After World War II, the Nazi Hermann Goering said the following.
“Naturally the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”
This propaganda approach worked for the Nazis’ invasion of Poland, the Vietnam War, and all the other conquests throughout history. But in modern America, war has been something that wasn’t just easy to get the population to support initially, but easy to get the population to accept as a permanent fact.
Not counting the Cold War, or the war with Korea that’s never officially ended, the United States has been actively at war for almost four decades. Carter was the last president not to directly engage in any aggressive foreign conflicts, and such a relatively peaceful time seems unthinkable now.
Since then, war has been a constant fixture in American life, starting with the proxy wars in the 1980s. These conflicts created an ongoing cycle where the U.S. invades the Middle East, terrorist groups rise as a result, and the U.S. invades again. This cycle has been at the center of many of the wars in recent decades, from the seventeen-year-long Afghanistan occupation that continues to create more violence to the war against ISIS that was made possible when U.S. involvement created ISIS.
But the fact that these wars are happening in this circular pattern, and the fact that America is the original perpetrator of these wars, is left out of the discussion when pundits or officials are trying to persuade Americans to support continued involvement. When re-commitments to Afghanistan are announced, the president vaguely promises that “progress” will come from an indefinite troop presence. The other military involvements are also explained to the public with deliberate unclearness; the Trump administration has often failed to clarify why U.S. troops are staying in Syria, and the Pentagon’s declared reasons for keeping troops in Iraq have routinely changed.
Otherwise, America’s military operations are practically omitted from mainstream discourse, even as they’ve expanded to unprecedented sizes. The U.S. drone attacks that are currently killing eighty times more civilians than they were ten years ago, the eight-country-wide bombing campaign and the close to 1000 military bases that America has in 80 countries have barely had to be marketed to the average American, because these things are mostly kept out of people’s consciousness.
When war is reported on by the major media, it’s almost always in the context of a momentary propaganda effort that gets people to support attacking a specific enemy, like when the government baselessly claimed this April that Assad had committed a chemical attack so that they could justify striking Damascus. In between these patriotic public displays of military strength, the wars are left in the background of the media’s coverage, making them invisible to most people.
This dynamic, where war goes unmentioned for long stretches of time while people are shown a picture of the enemy-of-the-day every few months, has made decades-long war tolerable to a population that otherwise would have stopped… Click To Tweet The death and destruction from the perpetual war is carefully hidden from the public, and this war is made to look like separate wars that cleanly start and end. This concealment is very deliberate; it’s why the U.S. has publicly underestimated the size of its presence in Syria, why the U.S.’ occupation of 53 African countries isn’t acknowledged by the Pentagon as an active military operation, and why America hasn’t officially declared war since World War II.
As Glenn Greenwald has said about how war now works:
“The genius of America’s endless war machine is that, learning from the unpleasantness of the Vietnam war protests, it has rendered the costs of war largely invisible.”
Yet while the U.S./NATO empire could theoretically use this propaganda method to keep people comfortable with war for a very long time, the U.S./NATO empire itself is not sustainable. In fact, war has become constant in recent decades because the system has been trying to compensate for a decline in its power. Empires are inherently fragile setups, and when they start to break apart, they try to regain their dominance by launching bigger and bigger military adventures. Historians call this trait of declining superpowers “micro-militarism.”
Amid a rising Eastern business sector, a decline in the dollar, and a growth in the strength of countries like Russia and China, this trait has been unmistakably shown by America. Micro-militarism is what’s motivated the massive spreading out of America’s military presence, the frequent invasions that have nonetheless all ended in failure and the intensification of pro-military propaganda in everyday American life.
In the Trump era, micro-militarism is larger than ever, and it’s also the reason why the president has been starting trade wars with allies, why the annual military budget has been expanded to an unprecedented $717 billion, and why the U.S. is now threatening Russia, China, Iran, and other countries. This belligerent mindset was recently shown when, in response to Putin’s providing military aid to Maduro amid America’s threats to invade Venezuela, U.S. officials claimed that Russia and Venezuela are aggressing against the U.S.
As the ruling elites go on with this increasingly desperate effort to preserve the system, they also need to keep the people from rising up against imperialism and corporate capitalism-which, given recent trends, is more possible than ever. To hide the costs of war, the loss of lives and resources have to look invisible. And in recent years, as the military has taken up vast chunks of the nation’s wealth while living standards have declined, many people have become discontent.
And to stop this from turning into an uprising, the elites need to keep ordinary people from looking at the bigger picture. In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky described the mindset that the war state wants people to be in:
“The gas station attendant who wants to use his mind isn’t going to waste his time on international affairs, because that’s useless; he can’t do anything about it anyhow, and he might learn unpleasant things and even get into trouble. So he might as well do it where it’s fun, and not threatening — professional football or basketball or something like that. But the skills are being used and the understanding is there and the intelligence is there.”
Americans are trapped in a military machine that’s destroying their livelihoods while putting them in danger of a third world war, while the people in power try to keep them in a state of myopia about what’s going on in the world. The solution is to get this disengaged type of American to look at what’s happening, and to mobilize them towards creating a peaceful and sustainable future.