America’s Endless Wars Persist Because They Don’t Exist (For Americans)

They're wars of Empire and your input isn't required, peasant

“The question is: why don’t more Americans react with genuine horror when a draft dodger like Donald Trump boasts of all those wonderful weapons this country is buying?”

There is no significant antiwar movement in America because there’s no war to protest. Let me explain. In February 2003, millions of people took to the streets around the world to protest America’s march to war against Iraq. That mass movement failed. The administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had a radical plan for reshaping the Middle East and no protesters, no matter how principled or sensible or determined, were going to stop them in their march of folly. The Iraq War soon joined the Afghan invasion of 2001 as a quagmire and disaster, yet the antiwar movement died down as US leaders worked to isolate Americans from news about the casualties, costs, calamities, and crimes of what was by then called “the war on terror.”

And in that they succeeded. Even though the US now lives in a state of perpetual war, for most Americans it’s a peculiar form of non-war. Most of the time, those overseas conflicts are literally out of sight (and largely out of mind). Meanwhile, whatever administration is in power assures us that our attention isn’t required, nor is our approval asked for, so we carry on with our lives as if no one is being murdered in our name.

War without dire consequences poses a conundrum. In a representative democracy, waging war should require the people’s informed consent as well as their concerted mobilization. But consent is something that America’s leaders no longer want or need and, with an all-volunteer military, there’s no need to mobilize the rest of us.

Back in 2009, I argued that our military was, in fact, becoming a quasi-foreign legion, detached from the people and ready to be dispatched globally on imperial escapades that meant little to ordinary Americans. That remains true today in a country most of whose citizens have been at pains to divorce themselves and their families from military service – and who can blame them, given the atrocious results of those wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and Africa?

Yet that divorce has come at a considerable cost. It’s left our society in a state of low-grade war fever, while accelerating an everyday version of militarism that Americans now accept as normal. A striking illustration of this: President Trump’s recent State of the Union address, which was filled with bellicose boasts about spending trillions of dollars on wars and weaponryassassinating foreign leaders, and embracing dubious political figures to mount illegal coups (in this case in Venezuela) in the name of oil and other resources. The response: not opposition or even skepticism from the people’s representatives, but rare rapturous applause by members of both political parties, even as yet more troops were being deployed to the Middle East.


When I was a kid, I loved to collect American stamps. I had a Minuteman stamp album, and since a stamp and coin dealer was within walking distance of my house, I’d regularly head off on missions to fill the pages of that album with affordable commemorative stamps. I especially liked ones linked to military history. Given the number of wars this country has fought, there were plenty of those to add to my album.

Consider, for instance, the stamps issued after the December 7, 1941, US entry into World War II. Unsurprisingly, for a war that entailed mass mobilization and involved common sacrifice, many of them were meant to highlight the war in progress and what it was all about. So, for example, stamps were issued to remind Americans about subjects like: the countries overrun by Nazi Germany; Chinese resistance to the Japanese occupation of their country; President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (FDR, too, was an avid stamp collector); and, as the tide turned, this country’s momentous victory against the Japanese on the island of Iwo Jima. Other stamps enjoined Americans to “win the war” and work “toward [a] United Nations.” These and similar stamps formed a tiny part of a vast war effort accepted by nearly all Americans as necessary and just. And when the war finally ended in August 1945, Americans rightfully celebrated.

Now, try to bring to mind stamps from America’s wars since then. If you’re old enough, try to recall ones you stuck on envelopes during the Korean War of the 1950s, the Vietnam War of the 1960s, or especially the war on terror of this century. How many of them celebrated momentous US victories? How many hailed allies working in common cause with us? How many commemorated an end to such wars?

I pay close attention to stamps. I still enjoy walking to my local post office and seeing the new commemoratives as they come out. And I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that, in stamp terms, there’s simply nothing to commemorate in America’s recent wars. Shouldn’t that tell us something?

