Novelist Ben Fountain wrote an article in The Guardian on Saturday about how we Americans accept unending foreign wars as normal, although only a tiny number of us are willing to fight in those wars.
We know the fantasy version, the movie version, but only that 1% of the nation – and their families – who have fought the wars truly know the hardship involved.
For the rest of us, no sacrifice has been called for: none. No draft. No war tax (but huge deficits), and here it bears noting that the top tax rate during the second world war was 90%.
No rationing, the very mention of which is good for a laugh. Rationing? That was never part of the discussion.
But those years when US soldiers were piling sandbags into their thin-skinned Humvees and welding scrap metal on to the sides also happened to coincide with the heyday of the Hummer here at home. Where I live in Dallas, you couldn’t drive a couple of blocks without passing one of those beasts, 8,600 hulking pounds of chrome and steel.
Or for a really good laugh, how about this: gas rationing. If it’s really about the oil, we could support the troops by driving less, walking more.
Or suppose it’s not about the oil at all, but about our freedoms, our values, our very way of life – that it’s truly “a clash of civilizations”, in the words of Senator Rubio. If that’s the case, if this is what we truly believe, then our politicians should call for, and we should accept no less than, full-scale mobilization: a draft, confiscatory tax rates, rationing.
Most of the American presidential candidates have shown they are ignorant of the reality of war, Fountain wrote.
[F]antasy war-mongering is solidly mainstream. We’ve seen candidates call for a new campaign of “shock and awe” (Kasich), for carpet-bombing and making the desert glow (Cruz), for “bomb[ing] the shit out of them” (Trump), for waterboarding “and a hell of a lot worse” (Trump again), and for pre-emptive strikes and massive troop deployments (Jeb).
One candidate purchased a handgun as “the last line of defense between ISIS and my family” (Rubio), and the likely Democratic nominee includes “the nail-eaters – McChrystal, Petraeus, Keane” among her preferred military advisers, and supports “intensification and acceleration” of US military efforts in Iraq and Syria.
Yes, America has many enemies who heartily hate our guts and would do us every harm they’re able to inflict, but the failures of hard power over the past 15 years seem utterly lost on our political class.
After the Paris attacks last December, Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard suggested that a force of 50,000 US troops deployed to Syria, supported by air power, would crush ISIS in short order, leading to the liberation of Fallujah, Mosul, and other ISIS strongholds.
“I don’t think there’s much in the way of unanticipated side-effects that are going to be bad there,” opined Kristol – funny guy! – who back in 2002 said that removing Saddam Hussein “could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy”. [snip]
“I would listen to the generals,” Trump said in one debate as he called for deploying 30,000 troops to Syria.
I would say: screw that. How about we listen to the sergeants, lieutenants and captains who wore those boots on the ground the past 15 years?
The ones who are out, who are now free to speak their minds and have no stake in the business-as-usual business of American war; no sergeant or junior officer is angling for a lucrative post-military career sitting on defense industry boards or yakking for cable news.
On a fall night in Austin last year I listened to one of these former sergeants – infantry, two tours in Iraq – tell me: Sure, we can invade Syria and whip ISIS’s butt. Just make sure we go in with four or five hundred thousand troops, and plan on keeping at least 200,000 there for the next, say, 15 or 20 years. And we’d better commit to massive investment in the infrastructure, schools, the legal system, to keep ISIS or something like it from coming back. Oh, and we’ll have to bring back the draft, that’s what it’ll take to keep an army that big over there. And raise taxes to pay for it, including healthcare for all the fucked-up people who’ll be coming home. We can beat ISIS, sure. But not the way those guys –he nodded at the TV, where one of the circus-style debates was going on – are talking about.
Endless war: Donald Trump and the fantasy of cost-free conflict by Ben Fountain for The Guardian.