War Is Not a “Single Issue”
Guest article by Daniel Martin
I would like to call attention to a fallacy that I often hear: the notion that war is a “single issue”. The statement is often made as a qualifier for support of politicians or parties, despite their objectionable stances on war. “I am against war, but I am not a single issue voter.” Have you ever made this argument, or heard someone make it?
If the first paragraph has already taken you out of your comfort zone, please allow me to qualify something. This essay is not about for whom you should or shouldn’t vote. Nor are any presumptions made about the efficacy of your vote, in and of itself. No grand solutions are presented here on how to fix our democracy/oligarchy, or whether we even have the optimal form of government in place. The purpose here is merely to advocate for an honest conversation about war that doesn’t minimize it or compartmentalize it as a “single issue.” This would be a great starting point if we are to make actual progress. Because, to the extent many consider opposing war a part of the “progressive” package, it should be cross-ideological, and there is nothing truly progressive about a single-issue mentality toward it.
First off, how can we
consider the manner in which we treat the rest of the world a single
issue? Isn’t this fostering a mentality of American exceptionalism
and the very “us vs. them” thinking that perpetuates our worldwide imperialism?
Can you imagine a statement that goes: “I oppose sanctions against the already starving North Korean people, and I oppose violent regime change in Syria, and I advocate diplomacy with Iran and Russia, and I oppose drone bombing because it has been known to kill 90% innocent civilians, and I oppose dealing arms to the Saudis and our intervention in Yemen, and I prefer moving away from a war-based economy and oppose the Congressional approval of Trump’s record military budget...but I’m not a single-issue voter”?
There are two main points encompassed
1) It’s about so much more than the actual act of war itself. It’s about the harmful domestic effects of our preparations for war, and the power structure behind it. We’ll come back to this.
2) Aside from the fact that foreign policy involves many different
countries, there is a whole spectrum of aggression opposed within the antiwar
cause. This can range from sanctions (commonly regarded as a more passive
tool towards regime change, designed to starve a nation into turning on its own
leaders...remember the over half million Iraqi deaths in the 90’s, about which
Secretary Albright famously said were “worth it”?), to proxy wars involving
American funding and weapons, to direct war involving Americans doing the
shooting and bomb dropping.
Part of the problem may be that so many Americans really only consider the last of those options to be a “real war.” Like with our scarcely-protested drone bombing policy, the less we know about it the less it seems real. The further distance we are put from it, and the more we are shielded from the very real horrors of the bombings, the greater luxury we have of not having to ask the questions:
Perhaps many are comfortable entrusting the government to answer
these questions for us. Whether it’s Obama, Trump, or his generals,
again, it requires a faith in American exceptionalism
to believe that these individuals have the right to determine who merits
extrajudicial assassination by way of our drone “kill list”...or for what
civilian populations it is “worth it” to try and force regime change. It
is certainly easier to allow our leaders and their sanctioned media pundits to
think for us. And maybe part of the problem is that foreign affairs can
indeed be complicated. Getting a good grasp can require a bit of paying
attention and consumption of different news sources. But while foreign
conflicts are complex, this should not be confused with the question of whether
we should militarily intervene, which is not complicated at all. “It’s Complicated” is not a valid argument for war, as
Additionally, a person can claim to be antiwar and express sincere empathy for people of other countries. But empathy alone is not good enough--in fact, it is often taken advantage of by the war machine and used for consent. A perfect example is with the Syria conflict. Did you view Aleppo as a loss or a liberation
But Syria is just the latest in a spree of foreign affairs where our empathy is being manipulated into support for, or at least lukewarm opposition to, war under the banner of “humanitarian intervention”. Exactly as was done with Iraq and Libya. Dictators are depicted as caricatures of evil and we are made to hate them and believe their people will “welcome us as liberators.” Concurrently dishonest intelligence reports, like that of Saddam having weapons of mass destruction, are peddled to the point where they are popularly accepted as fact--until after it is too late. For some reason the public fails to see parallels in subsequent claims against dictators who stand nothing to gain from really stupid and sadistic acts...like with the popular belief that Assad was the culprit behind chemical attacks on his own people, or more recently, that Putin ordered poisonings in the U.K.
