No matter how much we compartmentalize it or rationalize it, war is hell. Many of our citizens are fighting throughout the world, and have been involved in war for more than a decade. It has cost a fortune, and yet since the election of President Obama in 2008, progressive anti-war voices are seldom heard. They should be louder.
In spite of soothing words from Washington, the war in Afghanistan is clearly out of control. American shooters and unmanned drones are killing civilians by the dozens. War crimes are mounting. Afghan leaders condemn our actions, and our military “friends” in the country open fire on US personnel in supposedly secure compounds. Many Pakistanis are joining in the murderous fun, too. Does anyone doubt that at some point our government and allies will declare victory in Afghanistan and bring most of the troops home, following a nearly identical path taken by the Soviet Union a couple decades ago?
In our country, the consequences of endless war are there for all to see. The financial and human costs are enormous, and emphatically unpleasant. In this time of austerity, precious resources are being squandered. A shocking number of female troops return home as survivors of rape. And all the GIs return to a society stripped of the financial ability to treat them. The recent murder of sixteen Afghan civilians is being blamed on an isolated soldier — a soldier on his fourth tour of duty. That post-traumatic-stress disorder affects soldiers after multiple deployments is well-known, yet today more than 100,000 members of the Army are serving more than three deployments. I was lucky when I was a GI; I was sent to guard against the Iron Curtain and didn’t have to serve in Vietnam. But I served with many soldiers who had been in war. They were a profoundly injured group. Many could never integrate themselves into “normal” life after they took the “freedom bird” home, and ended on the street, in jail, or dead from drug overdose.
Today, US ground troops or military “advisers” are in many places in addition to Afghanistan. All of this warring is in the name of what? It’s hard to make a case for successful regime change given the current messes in Iraq and Libya. We can’t be waging war to protect our way of life, since the One Percent is destroying that from the inside. And we can’t be waging war to win hearts and minds; the Koran-burning incident as well as the recent murders of Afghan civilians have made it clear that our military forays are not bringing international opinion to our side. President Obama is being burned in effigy around the world as much as President Bush was.
East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee gets it. More than a year ago, she and 67 cosponsors introduced HR 780, which would have cut off funding for military operations in Afghanistan. And she continues to speak up.
In addition, that hardy band, the Iraq Veterans Against the War, has called for an end to multiple deployments, naming its quest “Operation Recovery.” Alejandro Villatoro, a member of the group who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was quoted in a Yahoo News article pointing out that most soldiers volunteer for multiple deployments for financial reasons. He continued: “Just because the soldier’s not suicidal or poses no danger to other people doesn’t mean that they’re OK. It’s just the fact that he doesn’t feel comfortable going back home because he has no life there anymore.” According to the Army Times, Ron Paul, the only anti-war presidential candidate in either party, is far in the lead among presidential candidates in receiving campaign contributions from active duty military. As the old saying goes: “Think war is hell? Ask someone who fought one.”
In spite of all this, and despite the loud drums beating for war in Syria and Iran, the progressive anti-war voice is hard to hear. Of course, there some fine folks who are active, but it cannot be disputed that a comparison of today’s activity with that during the Vietnam War era shows a great divide. Why? There are a number of theories. One is that the liberals today adore the current president, so they are unwilling to raise too much hell on any issue that makes him look bad. Given the Republican knuckleheads, this is understandable, but is silence really worth all these lives and dollars? If progressives complained during the Bush administration, shouldn’t they now? A double standard is not hard to see.
Maybe there are just too many wars. As soon as a movement can focus on one war, another pops up.
Another argument is that on the progressive side, the anti-war debate divides along financial lines. That is, those with financial means are just not that worried about it. Life is generally good and their kids are unlikely to go to war. War, they rationalize, is just one of the many bad things that exist in the world. By contrast, it is clear that in the more working-class part of the Occupy community, much more attention is being paid to war. A related reason may have to do with the draft. During Vietnam the draft affected all classes, so the wealthy had an existential angst for their family members that fed an anti-war sentiment that rivaled that of their lower-income American cousins.
To be fair, in most of the current wars, unless you are a full-fledged pacifist, an argument can be made that some good may come out of a “successful” conclusion. Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein were evil men. Many leaders of the “rogue” countries where US troops fight have threatened Israel, a nation that deserves the right to exist. Iran is an especially interesting, though problematic, case for making an argument for intervention. Their fundamentalist leaders are doing their people no favors, as many East Bay activists know.
But the question for progressives is not in any one war, but in supporting all of them. Like the Catholic theologians wrote hundreds of years ago, there are just wars and unjust wars. But why remain silent on the premise that the US can intervene anywhere we wish at any time, without the checks and balances of the Constitution?
Maybe I am wrong and progressives don’t feel this way. But if so, why can’t we hear their voices?