War is hell
For those who fight;
For those at home,
It may excite.

War has always boasted adherents. Think of the Kaiser, Ghengis Khan, Alexander, Hitler, Darius, Charlemagne, Stalin, etc. America’s foremost cheerleader was Teddy Roosevelt. He made no bones about the thrill of combat and conquest. He even went off to fight himself, an uncommon commitment among world leaders.

Mostly though, at least in the years between our invasion of Mexico and the advent of George W. Bush, the U.S. has just sort of dribbled into its wars (World War II aside). Pro-invasion forces, mostly military, populate the shadows of Washington and ensnare the U.S. into conflicts in a way that makes Americans feel good about themselves.

You’ll recall the dismaying disclosure that a slew of former generals who grew popular as TV military analysts on Iraq turned out to still be on the Pentagon payroll. Or the revelation that the “spontaneous” rally by newly “liberated” Iraqis to tear down Saddam Hussein’s statue was all orchestrated by the U.S. Army. Not to mention the tear-evoking scene of thousands of Kuwaitis waving little American flags, all supplied by the Pentagon, to greet GIs as they roared into town.

And who can ever forget the Bay of Pigs, the Tonkin Gulf, those famous “weapons of mass destruction,” or now the alleged sinking of the South Korean ship by North Korea? No, President George W. Bush may or may not have lusted for war himself, but plainly he surrounded himself with people who did. Such a cast is mostly what any new president nowadays inherits. The Pentagon and the CIA harbor large war-promoting bureaucracies, and even many small military units boast officers assigned to that duty.

Mr. Obama is presumably less warlike than some, although Afghanistan has given many of his supporters pause. How can he do that? Well, most presidents do that. Beating the drum, demeaning the “enemy,” and guarding the homeland are rousing stuff in any nation, and his advisers see winnable votes out there. Or at least they did. The polls are less enthusiastic now. What a dilemma.

Plus the poor guy still has the Cold War to deal with. You may have thought nuclear weapons and landmines were things of the past. Hah! So did most of the world. But not here. Big, big money attends the maintenance, care, reconfiguring, and upgrading of nukes, and if our president should propose serious cutbacks, the Republicans would nuke him. You know…letting down our defenses and all. Therefore, he has proposed a wimpy treaty in order to hold the hawks at bay while nibbling at reform.

And though it’s hard to grasp, landmines simply represent a similar outdated principle of Cold War survival, only on a smaller scale. They were once important for defense and many generals are still scandalized at the thought of letting them go, even though they now chiefly kill civilians. Mindful that they’re not important in protecting our domestic bases, just our intrusive bases in other countries. But that’s very important to war hawks who want our bases abroad to be just as impervious as those at home.

Actually, it’s those foreign bases that make so many Americans feel warm and secure and generally tolerant of war. As long as our troops are duly protected and it’s largely bad guys who die we can apparently tolerate a lot of human suffering. But the world’s patience is wearing thin in Afghanistan. We may soon have to move on to Iran to keep our national adrenalin flowing. At least it has oil.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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