SYNDICATED COLUMN: We’re Not War Weary. We’re Suspicious.


Americans Aren’t “War Weary.” Obama is Just Lazy.

Americans, our pundit class has decided, aren’t going along with President Obama’s hard-on for firing cruise missiles into Syrian cities because they’re “war weary.”


True, the wars have cost us. At 12 years and counting, the illegal and unjustified U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is America’s longest war. We’ve been in Iraq — following one of the most brazen acts of aggressive warfare in our blood-soaked history — for 10. Eight thousand American soldiers have gotten themselves killed; more than 50,000 have been wounded.  (To conform to the journalistic standards of U.S.-based opinion writing, I shan’t mention the hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis and so on slaughtered by U.S. invasion forces.)

As tragically wasteful as those casualties have been, the price we’ve paid has been low by historical standards. Roughly 700 U.S. combat deaths a year is a drop in the bucket compared to, say, Vietnam (6,000 a year), Korea (12,000) and World War II (100,000). Unlike those earlier conflicts, the post-9/11 war on terrorism has been a remote, irrelevant abstraction to most Americans.

“Our work is appreciated, of that I am certain,” General Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff told members, told graduates at West Point. “But I fear [civilians] do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.” A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that just a third of Americans aged 18 to 29 have a direct family member who has served in uniform since 9/11 — the lowest rate in memory.

About 2.2 million Americans have served in Afghanistan or Iraq — not much fewer than the 2.7 million who went to Vietnam. The difference is that today’s volunteer military is less broadly representative of American society.

A woman recently introduced me to her brother. “He just got back from Iraq,” she said. “Afghanistan,” he corrected her. His sister! “Thank you for your service,” a man walking told him, without waiting for a reply. The vet’s face hardened. Nobody gets it.

Civilians never did, not fully — but the disconnect was never this big.

“War-weary”? You must first notice something before you can get tired of it.

Until the Syria debate, antiwar liberals like New York Congressman Charles Rangel have been decrying the gap between civilians and the military. His proposed solution? Bring back the draft. Rangel and others reason that if more young people — not just poor, undereducated, underprivileged yokels from the sticks — had “skin in the game,” it would be harder for politicians to start one war after another. “A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war,” Rangel argues. After Obama proposed bombing Syria, Rangel renewed his proposal.

The United States has been at war throughout 90% of its history. I am 50 years old, born a few months before the assassination of JFK; my only peacetime president has been Jimmy Carter. War-weary? Like Orwell’s Oceania, the United States of America is always at war. We love war. War is what America does best, war is what America does most.  War is 54% of the federal budget!

As noted above, there have been relatively few casualties in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Because media coverage has been so sanitized and pro-military, these wars’ gruesome atrocities, the My Lais and napalm attacks — Mahmudiya, Panjwaii, white phosphorus that dissolved people in the battle of Fallujah — have barely been reported, so there have been few Vietnam-type images piped into our living rooms to elicit disgust or guilt. Even the fiscal effects have been deferred; the wars are officially off the books and thus aren’t tallied as part of the budget deficit.

Given how little the current wars have personally affected us, why would we be war-weary?

If Obama doesn’t get his war against Syria, he has no one to blame but himself.

The dude is just lazy.

Think of the list of American wars, just since 1990: the Gulf War, Serbia, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen, Libya…it isn’t hard to con Americans into a war. Unlike Bush and his warmongering predecessors, however, Obama isn’t willing to do the propaganda work.

These things can’t be rushed. Bush spent a year and a half making his phony case to invade Iraq. Countless speeches, endless bullying, tons of twisted arguments and faked WMD reports.

Obama wanted to go to war four days after the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. How many Americans were even aware of the story? Remember, this was late summer, peak vacation season. First you tear Americans away from the barbecue, then you get to barbecue the Syrians.

As has been widely noted, Obama’s messaging was all over the place, confusing a public programmed to digest its politics in bumpersticker-length slogans and talking points. Allowing yourself to be seen golfing right after calling for war hardly conveys the requisite sense of menace, much less the urgency of an imminent threat.

