America’s endless war quietly moves across the broken nations of the world. Every so often, U.S. soldiers die, as four Green Berets did several weeks ago in . . . Niger.
And the news was more about the adequacy of presidential condolences to the families of the slain soldiers than the point of our military presence there, i.e., why they died. An official sentiment was uttered by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Oct. 5:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the fallen service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the freedoms we hold so dear.”
They died for a cliché. This is the best the country could offer, but it’s hardly surprising, much as it rips the grief and the outrage wide open. They died in defense of no one’s freedom except those who wage and profit from endless war, and the fake media fuss over the nature of their condolences simply further shields this fact from public view.
Tom Engelhardt writes: “And yet, across a vast swath of the planet, the wars of David Petraeus, James Mattis, and the other generals of this era simply go on and on in a region being fractured and devastated (and whose vast numbers of displaced refugees are, in turn, helping to fracture Europe).
“Worse yet, it’s a situation that can’t be seriously discussed or debated in this country because, if it were, opposition to those wars might rise and alternatives to them and the by-now brain-dead decisions of those generals, including newly heightened air wars and the latest mini-surge in Afghanistan, might become part of an actual national debate.”
Can you imagine? A wide-open, ongoing, definitive national conversation about the wars we’re waging — about what the U.S. military is doing in Niger, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya? About our nuclear weapons development? These matters have been swept from the official debate for half a century now. War is a spectator event, in the hands of experts, with fragments of it analyzed after the fact, for a television and Internet audience, the way sporting events are analyzed.
Thus CNN points out, regarding what happened in Niger: “The failure to anticipate an attack and the fact there were no U.S. rescue and recover assets close by meant nearly an hour went by before the evacuation of the two wounded and three dead US troops by French Super Puma helicopters could be completed.”
This sounds like news. It puts us there. It analyzes on-the-ground decision-making. But so many questions remain unasked, and so many assumptions remain invisibly embedded in the reporting — the primary one being that U.S. presence in Niger is necessary and right and the enemy that’s ambushed the Americans has no legitimacy — that it’s really no more than a public relations blast. One in an unending series.
Why is it that the American public has no say in the wars this country commits itself to? During the Vietnam War, the national voice grew loud and clear. This is wrong. Get out. Then, as Engelhardt pointed out, in January 1973 Richard Nixon ended the draft.
“In that single stroke,” he wrote, “before he himself fell prey to the Watergate scandal and resigned his presidency, Nixon functionally created a legacy for the ages, paving the way for the American military to fight its wars ‘generationally’ and lose them until hell froze over with the guarantee that no one in this country would seem to care a whit.”
Major Danny Sjursen put it another way: “War and peace are matters too grave to consign solely to generals, presidents, or intelligence agencies.”
This is heartbreakingly true, yet this is what we have done. The Pentagon, aligned with corporate America, has a budget that grows larger every year. Sixteen years ago, the Executive Branch declared war on evil itself. As far as I can tell, the only freedom it holds dear is the freedom to keep on fighting this war, which means to continue causing enough harm — killing enough civilians — to engender sufficient outrage that insurgencies keep emerging, justifying further intervention.
There is no public debate or even awareness of where this should take us or how it’s working out, nor is there a public, life-and-death stake in the process. The U.S. military relies on a poverty draft and various inducements to pull in recruits, including a sense of patriotism, but the public at large is free to remain unaware of, and uninvested in, what its government is up to.
“. . . now the path to a humane and sustainable future must be built on ethical and ecological foundations.”
So writes Richard Falk, and I agree at the deepest level of my being, but I wonder how it’s possible. The closest equivalent to a universal draft that I can think of is the public stake in the consequences of social and environmental collapse. If we had a department of government with a $700 billion annual budget and a mission to address climate change, poverty, racism and the causes of violence — and a media that cared about and could report with precision on such complex matters — perhaps we could begin creating a sustainable future.
With such a department, we could even reinstate the universal draft. Certainly the desire to serve these ends is universal.