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The Lies That Enable Perpetual War

Our wars are usually wars of choice fought for reasons unrelated to defending ourselves or the nations we are obliged by treaty to protect.
arms race cold war weapons paper

Damon Linker chides Americans for the lies we tell ourselves about our unending wars:

The honest and alarming truth that we seem all-too-eager to evade is that America is already at war around the world. Someone desperately needs to pay attention, demand accountability, and keep tabs on the steep monetary, human, and geopolitical costs.

Linker is right that Americans should pay attention to and demand accountability for the endless wars waged in their name, but he also acknowledges that most have no interest in doing so. Another alarming truth is that many Americans seem content to allow perpetual war to continue so long as the steep costs are borne mostly by people in other countries. Those costs tend to be ignored or mentioned only in passing when assessing the damage done, and even when they are acknowledged they are not given much weight in our policy debates. The hundreds of thousands that died because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq have practically been reduced to a footnote in subsequent debates over military intervention.

One reason for this indifference is that many of our leaders tell us other comforting lies about these wars: that they are necessary and waged in self-defense. The reality is that virtually none of the military interventions that the U.S. has carried out in the last thirty years was unavoidable or required for the defense of the United States and its allies. Our wars are usually wars of choice fought for reasons unrelated to defending ourselves or the nations we are obliged by treaty to protect, and they are typically fought in places where the U.S. has no vital interests at stake.

The U.S. is at war around the world because our government chooses to be at war around the world. For the most part, this was not forced on us, but rather it is something that our leaders and pundits have willingly embraced again and again. Perhaps the biggest lie of all is that the U.S. goes to war reluctantly and grudgingly. In fact, no other government resorts to the use of force in international affairs so often and so casually as ours has in the last twenty-five years. On the rare occasions when the public recoils from this, as they did in the 2006 midterms and again in 2013 at the prospect of attacking Syria, our leaders and pundits shake their heads and warn against the dangers of “retreat” from the world. Of course, the myth of retreat is another lie used to justify the next unnecessary war, and if that doesn’t work then they tell us the lie that the rest of the world supposedly craves and demands U.S. “leadership” in its most destructive form.



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