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September 22, 2016

Dissecting the many faces of war

We have a war on everything these days. There’s a war on poverty, on drugs, on terror, on Christmas, on science, on crime and illegal immigration. In fact, it seems like the only thing we don’t have a war on is premature ejaculation.

But I hear one’s coming very quickly.

In any event, I’m very disturbed by all these wars, not least since they most often seem to make whatever problem they are supposed to be ending worse. A 2007 article published in Mother Jones by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, research fellows at New York University, says that the War on Terrorism had resulted in seven times the number of terrorist attacks world-wide.

The War on Drugs has meant that instead of being cheap and quality-controlled, drugs are expensive and cut with other, sometimes more deadly substances. Drugs have become a big business, rewarding the most violently ruthless and paranoid criminals with millions of dollars. No one is murdered over cigarettes. Military operations – with dozens of dead – are fought over opiates. In the 1920s and 1930s, Prohibition and its “War on Alcohol” contributed to the power and wealth of gangsters like Al Capone.

According to the Census Bureau, by the time War on Poverty programs began in 1964, the poverty rate had fallen from 23 percent to 15 percent.

Since then, the percentage declined to about 12 percent in the mid-1970s and remained there while the actual number of people declined to about 25 million in the 1970s but then back up to 35 million in 2005. Now, correlation does not imply causation, but it does seem that the War on Poverty has been ineffective for 30 years.

Specific examples aside, my whole attitude towards war was shaped very early on by the classic television show “M*A*S*H.” Set in an Army hospital during the Korean War. In one episode the central character, a surgeon nicknamed Hawkeye, declares that “War is war and Hell is Hell and of the two, war is worse,” explaining that there are no innocent bystanders in Hell, while war is full of them. Marijuana prohibition is the best example of this. Stoners are harmless, but they used to get arrested, thrown in jail, and beat up by cops. William Randolph Hearst and Harry Anslinger used to make up stories of violent murders and the seduction of white women by black men because of “a narcotic known to America as marijuana.”

In a similar vein, there are no longer any commissions or research groups. Now we have think-tanks and task forces. In the last presidential campaign, much was made of Obama’s qualification or lack thereof to be commander-in-chief, and McCain even said he was running for commander-in-chief.

Militarism is everywhere in America nowadays. Both the left and the right take part in it whole hog. The far left has it’s “vanguard of the revolution,” and the mainstream has wars on inequality and oppression, in addition to the War on Poverty.  The right has wars on terror and drugs and sees leftist wars on “traditional values.” Both left and right love traditional war: war against nations and peoples. It would appear that the United States is at war with the world – perpetual, impossible to end war. How can we end a war on a concept or tactic when the words no longer exist in our lexicon?

Why is war so popular?  There are two reasons, I think. One is historical. American mythology and popular history portray this country as having a special destiny to lead, if not rule, the world. The idea of Manifest Destiny, the City on a Hill, is a notion of being chosen. America was chosen by God or history to free the world from sin or oppression. 

The earliest settlers launched a crusade against evil; we have inherited that crusade and must see it through to Utopia. Only instead of the Kingdom of God the Puritans sought, we seek to establish the Republic of God. That is our consciousness of why we fight, our justification and expiation. It was worth the deaths of the tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dresden, Tokyo and the 500,000 Iraqi children who died of starvation after the first Gulf War. It was worth because we were fighting evil foreign gooks, not other human beings.

The second reason, and the real reason, is power. Only governments declare war (not that they even do that anymore), only they have the monopoly on force that can enslave millions to be soldiers. That, ultimately, is the goal of government and all its allies, like big business and big labor.

They don’t want free, independent, thinking people.  They want good, unquestioning, totally obedient soldiers. Look at education. There are official views promulgated and encouraged, logic is no longer taught, homeschooling is depicted as the province of nut jobs and cultists. In the name of freedom and democracy, no independent thought will be tolerated. Question authority, but never government authority. As Lord Acton said, “power corrupts.”

Matt Robare is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at mrobare@student.umass.edu.

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