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One war ending. What’s next?

A few weeks ago I had lunch with an old friend. It was during the period when the Ukrainian government collapsed and the Russian military moved into the Crimea, followed by Russian claims on additional territory.

Like a lot of people, my friend was stricken by the similarity of the annexation of the Crimea with the German annexation of the Sudetenland, and the unwillingness of the U.S. to act this year as the British and French accommodated Germany in 1938. The fact that he is Jewish probably enhances his sensitivity to the unwillingness of the West to act.

My friend is not by any means a militarist. He has opposed many U.S. wars. But he felt this crisis was different.

I argued that after the U.S. government has engaged in innumerable foolish wars, the U.S. populace has no appetite for another one. With an aggrieved shrug, he agreed.

After Vietnam, repugnance toward war was so intense in the U.S. that it imposed military restraint on our leaders. It was called the Vietnam Syndrome, and those leaders were not one bit happy with it.

No one would have imagined that the U.S. would get involved in another major pointless war so soon, this one in Iraq. Those leaders for years engaged in miniwars — Panama, Grenada — to try to revive public support for war-making, often accompanied by a pack of lies, as with the Iraq weapons of mass destruction. “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all,” the first President George Bush said after the Gulf War.

In my lifetime, there have been at least 47 U.S. wars that I know of, but our textbooks are carefully cleansed to keep them politically correct and shield the public from knowing how often we do such things.

In 1969 Nobel biochemist George Wald argued that the U.S. government had become devoted to death: “The only point of government is to safeguard and foster life. Our government has become preoccupied with death, with the business of killing and being killed. … There is an entire semantics ready to deal with the sort of thing I am about to say. It involves such phrases as ‘those are the facts of life.’ No — these are the facts of death. I don’t accept them, and I advise you not to accept them. We are under repeated pressures to accept things that are presented to us as settled — decisions that have been made.”

Three years earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. said of our government and its militarism, “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But, they asked, what about Vietnam?

“They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”

We are now experiencing an Iraq Syndrome and our leaders are calculating how to get around the military restraint it imposes. When President Barack Obama made noises about war in Syria the adverse public reaction forced him to back off, prompting chicken hawks to attack him for undercutting the “credibility” of U.S. power, which apparently can only be achieved by throwing our military weight around.

Imagine if there was a real Hitler-type threat right now. We’ve rubbed the U.S. public’s nose in so much unnecessary and self-defeating war-making that real danger might not arouse the public.

It’s not likely a coincidence that in debate over our incessant wars, those members of our government who have actually seen war are usually those who oppose military action and those who have not seen war are most gung-ho. It’s probably also not a coincidence that these chicken hawks employ lies and emotion to get us into more wars.

This week I received a note from a reader whose son has done five tours in Afghanistan.

She wrote of the approaching alleged end of the Afghan War: “My suggestion would be Time to Celebrate. As we plan on leaving Afghanistan the end of this year, instead of demonstrating, I feel it’s time to stage performances in stadiums across the country, providing leadership more time to figure out more hatred and fear so we can pay for another unnecessary war!”

Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.

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