War has become the new normal for the U.S. Militarization, the justification for violence, and the privatization of war are now firmly entrenched.
The U.S. is number one in the world in terms of both war and domestic civilian gun deaths. It leads all countries in the military arms industry, worth approximately 2.7% of the world’s GDP. Russia and China are ranked 2nd and 3rd. Of all the military spending in the world, the U.S. is responsible for 39% of it alone. In comparison, China is second with 9.5% and Russia third with 5.2%. The U.S. currently has (depending on the source of information) somewhere between 800 and 1,000 military bases in over 50 countries.
A study of history will show that since the founding of the U.S. in 1776, it has been at war 214 out of 235 calendar years, leaving only 21 calendar years in which the U.S. did not wage war (during the Depression). Starting with the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. has had two decades of non-stop fighting: Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, Serbia-Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan starting in 2001, and Iraq and Libya and Syria since then. And that doesn’t count the drone warfare in Pakistan and Yemen.
The economy of the U.S. has become captured by the military and intelligence organizations. Vietnam cost the U.S. $450 billion. Iraq alone will end up costing the U.S. some $6 trillion according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. That’s twice the amount needed to make Social Security solvent forever.
In an article in The Atlantic, (link is external) James Fallows describes how U.S. military expenditure has risen 10 times as fast as household consumption, while government non-military expenditure has fallen. This continues a longer trend. Since the beginning of the 21st century, U.S. GDP, in inflation-adjusted terms, has increased by 21 percent, U.S. government non-military spending by 11 percent, and U.S. personal consumption by 28 percent, while military expenditure increased by 52 percent.
Being at war, whether it’s against other countries or “against terrorists” has become big government business, much of it unseen by the public and many people in government. A Washington Post (link is external) article by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin describes how the top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work. They have identified some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
Barbara Enrenreich, an award winning author and political activist, author of the book Blood Rites (link is external), in which she confronts the mystery of the human attraction to violence: What draws our species to war and even makes us see it as a kind of sacred undertaking. She says, “War has dug itself into economic system, where it offers a livelihood to millions, rather than to just a handful of craftsmen and professional soldiers. It has lodged in our souls as a kind of religion, a quick tonic for political malaise and bracing antidote to the moral torpor of consumerist, market-driven cultures.”
The use of war and torture by the U.S. has not only become an instrument of political and foreign policy but become increasingly an accepted moral norm, and even glamorized in media and movies. The movie American Sniper, poised to be the biggest box office movie of all time, is a case in point. American Sniper is not the first movie to capitalize on the insatiable hunger for stories of brave and sacrificing commandos, as witnessed by the other recent blockbusters: Lone Survivor, and Zero Dark Thirty. Hollywood has found a successful formula with a small number of unstoppable special forces, promoting the belief that special forces and drone warfare can do anything that a conventional army can.
As many movie reviewers have commented, the movie American Sniper doesn’t depict the truth. It’s not really the story of Chris Kyle, as would become obvious when you read his autobiography. The movie implies that it would be wrong to kill civilians, particularly children. According to many U.S. war veterans, no such ban exists, and if it does occur, subsequent reports of the incidents are often altered accordingly.
Despite the lie, still believed by many Americans, that Iraq was behind the 9/11 tragedy, it is perpetuated in the movie. And in the movie, every Iraqi, including women and children, are either evil butchers or insurgents or terrorists. As Kyle has commented, “they are all savages.” In many ways, American Sniper lionizes America’s gun culture, it’s blind adoration of the military, and promotes the belief that the U.S. has to impose its values and rights on “lesser ethnic cultures.”
Kyle’s book is more disturbing than the movie. In the movie, Kyle is portrayed as a reluctant solider, one forced to do what is necessary by orders. In Kyle’s book, he clearly shows that he loves killing and war. He says in his book, he wishes he had killed more. In a 2012 interview with the BBC, Kyle said “Every person I killed I strongly believe they were bad…When I do go face God there is going to be lots of things I will have to account for, but killing any of those people is not one of them.” The Guardian author Lindy West argues “ The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?”
In many ways the message of American Sniper is that Muslims are evil and should be killed. This belief feeds the argument that the civilized world is at war with Muslims who are all either terrorists or fighting a “jihad” against the Western world.
