The embrace by any society of permanent war is a parasite that devours the heart and soul of a nation. Permanent war extinguishes liberal, democratic movements. It turns culture into nationalist cant. It degrades and corrupts education and the media, and wrecks the economy. The liberal, democratic forces, tasked with maintaining an open society, become impotent. The collapse of liberalism, whether in imperial Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Weimar Germany, ushers in an age of moral nihilism. This moral nihilism comes is many colors and hues. It rants and thunders in a variety of slogans, languages and ideologies. It can manifest itself in fascist salutes, communist show trials or Christian crusades. It is, at its core, all the same. It is the crude, terrifying tirade of mediocrities who find their identities and power in the perpetuation of permanent war.
It was a decline into permanent war, not Islam, which killed the liberal, democratic movements in the Arab world, ones that held great promise in the early part of the 20th century in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iran. It is a state of permanent war that is finishing off the liberal traditions in Israel and the United States. The moral and intellectual trolls—the Dick Cheneys, the Avigdor Liebermans, the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads—personify the moral nihilism of perpetual war. They manipulate fear and paranoia. They abolish civil liberties in the name of national security. They crush legitimate dissent. They bilk state treasuries. They stoke racism.
“War,” Randolph Bourne commented acidly, “is the health of the state.”
Why does the U.S. government maintain over 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees in 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories? How long can the American taxpayer support this far-flung force given the severely weakened economy? And why has there been no public discussion by the Obama administration over scaling back our imperial presence abroad? Chalmers Johnson seeks to explain.
In her foreword to “The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts,” an important collection of articles on United States militarism and imperialism, edited by Catherine Lutz, the prominent feminist writer Cynthia Enloe notes one of our most abject failures as a government and a democracy: “There is virtually no news coverage—no journalists’ or editors’ curiosity—about the pressures or lures at work when the U.S. government seeks to persuade officials of Romania, Aruba or Ecuador that providing U.S. military-basing access would be good for their countries.” The American public, if not the residents of the territories in question, is almost totally innocent of the huge costs involved, the crimes committed by our soldiers against women and children in the occupied territories, the environmental pollution, and the deep and abiding suspicions generated among people forced to live close to thousands of heavily armed, culturally myopic and dangerously indoctrinated American soldiers. This book is an antidote to such parochialism.
The bodies of dozens, perhaps well over a hundred, women, children and men, their corpses blown into bits of human flesh by iron fragmentation bombs dropped by U.S. warplanes in a village in the western province of Farah, illustrates the futility of the Afghan war. We are not delivering democracy or liberation or development. We are delivering massive, sophisticated forms of industrial slaughter. And because we have employed the blunt and horrible instrument of war in a land we know little about and are incapable of reading, we embody the barbarism we claim to be seeking to defeat.
We are morally no different from the psychopaths within the Taliban, who Afghans remember we empowered, funded and armed during the 10-year war with the Soviet Union. Acid thrown a girl’s face or beheadings? Death delivered from the air or fields of shiny cluster bombs? This is the language of war. It is what we speak. It is what those we fight speak.
The core of Johnson speech is on American militarism but discussing Iraq he explains the influence of the neocons as the main reason for war (although perhaps also overstating the case of oil politics too).
There is ample evidence that within this group [the Neoconservatives], and I’m not in any sense trying to be anti-israeli because I’m in fact quite alarmed by the dangers Israel is in today, but that many of these people have very close ties to the right-wing of the likud party, I mean close ties to Benjamin Netanyahu of which they have written papers for him, they’re personal associates of his, and things of this sort, and much of what they stand for does reflect the particular views of the sharonistas, if you will, that it serves their interests to destroy Iraq even if it has not particularly served ours.