From Ending War to Endless War

Phil Anderson

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded… War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people... [War results] in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” James Madison writing in 1795. 

This statement fits our current national situation like a glove. Today the national debt is at an all time high and is increasing because of war and endless preparation for war. The “discretionary power” of the presidency has expanded with every war while our civil liberties have been weakened. “Opportunities for fraud” abound with the profiteering, corruption, and waste of military contracting. The current “inequality of fortunes” is huge. And the minds of the people have been seduced into believing it is all necessary and good. 

One hundred years ago we fought WWI, the ”war to end all wars.” It was one of the most senseless and unnecessary wars in human history. A whole generation of young men were slaughtered and maimed. The war resulted in an estimated 40 million casualties including 15 to 19 million deaths and 23 million wounded. This doesn’t count civilian deaths. The war also unleashed a flu epidemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Following the war there was an unprecedented effort to create a peaceful world and prevent future wars. The League of Nations was established. Disarmament agreements were negotiated. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war, was one of these treaties. Many nations, including the United States, agreed to settle disputes through peaceful means. This treaty was ratified by Congress in 1928 and is still binding federal law. But we have completely ignored this law since its ratification.

The end of WWI came on November 11, 1918. On the 11th  hour of the 11th day of the 11th month an armistice was signed ending the fighting.  November 11th became an international holiday to remember the horrors or war and to work for peace. In 1926, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution creating Armistice Day to “commemorate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” 

Today the original intent of Armistice Day has been lost. In 1954 Congress changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Now instead of remembering the tragedy of war and promoting peace, we celebrate the warriors. We are told military service is the ultimate in patriotic service. The military, and our many wars, are the reason we have freedom. The sacrifice of the troops maintains our freedom and keeps us safe. But our many wars have not been about securing freedom and were not heroic or necessary. This false narrative only blinds us to the costs and results of our aggressive, militaristic foreign policy and keeps the money flowing to the defense industries.

All the patriotic hoopla, the “support the troops” ribbons and “thank a veteran” slogans, are the propaganda that seduces the minds of the people. William J. Astore (Lt. Col. USAF, RET) has written that our military has failed to win “hearts and minds” in Iraq and Afghanistan but in America “victory has been achieved.” The hearts and minds of the American people have been seduced by all this militarism. Militarism, that is the predominance of the military, military thinking, and aggressive military preparedness in a society, is well established in this country. Proof is seen in our huge military budgets, the increasing militarization of our police, our borders, and our foreign policy. Anyone who questions the mantra is unpatriotic.

As a result we have gone from ending war to endless war. The “war” on terrorism has been declared to be never ending. The war in Afghanistan is our longest war. After 17 years, we still have troops there and are pouring  money into that hole in the sand with no hope of a positive outcome. The Iraq quagmire is only one year behind. We are fighting in Syria and providing intelligence, targeting, and logistical support to the Saudi war in Yemen. In 2016 U.S. special operations troops were deployed in 138 countries. That is 70% of the world’s countries. World wide we have and estimated 800 military bases.  

  As James Madison warned us 223 years ago, war is the worst threat to the public good. The huge amount of our resources dedicated to endless war is not in our best interests politically, socially, or economically. Neither does the militarization of our society make us safer. To the contrary, our aggressive militarized foreign policy breeds terrorists faster than we can kill them.  

How can we change this? President John Kennedy said, 
“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”  
We have to change the way we think. Like a recovering alcoholic the first step is to admit that we have a problem. We have a problem with militarism in our country. We must be honest with ourselves about our history and the real reasons for our many wars. Then we must act to change the culture of violence and militarism. 
A good first step would be to reclaim Armistice Day as a national holiday to remember the tragedy of war and to work for peace. We can honor those who died serving our country without honoring war. By honoring peace and the peacemakers we can begin to build the attitudes and institutions that foster peace, diplomacy, and international cooperation rather than war.