The Wars Come Home
It was inevitable, really. After nearly ten years of a dominant and domineering political party governing with an iron fist, unfailingly promoting the most violent, punishing, and ruthless answers to every question, Americans have become very skeptical and cheap about doing anything other than hurting people, even themselves. Cynical ploys to convert inchoate resentments into votes and attention, politicians (mostly Republican, but the disease is quite bipartisan), have, ever since then-Governor Reagan triumphantly used helicopters to tear-gas hippies at Berkeley, always have aroused the vengeful and domineering qualities that lie latent in human nature to accomplish their own, usually selfish, ends, basically because it works. Angry people need something to be angry at, and the best way to channel that anger in “productive” directions for the party in power is to find some “other” to blame. Did Jews, gays, or unionists cause Germany’s post-WWI travails? Of course not. Did Jeremiah Wright, Van Jones, or ACORN cause the current unpleasantness in America? About as likely. But a society taught to be at “war” with something or other, incessantly, is much more malleable and easily hoodwinked than a society that simply seeks to solve its own problems and coexist in peace, at home and abroad. But the Right is having none of that, for the obvious reason that it makes us look both lame and foolish, so more wars it is.
Those who have actually experienced war and whose bodies and minds survived the ordeal are much more skeptical, from Eisenhower on down, but are now either dying off or shut out of the conversation, while those who’ve done nothing but cheerlead from the sidelines control our discourse, and the media, ever eager to cover drama, if not carnage and corpses, happily hand these cowardly and bloodthirsty charlatans the floor. As powdered and cosseted ”strategists” plot and plan the latest scheme for world domination, always just another war or two away, the lives, bodies, minds, and countries thus shattered become a distant and rather irrelevant abstraction. Talking about “winning” becomes particularly important when everyone can see that we’re not, and might then want to start cutting their losses. Nobody likes to lose, you know, and our military adventures have become the convenient replacement for the old Roman “bread and circuses.” Except in our case, no bread is involved. As far as government largesse goes, we’re Zimbabwe, but with freeways and relatively nicer dungeons.
Bush’s bellicose rhetoric probably represented the turning point; false, aggressive “patriotism” coupled with ridiculously overblown fears of the enemy gradually turned us from an already overly punitive and overbearing military empire to a rogue elephant that now not only embraced “preventive” war, an international anathema since Nuremburg, but also advocates for and loudly attempts to justify torture, illegal government spying, and the kind of ruthless stifling of dissent that used to be the hallmark of only our most frightening enemies. With these changes, The United States inexorably lost what the New York Times called in a 2003 editorial opposing the rush to war with Iraq, ” an essential part of its glory.” We went from welcoming strangers, as inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, to demonizing them and blaming them for our own problems. We went from being the world’s beacon of freedom to its largest jailer, with or without due process or any semblance of humanity. The home and founding advocate of the United Nations just unilaterally dropped out of the International Criminal Court, and then promptly committed astoundingly blatant war crimes, before all the world. In the process we also, as it happens, went broke. Coincidence? I think not.
As Orwell wrote, “the goal of the war isn’t to be won, but to be permanent.” Cowering citizens beset by a wily and implacable enemy won’t ask for anything of their government, since it’s inevitably occupied with more “important” things. An economy in crisis and a government crippled by debt can hardly be asked to solve even the direst problems at home, so the gleeful war profiteering can go on, unencumbered by the noisy unwashed who might think a decent life for themselves might be a better buy than another war or two, since it is their money. Sadly, we are now poor as a nation because of these choices; too poor to provide health care for all, too poor to maintain the infrastructure of which we were once so proud, and too poor to properly educate our children. All we do, and that pretty poorly as well, is war.
Thus the dominoes of our many domino theories continue to fall. Soon, in addition to finding that we can’t afford health care, we will also find that we can’t afford to stop global warming either, can’t afford to reform our flagrantly corrupt banking system, and can’t afford the sensible trade policies that might put Americans back to work; the cupboard, it turns out, is embarrassingly yet conveniently bare. Just another case of “more will than wallet,” as Bush’s father patiently explained with suitably feigned ruefulness, evidently referring to wallets other than his own, after ten years of Reaganomics had laid us low for what by then was the third time. Don’t think for a moment that Republicans start wars and trash the economy accidentally, given that every time they do so, they win by default, as they are now. They aren’t nearly as stupid as they pretend to be, however convincingly at times.
They need a public that is both fearful and vengeful, and they’ve proven themselves quite adept at creating one, seamlessly shifting from threat to threat, enemy to enemy, like the seasonal colors at Pottery Barn. And every time a Medicare-dependent teabagger calls universal healthcare ”Nazi” or perhaps “communist,” another wealthy Republican consultant gets his wings, and the American people get sent up, again, before another Death Panel of their own making.