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The Terrifying Innovations of War

The war drums, which have been set on continuous repeat in this country since 1941, are getting louder. But they’ve been playing for so long now, we’ve gotten used to them. They’ve become like the muzak you hear in a department store elevator — banal, repetitive, numbing, hypnotizing.

And what is the situation of war? Up until Word War I, to a large extent opposing armies would meet on specific fields of battle to slaughter each other. They’d leave the civilians back at home to sit in fear and dread of whom they would lose and what would come next. For the most part, those people left behind were insulated from the up-front violence. But us human beings are rarely able or content to stand still. And war is, after all, a business that demands growth and innovation just like any other.

While the improvement of weapons had long been an activity of cultures across the globe, the advent of industrialization kicked us into overdrive. By the early 20th century, we’d created weapons that could kill at a much grander scale than anything before — machine guns, land mines, hand grenades, poison gas, huge bombs and airplanes to carry and drop them. We’re a terribly innovative race of beings.

All this technology had an impact on what war looked like, though. Forget about the fields of battle. Fuck a field. Now war could be everywhere. And where a bayonet, a sword or a gun could be aimed at one person at a time, this new stuff could barely be controlled. When you used these new weapons, you couldn’t help but kill shitloads of people in one fell swoop. This meant that war was no longer containable. So by the time we have World War I in the early 20th century, nearly 50% of the people who die aren’t even soldiers. They’re just regular unarmed defenseless people who, more often than not, barely understand what the war is about in the first place.

Fast-forward to now. We’ve innovated our killing technology even further. Now we just don’t have planes, we have supersonic fighter jets, aircraft carriers, submarines and remote-controlled drones. We’ve got more powerful machine guns, more powerful and more portable bombs, more powerful chemicals and…oh yeah, nuclear weapons that can destroy an entire country and poison it so bad that anyone who survives gets cancer or starves to death because nothing will grow on the land after the nuclear bomb goes off.

It’s really important to say all this, because the minute you talk about making war you have to understand that modern weapons make it such that:

1. The killing will be equal opportunity — soldiers yes, but also women, children, teenagers, babies, old people. And don’t forget buildings, they come down too.

2. The country that bears the brunt of the violence will be ripped apart and even after the war is technically over, the place will be devastated, traumatized, impoverished, resource-starved and prone to ongoing violence, deprivation and death for generations (see Iraq and Libya for undeniable examples).

For a powerful, protected country like the United States, whose population hasn’t seen genuine war on its own mainland since we tore ourselves apart in the civil war of the 1860s (as horrifying as 9/11 was, it was just a tiny little taste of what real modern war feels like for civilians), it becomes extra important to state all this as plainly as possible. Our press won’t do it. Our elected representatives won’t do it. The people who run our unelected war-making departments (the Pentagon, CIA, NSA) won’t do it. Barely any of our intellectuals or historians will do it. So we have to say it to ourselves. If you’re going to war, declared, clandestine or otherwise, there is no other deal than this one. There is no such thing as a truly targeted strike or a smart bomb. That’s marketing. Talking about war that way lets us lie to ourselves about what really happens. Click To Tweet

Every country on earth has elites who run the show and regular people who are just trying to live a half decent life and maybe, just maybe help make sure their kids have it better than they did. That includes us. Do you honestly think, when you make war, that it’s the other country’s elites who have their bodies ripped apart and scattered across the dusty landscape? No. The elites are in offices, palaces, estates, bunkers. It’s the regular people who get to die. That’s who it always is.

So, unless you believe that you’re more deserving of life than the people who had the audacity to be born someplace other than you, when the accusations start flying, when the war drums start pounding, you have to be like a hardcore detective. You have to question everything, interview all the damn witnesses, demand evidence for everything and a seriously protracted and transparent public debate about the whole business. Because, if you don’t, if you just say “wow, sounds like [insert foreign leader here] is a bad guy, guess we have to go get him”, then that immediately means that a land full of regular people get to die — not peacefully in their sleep, but horrifically and painfully.

That’s what war is, folks. Don’t believe me? Talk to a veteran who’s seen combat and find out.

Stephen Boni
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Stephen Boni

Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal's current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.
Stephen Boni
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