The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Jim Scofield

February 27, 2013

Jim Scofield | Our perpetual state of war

— It’s dangerous for a democracy to always be at war. Is there any end to these wars – our war on terrorism, on Iraq and Libya, and now possibly Iran, not to mention our drone missile strikes in numerous other countries?

None of these adversaries threaten the existence of the United States. In fact, terrorism is a strategy of the weak, those without effective armies.

In George Orwell’s well-known novel, “1984,” Big Brother’s totalitarian government must always have an enemy to hate and fear, even if the enemy keeps changing.

This tactic keeps the populace cowed. A permanent military – and the permanent wars it brings – was what Presidents (and former generals) George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower wisely warned us against. Such wars, and their adulation, weaken democratic institutions. They leave us with only one party, the war party.

Republicans and Democrats fear to challenge our wars, believing that war support is their only popular, politically sustainable position. Thus, there is no effective opposition to our expansive militarism and perpetual wars.

The Iraq war, launched with our 2003 invasion, is the most illegitimate. It had nothing to do with terrorism. Iraq had no nuclear weapons and was not a threat to the United States. Yet the Bush administration claimed all those reasons for war, and both parties and our press colluded with those dishonest rationales.

Neither the Obama administration nor Congress will review this shameful action, which cost 5,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.

Now we are poising a parallel threat to attack Iran, claiming the same excuse – that it might produce a nuclear weapon. Iran is no threat to us, with or without atomic weapons, and even if it gets such a weapon, we do not have the right to attack it.

If we fear nuclear proliferation, we should be calling for nuclear disarmament across the Middle East, including Israel (about 200 atomic weapons) and Pakistan. And we should be following through with gradual nuclear disarmament in parallel with that of the other major nuclear powers, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Many American leaders, such as Henry Kissinger, urge this course to ensure world safety from some future holocaust.

These wars, one after the other, but particularly the war against terrorism, have no boundaries or time limit.

We are currently using drones, controlled from the United States, to kill supposed al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, often along with many bystanders. President Obama and his advisers claim the right to choose whom to kill. There is no review of these actions, public or private.

These targets are chosen because of some future acts they might commit, hardly a good legal justification. Many argue that this policy is creating more terrorists and certainly more hatred of the United States, especially in Pakistan, where there is widespread fear of and anger about the American drones always waiting overhead, menacingly, in their skies.

The Taliban, whom we war against in Afghanistan, are not international terrorists; just an insurgency, however brutal.

We successfully arrested and convicted the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, without starting a general war, and have used our civilian courts in the past 10 years to convict a number of terrorists.

Sadly, we have violated our constitutional and human rights commitments by using torture, assassinations and indefinite detentions, not the legal processes and courts.

Half the prisoners held in Guantanamo, often now for more than 10 years, are innocent, as were many we held and tortured elsewhere.

The suspected main instigators of the 9/11 attacks should have been tried long ago, and in our civilian courts.

Our military has established an ominous African command, and our leaders have become more confrontational with Russia and China. We are thus increasing future areas of military conflict.

We have at least doubled our military budget in the past 15 years, and it is larger ($711 billion in 2011) than that of all the next 13 countries’ military budgets. We would be much stronger overall if we spent more of this fixing our transportation, bridges, water and sewer systems, schools and such.

We could better use the work of our military personnel in creating for them, and others, well-paid civilian jobs repairing these needed vital interests at home. Many are in the military because it provides the only chance for jobs with decent benefits, whatever the hazards.

We are diverting huge amounts of our resources to wars while allowing our country and economy to fall into disrepair. Our leaders are all too ready to compromise Social Security and Medicare while proudly spending more on the military.

Jim Scofield of Richland Township is a professor emeritus of English at Pitt-Johnstown.

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