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How We Learned Not To Care About America's Wars


How We Learned Not To Care About America's Wars

Andrew Bacevich

Sixteen years of autopilot wars, but who’s counting?

Thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed in recent months by imprecise bombings by the U.S.-led coalition in Mosul.


I think we do care, but you have to get on with life, and make a living, and take care of your own.

Moral injury is the result - for most all of us - effectively powerless, yet part of the problem.

We are not all Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.

The cost of this moral injury - just look around.


This article provides an excellent summary of the state of affairs. But, while it answers the question of why “we don’t care” with good evidence, it does not though look into the root question of the system (and its motivations) that produces these 8 outcomes. It would be nice if the author followed up with an article that would lay out the “why” behind these outcome.


What controls America? Answer: TV. And who controls what’s on TV? Answer - the elites. The elites learned long ago (post Vietnam) not to show the carnage done in our name. But rather, the glorification of our military. Add to this the privatization of our wars (no draft); and Americans are immune to what’s going on and quite frankly, don’t care. It impacts a very small segment of our population.

All by design and planned.


Another reason: more than 15 million people protested 16 years ago at the start of the unprovoked attack on Iraq. And for many years after, millions joined marches, demonstrations, wrote letters, visited congress reps, signed petitions. Thousands committed civil disobedience. I was one of the 800 who blocked the shipping port of Oakland to stop sending war materials to Iraq and Afghanistan and were shot at with wooden bullets, gassed and chased by the Oakland police. NONE OF THESE EFFORTS made a bit of difference in U.S. policies, through now 3 administrations. So, many many of us who do not want our country to be destroying other countries, paid for by our tax dollars, have just given up!
I wonder what would happen if we had a national campaign led by all the big peace and environmental (the military is the biggest producer of green house gasses) groups calling for mass war tax resistance now.


Nonetheless, we DID have an organized, vigorous anti-war movement her in in the USA until it essentially vanished on November 5, 2008. I was attending, and sometimes helping organize protests almost on quarterly basis from 1999 to 2008, when the largest umbrella organization (United For Peace and Justice) literally vaporized. Our own local “Peace and Justice Center” staged a literal purge of all the young anarchist-tending youth and energy (literally - by registered mail to all young members) and retreated to being a organization of middle age and elderly Catholic and Quaker passive-ist types.

Other effective organizers such as Cindy Sheehan or Dennis Kucinich vanished and since have re-appeared in obscure fringe tin-foil-hat wings of the left.

But at least there is still ANSWER, Lenin bless-em. They are trying but protest turnouts are poor.

To be sure, the main cause is simply discouragement, all our efforts in the early 2000’s including the unprecedented massive tens-of-millions global actions of February 15, 2003, have been for nothing.

The other major cause is the pernicious (and I think to some extent deliberate) effect of the internet and the smartphone - which has totally diverted users from community organizing. Even when used for activism, Facebook-sharing, Twitter-tweeting, and other mindless crap has replaced real physical action in the streets.

And finally, I understand your country not having much of a antiwar movement - they are not involved and Canadians are on the apathetic side anyway…


Perhaps I was too brief. I like Andrew Bacevich’s articles, I have read his book “Breach of Trust” - I admire his forthright, yet conservative, approach, his honesty in portraying the truth as he sees it.

But I disagree that we do not care - emphatically.

“Like traffic jams or robocalls, war has fallen into the category of things that Americans may not welcome, but have learned to live with. In twenty-first-century America, war is not that big a deal.” (from the article)

Moral injury is as real as post traumatic stress disorder, but more subtle in its manifestations.

Let me digress for a moment. I just finished reading a superb account of the Big Five mass extinctions, by Peter Brannen, a new and brilliant author, “The Ends of the World” (2017). I am a dedicated amateur on mass extinctions, a geologist by training. On page 238, if memory serves, Peter states that three percent of the land animals on Earth are wildlife - the remaining ninety seven percent being comprised of homo sapiens, our livestock and our pets. This following an extensive discussion of the Pleistocene mega-faunal mass extinctions, almost certainly attributable to us, homo sapiens. First in Africa (21 %), then Australia, and on and on to the Americas, and even more recently, to Hawaii etc…

This is the beginning of the Sixth Mass Extinction Event, as we speak of it, but that too is already out of date - Peter Ward, a true world expert on mass extinctions, suggests there have been at least ten Mass Extinction Events that we now know of, and counting.

In any case, my point is this - I know this evaluation is largely accurate - and I do care greatly that this is so - and I am seemingly powerless to do anything to stop it - this penultimate extinction event. I do my own thing, I blog here - and what is the result ?

When I was at McGill University studying geology, in my third year in 1970, in marine geology course we read the paper by Manhattan physicist Gilbert Plass (1959 ), demonstrating convincingly that CO2 was rising, and would be a problem. I later went into the oil business as a consulting exploration wellsite geologist, and contributed to the problem. I did this after researching nuclear power and finding that nuclear was so reprehensible that oil was preferable.

