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Coming to a Mall Near You: Just War
15 December 2001
The phrase, 'Just War,' used in reference to the battle being waged in Afghanistan, is beginning to resonate. Not as a deep philosophical concept, but like the names of those specialty stores you find in shopping malls: 'Just Lamps,' 'Just Bulbs,' and 'Just Paper.' In fact, 'Just War' turns out to be an eerily accurate marquee for the little shop known as The United States of America. War, to the increasing exclusion of everything else, is the only thing that America collectively cares about anymore.
We don't manufacture much of anything; just war. We don't concern ourselves with education; just war. We don't attend to the 40 million Americans without health coverage; just war. We don't focus on the 30 million American children living in poverty; just war. We don't support the arts; just war. Even though a a multitude of human needs were in existence prior to September 11, and have only increased since then, we continue to direct our attention and our resources into what we do best: war. Just war.
Need a billion dollars a day for the military? No problem. Need an extra $40 billion for the war on terrorism? Here it is. Need a blank check to pursue an undeclared struggle with unexplained means and undefined ends? You got it, because that's what America is all about: just war. America is the world's biggest supplier of conventional weapons.
America is the world's biggest supplier of torture devices. America manufactures and exports terrorists at its School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). America exports violent entertainment around the globe. Prison construction remains one of our top industries. Global slavery is the secret behind our economic success. The military remains our biggest budget item. Whether it's war on people of color overseas, or war on our rights at home, that's what we're all about: just war.
And we've now codified that reality. President Bush's guarantee of 'a long, long struggle,' absent a measurable goal, and without a quantifiable conclusion, suggests that America will be in a permanent militarized state until the end of our days, forever erasing the distinction between 'war time' and 'peace time.'
There was an era when wars were ugly spectacles, dreaded from a distance, entered reluctantly, and ended as swiftly as possible. There were victory parades and celebrations, and a return to 'life as we knew it.' There was a 'peace dividend'--the billions of dollars no longer needed for war could finally be used for the benefit of public health, welfare and the arts.
But no longer. With no legal declaration of war, there can be no cessation of hostilities. With no nations from which to demand surrender, there will be no surrender ceremonies. In the absence of negotiations, there will be no realignments, treaties or agreements. Terrorists, whoever they are, wherever they are, will be rounded up in secret, tried in secret, and executed by secret tribunals. The waging of war will become a regularly-occurring municipal function, like trash collection or street cleaning - all the while draining money out of our schools and hospitals, food out of our children's mouths, and peace and beauty out of the rest of our lives.
There is a moral corruption that comes from living in a militarized society. When military demands continually defy debate, hold center stage at the expense of monumental human need at home, and consume resources essential for the well-being of people, our culture is diminished, and we are diminished along with it. Our national dialogue becomes a monologue. And our interactions become brutal and coarse.
It's a corruption evident in Congressional disregard for the needs of laid-off workers and Americans without health coverage. In the Attorney General's contempt for the civil rights and freedoms he purports to defend. In the continuing debasement of our language into 'war is peace' doublespeak. And in the creeping fascism of pundits who define those opposed to the war as 'irrelevant,' academics teaching history as 'un-American,' and anyone calling for alternatives as 'lending aid and comfort to the enemy.'
It's a corruption that extends to our high schools, where kids can visit ROTC recruiters on campus - whose presence, more and more, is a condition of receiving state funds for education. It's a corruption that extends to our colleges - where, we are told, kids are flocking to CIA recruiters in droves, perhaps as the result of watching the new crop of network TV dramas which employ official CIA script consultants.
And it's a corruption that extends to our smallest kids. Enlisted by a president who spends billions of dollars on a military campaign that destroys the homes and lives of Afghan children, American children have been asked to send money to clean up the wreckage of his dirty war. Here's a better idea: don't bomb civilians (by one estimate now numbering 3,500 dead) in the first place. Use the money to build and stabilize rather than to bomb and terrorize. And teach our kids from their earliest days that they--and their money--have value beyond supporting the war effort.
The corruption extends across the breadth of increasingly harsh American mass cultural offerings, where you can take your pick of cop chases, spectacular crashes, or real-life fights caught on tape. If you're tired of watching crimes being committed, you can choose from a gaggle of court shows, where a judge of your gender and racial preference will verbally terrorize pairs of arguing litigants. You can get all the blood and gore you could possibly want on the local news--just don't ask the folks at the network to report how many civilians have actually been killed in Afghanistan. Apparently, that information could have a negative effect on the war. And war is, after all, what we're all about. Just war.
With no end to the struggle in sight, no perceivable opposition party in Washington, and no balancing voices of reason being given the light of day by the mainstream media, there's ample cause to believe that America, like its counterparts that sell just lamps, bulbs, and Scotch tape, is becoming a one-product economy: Just War. And where there is just war, there will be no justice.