BY WILLIAM C. HENRY The recent White House Correspondents “Laugh-In” reminded me of one past when Obama quipped about how young men with designs on Sasha or Malia could be met with Predator drones, and another when “dubya” pretended to search under and around the dais for WMDs. To me it was almost surreal (and, yeah, I’ll be criticized for this) conjuring up a picture of Adolf purportedly dancing a jig upon learning that France had been brought to its knees. So cute, and oh so unfitting. All three acts were so dispassionate and detached from the reality of the human carnage referenced by the frivolity. And don’t forget it wasn’t so long ago that an American president performed a few fly-bys, landed on the deck of a US aircraft carrier, and pompously pranced over to the microphones in full flight-regalia to announce to the world that our (read “his and Dick’s”) mission had been accomplished. They say “timing” is everything in comedy, even the dark kind. But I digress.
My earnest concern here is twofold: 1) that this nation’s growing disassociation from its wars could turn out to be an incurable disease, and, 2) the apparent means — both by whom and with what — it has chosen to conduct its wars from now on will only hasten its progression. Think about it. Even the concept of “shared sacrifice” has become passé. We’re now only too happy to allow mercenaries (yes, I know, the term “volunteers” is so much less disturbing) to be the sole bearers of the nation’s battlefield death and dismemberment. Consequently, the vast majority of families middle-class and above no longer have to bear witness to war’s horrific downsides. It’s sort of “out of sight, out of mind” on a grand class-disproportionate scale. It’s become a “taken for granted” exemption that relieves parental and/or spousal thought processes of any fear of educational or employment interruption, close-tie separation, incapacitation or ultimate loss. In a nut shell, no universal “draft” = no “shared” sacrifice = no intimate concern or involvement. Nice plight if you can get it, but to me it begs the question of why we Americans place such emphasis on indoctrinating our children with the preeminent importance of being “responsible.” We can argue about what may or may not constitute “vital” American interests, but let’s assume we concurred, wouldn’t sharing in the defense of those interests represent one of the highest levels of said “responsibility”? Albeit guardedly, I’m inclined to believe that it does. What about you?
With respect to my apprehension regarding future warfare and how its conduct will only further cement such disassociation, I think the three operative questions are: Will most if not all of those wars be of the “secret” variety? Will remote controlled weapon systems constitute the bulk of our arsenal? Will the CIA assume the predominant role in conducting those wars (apparently they have long been carrying out far more secret warfare than the American public ever imagined)? As to the first question, abrogator or not, any reasoning person should recognize that “secret” warfare will eventually destroy any democracy. It’s nothing more than nullification of constitutionally delegated powers by the Executive branch with a healthy portion of Congressional cowardice thrown in for cover. In a democracy, or any form of government for that matter, it takes nothing more than public ignorance and/or acquiescence to turn Presidents into semi-dictators accountable to no one. You say that can’t happen in America? Don’t be naive, it already has and continues to to this day.
Regarding the second question, we’re fast approaching the point where our weaponry in and of itself will only serve to further insulate the public and our combatants from the horrors of war. Drones and missiles make the killing and maiming so much more palatable. The destruction and death you don’t have to witness up close and personal makes for the type of detachment reminiscent of what B52 pilots experienced over Dresden. Oblivion of the actual carnage associated with one’s actions provides little if any negative fodder to write or call home about — and, of course, the “secrecy” demanded of a given mission and its participants would no doubt negate even the possibility of any form of personal and/or family communication anyway. As to the third, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind (in this humble columnist’s personal opinion anyway) that the goal of this and all future administrations is and will be to conduct as much of America’s warfare in secret as is clandestinely possible if for nothing more than purely political reasons. And who better to fill that role than the CIA. Decades of sealed-lips cloak-and-dagger experience, a generous top secret budget, and some of the finest covert training and foreign intelligence capabilities on the planet make it a natural for the job.
By now you’re probably thinking that all of this constitutes an intriguing hypothesis, but for the most part this “disassociation” business still rings a bit hollow. Well, here’s a little exercise that will hopefully serve to sway you otherwise. Ask anyone you know or see how many American young men and women have been killed so far in Afghanistan. The answer is 1,967. Ask anyone you know or see how many Americans were butchered in Iraq. The answer is 4,486. Ask anyone you know or see (to be completely fair you should probably limit this one to folks over thirty-five) how many Americans were sacrificed in Vietnam. The answer to that one is 58,269. I’ve deliberately not burdened you with inquiring as to the number of severely maimed in any of these “conflicts” (shamefully there was never a formal declaration of war in any of them) because I already know that the vast majority of Americans have no earthly idea so why embarrass them further. In any event, I rest my case content in the knowledge that I have at least given the reader something to ponder.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage septuagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.