By David Swanson
When you imagine ending a war, do you imagine the U.S. President lamenting the human cost of the war’s financial expense while simultaneously demanding that Congress increase military spending — and while mentioning new wars that could potentially be launched?
Do you picture him blowing up families with missiles from robot airplanes, and committing to continuing those “strikes” while maintaining that such things don’t constitute continuing the war?
Did you hope that if the wars for freedom ever ended we might get our freedoms back, our rights to demonstrate restored, the Patriot Act repealed, the local police rid of their tanks and war weapons, the landscape stripped of all the cameras and metal detectors and bullet-proof glass that have grown up for two decades?
Did you imagine the people in Guantanamo cages who were never on a “battlefield” would no longer be viewed as threats to “return” there once the war was “ended”?
Did you think that without a war there might be something resembling peace, including perhaps an embassy, the lifting of sanctions, or the unfreezing of assets?
Did you perhaps hope for an apology and reparations to go along with the confessions that some of the key excuses for the war (such as “nation-building”) were nonsense?
Did you expect the U.S. President at the same time as ending the war and ordering higher military spending to also order documents on the Saudi role in 9/11 made public while also selling ever more weapons to Saudi Arabia?
Are you enough of a dreamer to have imagined a thorough study would be made of the dead, the injured, the traumatized, and the homeless — maybe even that we would see sufficient reporting on those killed by the war for some segment of the U.S. public to become aware that, as with all recent wars, over 90% of the victims were on one side, and of which side that was?
Did you hope at least for restraint in blaming those victims, some let-up on the war lies both old and new? Did you really, deeply, understand that the reporting on the ending of the war would mostly be about the violence and cruelty of ending it, not of waging it? Has it sunk in that history books as well as newspapers will forever tell people that the U.S. government wanted to put Osama bin Laden on trial but the Taliban prefered war, despite the fact that 20 years ago the newspapers reported the opposite?
Of course, nobody imagined the people who worked 20 years to end the war being permitted on television. But did you realize that the experts on the airwaves would mostly be the same people who promoted the war from the start and, in many cases, heavily profited from it?
Nobody imagines the International Criminal Court or the World Court prosecuting non-Africans, but might one not have fantasized about the illegality of the war being a topic of conversation?
The only conversation permitted is one of reforming war, not abolishing it. I appreciate greatly tons of work done by the Costs of War Project, but not the reporting that the past 20 years of war cost $8 trillion. I also appreciate tons of work done by the Institute for Policy Studies, perhaps especially their reporting on the $21 trillion the U.S. government has spent on militarism during the past 20 years. I am fully aware that nobody can really imagine numbers as large as either number. But I don’t think the war spending and war preparations spending and war profiteering of the past 20 years has been 38% wrong. I think it has been 100% wrong. I am 100% aware that we are radically more likely to scale it back a teeny bit than to eliminate it all at once. But we can talk about the full costs of war, rather than normalizing the majority of them (as if they were for something other than war), regardless of what we propose to do about it.
If the difference between $8 trillion and $21 trillion is unfathomable, we can at least recognize the vastly different quantities of good each could have done if redirected into human and environmental needs. We can at least recognize that one is almost 3 times the other. And perhaps we can spot the difference between the much smaller numbers, $25 billion and $37 billion.
Many activists and — to take them at their word — even many Congress Members want military spending dramatically reduced and moved into useful spending areas. You can get dozens of Congress Members and hundreds of peace groups to sign letters or support bills to reduce military spending by 10 percent. But when Biden proposed to INCREASE military spending, the leading “progressive” Congress Members started objecting to any increase beyond Biden’s, thereby normalizing Biden’s — with some peace groups quickly echoing that new line.
So, of course, I object to an increase of $25 billion, but I object even more so to an increase of $37 billion even though part of it is backed by Biden while the other part is a bipartisan Congressional effort that we can squint hard and pretend to blame on just the Republicans.
Why do I have so many nitpicking, obnoxious, and divisive objections at this time of great peace and lightness and the resolution — at long last — of the “longest war in U.S. history” (so long as Native Americans are not human beings)?
Because I imagine something different when I think of ending a war.
I imagine resolution, reconciliation, and reparations — possibly including criminal prosecutions and convictions. I imagine apologies and the learning of lessons. When a single historian or peace activist could have done a better job than the entire military-spying-“diplomatic” machine by rejecting an insane enterprise of mass-murder (as a single Congress Member did), I expect some changes — changes in the direction of gradually getting out of the war business, not of getting the next wars “right.”
I picture truth commissions and accountability. I fantasize about a shift of priorities, so that the 3% of U.S. military spending that could end starvation on Earth actually does so — and similar remarkable feats for the other 97%.
I imagine the U.S. at least ending the arms trade, ceasing to saturate the globe with U.S. weapons, and closing the bases that dot the earth stirring up trouble. When the Taliban asks how they are worse than Saudi Arabia and dozens of other governments that the U.S. supports, I expect an answer — some answer, any answer — but ideally the answer that the U.S. will cease propping up oppressive regimes everywhere, not just in the one spot that it claims to be ending its war on (apart from continued bombing).
The fact that over three-quarters of the U.S. public tells the corporate media outlets that it supports the ending of the war (following endless media “coverage” of the ending of the war being a catastrophe), suggests to me that I am not alone in wishing for something a little better than what we’re getting in the way of ending wars.