When JFK wanted the public to sign off on nuclear brinksmanship with the USSR, he went on television with spy plane photos of Cuba’s missiles. Despite considerable evidence that the rebels or a rogue officer were responsible, Obama says he has proof that the sarin gas attack was ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad. Yet, unlike Kennedy, he won’t pony up the proof. Why not? As Russian President Vladimir Putin observes, that’s crazy fishy: “Claims that proof exists but is classified and cannot be shown are beneath criticism. If the U.S. says that the al-Assad regime is responsible for that attack and that they have proof, then let them submit it to the U.N. Security Council.”

Militarism is our thing, but Americans need to think their enemies threaten them directly before they’re cool with war.

Team Obama admits that Syria is not a direct or imminent danger to the U.S., but that we must attack them as a deterrent to other supposed future possible maybe enemies, namely Iran and North Korea. No dice. Only one in five Americans buys that. If Iran or North Korea is a threat, then attack those countries, not Syria.

Obama’s verbiage is telling: “I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States.”

Could not honestly claim. As opposed to something like this: “Assad’s use of chemical weapons is not an imminent, direct threat, so we have time for a Congressional debate.”

Americans are good at reading between the lines. Another reason — not war-weariness — that Obama might not get his Syria war.

(Ted Rall’s website is Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)


30 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: We’re Not War Weary. We’re Suspicious.

  1. One quibble with your piece: Americans today only like war as long as they don’t have to make any sacrifices, whether it is risking their skin overseas or pinching their pennies at home.

    If the draft is reinstated, or if Iran shuts off the oil and we freeze, Americans are gonna holler. But both will likely happen if war starts, and sacrifice isn’t in the modern American vocabulary.

    Putin’s article in the NYT basically stated, in very polite terms, that the Era of Bush was over with. But that message is not quite sinking into heads of AIPAC and the info-babes.

  2. We’ve been killing in Iraq, directly or indirectly, since 1991. Between Pappy’s and Chimpy’s frank wars, there were ~12 years of “economic sanctions” that killed a million Iraqi’s, half of them children. (Maintaining THAT war crime was WJ Clinton’s actual impeachable offense.)

    It may be less an issue of laziness as opposed to picking “the wrong month” to roll-out a nice, spanking, brand new war.

    Thanks for the “90% of its history” link.

  3. The US hasn’t been in declared wars for more than about 5% of its history. Of course, if you’re going to count the extermination of Native Americans and all the other, as Lehrer sang about US neocolonialism in Latin America, ‘Send in the Marines,’ then 90% seems low. However, technically, the US can only go to war by act of Congress. Other military actions must be called something else. Anything else. Just not ‘war’.

    Stratfor says that Obama was trying to sound tough without committing himself, since he knew Syria didn’t have chemical weapons, so he promised a ‘red line.’ Days after that speech, the anti-government forces released a video showing Syrian planes shooting rockets and three dead bodies with blood samples that proved they’d been killed by chemical weapons. The UK and France demanded that the US immediately overthrow the Syrian government as they’d overthrown Qadhafi, and let the UK and France pick up the pieces.

    The now-defunct had experts examine the YouTube video and concluded that the Syrian planes had NOT fired chemical weapons, so the three dead men had been subjected to poison gas by some other route, possibly by the anti-Government forces. So there was absolutely no proof that the Syrian government had used poison gas.

    The UK government paid a visit to the, made them destroy their unpatriotic computers, and now the new and improved (new staff, new editorial policy) says there is irrefutable proof that every chemical attack in Syria was, as the UK government said, by the Syrian government, and that the Syrian government must be overthrown by the US in the interest of everything the left believes in.

    Just as the US/UK/France/Germany say they have irrefutable proof that the Syrian government has killed more than 100,000 of its own citizens using both conventional weapons and poison gas, Russia says it has irrefutable evidence that most of the dead were killed by anti-government forces, and all the chemical attacks were irrefutably by anti-government forces.

    Net: both sides are lying, there’s no way to be absolutely certain who killed most of the 100,000 or who perpetrated each of the poison gas attacks.

    But I’d say the odds are that the Russians are telling far fewer lies than the western leaders and media.


