“A Nation Unmade by War”
Haymarket Books, 180 pages
In handing unprecedented power to his administration’s generals, Donald Trump has endorsed the U.S. military brand – failure is the new success. A seventeen-year long war in Afghanistan with no end in sight and no new ideas – hello? What about leaving? Fifteen years in Iraq and precious little to show for it besides nearly a million displaced Iraqis, cities turned to rubble, continued fighting and untold thousands dead? A proxy war in Yemen. Missiles flying into Syria. A failed state in Libya. And what do our military sachems say? The wars in the Middle East are a “generational conflict,” something we can bequeath to our grandchildren. And why? Because these generals have no idea other than doing the same thing over and over, even though it hasn’t worked. This, as Tom Englehardt explains in his new book, “A Nation Unmade by War,” is the definition of brain-dead.
That’s our military – the most expensive in the world by far, feasting like a vampire on our tax dollars – with not a single idea other than to repeat the same thing that has failed over and over. “An empire of madness,” Englehardt calls the U.S. with its endless wars and determination to deny the environmental catastrophe of climate change unfolding right before our eyes. Not only to deny but to ship crude from tar sands, fracked gas, coal and oil all over the world, to fry the planet as fast as possible. The brain-dead, endlessly violent military and the equally brain-dead, ecocidal fossil energy promoters – this is the lethal combination currently directing the world’s lone superpower.
This book is not a happy read. It documents the cost of America’s war on terror – $5.6 trillion – and how Bush and Cheney’s “soaring geopolitical dreams of global domination proved to be nightmares.” Indeed, Englehardt observes that in the past 15 years “no goal of Washington – not a single one – has been accomplished by war.” And yet the American wars grind on with no end in sight. Meanwhile, we inhabit “a country that no longer invests fully in its own infrastructure, whose wages are stagnant, whose poor are a growth industry, whose wealth now flows eternally upward in a political environment awash in the money of the ultra-wealthy and whose over-armed military continues to pursue a path of endless failure in the Greater Middle East."
“A Nation Unmade by War” consists of Englehardt’s journalistic columns, edited and strung together in book form. As such, there is a certain inevitable repetition, but given the stakes here, this is not a bad thing. Much of what Englehardt has to say cannot be said often enough. In fact, often enough won’t come until these arguments echo in so many people’s brains that they start opposing, en masse, a disastrous, mindlessly fatal political course. At the book’s start, Englehardt quotes Amr Moussa, former head of the Arab League, announcing that an invasion of Iraq would “open the gates of hell.” Anyone who doubts the truth of Moussa’s prescient words, need only look at our post 9/11 grotesquely swollen and expensive national security state with its 17 secret agencies, or glance at the numbers of the secretive special operations command, seventy thousand soldiers strong, “which might be thought of as the president’s private army,” or consider the drone assassination program, creating new terrorists worldwide for our assassin-in-chief, or listen to our military leaders like David Petraeus referring to the mayhem we’ve unleashed on the Middle East as a “generational struggle.”
If doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time defines insanity, what are we to make of our generals’ endless calls for more missiles, more drones, more soldiers, where the previous flood of such has failed? Could it be that, well before Donald Trump’s attempt at kingship, our military leaders in Washington had lost their minds? This money, these trillions of dollars, could have gone to shift the world’s second worst carbon polluter from fossil fuels to renewables. In a country with truly sane leaders that would have happened. Our leaders would have observed the freak weather embodied in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, “nuisance flooding” in coastal cities and listened to our scientists’ warnings about our profligate burning of oil and gas. Instead scientists are screaming in the wilderness, the planet has overheated, arctic and Antarctic ice melt, Greenland is losing its glaciers, all of which means many feet of sea-level rise, but what do we get? A trillion-dollar upgrade of our nuclear arsenal, which will doubtless provoke Russia and China to something similarly wasteful, and eternally expanding war in the Middle East. Our so-called leaders will reap the ruined world they deserve, but unfortunately they may very well drag the rest of us down with them.