On Sacrifice

From a long, must-read essay by Ben Fountain (boldface mine):

Is this the politics we deserve? “Stupidity is the American disease,” said Norman Mailer, though maybe it’s not so much stupidity as fantasy, a determinedly infantile notion of what it means to go to war. Americans like the idea of breaking heads and drawing blood, but the burden of actual war? Not so much. And so the politicians pander, and we’re more than willing to be pandered to. No appreciable bump in the tax rate, no mass mobilization, no call for sacrifice from the general population. Even our vocabulary slides toward the soothing and anodyne. Collateral damage, alternative set of procedures, detainees, these are practically mental pillows by now. Extraordinary rendition instead of kidnapping; targeted killings for presidentially ordered assassinations; intensification for escalation. The term “base” is out, “counter fire complex” in – that’s the name for the physical place where all those troops who don’t constitute boots on the ground are currently quartered in Iraq.

“I would listen to the generals,” Trump said in one debate as he called for deploying 30,000 troops to Syria. I would say: screw that. How about we listen to the sergeants, lieutenants and captains who wore those boots on the ground the past 15 years? The ones who are out, who are now free to speak their minds and have no stake in the business-as-usual business of American war; no sergeant or junior officer is angling for a lucrative post-military career sitting on defense industry boards or yakking for cable news. On a fall night in Austin last year I listened to one of these former sergeants – infantry, two tours in Iraq – tell me: Sure, we can invade Syria and whip Isis’s butt. Just make sure we go in with four or five hundred thousand troops, and plan on keeping at least 200,000 there for the next, say, 15 or 20 years. And we’d better commit to massive investment in the infrastructure, schools, the legal system, to keep Isis or something like it from coming back. Oh, and we’ll have to bring back the draft, that’s what it’ll take to keep an army that big over there. And raise taxes to pay for it, including healthcare for all the fucked-up people who’ll be coming home. We can beat Isis, sure. But not the way those guys –he nodded at the TV, where one of the circus-style debates was going on – are talking about…

Could it be that Trump is giving voice to the inner life of a large portion of the US male population (and how much of the female as well)? Which might explain his appeal: he is the bog monster of the American id, rising out of the masturbatory muck of our military fantasies in which the manly man slays his enemies and laughs at the lamentations of their women. So easy to be the hero in your wet dreams, your shooter games, your securely located war rooms stocked with emergency rations and the external defibrillator. This sort of unhinged fantasizing has been the defining pattern of the Era of Endless War, in which people – old men, for the most part, a good number of them rich – who never experienced war – who in their youth ran as fast from it as they could – send young men and women – most of them middle- and working-class – across oceans to fight wars based on half-facts, cooked intelligence, and magical thinking on the grand geopolitical scale. Surely it’s no coincidence that the Era of the AUMF, the Era of Endless War, is also the Golden Era of the Chickenhawk. We keep electing leaders who, on the most basic experiential level, literally have no idea what they’re doing.

Maybe they get away with it because we the people who keep voting them into office don’t know anything about war ourselves. We know the fantasy version, the movie version, but only that 1% of the nation – and their families – who have fought the wars truly know the hardship involved. For the rest of us, no sacrifice has been called for: none. No draft. No war tax (but huge deficits), and here it bears noting that the top tax rate during the second world war was 90%. No rationing, the very mention of which is good for a laugh. Rationing? That was never part of the discussion. But those years when US soldiers were piling sandbags into their thin-skinned Humvees and welding scrap metal on to the sides also happened to coincide with the heyday of the Hummer here at home. Where I live in Dallas, you couldn’t drive a couple of blocks without passing one of those beasts, 8,600 hulking pounds of chrome and steel. Or for a really good laugh, how about this: gas rationing. If it’s really about the oil, we could support the troops by driving less, walking more. Or suppose it’s not about the oil at all, but about our freedoms, our values, our very way of life – that it’s truly “a clash of civilizations”, in the words of Senator Rubio. If that’s the case, if this is what we truly believe, then our politicians should call for, and we should accept no less than, full-scale mobilization: a draft, confiscatory tax rates, rationing.

Read the whole thing.

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2 Responses to On Sacrifice

  1. Felicis says:

    Annoyingly, this only points to one party – both are pretty OK with war. Clinton is a hawk – I expect that whoever wins the election is going to have us involved in military conflict their entire term of office.

  2. Ken Barker says:

    Seems like Obama could send his children to fight if it’s such a good thing.e’s killing plenty of children their age right now all over the globe. Peace Prize my ass.
    Same for the rest of the Chickenhawks, send your children or maybe go yourself.

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