At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, make a toast to Armistice Day, the official end of World War I, a war the United States fought in for less time than President Obama and the 111th Congress have kept the fighting going in Afghanistan and Iraq. Armistice Day is a better name for the day than Veterans Day because it honors both veterans and peace, our primary duty being to cease producing more veterans, a policy that would make us better able to provide a decent life for veterans and everyone else.
We learn a lot about the real motives for wars when whistleblowers leak the minutes of secret meetings, or when congressional committees publish the records of hearings decades later. War planners write books. They make movies. They face investigations. Eventually the beans tend to get spilled. But I have never ever, not even once, heard of a private meeting in which top war makers discussed the need to keep a war going in order to benefit the soldiers fighting in it.
The reason this is remarkable is that you almost never hear a war planner speak in public about the reasons for keeping a war going without claiming that it must be done for the troops, to support the troops, in order not to let the troops down, or so that those troops already dead will not have died in vain. Of course, if they died in an illegal, immoral, destructive action, or simply a hopeless war that must be lost sooner or later, it’s unclear how piling on more corpses will honor their memories. But this is not about logic.
The idea is that the men and women risking their lives, supposedly on our behalf, should always have our support — even if we view what they’re doing as mass murder. Peace activists, in contrast to war planners, say the very same thing about this in private that they say in public: we want to support those troops by not giving them illegal orders, not coercing them to commit atrocities, not sending them away from their families to risk their lives and bodies and mental well-being.
War makers’ private discussions about whether and why to keep a war going deal with very different motives. They only touch on the topic of troops when considering how many of them there are or how long their contracts can be extended before they start killing their commanders. In public, it’s a very different story, one often told with smartly uniformed troops positioned as a backdrop. The wars are all about the troops and in fact must be extended for the benefit of the troops. Anything else would offend and disappoint the troops who have devoted themselves to the war.
Our wars employ more contractors and mercenaries now than troops. When mercenaries are killed and their bodies publicly displayed, the U.S. military will gladly destroy a city in retaliation, as in Fallujah, Iraq. But war propagandists never mention the contractors or the mercenaries. It’s always the troops, the ones doing the killing, and the ones drawn from the general population of just plain folks, even though the troops are being paid, just like the mercenaries only less.
The purpose of making a war be about the people (or some of the people) fighting it is to maneuver the public into believing that the only way to oppose the war would be to sign on as an enemy of the young men and women fighting in it on our nation’s side. Of course, this makes no sense at all. The war has some purpose or purposes other than indulging (or, more accurately, abusing) the troops. When people oppose a war, they do not do so by taking the position of the opposite side. They oppose the war in its entirety. But illogic never slowed down a war maker.
“There will be some nervous Nellies,” said Lyndon Johnson on May 17, 1966, “and some who will become frustrated and bothered and break ranks under the strain. And some will turn on their leaders and on their country and on our fighting men.” Try to follow the logic: Troops are brave. Troops are the war. Therefore the war is brave. Therefore anyone opposing the war is cowardly and weak, a nervous Nelly. Anyone opposing a war is a bad troop who has turned against his or her Commander in Chief, country, and the other troops — the good troops. Never mind if the war is destroying the country, bankrupting the economy, endangering us all, and eating out the nation’s soul. The war is the country, the whole country has a wartime leader, and the whole country must obey rather than think. After all, this is a war to spread democracy!
On August 31, 2010, President Obama said in an Oval Office speech: “This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war [on Iraq] from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.” What can this mean? Never mind that Obama voted repeatedly to fund the war as a senator and insisted on keeping it going as president. Never mind that, in this same speech, he embraced a whole series of lies that had launched and prolonged the war, and then pivoted to use those same lies to support an escalated war in Afghanistan. Let’s suppose that Obama really did “disagree about the war” with Bush. He must have thought the war was bad for our country and our security and the troops. If he’d thought the war was good for those things, he’d have had to agree with Bush. So, at best, Obama is saying that despite his love (never respect or concern; with troops it’s always love) for the troops and so forth, Bush did them and the rest of us wrong unintentionally. The war was the biggest accidental blunder of the century. But no big deal. These things happen.
Because Obama’s speech was about war, he spent a big chunk of it, as is required, praising the troops: “[O]ur troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people,” etc.
And it will no doubt be for their benefit that the War on Afghanistan and other wars drag on in the future, if we don’t put an end to the madness of militarism and reach a point where we can imagine a future Armistice Day.
David Swanson is the author of the forthcoming book “War Is A Lie” http://warisalie.org