The point is, no one lumping these different affairs together as a single issue will ever be able to analyze any one of them with any subtlety, and they may struggle with the concept of manufactured consent. They can say they disagree with the contrary-to-mainstream version of Syrian or Russian-related events put forth by the likes of Craig Murray, John Pilger, Vanessa Beeley, or Seymour Hersh, but their level of disengagement will give them little ground to stand on.
But even if we were to cynically cast aside empathy for the rest of the world, there would be much to consider about war’s effects purely on Americans here in the mainland. The second half of this essay is about what a pervasive impact on our domestic landscape war has. Let’s start with a quote from President Eisenhower:
“Making one heavy bomber meant sacrificing 30 modern schools or two fully equipped hospitals, or two electric power plants. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed 8,000 people. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
This in a nutshell emphasizes how central war is to addressing so many of our issues. To what extent can we expect our government to properly fund our schools, fix our health care system, prioritize social services and safety nets, and maintain or repair our infrastructure, before addressing the very rampant militarization of it? Let’s break this down further.
The antiwar cause is about addressing government waste and corporate greed
Consider that the wars since 2001 have cost us $43 trillion. A 2017 report by the Department of Defense estimates that the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria alone had cost each U.S. taxpayer nearly $7,500 up to that point. The President recently approved “the largest military budget in history”, according to Defense Secretary James Mattis. These figures should anger both fiscal conservatives who oppose this level of government spending, and progressives who want to see more money directed towards social programs and safety nets.
Some might argue that this spending is necessary for national defense, and that if we are going to wage war, we need to do whatever it takes to give ourselves the best chance to “win”. But what does it mean to “win”, and who is really winning besides the corporate war profiteers? A 2017 article in The Nation, “Here’s Where Your Tax Dollars for ‘Defense’ Are Really Going,” reports that nearly half of the over $600 billion DOD’s 2016 budget was spent in the form of contract awards to corporations. It goes on to demonstrate how a shockingly low amount of this goes toward actual “defense.”
Smedley Butler, decorated Marine Corps Major General and author of "War Is A Racket", also suggests corporations are the primary beneficiaries: "I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. . . . And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
The antiwar cause is about the economy
Some might argue that moving away from a war based economy is too radical an idea. After all, the military industrial complex does employ a lot of people, as discussed above. However, the Nation article also cites a 2011 University of Massachusetts study noting that “military spending is the worst way to create jobs … Putting the same money into any other area—from infrastructure to transportation to alternative energy to health care or education—creates up to twice as many jobs as military spending does.”
It’s not that we can’t have a strong military, it’s that we have allowed military spending to reach unnecessary and harmful levels, at the behest of the corporations who profit from it and the neoconservatives whose spectacularly wrong ideology create the constant incentive for war. (The article “What’s a Neoconservative?” does a good job explaining the difference between “conservatives who believe in a strong national defense and neoconservatives who believe in policing the world under the guise of national defense.”). With greater militarization unfortunately comes greater incentivizing of war. And is this really in the best interest of those who serve?
The antiwar cause is about support for our troops
Anyone concerned about poverty should contemplate that wars are traditionally fought by the poor for the benefit of the rich. Many who serve are lacking in other opportunities. So what is the best way to help them? One is to create other, less dangerous, more economy-stimulating opportunities for them, as described above. The other is to oppose wars that we don’t need to be fighting, so that those who do serve are not unnecessarily put in harm’s way. If we do our homework, we will find this to be all of our current wars. This includes the ones fought remotely with drones, where the effects of blowback ultimately create more enemies, subjecting our troops to further danger in the long run. Our brave servicemen and women deserve more attention paid to these matters which can determine life or death for them. Can you imagine saying to a Gold Star parent that war is a “single issue”?
