12-16: The Culture of War Persists

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece from Henry Giroux at Truthout.]

[Wars Cause PTSD. Whether tomorrow, a decade from now, or 30 years down the line, the war experience today will torture a soldier’s mind. It is not necessary to argue, debate, or fight about our reason(s) for going to war; it is the act of war that attacks the psyche. End the wars, end the suffering.]

Beware the Repetition of History

Most of us are aware of some variation of George Santayana’s observation: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” which appeared in his 1905 work The Life of Reason. We generally pull out this wee packet of wise words in conversations about war. How ironic, then, that Santayana issued his warning at the beginning of the bloodiest century in the history of humankind. We didn’t listen. We didn’t learn. Apparently, we as a species content ourselves by talking “smart,” but not necessarily acting intelligently.

As Americans, we generally feel blessed that major military conflicts have not occurred within our borders. But that does not mean that American citizens, mostly men, and their immediate families have not been touched by the world’s wars. The fingers of our government and multinational corporations have manipulated our troops into myriad hostile environments, usually under the guise of the Pablum they feed us. “We are defending democracy.”

I used to believe that. I don’t anymore. I believe we as a society have devolved into an Orwellian existence in which our leaders tells us that “war is peace.” We have accepted the perpetual fighting “over there,” wherever that may be, as long as most of us do not partake in or witness the carnage. Consider what happened during the following years:

  • 1789     Congress created the War Department.
  • 1947     Congress passed the National Security Act (two years after the end of WWII).
  • 1947     Albert Camus wrote The Plague. (More on that later.)
  • 1948     George Orwell wrote 1984.
  • 1949     Congress amended the NSA of 1947 thereby creating the Department of the Army which it placed under the newly named Department of Defense.

So then, every deployment of U.S. troops since 1949 has been conducted in the hallowed name of self-defense. That’s what they tell us. I don’t believe that anymore.

War Culture, Militarism and Racist Violence …

Henry Giroux puts the danger of historical amnesia thus:

When history repeats itself with a vengeance, it generally signals a crisis of memory, historical consciousness and civic literacy. The ghosts of the past disappear in a comforting somnolence and a deadening market-driven culture of consumption, privatization, and individualization. As a mode of moral witnessing, memory withers, lost in forms of historical and social amnesia that usher in the dark clouds of authoritarianism, albeit in updated forms.

Albert Camus understood this as well as anyone, and viewed fascism as a deadly virus that could reappear in new forms. For Camus, the disease of fascism could only be fought with the antibody of consciousness–embracing the past as a way of protecting the present and the future against the damage now forgotten. The words that appear in the concluding paragraph of The Plague are as relevant today as they were when they were written. Camus writes:

[As] he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

Consider the utter destruction of the ancient city Aleppo today. A few days ago we heard “cries of joy rising from the town” as civilians and some soldiers were told they could leave. And then Assad rescinded his magnanimous decree. Erstwhile tears of joy succumbed to the flood waters of hate. Giroux cites an observation from Ulrich Beck, a German sociologist who died in 2015.

… “the distinctions between war and peace, military and police, war and crime, internal and external security” have collapsed. As violence and politics merge to produce an accelerating and lethal mix of bloodshed, pain, suffering, grief and death, American culture has been transformed into a culture of war.

Can the “greatest nation on earth” accept the musing of a German sociologist? Or does our swollen ego permit no intelligence from outside itself? Giroux also gives us reporting from Denver Nicks, a staff writer for Time magazine.

War culture reaches far beyond the machineries that enable the United States to ring the world with its military bases, produce vast stockpiles of weapons, deploy thousands of troops all over the globe and retain the shameful title of “the world’s preeminent exporter of arms, with more than 50 percent of the global weaponry market controlled by the United States.”

Do we see ourselves as the world sees us? Do we care?


The illustration at the blog’s top corner is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

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