America’s wars of indifference

David Bromwich writes:

Something is rotten in our democracy. Like a family where everything goes wrong and nobody says a word, we suffer a load of unasked questions that have under them still more questions. Do Americans always need a war? That is a first question. It did not seem so before 2001. And the attacks that America endured then, attacks whose misery we have returned a hundredfold against actual and imagined enemies — did those events and the interpretation put on them by Cheney and Bush (and ratified, with an agreeable change of tone, by Barack Obama ) trigger a mutation in the American character? In relation to the Constitution and our place in the world of nations, 2001 in that case must have assumed the status of the Big Bang in the universe of politics. Useless even to think of anything that came before.

To say we now act as if we need a war may underrate the syndrome. We seem to require three wars at a given time: a war to be getting out of, a war we’re in the middle of, and a war we aim to step into. The three at present are Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. And the three to follow? Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, perhaps: we are already well along in all three — well along in missile strikes, black ops, alienated people whom we say we support.

The commitment to war as a general need was not less wrong but it seemed more comprehensible when the president was George W. Bush. “All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,” wrote Melville; and it was evident to anyone with nerve-endings that Bush was an unsatisfied boy. The pursuit of multiple wars seems more exposed under Barack Obama because he fits a common idea of a grown-up. So we look more dryly now for the principle backing wars that once seemed driven by crude passions and a cruel simplicity of heart.

America’s wars are sustained less by public support than by the absence of public opposition. These are wars of indifference that endure because tolerably few Americans get killed.

A society which likes to declare: we support our troops, is comfortable with the idea that a few thousand won’t come home. Tens of thousands Americans maimed is also tolerable — not because the number is tolerable but because it’s a number rarely mentioned. And hundreds of thousands of non-Americans killed or disfigured, with millions losing their homes while seeing their countries ripped apart — these are the tears in a global fabric, whose weave, texture, design are of little concern to a nation that perpetually sees the world as other.

When and how did this indifference emerge? I don’t believe that 9/11 was a turning point as much as a clarifying moment: it revealed that as far as most Americans are concerned, the US government is free to do as it pleases overseas so long as its military adventures do not intrude too much within the insulated American way of life.

And what is the nature of that way of life? It was anticipated 150 years ago by Alexis de Tocqueville when he described how democracy would fall apart:

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

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5 thoughts on “America’s wars of indifference

  1. Vince J.

    (North) Americans have no idea what their criminal government did, do and will do in their name. They can not contextualise why the rest of the World hates them. “Why do they hate us so much?” They ask but can not unswer.
    It is surreal to see Bush/Obama administrations criticizing Iran and calling for a regime change and democracy… Iran had a secular democracy. Who destroyed their Democracy? Is Iran the only example? No it is not! The destruction of democracy in the world by the the US of A is commonplace.
    (North) Americans still think of themselves as a “model of democracy” for the rest of the world. The World has moved on, grew up and can clearly see byond the facade of the US. When the War Criminal Clinton called Honduras military coup a “step foward” towards true democracy… Do you think people in Latin America (Americans too!) believe in one word that comes out of her mouth? Obama had the oportunity to ‘change’, but then again, he was never a statesmen, just a corporate brand.

  2. omop

    Indifference or brainwashed?

    Iraq and Afghanistan originated in the “Clean Break” oddyssey of Netanyahu to “make Israel secure by democratizing the Arabs in Iraq and the Muslims in Afghanistan” which basically in brutal but simple English:

    to install protect and lord over a region popularized as still living in the 14th Century
    the US taxpayer is made to finance at the rate of some $3.4 trillion dollars a state whose “raison d’etre is justified under specific religious dogma titled “God’s chosen people”.

    Thats not ‘indifference’ that is “the difference”.

  3. Norman

    As we are focused on Wars in other parts of the World, who has the bomb, Americas would be wise to wonder which Major cities have a Nuclear bomb[s] for detonation? Too far fetched? So was 9/11. Wacky far out conspiracy theory? Think again, for as the population has numbed down, the Mad Men have been hard at work. Considering the amount of security outlets both Governmental & private, the F.B.I., that was once a stellar agency, can’t even get who is who, nor share that info among each other, then it’s ripe for this to happen. And happen it will. Collateral damage is the present mind set. When a Government doesn’t care about its peoples well being, but engages in War all over the World, the unspeakable takes place. What a waste of human resources.

  4. Christopher Hoare

    The whole article is definitely worth a read. Time for inconvenient truths.
    During the second world war, when American support was essential to British war aims, the presence of thousands of American troops in the island was a cause of considerable conflict and aversion. I was too young during the war to understand but as I grew up into the 50s, I remember the Brits had one collective memory of US power projection.

    “The problem with the Americans is that they’re over-paid, over-fed, over-sexed, and over here.”

    This was the reaction of allies, not enemies, nor the occupied survivors. How much more virulent should one to expect their reactions to be?

    The unspoken aim of the desire for a new, multipolar world, is one where the Americans can go home, mind their own business, and quit poking their noses into everyone else’s. Close the bases, anchor the carriers, fire the ‘contractors’, ground the drones, send the oil carpetbaggers back to Texas, send the ‘special envoys’ back to school. Give the world the chance to prove it can handle its own affairs very well — thank you very much.

    “Handle a large world as one would fry small fish.” Lao Tzu gave the advice 2500 years ago. I hope he doesn’t mind the paraphrase.

  5. Werner Simon

    According to Nonviolent Conflict Resolution sociologist Johan Galtung,, we have initiated 70 “interventions” since 1946, overt by the Pentagon, covert by the CIA , which have totaled 12-16 million killed.

    U.S. Empire HyperCapitalism is morally myopic and irrationally, perhaps terminally, afflicted with otherworldy Hubris. Google Andrew Bacevich and his latest book.

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