I’m not saying that there are no stamps whatsoever related to those wars. In 1985, for instance, 32 years after the signing of an armistice not-quite-ever-ending the Korean War, a stamp in honor of its veterans was issued and, in 2003, another for the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington. Several stamps have similarly highlighted Vietnam veterans and Maya Lin’s iconic memorial to them.

But stamps that told us what either of those wars were for or that sought to mobilize Americans in any way? Not a chance. Ditto when it comes to this century’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or to the larger never-ending war on terror. Yes, a 2002 “Heroes USA” stamp featured firefighters raising the flag at the World Trade Center and was meant to provide money for injured first responders; and yes, there’s currently a “Healing PTSD” stamp for sale that raises money for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But as for stamps celebrating decisive victories in Kabul or Baghdad or Tripoli, you know the answer to that one as well as I do; nor, of course, were there any reminding us of the freedoms we were supposedly fighting to uphold in those wars.

In that context, let’s return to that FDR Four Freedoms stamp, which was very popular during World War II. Its message couldn’t have been more succinct. It read: “Freedom of speech and religion, from want and fear.” Of course, World War II was an atrocious war, as all wars are. But what (partially) redeemed it were its ideals, however imperfectly realized in the postwar world.

Still, when’s the last time the US Postal Service issued a stamp that so perfectly summed up “why we fight”? There are no such stamps today because our present wars have no higher purpose. It’s that simple.

We’re not supposed to notice that, since we’re not supposed to notice those wars to begin with, not in any visceral way at least. Even stamps like the recent PTSD one (with a 10-cent surcharge that goes to veterans) are an artful dodge. Should we really feel any better donating a few nickels or dimes to help veterans with their physical and mental struggles from wars made more horrendous because they were (and remain) so unnecessary?

Or thought of another way, why is the post office raising money for veterans’ health care? Perhaps because a staggering (and still rising) Pentagon budget only ensures that there will be more war – with more wounded veterans.

Looking Back, Yet Again, to World War II

I never miss the opening ceremonies to the Super Bowl. As an exercise in pure Americana, they have no equal. This year’s included the usual trappings: a military color guard, an oversized flag, and a flyover by combat jets, including the new F-35 stealth fighter, a trillion-dollar boondoggle of the military-industrial complex. Since 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the National Football League as well as the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the opening ceremony featured centenarian veterans of that war helping with the pre-game coin toss. It was heartwarming to see those redoubtable vets and recognize their service.

But I can tell when my emotions are being manipulated. Watching them, I knew I was supposed to get warm and fuzzy about military service and maybe feel better about the NFL as well. Yet my respect for them and “the good war” they fought (to use Studs Terkel’s ironic title for his oral history of World War II) didn’t stop me from wanting to shower hot wrath on the leaders who have lied us into so many bad wars since then.

Speaking of warm fuzzies, consider the long opening commercial for the NFL that kicked off this year’s ceremonies. It featured an African-American boy running with a football, dodging various obstacles on a transcontinental journey to the Super Bowl, during which he pauses, reverentially, before a statue of Pat Tillman, the safety for the Arizona Cardinals who famously gave up a multimillion-dollar contract to enlist in the Army after 9/11. Tragically, he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, a fact the US military attempted to cover up in a conspiracy that went as high as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Even though it was just a commercial, it was right for that young boy to honor Tillman’s memory. But to what end? To make the NFL look patriotic or perhaps to overcome any lingering taint from principled (yet widely misunderstood) take-a-knee protests by players like Colin Kaepernick?

An honest accounting of America’s recent wars by the NFL might reflect on the fact that no other players have ever joined Tillman in giving up millions to enlist in the war effort. In fact, no players from any major league sport, whether baseball, basketball, or hockey, have done so. Not even NASCAR drivers, supposedly the salt of the earth, have, as far as I know, exchanged race cars for Humvees. Why should they? America’s recent wars might as well not exist for them – and, to be honest, for most of us as well.

I’m not calling for major sports stars to be drafted into the military as they were in World War II (though many athletes of that era volunteered first). What I’m suggesting is that, some 18-plus years later, they – like the rest of us – should begin paying real attention to America’s wars and what they’re about.

Because that’s the only way, as a nation, we’ll ever come together and put a stop to them.

The answer to our collective apathy is not that war must become bloody awful here in the “homeland” before we finally do something to end it. Instead, it’s to listen to those who have seen the awfulness of war and the atrocious behaviors it enables and rewards.

Consider the words of E.B. Sledge, a Marine who fought at Peleliu and Okinawa in World War II’s Pacific island campaign against the Japanese. Nightmares haunted him for 25 years after the brutal fighting on those islands ended. He described the war he experienced as an exercise in sheer terror with grown men screaming in agony and sobbing in pain, with fighting so sustained that soldiers moved about like zombies, having been in the line of fire for days on end. Exhaustion bred murderous mistakes that too often were dismissed with a mind-numbing euphemism I’ve already succumbed to in this piece: “friendly fire.” And that, mind you, was “the good war.”

So, while saluting those photogenic centenarian vets featured by the NFL, we should also remember those who didn’t come home and those who came home with radically altered lives. Sledge, for instance, recalled a buddy of his, Jim Day, who dreamed of running a horse ranch in California after the war. But as Sledge recounted in a talk in 1994, “At Peleliu, a Japanese machine gun shattered one of Jim’s legs.” All that was left was a stump with blood spurting out of it.

”Later, when Jim came to the First Marine Division reunions (maybe some of you can’t conceive of this), we would have to help him go to the bathroom. His wife had to do that at home. The poor man couldn’t handle it by himself, because of that stump of a leg cut off at the hip. He died a premature death after years of pain and back trouble.”

Sledge and his horrific nightmares, his friend Jim and his crippling injury, those are glimpses of the true face of even the least indefensible of wars (and America’s twenty-first-century versions of the same are, unfortunately, anything but defensible). The question is: why don’t more Americans react with genuine horror when a draft dodger like Donald Trump boasts of all those wonderful weapons this country is buying (and using and selling) that are proudly “Made in the USA”?

No longer should we permit the powerful to obfuscate war, to boast (as George W. Bush did) of “mission accomplished” or of game-changing “surges,” or of “turning corners.” Such lies serve only to distract us. Instead, Americans need to turn “eyes front” and face the ugly realities of permanent war.

Do that and we may well reinvigorate our democracy. If not, we may well kill what’s left of it.


  1. ravenise says

    Bring it to the doorsteps of America and eventually after enough are slaughtered, they will know the meaning of empathy

  2. Canosin says

    what kind of a pervesion this is…….seems quite normal in everydays life of these sickos to bomb (kill) people around the world….with drones…or else….without remorses…..because its the american way of life….having dinner…..or sitting at the mc Donalds……or wherever it might be..inbetween american football or baseball…..watching news of bombings…kind of a sick entertainment….
    imagine this… or two other nations would do this daily on american soil…for fun…..without any possibility of protection or defense… would these sickos see than that??

  3. Jesus says

    Low intensity conflicts with third world militaries and an obsession of viewing war as a computer game has led Pentagon into a series of adventures with low casualties and inconclusive results that did not register much at home, except adding trillions to the bottom line.
    Present day geopolitics limits such US military adventurism, since the world order is becoming multipolar, and near peer and peer challenges against US will make things a lot more costly in lives and treasure.

  4. hoyeru says

    having lived for over 30 years in USA I can give my observations.
    Americans live in “dog eat dog world”, “might makes right”, Darwinistic world where the strong eat the weak. And they are 100% fine with that, cuz they think they are the top dog, the strongest in the world. That’s what their corporate owned media tells them and they love it. They are raised on violent movies where the cops always win against the “bad guys”, they read violent comics where superheroes beat each other up while giving speeches about “freedom and democracy”. that’s their world, and as long as it doesn’t touch them, they are fine with it. Remember, “they are fighting them in the middle east so they won’t be fighting it over here, i.e. USA” They are fucked in the head. They LOVED it when 100+ Russian solders were killed in Syria. they openly gloated about it. Totally fucked assholes.

    1. David Chu says

      And not only do they READ violent comics, they get to WATCH it on the big screen too. The United States is the REAL “Nazi Germany” that they have been “educated” about.

