“The reality is that the war has created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe today,” Moustafa Bayoumi wrote recently in The Guardian. “Three-quarters of the population, some 22 million Yemenis, require humanitarian assistance and protection. About 8.4 million people hang on the brink of starvation and another 7 million lie malnourished. Since 2015, more than 28,000 thousand people have been killed or injured, and many thousands more have died from causes exacerbated by war, such as a cholera epidemic that has afflicted more than a million people and claimed over 2,300 lives. At least one child dies every 10 minutes from causes linked to the war, according to the United Nations.”
Actually, something has changed — the opposite of what I had anticipated in 1967, as I sat on the steps of the Pentagon, or in 1968, as I silently cheered the protesters demanding that the Democratic Party become a party of peace.
The war in Yemen, which the U.S. is making possible with billions of dollars in weapons sales to the Saudi coalition, is barely even news. Neither are the wars — at least seven of them — in which the U.S. is directly participating, including Iraq (15 years and counting) and Afghanistan (17 years and counting). I fear the forces the antiwar protesters were confronting fifty years ago have made a shift in keeping with their deepest interests: not to “win” the wars but simply to make sure they continue.
Even Donald Trump was shocked by this: “When Trump announced . . . that he was ordering a new approach to the war,” theAssociated Press reported last March about Afghanistan, “he said he realized ‘the American people are weary of war without victory.’ He said his instinct was to pull out, but that after consulting with aides, he decided to seek ‘an honorable and enduring outcome.’ He said that meant committing more resources to the war, giving commanders in the field more authority and staying in Afghanistan for as long as it takes.”
In other words, he was pulled back into line — that is, back into lyin’. Glory, glory, hallelujah. In America, clichés rule. We may bomb children, and (even more to the point) manufacture and sell the bombs that take out school buses, etc., etc., etc., but we still pull out our clichés about freedom and honor and such, stale as they may be, on a moment’s notice.
We may bomb children, and (even more to the point) manufacture and sell the bombs that take out school buses, etc., etc., etc., but we still pull out our clichés about freedom and honor and such, stale as they may be, on a moment’s notice.
America’s journey to its Orwellian present-day reality, in which wars are endlessly expanding background noise (as opposed to news), essentially began in the tumultuous late ’60s, when peace consciousness had seized much of the nation. While LBJ did not declare the end of the Vietnam War, the war eventually did end — in defeat, dishonor and disgrace, leaving behind a shattered country (a million or more dead, an environment despoiled with Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance) and countless U.S. vets spiritually and physically wounded. The American public was weary not of war without victory but of war itself. This was called Vietnam Syndrome, and it was profoundly troubling to the political status quo.
It took several decades, but Militarized America did achieve its one and only post-World War II victory. It defeated Vietnam Syndrome. Step one was eliminating the draft, which freed the public from any personal risk — and thus, any real stake — in future wars, leaving only a poverty draft to fill the ranks, and who cares about them?
Ronald Reagan was forced to fight proxy wars against the commies in Central America, but his successor, George H.W. Bush, declared a victory over Vietnam Syndrome after Gulf War I. A decade later, his son, as we know, launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which, having accomplished none of their alleged aims, nonetheless continue with no end in sight, two presidents later. Victory no longer matters. A seemingly rational mission no longer matters. Clichés and a bloated military budget are enough.
The War Machine, which owned (owns) both parties, held fast and tough. Billy clubs won. The media surrendered.
Fifty years ago, the country was in tumult about the war in Vietnam and millions of people wanted to reshape the Democratic Party into a party of peace. The War Machine, which owned (owns) both parties, held fast and tough. Billy clubs won. The media surrendered.
But we the people have not surrendered. We were outmaneuvered, gerrymandered, removed from the voting roster, but we have not surrendered. Is the spirit of ’68 coming back to life in the Trump era, as evinced by an upsurge in progressive electoral victories? The War God is ruthless and clever and will not give up. Neither should we.