supported the call for bloodletting, while others didn’t.

    Forgetting the empty suits who put those who fight the countries battles in these situations, the psychological damage is not done to the country, but those very few who fought and their families. A soldier died this week who was on his 14th deployment. I’m a Vietnam Vet and this 14th deployment story is starting to warp my brain further. How could we let this happen, even understanding he probably went to protect those nuggets he was serving with. What was the threat again?

    The country continues to be led by the rabble that makes up the political class that uses that very “bloodlust” in us to rally the mis-informed to their latest adventure/election. I am reminded of how we treated the American Indian, this bloodlust isn’t new; rather, a continuation of our darkside as humans.

    I’m hoping those who made it back from this 10 years of mistakes can get us back on track by replacing the current embarrassing political class. The upside is it won’t take much to be an improvement.

    1. Thank you for your service, and for contributing this valuable perspective.

      I share your hopes. Please comment again on the future comments in this long series about reforming America.

    2. I think the blood-lust in AMerican is carefully cultivated by the media, which show a sanitized image of war: simplistic narrative of good guy vs. evil doers, the damage and destruction of war inflicted on the average people is rarely shown, death toll on foreign civilians is rarely reported, war pictures only show video game like combat scenes.

  6. I don’t believe that the average American has developed a bloodlust over the last 10 years. When Osama bin Laden was killed, there were no widespread street celebrations going on in my neighborhood. Actually there wasn’t any celebrating going on at all. And people in my neighborhood are very good at bringing in illegal fireworks from out of state and are not afraid to light them up on the 4th of July. But I saw nothing of the sort on that day. Most people were just hopeful that getting him would mean an end to the war.

    That being said, I’m not seeing any widespread campaigns to pressure elected officials into changing U.S. policies either. Most people seem to think we are stuck with what we got and there is nothing anyone can do to change it. And sadly, as long as the NFL is still playing on Sunday, and no one in your family is in the military, it really doesn’t matter all that much anyway. Baa, baa, baa.

  7. "Assassination Bloodlust - Idolizing Absolute Power"

    Assassination Bloodlust – Idolizing Absolute Power“, by James Bovard, CounterPunch, 28 June 2011 — Opening:

    The Christian Science Monitor published a piece I wrote last month wrote opposing allowing the U.S. government to kill Americans without a warrant, trial, or any judicial niceties. The article, “Assassination Nation: Are there any limits on President Obama’s license to kill?,” spurred a torrent of feedback on that vividly illustrates how some Americans now view absolute power. …

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