Some Brief Comments on American Wars

In 1991, the Iraqi army invaded the adjacent nation of Kuwait. The US intervened with its own army, fought a relatively brief and highly successful war, killed several thousand people, and imposed economic sanctions that threw an entire nation into poverty. American sentment overwhelmingly supported the war, and the American president enjoyed a brief period of immense popularity. None of it was done for especially good reasons -- it would have been largely ignored if oil hadn't been involved. The Kuwaiti government lobbied the American Congress (donating around $200,000 to various representatives) to declare war. Impassioned pleas concerning babies and incubators were heard on the Senate floor (the girl giving that testimony was the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US, incidentally). Gas prices spiked. A war was had. Gas prices went down. The economic recession continued, largely without intervention from the Bush Administration.

In September 2001, some planes crashed into buildings. That was pretty bad. What followed was worse. The US government responded by joining a preexisting war in Afghanistan, aiding one side and eventually toppling a government conducted by the other. Several thousand more people were killed -- all of them brown people in a country Americans couldn't find on a map. Somehow, this was intended to make things better. Americans started getting enthusiastic about having their rights to privacy taken away in order to feel safe. Various American citizens were deprived of the writ of habeus corpus under the auspices of wartime executive prerogative -- while the only declaration of war was made in a speech made by a president with no authority to declare a war.

In late 2002 and early 2003, the American government started posturing for another war with Iraq. Iraq is controlled by a highly unpleasant ruler who has undisputedly done some pretty bad things to the populace -- use of chemical weapons on its own civilians, a wee bit of genocide, that sort of thing. This is not the reason for the proposed war. It wasn't even the reason the first time -- when news of the Iraqi army's use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians came out the first time, US military support to the Iraqi government coincidentally was increased.

War costs a lot. It kills a lot of people. Recent American wars haven't tended to kill that many Americans, or accomplish very much. Americans haven't been exposed to the human cost of a war for almost forty years, and even then it was a far fought somewhere far away without serious impact here -- no cities destroyed, no poisoned landscapes, no abrupt killing off of half the young men in a country.

Americans are far too willing to go to war. They do not, as a general group, care nearly enough about what it means, or what effects their wars have on peoples they never see. The US government is far too willing to start a war to satisfy the economic demands of its benefactors.

Some Longer Comments on the State of the U.S.

Point the First: the current American president is an imbecile. Look that up if you don't know the precise definition. In my span of political awareness, there has never been a president (properly elected or not) that had less claim to represent the American electorate (to say nothing of the actual American populace), or who cared less that he didn't. Having won the first judicially decided election in US history, his administration has conducted itself since taking office with an arrogance hardly warranted by its electoral margins. It has pandered continuously to its benefactors, ignored the rest, and dealt policy with a reckless unwillingness to consider long-term consequences.

All of which would been merely very annoying for four years, whereupon we could have voted the twit into oblivion, named an expensive library after him and been done with it. But then planes started crashing into buildings. This imbecile who had found himself in power suddenly got lots more powerful -- without even having done anything yet, his approval ratings went up thirty points. In the year that followed, the Executive branch of the US government gained large amounts of power, largely without anyone considering the consequences. That power, distributed among a branch of government whose ostensible job is to carry out the dictates of the Legislature, is being exercised minimally in the interests of defense of the public, and a great deal more to advance the interests of the administration's backers. Read John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government (particularly the bits about Executive power, the state of war and the prerogative) to get an idea of what's wrong with that.

Point the Second: the American government is a failure. It's intended to be a democratic republic -- that is, a lot of democratically elected representatives who make policy. It's supposed to have a branch that makes policy, a branch that enforces policy, and a branch that gets to interpret and adjudge that policy. Instead, it's been corrupted to a largely nondemocratic system dominated by financial interests (that is, a plutocracy), where policy tends to originate in the Executive as much as the legislature.

Until the end of 2001, I figured that the American government was way off its rocker, but possibly salvageable, and still doing some things vaguely like what it would be doing if it was being run by actual democratically-elected representatives instead of power-hungry corporate shills.

At the end of 2001, I changed my mind. At this point, it looks like the US government is beyond the ability to conduct itself according to its own principles. The whole thing stays together, for the time being, because the US currently occupies a position of immense wealth and power, and there aren't any strong forces causing problems for it. There's no external military threats, there's enough money to run its malfunctioning bureacracy, and enough general inertia to keep the more deranged policy decisions from having much actual effect.

Point the Third: the American public is emotionally and intellectually immature. As a general group, this populace is pretty unimpressive. We go to great lengths to avoid the discomfort of thinking, and we really hate to feel bad. We're also accustomed to feeling extremely safe -- so much so that any lapses cause great upset. In late 2001, the American public found that it was emotionally unequipped to deal with the situation. It reacted with a sort of low-grade mass hysteria, and an abrupt clinging to power figures, thus catapaulting a pecksniffian nitwit of a president into abrupt public favor for no real reason other than a perception of his power, and thus his ability to protect them so they could feel safe again.

So far as I can tell, the original mindset of the US populace was fairly geared towards self-reliance and self-determination. The latter it probably still believes in, but the former has clearly gone -- probably it went quite a while ago when I wasn't looking. It's suddenly become important for a powerful ruler to be around to act as a protectorate instead of a servant. This is a problem, when (as mentioned earlier) the systems of representative government have already become an exercise in powermongering.