    Now, Russia and the Syrian government know that completely disarming Syria will draw a US attack as flowers attract bees, but they’re hoping that a demand that the US will believe that an attack while Syria and Russia are offering to disarm will make the US look bad.

    If Obama were clever, he’d make the promise, let Russia disarm the Syrian government, then attack. The 1999 Senate made it US law that, whatever the US president says is the Truth, and neither evidence, nor contradictions, nor the predicate calculus can impose any constraints on God’s appointed sovereign. By agreeing with the Russian condition, promising never to attack Syria, and getting the Syrian government to disarm, Obama could reduce US casualties, so it should be a no-brainer.

    Russia has learned that allowing any western security council resolution gives the US carte blanche.

    Only, of course, as the strongest power in the solar system, the US has carte blanche disirregardless of what Russia does.

    Putin says, if the US attacks Syria, Russia will retaliate. Stratfor says Putin is bluffing, he has nothing, no one can possibly challenge the US.

    If Stratfor is wrong, WWIII anyone?

  4. War by you tube video is an international ACORN hoax.

    To michaelwme: Syria has not agreed to completely disarm but to turn over only its chemical weapons. I do agree that the US will attack when that is done. (Anyone who thinks the “reasons” for attacking are squirrelly now, just wait.)

    This is would approximate Bush’s using weapons inspectors as spies in Iraq to insure that no wmds could disrupt the planned “shock and awe.”

  5. Concerning the “thank you for your service” thing. This is a particular bug up my ass.

    It is reductionist infantilization. It’s the verbal version of the yellow bumper sticker on the SUV that’s filling up its 30 gallon tank so it can drive a grand total of about 200 miles. Don’t have a discussion about energy conservation or cutting back on consumption, just slap one of those yellow bad boys on the car bumper and fill ‘er up! You’ve done your bit!

  6. I don’t like the “yokels” bit. It may be true, but I find it cruel and counterproductive. The yokels need help, not scorn. They go into the military because it is their best, and often only, option at a better life.

    • First and foremost, my “yokels” comment was sarcastic, ironic, tongue in cheek, Generation X.

      However, I take issue with your statement that people who join the military from high unemployment states like West Virginia have no other options. Most of the time, you can make more money working at McDonald’s than joining the Army. And McDonald’s doesn’t require you to kill anyone, at least not in a way that kills them immediately. It is an immoral decision to join an imperialist killing machine.

      If you are faced with the choice between dying of starvation, sleeping outside under a bridge, and murdering untold innocents for a paycheck, it is pretty obvious what you should do.

  7. “Universal Soldier”
    (by Buffy Sainte-Marie who said about her song: “It’s about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all.”)

    He’s five foot-two, and he’s six feet-four,
    He fights with missiles and with spears.
    He’s all of thirty-one, and he’s only seventeen,
    He’s been a soldier for a thousand years.

    He’a a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain,
    A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
    And he knows he shouldn’t kill,
    And he knows he always will,
    Kill you for me my friend and me for you.

    And he’s fighting for Canada,
    He’s fighting for France,
    He’s fighting for the USA,
    And he’s fighting for the Russians,
    And he’s fighting for Japan,
    And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.

    And he’s fighting for Democracy,
    He’s fighting for the Reds,
    He says it’s for the peace of all.
    He’s the one who must decide,
    Who’s to live and who’s to die,
    And he never sees the writing on the wall.

    But without him,
    How would Hitler have condemned him at Labau?
    Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
    He’s the one who gives his body
    As a weapon of the war,
    And without him all this killing can’t go on.

    He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
    His orders come from far away no more,
    They come from here and there and you and me,
    And brothers can’t you see,
    This is not the way we put an end to war.

  8. “If you are faced with the choice between dying of starvation, sleeping outside under a bridge, and murdering untold innocents for a paycheck, it is pretty obvious what you should do.”

    Unless you’re stupid.

    Unless you’re really fucking stupid.

    Some people are stupid. I mean, there must be some people who are honest-to-God, shouldn’t-be-allowed-outside-without-a-caring-adult-present stupid. It is entirely possible to be both stupid and ignorant enough to not know of the moral consequences of joining the military. Is that the kind of stupid we deal with daily? Not likely unless you work at institution. But it happens.

