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Afghan children look on as a US soldier from the Provincial Reconstruction team (PRT) Steel Warriors patrols in the mountains of Nuristan Province on December 19, 2009. (Photo: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghan children look on as a US soldier from the Provincial Reconstruction team (PRT) Steel Warriors patrols in the mountains of Nuristan Province on December 19, 2009. (Photo: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

Americans Misled About Their Wars: Lather, Rinse, and Repeat

The only real question worth pondering at this point is why Americans sign on to nihilistic pursuits of this sort with such regular and obedient ease.

Thomas S. Harrington

So, as the newly released internal papers on the Afghan War show, the guys running that operation knew years ago that it was all futile and that we were spending billions— if not trillions—of dollars on a completely lost cause whose only  "achievement" was the spreading of misery, maiming, and death on a massive scale. 

The only real question worth pondering at this point is why Americans sign on to nihilistic pursuits of this sort with such regular and obedient ease. 

If you really want get a serious answer to these things, you have to begin by talking about our prevailing culture of death,  that is, how we  live in a social matrix where all things—including the preciousness  of human life—are instrumentalized within the narrow and suffocating frame of immediate and base appetites.

When you grow up in a place where friendships are so often a mere cover for transactions, where children are development projects or conversely; development problems (and not simply the absolute miracles they are); where people and things are judged principally in terms of their "utility" in achieving this or that short-term material goal, then it is a very small step to adopting complete indifference to the humanity of those in far off lands. 

And so, off we go, cheering the poor people in uniform who, having been instrumentalized into sub-humanity by the economic system we live under, are given the recourse of redeeming themselves from this purgatory by committing mayhem on others whom our national "brand managers" (often referred in common parlance as "leaders") say are even further down the chain of "intrinsic" human value than they.

And when those of us who—thanks mostly to good luck—dwell a little higher up on the totem pole of "intrinsic" human value cheer them on, or explain away their savagery with bromides about bravery and protecting our "democratic values," we play an indispensable role in this grotesque farce.  Meanwhile, most of those mouthing this focus-group-tested rubbish could not even give a coherent five minute explanation—beyond  the importance waving flags and  having the "right" to shop as much as possible—of what it means to have "democratic values."

As anyone who has had the gift of living in other cultures can tell you, such indifference to the consequences of the concerted actions of one's society  is not—despite what the ideologues of savage capitalism in our semiotic hothouse constantly tell us—simply a natural reality of the human condition.

Rather this callousness must be bred and fomented by constant messaging about the abject disposability of all things, including our fellow human beings.

This is the true "triumph of the American will" we love to talk about in our endless pep talks to ourselves. It is the nihilistic desire to eliminate from most of our daily deliberations and conversations perhaps the most important quality  developed by homo sapiens over the course of the ages: human empathy.


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Thomas S. Harrington

Thomas S. Harrington

Thomas S. Harrington is professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of Public Intellectuals and Nation Building in the Iberian Peninsula, 1900–1925: The Alchemy of Identity (Bucknell University Press, 2014).

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