War Makes Its Own Myths

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

One of the tragic things about war is how little resemblance it bears to the ideal version of it championed by Clausewitz and presented as the heart of military professionalism.  War is traumatic, and that trauma warps how military professionals engage in it.

The problem with an enemy in war is that they’re trying to kill you!  What jerks!  This faction, the enemy, becomes guilty, through war, of an offense worth warring over.  Whatever nonsense got the politicians into the war, well, now the military man is fighting for survival against a foe guilty of the worse sin: relentlessly attempting to murder you and your friends.

I think within the “Deep State” and in today’s politics, is a real faction of military and retired military who live within the mythology of their own profession.

Never mind the Pentagon papers, we were fightin’ for freedom in ‘Nam.  The Media and the voting public got in the way.  So, now, the Pentagon wants to conduct its business without media scrutiny.  Entire wars in Syria, Africa, and Yemen, with little to no coverage of deployments and objectives.  This faction most likely includes people like John Bolton, a military brat growing up, and probably rubbing elbows with retired military (now lobbyist) true believers in Northern Virginia cocktail parties.  It’s likely that this crowd finds common cause and is allied with the Israel lobby.  I find this to be a more compelling explanation of things than this “neocon” trope, suggesting a cogent ideology behind Trumpist foreign policy.

The mythology of war is that one side is evil, and the other side has to live up to pure good in order to do what is right – kill the bad guys.  But all wars are evil, and each side finds the other evil – they are trying to kill you aren’t they?

You have war as a policy tool.  Strategic operations, with an expected loss of life.  The Army expects a certain number of deaths in training every year.  It’s part of the biz, it’s part of life.

But then, at what point do you get wars that run out of control.  That don’t go as planned.  Whose traumatic effects can’t simply be forgotten by soldiers and civilians caught in the middle.

Is this how you get Nanking, Hiroshima, Dresden, the Holocaust, and so on and so forth?  When a “tyrant” kills, he’s thinking about some past trauma he’s desperate to prevent.  Or, at least, that’s what’s in the minds of the people who support him.

And we easy-going, carefree Americans never get this.  Because we haven’t really been hurt.  Except for a few soldiering men, who sleep in their comfortable and clean myths of national righteousness.  So America sees perpetual war for perpetual peace.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan


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