Was I wrong, or right, or just a muddled human being ?

I also read “The Limits to Growth” in 1972, the year of its publication, and I remember thinking - this is really bad, ominously bad. Yet I went on and explored for oil.

Finally, I left the oil patch at the end of 1997, and soon after did what I had always wanted to do, which was climb mountains, which I did for seven years, full time - at my own expense, impoverishing myself - and finally getting married to a young woman, also a climber, and our son is just about to turn thirteen. I have been a dedicated environmentalist since my son was born, whereas before I was an observer.

Yet still we plummet towards Armageddon, with an unprincipled oligarch and rich man as President of the Empire, in charge of the nuclear arsenal I researched - promoting fossil fuel madness - a business I left voluntarily - and would never return to - preferring instead to frame houses in my fifty’s and sixties, and finally,living paycheck to paycheck.

This is the way real life is - it is undoubtedly the way Chris Columbus experienced life - and you as well.

Let’s all get real - and live empathy - not talk about it as though we had some special claim to goodness and mercy.

That is all I am saying, in the final analysis.


Thank you, Common Dreams, for publishing this. Thank you, Professor Bacevich, for writing it. This is one of those essays that should be read, then re-read by as many people as possible! There is more truth and sanity in this one piece, than you will get from a whole month’s worth of watching, listening to or reading major media outlets, be they newspaper, cable television, or radio!

In reading this, I kept getting the urge to copy/paste important sentences and phrases, but quickly realized that the entire work would have to be highlighted! It’s that good! There is no fluff, no fillers here. It’s all real, disturbingly so! That is good! Americans desperately need to be very disturbed about perpetual war. We passed the point of “Enough” several years ago, and counting.


In today’s lesson we are going to review what we have learned about the nature of the perversion of the “art” of war. More specifically, to what extent do intervening countries create and nurture a vicious cycle of seemingly self-perpetuating circumstances, which they then use as the sophomoric and specious justifications for unduly prolonged military campaigns?

“Okay class, now, repeat after me, ‘If you don’t know history, then…”

It seems as if the United States (and its usual allies) has adopted a game-plan that calls for perpetual wars. The current focus is on the Mid East. However, there are many other areas that are prime candidates for U.S. invasion or intervention. All it takes is the invocation of fear/terror, as well as mass media’s devout compliance—in incessantly beating the war drums.

I think they took the recent myriad wars straight out of “1984,”]by George Orwell. In that book, there were constant news reports about some perpetual war, which was being waged on the periphery or borders of the civilized world. The reports were usually of “near victory,” but never any real substantial gains.

On June 28, 2010, an AP article quoted then-CIA director Leon Panetta, "We’re seeing elements of progress, but this is going to be tough.” That article read, "Panetta estimated there are fewer than 100 al-Qaida militants operating inside Afghanistan, with the rest hiding along Pakistan’s mountainous western border.” When asked about the Taliban, he said, “There is progress—even if it’s slower than I think anyone anticipated."

On July 25, 2010, an article read, “More NATO troops will die in Afghanistan as violence mounts over the summer, but Washington’s goal of turning the tide against the [Taliban] insurgency by year’s end is within reach, the top U.S. military officer said.”

Back then, I recalled many an article with a title similar to, “Al Qaeda’s network has been ‘severely degraded’ by joint U.S.-Pakistani efforts”.

Yeah right… It is just like I constantly read about the al-Qaeda’s ”Number-3 man” being killed. He’s replaced. Then, the next “Number-3 man” is killed. Of course, he’s replaced. Then… ad nauseam.

These war-on -terror news reports will “see-saw”—up and down, back and forth—into public consciousness for the next 50 years. The U.S. news media will mostly be reporting the military’s achievement of some sort of progress or near victory—punctuated by occasional setbacks. However, most of those military campaigns will never accomplish anything really definitive. Certainly, there will be no actual victory or “mission accomplished,” as the United States plans to engage in perpetual wars in that region.

Recently the West has embarked on ambitious campaigns of active combat engagement in several other Mid-East countries, from Libya, to Syria and Yemen. All the while—predictably— it is still stuck in the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq. Certain military strategists shocked many onlookers, when they suggested that the United States partner with certain elements of al-Qaida in order to achieve geo-political goals of the West.

And since then, for the sake of propaganda branding and stoking seemingly everlasting tension and fear, al-Qaida has almost magically morphed into various incarnations/factions. There are the so-called moderate rebels and then there is ISIS. Oops! The West’s coalition has largely re-branded it as “IS” and “Daesh.” (Slick PR gimmick, eh?)

Curiously enough, those relatively recently re-named (i.e., re-branded) forces mysteriously obtain training, logistics, funding, transport and supplies (i.e., from Iraq and Libya); certain of those ragtag forces are imported into different countries to create “boogeymen,” so as to justify interventions on the scale which serve to further the geo-political agenda of the global power-elite. (It is no surprise that many of those recruits “defect” to the “enemy,” along with their newly acquired training, weapons and supplies. (Nice!)

