February 4, 2013

The Religion of Permanent War


By Adam Marletta
I greeted last week’s news of the military’s ending its ban on women serving in combat roles—and the hollow, misguided claims of “victory” for gender-equity that followed—with the same mixed sentiments I felt when the equally discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was revoked two years ago. “Instead of allowing more people to join the army,” I joked with friends, “I would prefer to see the exclusionary rules expanded to include men and heterosexuals—thus, preventing anyone from joining the military.”
OK, so maybe I was only half joking.
No doubt the military’s prohibition on women soldiers was sexist and outdated. Women who desire a career in the army should certainly be free to pursue one. But is the fact that women can now take part (and potentially die) in our dubious, illicit wars around the globe—not to mention the horrific instances of torture and barbarous acts of cruelty that have become such a pervasive part of our foreign policy—really something to celebrate?
Well-intentioned as they may be, the inclusion of gays and women in our imperial endeavors does not make them any less immoral. Change the face of war all you like—it is still war.
Then again, with President Barack Obama’s second term focus on gun-laws, imigration and the deficit over prospects of scaling back our military entanglements, or cutting the Pentagon’s bloated budget, Americans remain passively indifferent to our culture of permanent war. And there is currently no antiwar movement in sight to force a change of priorities.
Part of this apparent apathy is due to the fact progressives have fallen victim to what has arguably been the greatest propaganda feat of Obama’s administration thus far: The fiction that the Iraq war is over. It’s not. Some 30,000 “non-combat” forces remain in Iraq to “maintain the peace” (a highly precarious, if not contradictory, effort based on that sentence alone). Hence my skepticism of Obama’s proposed troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, if not sooner.
Additionally, the U.S. is currently engaged in a number of covert conflicts (many of them utilizing unmanned predator drones) in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Filmmaker Richard Rowley and Nation reporter, Jeremy Scahill outline these clandestine activities in the newly released documentary film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.
Yet, according to the corporate media’s narrative, President Obama has ushered in a post-war-on-terror peace. Indeed, the Afghanistan war and the use of predator drones garnered little discussion during the presidential election. Outside of the lingering remnants of Occupy Wall Street, the antiwar left has virtually shut down under Obama. Little wonder Glen Ford, editor of the online Black Agenda Report describes Obama, not as the “lesser” evil, but the “more effective evil.”
George Orwell, in his dystopian prediction of a nation locked in permanent war, only got it half-right. Rather than a mass-scale World War III used to generate perpetual patriotism and national loyalty, we are instead fighting numerous “cold wars” on various fronts. The ultimate goal of citizen control, however, is largely the same.
“The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects,” Orwell wrote in 1984,”and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word ‘war’ therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that, by becoming continuous, war has ceased to exist.”
War has become our new religion. Indeed, as membership in traditional religious faiths decreases, Americans remain intimately connected through the language and rituals of, in the words of Glenn Greenwald, “all things military.”
And I am not merely referring to conservatives. “Antiwar” liberals have increasingly proved themselves to be just as hawkish and militaristic when the president is a Democrat. Case in point was last summer’s Democratic National Convention, during which speaker after speaker praised the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which liberal convention-goers greeted with jubilant cheers and banal chants of “USA! USA!” And here you thought only Republicans spoke in such sports-arena sloganeering.
I don’t care how evil bin Laden was. Joyously celebrating the killing of any human being is just sick. Yet this is what happens to those infected by the childish, us-versus-them mentality of war. The language of war—like the iconography of advertising—replaces rational, complex thought with easy symbolism and irrational emotional appeals. Or, in the moronic words of NRA spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, “The only thing that stops a bad-guy with a gun, is a good-guy with a gun.” Such an infantile, yet chillingly pervasive, worldview is a direct product of a culture steeped in the language of war.
Those who voice even the mildest criticism of U.S. imperial hegemony are promptly subjected to scathing personal attacks—a lesson Secretary of Defense nominee, Chuck Hagel learned from his recent battering during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday. Hagel’s blasphemous offenses…? He had the audacity, back in 2007, to question the wisdom of the “surge” in Iraq. (And, incidentally, he was right to do so since it failed.) Hagel was also forced to defend his record accurately claiming the militant Israeli defense lobby AIPAC “intimidates a lot of people here [in Congress].”
Remind me again what Orwell said about truth-telling becoming a “revolutionary act” in a time of “universal deceit.”
Speak out against the military as Hagel has and you become a pariah. Now, in the interest of his own career advancement, Hagel is predictably walking-back his innocuous statements about the surge and Israel.
Changing the face of the U.S. military through well-intentioned--but ultimately  misguided--efforts to include groups traditionally banned from military service has made war more palatable to liberals and those who would otherwise oppose military force. As long as the narrow press focus is kept exclusively on the army’s perceived diversity—and not, you know…who the soldiers are actually killing—Americans remain passive and ignorant of global U.S. atrocities.
In the end, it is ultimately the poor, the disadvantaged and those without any other economic opportunities who enlist in the armed forces. No matter how open and inclusionary the army claims to have become, I guarantee you will not see the rich, the privileged, or the college educated flying off to Afghanistan, Pakistan or any of our other 700 or so military bases anytime soon.
Adam Marletta is the former chair and current secretary of the Portland Green Independent Party. He has written for The Journal Tribune, The York County Coast Star, The Hippo Magazine and Kennebunk's Tourist News. You can follow his weekly essays at Guerrilla Press.blogspot.com. He lives in Portland.

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