When will wartime
Ever end?
Always seems
Around the bend.

Combat’s different today than when your grandfather earned his medals. Armies no longer advance and retreat along battle lines. Tanks no longer maneuver. Fleets don’t engage. We’re past all that.

The United States already dominates most parts of the world that don’t belong to other major nations. Domination, however, doesn’t mean we’re in full control. And many citizens of those places insist on misbehaving.

This misbehavior takes various forms: shooting at our soldiers, burning our property, attacking our surrogates, and other hostile acts. Washington responds to these disturbances with our troops, drones, mercenaries, and Special Forces. And we keep building still more military bases, because having 1,000 of them overseas is apparently not enough.

The U.S. Army/Flickr

The U.S. Army/Flickr

These displays of power typically create additional enemies, which can prove quite useful back here at home. “Enemy” nations lend weight to lobbying by the Pentagon and arms merchants who argue for more billions to pile onto our already grotesquely bloated military budget.

Meanwhile, our non-nation enemies are automatically deemed to be terrorists, which allows this endless war to be waged within our borders too.

Ever since 9/11 erected a convenient backdrop, the existence of such groups has enabled our government to stoke fears and install ever more “anti-terrorism” laws and procedures.

These “anti-terrorism” measures accomplish two important goals for the government that have nothing to do with our safety. First, they justify a much higher level of government secrecy. Second, they make it possible to punish dissenters much more harshly.

Many unpopular or embarrassing federal actions can now be arbitrarily classified, and whistleblowers can be prosecuted for revealing them. Anyone suspected of supposedly posing a threat may be spied upon, arrested, infiltrated, and have their computers, cell phones, etc. confiscated. So far, the general public seems to be just fine with these egregious privacy violations.

But the worst impacts of this endless war are suffered abroad. Yes, tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of deformities caused by Agent Orange have been endured by families of those who served in Vietnam, but sufferers on the other side number in the millions.

Likewise, the Iraq War left an unknown number of our troops with cancers and deformities from the countless tons of depleted uranium we exploded. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, civilian casualties alone have reached at least 132,000.

Most Americans aren’t paying attention to our endless state of war. Fewer and fewer of our own kids go to fight in it, while we let more and more drones do our dirty work.

This perpetual conflict has fallen so far under our radar that both presidential campaigns neglected to address it. Mitt Romney didn’t even bother to mention the military in his convention speech and his omission probably contributed to his lopsided loss at the ballot box.

The former Massachusetts governor drew plenty of flak for being the first Republican presidential nominee to gloss over war like that in 60 years, but he was just reflecting the status quo. Our society has accepted endless war and its terrible price as a part of life. As long as it’s fought by other people on someone else’s soil, we can live with it.

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

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