A “Steady State” at Least 17 Years in the Making
It has been nearly one week since an anonymous government official reassured us that democracy is being suspended for our own good, as unelected members of the Trump administration work to thwart his “worst inclinations.” But it has been 17 years since the event that triggered the rapid decline of our democracy into a national security state waging wars overseas for the profit of the few at the expense of basic needs at home and countless lives abroad. The will of the people has long been subsumed under the interests of a military-security complex that devours public resources and spits out death and destruction. The “steady state” is endless war.
17 years ago, our government responded to a terror attack on our own soil by launching a war on terror abroad. An Authorization for the Use of Military Force – the AUMF – granted President Bush the right to wage war on al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Over a decade and a half later, that same order is cited as the war on terror expands far beyond its original boundaries throughout the world. In fact, 39 percent of the world’s nations are now somehow caught up in the War On Terror, whether the US is conducting drone strikes, sending combat forces, or training troops of other nations. Our nation has more than 800 military bases in over 80 countries. Our government has passed a $717 billion defense budget, more than the rest of the top 15 countries combined. And as President Eisenhower so famously warned 65 years ago, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” The general welfare has been sacrificed to war machine.
The Byproducts of a “Steady State”
What are the byproducts of the “steady state” around the world? Earth, air, and water polluted by bombs and blood. Families blown apart. Homelessness. Internal displacement. Refugees. Tears and eyes that can no longer cry. Permanent scars and bodies rendered unrecognizable by disfigurement. Cities demolished. Lives thrown into turmoil. So many dead bodies. So many bodies dying of hunger and disease. Generations that have been taught nothing but violence, and can hardly be blamed for turning violent themselves. So much anger. So much fear. So much hate.
What are the byproducts of a “steady state” at home? Life-saving resources diverted to killing. Water poisoned with lead. Dangerous crumbling infrastructure. Housing, education, environmental, and recreational needs neglected. All of these expenses could be met with money thrown away on killing others far away.
But the deeper cost of the “steady state” of endless war is in our desensitization to militarism as it swallows us whole. It’s in our blindness to the evil of the death waged in our name. It’s in the utter inability to recognize that evil as it destroys our own communities and in our confusing that evil for good around the world.
Weapons of mass destruction have made their way back to our streets, in the hands of militarized police and a fearful citizenry. A nation with a military that kills nameless, faceless suspects from afar through drone warfare based on “patterns of behavior” will also be a nation with a police force that shoots suspects on sight. A nation built on the dehumanization of natives and Africans is exporting that dehumanization worldwide while some try to fight it and others try to deny it and still others openly embrace it at home. As a result we are a divided nation, and any progress we make toward justice and equality at home is undermined by the injustices reaped throughout the world by our tax dollars, in our name.
So the anonymous author of the infamous New York Times Op-Ed wants to reassure us that we are in the hands of the “steady state.” But ever since our nation proceeded to fight terror with ever-expanding terror, there has been nothing “steady” about the state of the world, except when it comes to rising profits for exploiters of natural resources, hatred, and fear.
Democracy as a Casualty of War
And our democracy? Another casualty of war. Casualties include the injured, not simply the dead, for I do think the voices of the people can rise once again above the drone of violence, that they can break through the wall of apathy. But we must first recognize the extent to which our voices have been lost before we can get them back.
How did we get to the point where endless war can implode us from within even as so much of the world dies around us?
Tom Englehart explains how in wars of old, when drafts called young men to service, many recognized the atrocities of the wars in which they fought and protested even from the battlefield. Soldiers as well as conscientious objectors made the case against war. To make our wars more palatable to the public, our nation replaced the paper draft with the poverty draft and recruited with promises of prosperity as well as propaganda. Our government cloaked imperial ambitions with humanitarian pretense and taught us to look the other way when the cloak slipped. Military anthems and flyovers began to accompany sporting events. With all that the military is glorified and praised in our culture, its role in the destabilization of the world is hardly ever discussed in a mainstream media that limits our exposure to the death and chaos and cost. And when the blowback of destabilization and nearly two decades of violence reaches Europe or the United States, many are unable to recognize it as the consequence of cycles of violence perpetuated by our government. The self-glorification and hatred of the enemy other grows deeper, and we become ever more entrenched in a destruction of our own making.