Chris Hedges, writing in TruthDig, (link is external) cites his conversation with Reagan White House staffer and former Air Force officer Mikey Weinstein who describes the growing Christian fundamentalism within the U.S. Military. Weinstein notes the extreme right-wing Christian chauvinism, which calls for the creation of a theocratic “Christian” America, a sentiment that is particularly acute among elite units of the SEALs and Special Forces.
American Sniper is disturbing because it glorifies death and violence, blind obedience and loyalty and diminishes the capacity for empathy and compassion. The more the American public exalts movies like it, the more the moral compass of the nation will be dangerously off course.
Does Chris Kyle represent the typical combat soldier—one of little compunction for killing or remorse for doing it? Not according to research and the experience of most war veterans. Dave Grossman, a Special Forces colonel, an instructor at West Point and author of the book, On Killing (link is external), which basically makes the case and presents massive data to show that far from being innate warriors who are just dying to kill people, the vast majority of men are extremely reluctant to kill other people. A large survey done of U.S. combat veterans in World War II found that numerous combat soldiers were not firing at all or were firing away from the enemy. They did not want to kill someone. As a result, the Army completely revamped its training to boost the firing rates of combat soldiers. They also boosted the rates in the Korean War and especially in the Vietnam War. but Grossman said the result has been higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
America’s moral compass is also being compromised by its disregard for international law. While just over six years ago (link is external) the U.S. public ranked among the world’s most enthusiastic supporters of international law (falling just behind the Germans and the Chinese in global surveys), it now appears that vast majorities of Americans reject the applicability of international law when it comes to the actions of the U.S. government in the “global war on terror,” and the use of illegal detainment and torture at Guantanamo prison, despite widespread international condemnation (link is external)of this policy.
Daphne Bramham, writing in the Vancouver Sun (link is external), describes how 80 million cluster bombs were dropped by the U.S. on Laos in an illegal war there: “Between 1964 and 1973 America dropped more bombs on Laos than had ever been dropped on a single country or continent. It did that without ever officially declaring war on Laos.” She goes on to describe how these bombs remain buried in the soil, and nearly as many Laotians have died from bombs since 1974 as died during the nine years of the “secret war.” Cluster bombs have also been used in South Sudan and Syria in 2014, she reports. More than 150 countries passed a cluster bomb convention, but the U.S. joins Israel, Russia and China as non-signatories to the convention.
The U.S. has expanded the definition of war by the use of drone warfare. Drones, as Grégoire Chamayou argues in his new book, A Theory of the Drone (link is external), are changing warfare and their potential to alter the political arena of the countries that utilize them.
The United States now uses more than 150 weapons-carrying drones which are used not only in Afghanistan but also in countries officially at peace with the U.S., such as Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. In Pakistan, CIA drones carry out on average of one strike every four days. Although exact figures of fatalities are difficult to establish, the estimated number of deaths between 2004 and 2012 vary from 2562 to 3325.
The drone wars, however, are introducing risk-free ethics of killing. Moreover, drones change politics within the drone states. Because drones transform warfare into a ghostly “teleguided” act, orchestrated from a base in Nevada or Missouri, whereby soldiers no longer risk their lives, the critical attitude of citizenry towards war is also profoundly transformed, altering, as it were, the political arena within drone states. In the future, politicians might not need to rally citizens because once armies begin deploying only drones and robots there will be no need for the public to even know that a war is being waged.
Finally, there are some myths about the effectiveness and results of American wars, particularly in the Mid-East. Tom Englehardt author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, identifies these in a recent article. (link is external) He concludes the following:
- America’s war against the terrorists hasn’t succeeded, citing the RAND report figures of the growth of jihadist groups by 58% between 2010-2013.
- America’s wars haven’t solved foreign countries’ problems from the time of Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.
- America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and the CIA’s drone assassination campaign in Pakistan have actually destabilized those countries.
- America is not winning its wars if you measure a positive goal a subsequent result of the war. The last true war in which America was a victor in those terms was WWII.
Where will the increasing militarization of the U.S. end? How much of its economic resources will continue to be committed for military and intelligence purposes? What will happen to the once vaunted and highly respected American reputation as the world’s moral leader and defender of the rule of law? And what happens to the public conscience when movies continue to justify violence and killing being perpetrated by “heroes?”