Posted by: Bill Tracy | November 11, 2018

A Nation Addicted to War

Nobody ever wins a fight.
-Dalton character from 1989 movie Road House

The United States of America is a war junkie. I worked in the bedlam of the addiction recovery world; I’ve seen how drug addiction affects humans. The U.S. addiction to war is no different than a 19-year-old addict pumping heroin into his veins. If there is any difference, it is only in the scale of the destruction. This country took its first hit on that drug of death and destruction 100 years ago with World War I. It was a war such as humanity had never seen, never even imagined in its breadth of death, destruction and pure evil. This day, Sunday, November 11, 2018 is the 100-year anniversary of the end of that war. I think it’s time we face the reality of what that means. We’ve been hooked on war ever since. Isn’t 100 years enough? Anyone for an “intervention”?

This WWI Memorial in Atlantic City, NJ was dedicated in 1922. Inside is a bronze, 9-feet tall sculpture, "Liberty in Distress."

This WWI Memorial in Atlantic City, NJ was dedicated in 1922. Inside is a bronze, 9-feet tall sculpture, “Liberty in Distress.”

Before World War I, known as “The Great War,” we humans conducted honorable, “civilized,” yet primitive war. Armies battled armies on defined battlefields, civilians were rarely ever targeted. Weapons were single-shot rifles, rudimentary cannon and a few edged weapons for the up close and personal stuff. War was forever changed when the murderous potential of the Industrial Revolution fully bloomed in WWI. Suddenly aircraft were in the sky dropping bombs indiscriminately on civilians. Submarines in the waters sank ships, both cargo and passenger ships, without ever being seen. A flamethrower launched fire half the length of a football field. Machine guns could mow down advancing soldiers like a modern lawn mower cuts blades of grass. Deadly heavy artillery fired from miles away, replacing primitive cannon. Armored tanks clanked across battlefields, impervious to bullets, making artillery instantly mobile. And chemicals came into play as poison gasses choked the life from soldiers like bug spray against an ant colony. This was the new concept of Total War.

Drug addicts tell me the first time you use a drug is the best it ever gets. It’s such an overwhelming physical experience they go on using and using and using, always hoping to equal that first time. Yet the baptism into drugs can never be repeated. Typically it’s a downhill ride into poverty, crime, despair — as addicts say, “jails, institutions and death.” That’s the way war has been for this country and for the world at large since WWI ended. It was an experience that could not be equaled. The U.S. population at the time was 92 million and the war involved 65 million people in 30 countries on almost every continent. Those who were not direct casualties of war suffered indirectly through starvation, disease, displacement and political upheaval. There were 40 million casualties, 20 million deaths. The peoples of this planet were happy to see it end, or so they said at the time.

An “armistice” was signed at 11AM on November 11, 1918. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In memory of that triumph, every year worldwide there was a reverential observance event. It was a celebration of peace, and a hope to never war again. For two minutes, at 11AM on November 11th the world stopped. We fell silent, one minute in honor of the war dead and one minute for all affected survivors. Bells tolled. And with each succeeding year we inched closer to taking another hit from modern war, the ultimate drug for humankind. The U.S. had become the most powerful military country in the world. And secretly it was itching for a fight.

One generation later, 20 years, we were sticking that needle in our arms again, looking for another rush from the war drug. This time it was a bigger dose, World War II we called it. This one killed 75 million people and gave us nuclear weapons — the power to annihilate the entire human race. This was sobering, and we stopped for a few years after this, but in true addict fashion, we went again looking for a fix. So we got into Korea and warred there most of three years. In 1954, we stopped the Armistice Day charade of honoring and seeking peace and changed that to an observance to honor military veterans. Since then, it’s been one war after another — the U.S. like a junkie in the back alleys of the world getting its war fix. In the last sixty years, we’ve drugged ourselves silly in all the following:

Lebanon

Cuba

Vietnam (and Cambodia and Laos and Thailand)

Zaire

Lebanon (again)

Grenada

Libya

Panama

Iraq

Somalia

Afghanistan

Bosnia

Kosovo

Sudan

Pakistan

Uganda

Syria

Yemen

This plaque inside Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA says: "Everlasting Honor" of inmates who served in WWI. They are identified by number, not name, and one "Died for His Country."

This plaque inside Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA says: “Everlasting Honor” of inmates who served in WWI. They are identified by number, not name, and one “Died for His Country.”

Like every addict, we are not only hurting ourselves, we are damaging friends, family, neighbors and community. We have become a sick nation. We pour the majority of our resources into war, war making and fear of war all over the world. We have 700+ military installations around the globe and now owe trillions of dollars for warring — money that will probably never be repaid, yet robs all future generations on this planet. At home, our physical infrastructure crumbles and becomes more inadequate with each passing day. We do not have the will to stop gun violence that is killing 40,000 people every year, children in schools, people at entertainment venues. We have a gaping racial divide, and police are turning into militarized street gangs that kill unarmed people with impunity. Our government has become dysfunctional to the point of criminality and we face a genuine threat of being overpowered by authoritarian fascism.

We even fail to honor the living veterans of our military adventuring. Bill Ehrhart is a Marine veteran of the Vietnam war. He wrote in The Veteran, a newsletter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War:

“Suicides among active duty military and recent veterans have reached epidemic proportions. The Veterans Administration has a backlog of over 800,000 claims for medical disability. And substantial allegations have been made that the VA and the Department of Defense are falsely diagnosing veterans and soldiers with pre-existing “personality disorders” prior to their military service so that these veterans can be denied benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, though the military was happy enough to sign them up when they first enlisted. Thank you for your service, indeed.”

Before an addict can seek genuine recovery, he has to “hit bottom.” He has to go as low as he can go, be as bad off as he can possibly be. He has to be in a place where he has nowhere to turn but back through the desert to health and dignity and decency. I don’t know if this nation has hit bottom yet on our war addiction. It doesn’t look like it. Sadly, I predict there’s a lot more death and destruction in our future, both abroad and at home.

I like to think sometimes a poem can help. This is one from World War I, Dulce et Decorum Est, written by British military officer, Wilford Owen. He tragically died in battle November 4, 1918, one week before the war ended on November 11. The title comes from a line by Roman poet Homer, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” It translates: It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

 

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

.

Twisted and tattered. Perhaps it's time for an overhaul of the country it represents.

Twisted and tattered. Perhaps it’s time for an overhaul of the country it represents.

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