by Meredith Sterling
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, August 23, 2019
“We were never not at war,” says Rebecca Solnit. Before we future Americans even decided to emigrate to an unknown land and life, our story was already being written, and much of it was about violence and war.
The well-loved history of America emphasizes the bravery of the colonists, their kindness to the native people, and their amazing abilities to create communities from wilderness. There were also tragedies as entire tribes, nations of native Americans, were eradicated by diseases to which they had no immunities and, later, by deliberate genocide. We, the new ‘settlers,’ wanted land to farm and to grow our towns, so we took it however it needed to be taken. The American character evolved to be innovative, tenacious, curious, and loyal; but the flip side was and is arrogant, entitled, greedy, and violent.
In important ways, we haven’t changed over the centuries. “After the official Indian wars ended, we found other means to keep Native people confined and disempowered. After slavery officially ended, we found other means to keep black people impoverished and disempowered. Those means were forms of war.” Solnit, The Guardian, 8/9/2019.
In the names of nationalism and protectionism, America is also in a state of permanent war around the globe. The U.S. military is officially fighting wars in seven countries, according to the White House’s latest war report. The “Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States’ Military Force and Related National Security Operations” flags ops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger, and these are just the ones that aren’t called by other names to disguise their purpose. Military members now serving in Afghanistan are now sometimes second-generation soldiers; we’ve been there 18 years.
The U.S. is the #1 weapons dealer in the world. Not surprisingly, this does not make us many friends, especially in countries where we supply weapons to their invaders. “The United States continues to be far and away the world’s largest supplier of military equipment. U.S. arms exports grew by 29% between 2009-13 and 2014-18, bringing its share of total global exports from 30% to 36%. Out of the nation’s known 98 clients, the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia … are the biggest, accounting for 52% and 22.0% of U.S. arms exports, respectively.” Wall Street Journal, 3/11/2019.
We have 800-1000 military installations in other countries, yet we cannot imagine a foreign military installation in the U.S. This policy along with sharp decreases in diplomatic staffing and work with our allies has made war more likely, not less. It also makes us less safe as a U.S. presence in other people’s countries often increases anti-American sentiment. Host countries don’t benefit from our presence but, more often, suffer enhancement of their country as a target for hostile powers, social and cultural conflicts with base residents, environmental degradation, and no discernible long-term, sustainable economic benefits.
War and its side-piece, military contracting corporations, cost us dearly, both in lives lost or destroyed and in billions of dollars spent — often for shiny new toys that we really don’t need. The U.S. spends more on defense than the next 7 countries combined, but it’s never enough somehow. And, while more than 12 million children currently live in ‘food-insecure’ American homes, every legislative session still finds Congress debating not whether we might possibly be spending more than necessary on our military behemoth, but whether we should gut programs like SNAP that keep the poorest of our citizens alive.
There is opposition to this assumption of gigantic militarism. A new think tank, partially funded on inception by very politically conservative individuals, seeks to “promote diplomatic engagement and military restraint.” (See The Quincy Institute.) Conservatives may or may not share the same motivations for a more peaceful world with their progressive counterparts, but they definitely believe that peace is better for the bottom line. I also refer you to Veterans for Peace whose members want war to be avoided not encouraged, and believe that our culture of super-militarism is just as deadly as the actual exercise of war. There are nearby chapters in Austin and San Antonio.
We Americans differ sharply in our vision of what America could become. We are still writing our story and each of us is an author. What kind of country do we want for ourselves and what kind of world?