    I’m willing to make a lot of blanket moral generalizations about the military, even though I am personally close enough to it to know that some people I like and love are caught up in said generalizations. I’m willing to do so because if you can make exceptions for one arm of empire, you’d have to make them for every branch. (E.g., white people who should have known better who just ignored or quietly worsened the plight of black people before the Civil Rights Acts.)

    But even so, some people are just plain stupid.

    And then there’s the mentally ill. You can be seriously fucked up, high-functioning, and end up with a gun in your hand. Or a scalpel. Or a bar association card.

    But this is the U.S., so it’s usually a gun.

    So even though this is the internet and sweeping generalizations are our god-given right here, these exceptions are too big to not note.

  9. Ted,

    Berke Breathed had a strip in “Bloom County” where Opus goes looking for his mother. He comes to believe that she’s being held captive in an animal testing facility. In the first panel, Opus encounters one of the scientists who performs the tests on the animals. He’s holding his briefcase to shield his face, and he insists that he’s a good person, that what he’s doing is important and necessary.

    That’s the problem I have with the “only two choices” scenario. I can accept having to make the hard choices, but after you get out of the military, to atone for the crimes, shouldn’t you confess them? When was the last time we had a commercial on TV where the ex-soldier introduces himself and tells us how he shot up Iraqis or deliberately bullied Afghans? All we ever are exposed to is the BS of how soldiers do things to keep us all safe at night, how noble and pure they all are.

    I don’t mind someone stealing to stay alive. I mind that afterward, they make not one effort to repay what they took.

  10. While you may want to “put something in a box and label it” – it’s not always simple as that. I joined the US Army because I wanted to escape from the life I was in – not because I had no other choices like working at MacDonalds or sleeping under a bridge. You are missing the point. A lot of people join the military for a lot of different reasons, but you don’t usually find wealthy, well-adjusted and connected (as in, my future’s so bright, I’ve got wear sunglasses) young people joining. Stop and ponder that for a moment – no knee-jerk responses allowed in this Knee-jerk world. What would happen or change if the military had people in it that had family or friends that were part of the 1%? Some of my military friends have said that they would never want this, because someone who was in the military under duress would make a bad soldier and not be professional. Aside from all this conundrumming, imagine if the people who wanted to attack Syria had to do it themselves without drones or missiles? What is a civil war if it does not involve civilians? Who wants to take sides when both sides are wackos? The reason there are over 2 million people on the run from their homes there is because of all the fighting and killing. Focus on the reasons for the fighting and killing, and you might get somewhere. Power, religion and ethnic hatred? Huh, maybe they are the real enemies?

  11. We have a vast, institutionalized system to continuously admonish “personal responsibility.”

    Of course, this message is promulgated from the top down by the powerful, precisely to hide their contempt for such notion and their lives that vividly prove that contempt.

    This power elite has granted waivers from “personal responsibility” to the ignorant, stupid, greedy, homeless, starving, intolerant, pyschopathic, democracy-spreaders, etc., etc who kill, get maimed or die to maintain the status of said elite.

    The corollary is that very little effort is needed to connect the power elite with the conditions that CREATE the very same ignorant, stupid, greedy, homeless, starving, intolerant, pyschopathic, democracy-spreaders, etc., etc.

    Do you ever wish you had $10 for every layer of hypocrisy upon which America is based?

  12. Rikster,

    Obviously the entire population of the U.S. military are not sadistic dimwits chasing ants with magnifying glasses and willy-nilly hunting people for sport. But the two examples you cite, economic necessity and the desire to do more, fail upon closer inspection.

    If you need to get out of East Elbow or some other backwater, you can go to college in a larger city. Here’s how it works: You find a state school that has a total semester cost that is lower than the maximum you can borrow in student loans. Even if the difference is only $1000, if you hold on to the difference each semester, at the end of four years, you have $8000. That’s a perfectly respectable nest egg to allow you to make a very careful relocation with your new (worthless) degree. Even if the difference is only $500 a semester, you have $4000. The same gimmick applies to grad school. Yes, it’s foolish to borrow money you don’t need, but it’s certainly not as foolish as joining an organization that can put you in jail when you refuse to kill people on someone else’s say-so.