The antiwar cause is about protecting the environment
Not everyone agrees about the best way to address climate change. But almost everyone agrees that pollution is bad. Our military is the biggest polluter in the world. Most Americans are not aware of the devastating lasting effects of depleted uranium ammunition, as a result of our wars in Iraq and Yugoslavia, among others. And most are not aware of the cost of our nuclear tests right here at home. I encourage you to click on any of these links to read more.
The antiwar cause is about discernment of news
A recent tweet from independent journalist Abby Martin sums it up: “The Iraq War woke me up to how the media acts as an arm of the US government to sell imperial wars & reinforce world dominance. I couldn’t believe reporters repeated every lie the Bush admin told about why we needed to invade countries at random & start a global ‘war on terror’.”
We’ve talked about how media manipulates our empathy. But a recent Intercept article, “How The New York Times Is Making War With Iran More Likely”, also explains how think tanks, politicians, and especially media, work to keep us from exercising something called “cognitive empathy”, basically the ability to put yourself into someone else's place, and see their perspective.
“Mass media propaganda is the single greatest obstacle to meaningful change,” writes Caitlin Johnstone. “Mass media propaganda is why things don’t get better and keep getting worse.” This is true of both our domestic problems and foreign relations. The point being, how we process media is crucial to all issues, and cynicism of mainstream media is a healthy byproduct of devotion to the antiwar cause, which will in turn help us see a number of issues more clearly. But if it seems too daunting to navigate the sea of news, propaganda, empathy and cognitive empathy, I have outlined some basic guiding principles in my article “Gatekeepers and Starting Points”.
The antiwar cause is about international solidarity
The above points are solely about how Americans can benefit from opposing war, but I would like to circle back and emphasize that the cause is about protecting civilians around the world. In other words, yes it’s in our own best interest, but it’s also just the right thing to do. Of course, there are those who will believe a given intervention is putting us in solidarity with the people of the nation in question. Please consider what is at stake, and what a significant thing this is to get wrong. The burden of proof will always be on the war-making interventionists and those who insist we have to “do something” via an aggressive act. Have they truly tried reaching out to the people of that country? Have they truly tried cognitive empathy?
There are yet more issues not mentioned here, let alone in mainstream media, that have a connection to our wars, like our opioid crisis. But to wrap things up, here is an excerpt from a fantastic article, “March for our lives and the rest of the world’s”, by Riva Enteen, who draws a connection between our problem of mass shootings and our top-down culture of gun violence starting at the Pentagon:
The US is by far the largest arms dealer in the world, and it's common knowledge that some of the weapons get into the hands of the ‘bad guys.’ Until we stop the plague of endless war that began after 9-11, guns will be the norm, and they will be on our streets as well as the streets of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and all the African nations now occupied by AFRICOM, the US Africa Command. At the same time, our missiles will rain down on innocents in the name of specious ‘humanitarian intervention’ and stopping terrorism.
We need an anti-war
movement, regardless of which duopoly party is in power. The lesser of two
evils is the evil of two lessers. If we want peace in
our streets, schools, movie theaters and music clubs, and those in other
countries around the planet, we must march against war to affirm life. That’s a
march for our lives that we desperately need.
She goes on to urge participation in the October 20-21 Women’s March on the Pentagon, and related local actions, which this author very much supports. But in the meantime, we can advance the antiwar cause by speaking honestly about it and giving it its proper due. We cannot solve all of the world’s problems, but ending war is a gateway to opening the possibilities of solving many of our own. But at the end of the day, the fact that widespread death and destruction are at stake is the most important reason to have this be our paramount focus. Is there anything more final? Is there any bigger cause to be undertaken, or should we continue to label it a “single issue”?
This article is reprinted from Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox of April 2, 2018.
Daniel Martin is a peace activist, musician, and rock journalist from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His antiwar writings have been published on Counterpunch.org, The American Conservative, Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox, and GreenPagesNews.org. Follow him on Twitter @MartysInvasion.