When our resources go to causes against our interests and honest accountability for the cost of our wars is nowhere in the national conversation, we live in a failed democracy. When Congress abdicates its power to declare war, leaving the spread of war to the executive branch and out of the public eye, we live in a failed democracy. When the scope of debates includes transpartisan (beyond the scope of partisanship) agreement on the necessity of an ever-expanding military for an ever-expanding war, we live in a failed democracy. The voices of the people drown under the roar of war.
And we get to the point where hatred for the “enemy other” is so deeply ingrained and yet simultaneously unrecognized, because we cultivate our image as the “heroic us” against the “evil them.” But our society crumbles because our money goes to war, and we don’t invest in peace or de-escalation. It gets to the point where our country elects a violent, blunt-spoken (even if untruthful) narcissist with delusions of grandeur who promises greatness at the expense of “others” at home and abroad. And then the same steady state that keeps pouring resources into war tells us not to worry, because they are keeping this madman from pushing us over the edge of disaster that they themselves have us continually teetering upon. And unaccountable, unelected officials grabbing the reigns is preferable, say, to careening over the edge into a hot war with Russia, for example.
How to Take Back Our Voices
But we don’t have to live on the edge of disaster, an edge we have pushed other nations over for so long. We don’t have to live with perpetual war. We can take back our voices. We can work for peace.
First we must recognize the damage of perpetual war here and abroad and expose it. We can do that without demonizing soldiers. We can recognize the focus, discipline, and courage of soldiers and speak boldly about the need to redirect those virtues towards actions that give rather than take life.
We can start talking openly questioning the need for such a large military budget while precious, vital resources are slashed. We talk about how simple fractions of our military budget could provide housing, clean water, and education here at home, not to mention reparations abroad that would make us safer than any weapon ever could by cultivating friendship rather than enmity. And while we encourage our nation to cultivate friendship, we can cultivate our own personal friendships across boundaries of race, religion, gender and sexual identity, and political ideology.
We can build a culture of compassion which encourages our voices rather than mutes them. Democracy suffocates under fear but can thrive in the midst of openness.
All of these not-necessarily-political solutions are not intended to discourage political courage, which includes holding elected officials accountable, demanding that only those we elect make decisions on our behalf, and not being afraid to petition our representatives to impeach those who abuse their power in ways that constitute Constitutional violations. Executives who expand wars without the approval of Congress, and thus without the consent of the governed, do violate the Constitution. But we the people have been largely mute and complicit with this for far too long. And impeachment alone will not solve the problem unless we work to change our culture.
A “war on terror” was doomed to doom us all from the very beginning, not least by quelling dissent from within. The “steady state” has been increasingly undemocratic as endless war has drowned our resources and our voices. Terror cannot be fought with weapons. It can only be transformed with compassion. Let us take back our voices and raise them in the cause of peace.
Editor’s Note: A war on terror just spreads terror. To truly change the spirit of hate and violence that was manifested 17 years ago and has been consuming our nation and the world ever since, we need to transform terror with compassion. There are many things you can do today to show kindness, to transform your fraction of the world with kindness. If you are free at 6 CT, one of those things is tuning in to tonight’s live chat on creating communities of radical embrace. Please join author Brandan Robertson and Raven’s own Adam Ericksen and lend your voice to the cause of peacemaking.
Images: Left: Screenshot from Youtube: “A linguist examines the anonymous NY Times OpEd,” by CBS News; Right: “Castle Bravo Blast” by United States Department of Energy. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Images Modified.