Demand the Impossible! (excerpt # 5)

The book is available from Haymarket Books:

Like every culture or subculture, the war culture hangs together with a complex set of shared meanings, webs of significance and common assumptions woven in such a way that members of the culture can communicate with and recognize one another. The war culture promotes a pervasive and growing common sense of American violence unleashed.

The United States spends more than a trillion dollars a year on war and preparation for war, more than the rest of the world combined. The war culture accepts that as a desire for peace. The United States has military bases stretching across the globe, including a base in the Italian Alps, and yet there are no Italian air bases in the Catskills, for example. The war culture sees that as sensible and necessary. The war culture is everywhere, simply taken for granted, always lurking in the shadows and occasionally bursting forth and on full display.

I remember a trailer for a film I saw in a theater several years ago—it looked dreadful, so I never saw the film, but it could well have been Mars Attack or The Day the Earth Stood Still—in which the repeating trope was an alien confronting a group of startled earthlings, saying in an eerily mechanical voice, “We come in peace”—just before blasting them into small pieces. It takes a minute for reality to catch up to these hapless earthlings, but eventually they get it. Like the challenge of the wandering spouse caught in the arms of a lover, the aliens hold to the classic defense, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?”

On any given week you can read or hear the words of a surprised soldier in a US-occupied land saying, “We came to help, but a lot of people don’t seem to like us,” or, “The hardest thing is figuring out who our friends are and who the enemy is among the locals— they smile at you one minute, and toss a bomb the next.” There’s a kind of willful innocence and self-inflicted or forced blindness at work here, for these are the exact words of the British colonial militiaman in India or the French soldier in occupied Algeria or Indochina, the theme song of the troops in every conquering army since time began. See the pictures of US troops searching a home looking for “bad guys” or “insurgents” or “terrorists” in any recent theater of war; take the perspective for a moment of the women watching from the corner, huddled with their terrorized children.

“We come in peace,” but wherever the United States puts down the boot, it brings more war, wider war, and a deeper commitment to war as the way. Marine Corps Major General Butler, two-time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, said in 1935 that, “War is a racket.” That was the title of a popular pamphlet he wrote, and a theme he elaborated in speeches through- out the country over many years: “It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. . . . It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”3 Butler consistently urged citizens to demand the impossible and support three radical proposals: strictly limit all military forces to a defensive posture; hold a referendum of those who would be on the front lines before any military action is undertaken; and take the profit out of war by, among other measures, conscripting the captains of industry and finance as the foot soldiers in any impending fight.

To hope for a world at peace and in balance, powered by love, joy, and justice, to insist that the citizens and residents of the United States become a people among people (not a superior nor a chosen people) and that the country becomes a nation among nations (not some kind of crypto-fascist übernation) is to resist the logic and the reality of war, and to see, as well, the war culture itself as a site of resistance and transformation. It’s to break with the frame that acts as if war is natural and inevitable. It’s to do the hard work of making a vibrant and robust peace movement— connecting with the environmental activists, the immigrant rights forces, the Black Lives Matter upsurge, feminists, and the queer movement—organizing to close all US military bases abroad and to bring all troops home now, leaving no US military or paid mercenaries behind; compelling our government to sign all pending international treaties on nuclear disarmament; mobilizing to cut military spending by 10 percent a year for the next ten years, dedicating the savings to education and health; rallying to suspend and then abrogate all contracts between the US government and Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: