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Perpetual war and its blowback: Everyone loses

Mary Hladky

Note: Mary Hladky gave this talk Aug. 11 at UMKC during KKFI Radio’s “Kicking the Koch Habit” conference. Her son was an Army Infantry Officer in Afghanistan when the troops experienced the highest death and injury rates of the war thus far. She is vice chair of the PeaceWorks-KC Board.

How did we arrive at a place in our country where we have never-ending and ever-spreading wars with little success and no conclusion?

Most Americans cannot explain why we are currently at war in seven countries–Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Niger.

People don’t know and are shocked to learn that U.S. Special Forces were in 149 countries last year.  There are 193 countries in the world.  That’s a military presence in 77% of the world’s countries.

Unfortunately, the American public, as a whole, is totally disengaged from the country’s wars and its military interventions.  Only 1% of Americans serve in the military.  The rest of Americans, the 99%, have been asked to sacrifice nothing.  There is no draft and since 9/11 no increased taxes to pay for these wars.   Institute a draft or increase taxes to pay the upfront costs of war (instead of adding costs to the deficit) and there would be a deafening uproar.  With no “skin in the game,” and the wars rarely covered in the media, it is easier for people, with very busy lives, to just accept that the government is keeping them safe; no need to question.

Since 9/11, U.S. wars have not achieved their military objectives; they do not bring peace, democracy or freedom.  They do not make the lives of the people in these countries better.  The American people are told that the U.S. military is a force for good, but in reality, it has brought chaos and increasing terrorism to the Middle East and the region.

Why can’t the world’s mightiest army easily defeat an underwhelming enemy force?  Why is it incapable of producing results other than death and massive destruction?

Russian General Gormov warned the U.S. in 2009 about its plan to surge troops in Afghanistan, stating disaster would come to the thousands of new forces Obama was sending to Afghanistan, just as it did to the Soviet Union.  We should recognize that we are wasting time, lives and resources in an area where we have never understood the political dynamics and continue to make the wrong choices.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in October last year, “We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing.”  How is it possible that the senators on the Armed Services Committee are unaware of what the military is doing?

Our current wars are not about defending our country but about dominating and controlling the world to conform to our wishes.  And it is not working!!

How did this happen?  How did we get here?

Let’s go back to the end of the Cold War in late 1991 to try to understand what has happened.

In late 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved and the Cold War ended.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, just after the 1st Gulf War, there was great hope for a “peace dividend”–instead of spending taxpayer dollars on war and preparation for war, we would spend those dollars to improve the lives of Americans here at home.

But the neoconservative wing of the Republican party had a much different vision.  It saw the fall of the Soviet Union as an opportunity for the U.S. military to dominate the world.

In 1992, during the George HW Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz wrote what was later to become known as the Wolfowitz doctrine, which outlined a plan to:

  • increase defense spending;
  • take pre-emptive military action;
  • use military force unilaterally, with or without allies;
  • prevent any hostile power from dominating a region; and
  • secure access to vital natural resources, especially Persian Gulf oil.

The Wolfowitz plan was supported by Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld, among others, all of whom served in the George W. Bush administration. The first step in their plan was regime change in Iraq.

Shortly after 9/11, Retired General Wesley Clark was stunned to learn, from a fellow officer, of the U.S.’s plan to attack 7 countries in 5 years–those countries being: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran.

None of these proposals was brought before the American people or Congress.  9/11 gave the Bush administration the opportunity to take the first step in its plans by manipulating Americans legitimate fears.  We were told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was connected to 9/11.  We went to war with Iraq based on lies and opened the Gates of Hell in the region.

The Global War on Terror focused on the tactic of terrorism and failed to address the grievances, the root cause, of why this tactic was used in the first place.  After 17 years of unwinnable wars, are only accomplishments are more terrorist cells overseas and more hatred of America.

Instead of instigating wars of choice, America should have been focusing on poverty in America, maintaining our infrastructure, climate change, and understanding cyber-threats (like shutting down the electrical grid).

The dream of global domination by the Bush/Cheney gang has proven to be disastrous.   The urge to control the world, to take everything, set the country up for failure, at a tremendous cost.  Tom Engelhardt writes that it has proven to be “the perfect launching pad for this country’s decline.”


Blowback is the unintended consequences of U.S. policies. And here’s what blowback looks like. Since 9/11, the U.S. has created a vast national-security state surveilling Americans.

Militarism abroad has gone hand-in-hand with the militarization of U.S. borders and of poor communities across the country.  Military weapons from our wars are returning home to local police departments to be used against brown and black communities.  The weapons used on the streets of Baghdad are literally the same weapons used on the streets of Ferguson.  Young black males are 9 times more likely to be killed by police officers than other Americans.

Martin Luther King, in his Beyond Vietnam speech, reminds us of the inherit racism of killing the Vietnamese people with the killing of black people in America through dehumanization and contempt for “other” people.  The destruction done to the Vietnamese people is the same destruction we are doing to the Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis and others today. Racism is the same destructive force we are reminded of this weekend as we remember the events in Charlottesville last year and will regretfully see other white supremacy rallies in DC and Charlottesville this weekend.  It is the same racism that goes together with the war against immigrants and refugees.

War creates millions of refugees.  The UN reports that in 2015 the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world was over 65 million–a number higher than at the end of WWII.  Further, approximately half of the world’s refugees come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia—all places the U.S. military has intervened.

And the most all-encompassing blowback comes in two forms, the escalating nuclear arms race and climate change, both threaten all humanity.

Nuclear Weapons–Today the world has nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons, wtih 92% of them held by the United States and Russia.  The world’s nuclear weapons pose an intolerable threat to humanity.

In January, the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its symbolic Doomsday Clock to 2 minutes before midnight, as close as it has ever been since its inception in 1947.  In moving the clock closer to the hour of the apocalypse, the Bulletin cited “the failure of President Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change.”

We currently have a war machine preparing to spend over $1 trillion to “modernize” U.S.  nuclear weapons. We already have enough nukes to destroy the world many times over. This escalation has spurred all the other nuclear-armed states to upgrade their nuclear arsenals. So instead of de-escalating the nuclear arms race, it continues to grow, and to what end?  There are no winners in a nuclear war.    

Climate Change-The U.S. military is the largest single user of fossil fuel, with devastating consequences for the environment.  Big Energy has long been after every fossil fuel reserve, no matter its location, supported in large part by U.S. foreign policy.  Big Energy has used its money to buy our politicians to do its will and has funded anti-science, climate-denial campaigns, in order to maintain its profits.  They have put profits over people and our environment.  The government has chosen to invest in Wars of Choice, supporting corporations over finding sustainable ways to meet our energy needs.

The United States has 5% of the world’s population but uses 30% of its resources–we lead the pack in damaging the environment.  Fossil fuels, with their heat-trapping emissions, have put us on the path to changing life on earth as we know it.  We must address our energy needs in a sustainable way.  We must move the money from war to the intellectual, scientific work necessary to prevent further damage to the environment, providing hope for a better future.

The U.S. has a foreign policy based on violence and domination abroad, which directly relates to the violence and problems we are afflicted with at home.

The United States has the world’s largest prison population, the highest murder rate for any industrialized nation, and is the world’s largest arms dealer. The U.S. population alone has 300 million guns, registered guns we know about. No other developed country has the phenomenon of mass shootings. We train our high school children to shoot weapons in school through JROTC programs (Parkland, Fla.). We have the most unfair and unjust health care system in any industrialized nation. We suppress the vote of our people. Our own Civil War ended slavery by killing over 600,000 of our own people.  Other countries ended slavery peacefully or with legal means.

It’s no coincidence we have killed one million people in Iraq, Afghanistan and the region since 2001.

We have a choice

We don’t have to accept any of this–it is not inevitable–we still have a choice.

We need to ask ourselves:

Who Are We as a Nation?

And When Will We Stand Up, in massive numbers, to Change the Direction of our Country?

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