So, be prepared next week for an article to read, "ISIS’ network has ‘gained substantial strength’ DESPITE joint U.S.-[Insert name of coalition-force du-jour here] efforts".

Hmmm… It begs the question, “Why didn’t the coalitions of the West learn their lesson from the former Soviet Union?” For, it also got bogged down in an Afghanistan quagmire. Truth be told, the powers-that-be, in their “infinite wisdom,” always knew that such wars would drag on and on and on… But then again, the military-security-industrial complex does seem to have an insatiable appetite.

Oh, and don’t forget that Afghanistan supplies some 95% of the world’s opium since the U.S.-led invasion. Hmmm… I wonder just how such clearly visible vast fields of those crops escape eradication. And, how have the harvested crops been transported out of the country and processed into heroin. All such tremendous undertakings are accomplished in the midst of a war-time scenario; it’s just as if the wars never existed, as attacks and maneuvers don’t at all affect the illicit drug operations. It’s almost as if the warlords have a guardian angel watching over their drug operations. (Read, “quid pro quo.)

That said, Afghanistan also has vast deposits of minerals, especially some of the rarest and most sought-after. How dare they keep such wealth from the Western powers!


Kayla, I remember the protests in Oakland! I watch watching Democracy Now when Amy Goodman showed the videos of what happened there. I was shocked by the brutality that you and the other protesters suffered at the hands of the police and “security” people. She also broadcast photos of the people’s injuries afterwards. The public sees wooden bullets as somehow “humane” because they are considered “non-lethal”, but as you well know, they are anything but “humane”. As for “non-lethal”, that depends on the location of the wound, and later complications. I admire your courage!


TV is sooooo 1984.


When the compulsory draft was replaced by a lottery and then by the “all volunteer military” it made deindustrialization a necessity in order to make sure that young men had the choice between working at a fast food joint, big box retailers selling assorted crap, all night gas stations or the chance to “be all that you can be”. Professor Bacevich, despite being a West Point educated academic, has, along with all the other professional officer corps, wasted their intellect and lives on the fool’s errand of justifying the military as the nexus of economic, diplomatic, and political policy.


“It would be nice if the author followed up with an article that would lay out the “why” behind these outcome.”

Ask and ye shall receive. Professor (and Lt.Col. USA-Ret.) Bacevich: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Bacevich has written a dozen or more books elucidating the very “whys” you seek, of which the following comprise but a sample:

American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (Harvard University Press, 2004)

The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II (Columbia University Press, USA, 2007)

Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (Macmillan, USA, 2010)

He is, hands down, the clearest-eyed critic we have of the shortsightedness of American military and foreign policy in recent decades. That he is not better known or more widely lauded says much about the collective wisdom of the electorate.


" The vast majority of the American people could care less."

Apathy is part of the problem, but when millions of us protested Bush’s attack on Iraq I realized that no matter how many millions of people protested it would not matter anymore to the elite that run the American Empire. Because Bush proved to me that he was just a stooge for the economic, elite and their mercenaries… the US military.


Problem is, the deficit in tax revenue resulting in such a protest would simply be “paid for” by targeting the poor, elderly, and sick with even more cuts. The fucking Pentagon and associated parasites get their money regardless.


But…but…but, so are a large segment of Republican voters! They believe everything they see and hear on Faux News.


Thank you! Good to know someone else realizes this. This man could be a Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, President. Hell, he could do all three jobs better than this gang we have now.


The lack of a draft contributes heavily to a silenced antiwar response. I am vehemently antiwar having been drafted in early 1970. Many people attack the hippie movement, at least they were antiwar. These ongoing wars are the result of the inside job 9-11 and the fake war on terror. PNAC needed a new Pearl Harbor and they manufactured one just like they facilitated entry into WW2 having advance knowledge of the Japan attack at Pearl Harbor and let it happen. This country has barely awakened to the treason perpetuated upon the American people. The perps still inhabit the highest positions controlling our government. They made it look easy. The people are presently sleep walking and completely controlled, apparently without even realizing it or caring if they do.


out of sight, out of mind. we’ve got hands in everyone elses business but are asleep for our own.



I cannot attend to the distant drum
when the crash and tattle
rolls into my own town,
when my brothers are shot down
in the grass for a threat they
cannot predict will be assigned to them.

My sisters are plundered in the dungeon
offices of the elite, my mothers are left hungry
in the burned out villages
and storm ravished mountains
where rare birds are also
the cost of profitizing apocalypse.

I do not know what kinds of war I can protest
when war is everywhere
and the diamonds on the daughter
of the king are purchased
with the blood of my neighbors dragged
to prisons and black sites

for being something altogether common
in the secret lives of the justices
and the senators, the magistrates
and the preachers. God, their god,
is war. The great open heart of their savior
is flooded with blood

from the blasted kitchens of the doomed.
When I am the enemy
I can only attend to the next alarm.
My lovers are stoned and tormented
and my candidates
sleep under the quilts of the damned.