American doesn’t actually win wars anymore—not on foreign soil against enemy combatants, nor in the service of domestic social issues—we simply drift away out of boredom and fatigue.
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, June 17, 2020
American doesn’t actually win wars anymore. We have the more recent disastrous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we managed to spend trillions and kill millions while simultaneously leaving both countries worse off than when we started, before walking away and pretending like we didn’t even want to be there in the first place.
This isn’t new territory for the United States as it’s a pattern of behavior that dates back at least to the Korean War, a conflict that lasted only three years, and which has never officially ended, with more than 28,000 US troops permanently stationed there to this day. While we were winding down there, we moved on to Vietnam, another unmitigated disaster, before involving ourselves in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, as well as Central and South America, leaving a trail of political, human and economic destruction in our wake, but always with a fresh market for Coca-Cola, Exxon and McDonalds.
In its 242 years of existence, America has been at war for 225 of them, we are therefore, a nation built on, and fed by, constant war. We began with a revolution, had ourselves a good old-fashioned civil war just to dust things up, then went on to fight everyone we could find from the people who lived here when we “discovered” the place, to just about every group of people on earth. The reason we don’t see ourselves like other great colonial powers in history such as Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Japan, and the Soviet Union is because we won. We won and we wrote the history books. We said we were defending liberty, democracy and religious freedom. We didn’t colonize other countries we told ourselves, we just created over 800 military bases scattered across 70 countries on nearly every continent and never left. The combined armed forces of Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined.
But we don’t just fight wars with troops on foreign soil. If we don’t like the way you’re conducting your domestic business, we will send in drones and surgically eliminate anyone and anything that annoys us or happens to stand in the way of corporate profits. We call it national security.
America is great at branding. We used to have a Department of War until we decided that didn’t jibe with our own inflated, self image as a City on a Hill, so we changed it to the Defense Department which made everyone a lot more comfortable and makes everything we do seem reasonable and justifiable.
As a nation founded on a warped version of Christian ideology, we have been indoctrinated into believing that we are all somehow warriors in an endless fight for liberty, pickup trucks and round dessert. American evangelicals especially like to think of themselves as warriors in a righteous fight, quoting Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
The obvious metaphor being that Christian salvation is a complete defense against attacks from the Devil, but it is most often used to defend aggressive posturing in the name of God. The Crusades were also very big on Ephesians. The righteous hand of the Lord God Almighty.
Culturally, Americans love a good war metaphor, so when we are not content with simply meddling in other country’s affairs with wars and rumors of wars, we busy ourselves fighting wars at home. We do battle with everything from cancer to illiteracy, with some conflicts barely recognizable as more than skirmishes, while others rise to the level of a declared war, complete with czars, generals and standing armies of willing soldiers.
We had the War on Poverty, which had some early success, at least with some poor white people, until it became more politically expedient to do away with expensive social programs and just go back to despising all poor people equally.
We had the War on Terror, which has mostly succeeded in growing and enriching the military industrial complex at the cost of the same civil liberties we claimed we were fighting terrorists over with in the first place.
We had the War on Crime, one of those idiosyncratic American pursuits that appear to be in service of mankind, but in reality end up as nothing more than a series of heinous crime against humanity. We took an effort to reduce crime, especially in inner cities and then rather than look at the root causes, decided that putting people in prison forever would somehow serve us better than teaching people to read and giving them a job. In effect, we literally decided we would rather pay twice as much to fund massive police departments and private prisons if it meant we didn’t have to pay for programs that would benefit poor people of color.
We are still fighting the War on Drugs, which has easily been our most successful war to date, if by success you mean that it had its intended effect. The War on Drugs was designed to incapacitate two groups conservative white men hated at the time, Blacks and hippies. The hippies cut their hair and turned from pot and tie-dye to cocaine and power ties, while Black America descended ever deeper into a permanent underclass, filling prisons with whoever was left behind from the white flight from American urban metros. The downside of this unbridled success has been an unimaginable cost of trillions in tax dollars, the generational decimation of an entire culture, and the creation of a criminal justice system that has grown completely out of control, and which led to profiteering from pain and misery.
In this war of prohibition, the cure was indeed far worse than anything the disease of recreational drugs ever represented, either in perception or reality, but it could be argued that was always the intent, so the jury is still out.
The philosopher James Childress described the dilemma of using of war as a metaphor saying, ”In debating social policy through the language of war, we often forget the moral reality of war…and the fundamental problem being that it is often unclear when the war is over.”
Now we find ourselves in fighting a culture war with two fronts. On the one front we have what should be a non-partisan, global health pandemic that is likely to kill 200,000 Americans before it’s all said and done. On the opposite front, we are finally being forced to deal with decades of failed policies concerning our nation’s original sin of slavery and the subjugation of Black Americans at the hands of the White establishment for four centuries. One was ultimately preventable and without political avarice while the other was inescapable and inherently tied to the political failures of both parties. You can’t cure a pandemic with thoughts and prayers and you can’t fix four hundred years of suffocating oppression with an after-school special in February.
In both cases, the Trump administration is promoting a strategy of non-engagement whereby we all collectively ignore the problem, hoping it will all just go away. It’s no mystery that the overgrown toddler occupying the White House is using a tactic reminiscent of a toddler’s grasp of cause and effect, but that so many otherwise intelligent Americans are choosing to ignore science and medicine at the urging of a delusional man-child.
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in massive disruption, severe illness and record-breaking fatalities for the modern era, but Americans can’t be bothered to do something as simple as wear a mask for the benefit of the community. Trump and his followers have decided that wearing a mask makes them appear weak and somehow infringes on their individual freedom to kill whomever they choose.
White conservatives everywhere have decided that the battle flag of a failed coup against America that only lasted four years is the embodiment of their white heritage, regardless of their personal history or geographic relevance. Protecting Confederate statues and the right to fly a traitor’s flag has become shorthand for white supremacy. They’ve turned in their hoods, sheets and swords for camouflage, red trucker caps and AR-15’s, but it was never about heritage, just as it was never about state’s rights. It was always about white supremacy.
Unlike the abject dysfunction of race relations in America, the coronavirus has no political agenda, no timetable, doesn’t discriminate, and lacks any fealty to boredom or fatigue. It will ravage us at will as long as we sit back and allow it to. We can pretend it doesn’t exist, just as we have with our attempts to ignore institutional racism in America, but eventually it is going to come back to haunt us, regardless of how we feel about masks—or hoods.