  5. David Chu says

    Having lived and worked in that “great United States” for some 20 years, I have a little bit of understanding as to the WHY.

    But first the reality.

    Anyone who hasn’t watched John Pilger’s exceptional documentary “The Coming War on China” must do so TODAY. That segment on the Marshall Islands (where the word “bikini” comes from) really shows the true nature of Yankees and I am not talking about the 1% or the “deep state” that run and control the “great United States” but its willing citizens.

    The Yankees listen to talk radio, NPR for the progressives and all the pro-USA talking heads for the conservatives, when they drive or at home. All the time. Both NPR and the rest of the talking heads are on the same side: the national security state that Michael Parenti so beautifully encapsulated in his very funny but incisive expose about the Yankee/NATO war against Yugoslavia that everyone should also watch:

    Then they watch CNN/FOX/NBC/CBS/ABC/MSNBC/ETC. for their daily news or should I say daily Yankee propaganda.

    And when they have the time and the money, they go to the movie theaters to watch pro-Yankee movies or rent those movies on dvds from Blockbuster (are they still around?) or life-stream on Netflix.

    Not to mention the millions of evangelical “Christians” listening to their pro-Jewish pastors every Sunday. And those NASCAR fanatics.

    This constant self-induced and self-inflicted brainwashing is self-fulfilling. They think and say alike: USA! USA! USA!

    And I was one of them . . . until I woke up on day . . . looking half-dazed from watching a short video on WTC7. And the rest as they said is that I left the “great United States” forever.

    1. Tom Surguine, already signed . says

      That makes 2 of us david, only we came back to my wifes home country..the Phillipines. Found the best health care possibke here, no way in the usa…will never go back….expat tom

  6. CHUCKMAN says

    I learned about America’s “empathy” from back in the Vietnam War era.

    America lost less than 60 thousand over ten years.

    Vietnam lost about 3 million with all the carpet bombing and napalm and other horrors. Another million or so for Cambodia, destabilized by American bombing and incursions. And Vietnam was left saturated with Agent Orange and landmines to kill for decades to come.

    The only period in which there were widespread protests in America was a period when conscripts were coming home in flag-draped coffins, a few hundred a week. For a period in the late 1960s

    Ever since, America has had a professional (or mercenary) system, and there are no protests… at all.

    It has killed at least 2 million in the Middle East’s Neocon Wars and created millions of refugees.

    And it’s created an extrajudicial killing system with drones and Hellfire missiles.

    No protests.Not a tear shed.

    That is indeed America.

  7. Chris Chuba says

    We lack empathy. If it costs others massive trouble and us very little then we will not care about it, 12 deaths a year, eh, one mass shooting in a shopping mall, billions of $, eh, money we borrow from our infinite debt and low interest rates that seem to last forever.

    The question remains how will we react when one of these days we push a country too far and it does cause us a massive number of casualties, will we blame our leaders or the other country? We have been so thoroughly propagandized, I doubt we will see things clearly. I’m not talking about 9/11 I’m talking about the near miss w/Iran. In one night we could have seen a 1,000+ or more casualties and that would have been because of our aggression.

  8. Rowdy-Yates says

    Americans have no voice on foreign policies. To understand this one should look at our elections. Candidates make promises in order to win and have no intention of honoring. Most of our policies are made after the elections are over. As for foreign affairs they are decided by the State Department whose employees are hired and not elected. They are lifetime employees and are not connected to the people.

    Then you have the Lobbyists, the arms industry, the White house and its cabinet with Congress playing the least role. When wars begin the Media either promotes it or does not cover it while focusing mainly on domestic issues . America has waged wars for most of our history except for a few years
    America Has Been at War 93% of the Time – 222 out of 239 Years – Since 1776

  9. Charles Watkins says

    We keep thanking the troops for ‘keeping us free’. When, exactly, has that happened?

    1. David Chu says

      Those troops of yours are meant to keep the world safe and prosperous for the 1%. Not for the average sheeple in the USA.

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