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Tom Engelhardt 282

March 15, 2018
Tomgram: William Astore, The Fog of War in America
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: This is your last chance to get your own signed, personalized copy of James Carroll's moving new novel, The Cloister, his vivid retelling of the medieval love story of Abelard and Héloïse, set against the grim backdrop of the Crusades.  The offer will end on Monday.  In the meantime, donate $100 to this website ($125 if you live outside the United States) and the book is yours.  Check out Carroll's recent TD piece on our modern version of the Crusades, then think about receiving a genuinely rivetting novel and, while you're at it, giving TD a helping hand in tough times.  Go to our donation page for the details.  Tom]

I’ve long been struck by one strange aspect of the most recent part of the American Century: just how demobilized this country has been in the midst of distant wars that have morphed and spread for almost 17 years. I was born in July 1944 into a fully mobilized country fighting World War II in Europe and the Pacific. Pearl Harbor aside, actual war was then a distant reality for most Americans, but there was no question that this nation was at war (as were both my parents: my father in the U.S. Army Air Forces, as it was then called, and my mother in the war effort at home). War bonds, Victory Gardens, Rosie the Riveter -- mobilization for war was a fact of life, no matter where you were.

The same was true for another era of war in my lifetime: the Vietnam years. With up to half a million troops deployed, along with significant parts of the U.S. Navy and Air Force, to fight peasant rebels thousands of miles from home, war-making couldn’t have been more distant. Yet from the mid-1960s into the early 1970s, significant parts of this country were once again mobilized, even if in a movement against that war.  The streets were regularly filled with protesters. In Congress, opposition was commonplace. In the military, too, there were powerful antiwar currents and, by the last years of that war, the antiwar movement itself would be led by Vietnam veterans.

That was, of course, just how a democratic country, a nation "of the people," was supposed to respond to the wars its leaders chose to fight.  Even if in quite different ways, both World War II and Vietnam were people’s wars fought by draft armies and civilians who felt the call to service in some essential fashion. That’s what makes the twenty-first-century version of American war so eerily different. The one thing it hasn’t been is a call to service of any sort.  Quite the opposite.  It’s been fought by an all-volunteer military, a force remarkably isolated from the rest of the country that today’s author, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore, has in the past compared to a foreign legion.

That military and the demobilized public that goes with it have been a long time coming -- since, in fact, the moment in 1973 when President Richard Nixon abolished the draft in hopes of eliminating the very idea of antiwar protest.  Our wars are now not only fought in distant lands, but at least in part by a secretive military of 70,000, the Special Operations forces cocooned inside the regular military.  Such conflicts are also overseen by an ascendant national security state enswathed in a penumbra of secrecy.  Today, America’s wars never end either in victory or defeat. They just go on and on.  So they and that demobilized public might be thought of as part of the new definition of the American way of life and, as Astore so pungently points out, the result is a country that your parents and mine wouldn’t have recognized. Tom
America’s Phony War
Blitzkrieg Overseas, Sitzkrieg in the Homeland
By William J. Astore

Overseas, the United States is engaged in real wars in which bombs are dropped, missiles are launched, and people (generally not Americans) are killed, wounded, uprooted, and displaced. Yet here at home, there’s nothing real about those wars. Here, it’s phony war all the way. In the last 17 years of “forever war,” this nation hasn’t for one second been mobilized. Taxes are being cut instead of raised. Wartime rationing is a faint memory from the World War II era. No one is being required to sacrifice a thing.
Now, ask yourself a simple question: What sort of war requires no sacrifice?  What sort of war requires that almost no one in the country waging it take the slightest notice of it?
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