We’ve reached a point in American history where it requires very little for the population to get behind a war. Justifications and pretexts have varied throughout, but in the post-Cold War, unipolar context of “humanitarian intervention” — however flimsy a pretext it is — the American people have been coaxed and wooed into complicity by each successive imperial adventure. So long as the costs seem dispersed, Americans are getting used to war.
In Walter Karp’s magnificent The Politics of War, he writes about one of America’s first imperial projects: the annexation and colonization of Hawaii.
The annexation itself was not of primary importance. Republican leaders saw it chiefly as the first available step in launching a more general policy of overseas expansion. The annexation of Hawaii, said the New York Tribune, a Republican Party house organ, would help overcome “the traditional hostility of the United States toward an extension of authority, if not also of territory, among the islands near our coasts.” It would, said the Philadelphia Press, “familiarize the public mind with the acquisition of other territories.”
With the Libyan intervention (and its related precursors in places like the Balkans and Somalia), the American people continue to be anesthetized into familiarity with war and the expansion of U.S. hegemony. They’re pressed to abandon notions of just war and get used to the notion of American military might as a global constabulary. Promises of quick and easy engagements and a consistent distortion of facts on the ground (inapplicable claims of genocide, for example), are primary strategies in the effort to numb the American consciousness into collusion.
That is apparently how one deals with citizens who might object to what has always been the intention of policy planners in Washington: more power and control through war and expansion. The people just need help “familiarizing themselves” with war, destruction, and deference to the authorities in Washington.