How To Be At War Forever

A man fills barrels with rubble to make a barricade to protect shops in the rebel held Douma area of Damascus, Syria Sep. 2, 2016. REUTERS

If you were the government and wanted to maintain a state of perpetual war, how would you go about it?

First, you'd need an enemy, of course, but that part would be pretty straightforward. After all, if the US government could convince the citizenry that Iraq was the 9/11 enemy but that Saudi Arabia was our friend when nineteen out of the twenty 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, it's fair to say that just about anything is possible.

But the next part would be harder. On the one hand, you'd have to claim progress in the war so that the citizenry would maintain its support for the war. On the other hand, you couldn't actually defeat the enemy, lest the war end.

That is to say, you'd have to maintain a longterm, delicate balance: we would always be winning in the war, but would never actually win the war.

With that balance in mind, your propaganda would likely be some version of, "Today, our military forces have achieved a significant victory. Of course, the enemy is insidious and resilient, and there is much hard work still ahead."

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Which brings us to the latest in All The News That's Fit To Print:

IS spokesman and head of external operations Abu Muhammad al-Adnani is pictured in this undated handout photo

"The American-led coalition has killed about 120 important Islamic State officials and operators, including about a dozen of the group’s top leaders, according to the Pentagon.

"Still, the Islamic State has proved to be remarkably resilient, American officials and counterterrorism specialists say, noting that the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has succession plans to replace even its top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, should he be killed..."

Maybe it's a coincidence that according to the Pentagon, we've achieved yet another concrete War on Terror victory, while according to American officials and counterterrorism specialists, outright victory is still intangible and elusive. Maybe it's a coincidence that this narrative is precisely the one a team of social scientists would devise if tasked to come up with something that would maintain indefinite support for a never-ending war.

But it would be foolish not to at least wonder. War is awful for almost everyone. But for a few narrow factions, there's a lot of money to be made and power to be accrued. You could even go out on a limb and argue that war is a racket.

P.S. If you were really clever, you'd probably want a backup enemy--a Plan B in case the current enemy du jour were ever somehow actually defeated. In which regard, maybe it's a coincidence that we are now being told we are now in a new cold war with a resurgent Russia and that Vladimir Putin is behind everything bad in the world. But once again, it would be foolish not to at least wonder.

Author and former CIA officer Barry Eisler's new novel, "God's Eye View," inspired by the Snowden revelations, is available now on Amazon.

Notable Replies

  1. maybe it's a coincidence that we are now being told we are now in a new cold war with a resurgent Russia and that Vladimir Putin is behind everything bad in the world.

    I really wish writers wouldn't casually drop turd nuggets like this. I can be opposed to perpetual war and be rightfully wary of an autocrat who murders journalists with polonium. They're not mutually exclusive. Moreover, if you think things like the DNC hacking aren't state-sponsored hacking on behalf of Russia, then make the case for that. Don't just insinuate it and gaslight the rest of us for having the gall to be opposed to interference in our election by a foreign power.

  2. Works for the War on Drugs too. "Record busts" are touted as a sign of progress rather than a sign that the problem is getting worse. (If we were actually making progress the busts would be progressively smaller and rarer.)

  3. But we can refine that further, can't we? It's not that they are saying that Putin isn't that bad - rather the argument is that it's not our sole responsibility to police Russia. Sure, he's a bad actor, but he really isn't behind everything bad in the world. We know now that the Soviets were not behind every bad thing in the world during the cold war, but the rhetoric of the cold war actually made us believe that and pushed out towards policies that assumed that. Again, nothing in that is an excuse of the Soviet regime, merely suggesting that they aren't the puppet masters of all bad things.

  4. Despite American history being well outside my area of expertise, I know that George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Alexis deTocqueville all explicitly warned us of this.

    Here's deTocqueville's 1840 comment, from "Why Democratic Nations Naturally Desire Peace and Democratic Armies, War":

    No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country. Not indeed that after every victory it is to be apprehended that the victorious generals will possess themselves by force of the supreme power, after the manner of Sulla and Caesar; the danger is of another kind. War does not always give over democratic communities to military government, but it must invariably and immeasurably increase the powers of civil government; it must almost compulsorily concentrate the direction of all men and the management of all things in the hands of the administration. If it does not lead to despotism by sudden violence, it prepares men for it more gently by their habits. All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and the shortest means to accomplish it.

    (quote from Wikipedia)

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