    As for wanting to do more? Teach reading skills to illiterates. Teach immigrants to speak. Read for the blind. Work in an animal shelter. I’ve never heard of a soup kitchen turning away volunteers. Join the Peace Corps and dig wells in Africa. Get out in to the world and show people who’ve never seen an actual American that we aren’t all bloodthirsty rapists and murderers.

  13. Wow, a lot of venom here.

    Military service is not about murdering untold innocents. Unfortunately, it’s true, too much of that has been going on “lately”. (I guess you all would have opposed WWII?) (Cue the conspiracy theories: Hitler was a CIA/United Fruit Company plot!)

    For those of you living in well guarded ivory towers, let me remind you that our military protects us from invasion, conquest, enslavement and extermination.

    They have been doing such a good job at this for so long that the possibility of those things does not seem real. But they are real possibilities. Violence is real. Right outside our doors, animals are eating each other to death 24/7. We are animals too. So far in our history, it takes soldiers with guns, and police with guns, to keep us from eating each other to death.

    • “For those of you living in well guarded ivory towers, let me remind you that our military protects us from invasion, conquest, enslavement and extermination.”

      Why does Greenland avoid those horrors? Most countries have tiny militaries, and yet…no problem.0

  14. “”“For those of you living in well guarded ivory towers, let me remind you that our military protects us from invasion, conquest, enslavement and extermination.””

    Wow, lots of obsequious, hyper-dramatic, projection of propaganda-driven paranoia!!!

    Thanks, that’s a classic.

  15. falco’s last two posts are correct.

    aaronwilliams135: “Military service is not about murdering untold innocents.”

    Yes it is.

    “Unfortunately, it’s true, too much of that has been going on “lately”. (I guess you all would have opposed WWII?)”

    Dresden. Hiroshima. Nagasaki. The Treaty of Versailles which started that shit. Where the hell have you been?

    The U.S. military doesn’t protect us from shit. Nor is it designed to do so.

    War is a racket.

  16. As for the stupid:

    Keep in mind, war can smarten you up tout de suite.

    You’re faced with horrors you’ve experienced, and horrors you’re expected to perform.

    And instead of your culture saying, “Holy shit, you guys shouldn’t be doing that!” it says “Thank you for your service.” In other words, none of that horrible stuff morally counts. No confronting the evil means no healing.

    So if you declare your mission is evil, you will be crushed by your government. If you don’t fight, you screw over your buddies. Even if you get home, your experience eats away at your own head.

    When forced to choose between multiple dishonorable options, the ancient Japanese had a way out.

    The military suicide rate is sky high.

    It’s modern seppuku.

  17. Is it really true that more of our soldiers are dying of suicide than injuries from war activities? If so, then why isn’t this plastered all across the newspapers and in the media like a wildfire? How can a nation that thinks of itself as exceptional allow this or ignore it? Exceptional? Maybe yes – exceptionally numb.

  18. Hmmmm. Well Ted, I did some researching of multiple sources, and I found that since the constant wars ( Iraq, Afghanistan, and multiple other actions) have been being fought, that the number of suicides among military soldiers and veterans has significantly increased, but various sources disagree on whether it is above or below the rates associated with active combat. In fact, after checking, it may be safer to say that they are about the same at this point in time, but suicide is still rising. Doesn’t that make us all feel better? One active soldier or veteran commits suicide every 80-90 minutes in the USA. We are exceptional! Exceptionally numb, which is only a letter away from being dumb.

  19. Ted, come on dood, you’re smarter than this.

    I get it. You’re anti-war. But it seems as though you are SO anti-war, that you can’t allow for there to be any benefit to a military. And, you are SO anti US, that you think that if only we would behave, then suddenly peace would break out all over. You are wrong about this. I mean, people were warring long before we ever came along. Right? Can you acknowledge that? Can you not see that violence has not gone obsolete? Violence still works. It will continue to work. You can kill someone and take their stuff. It is a fundamental fact of life. America did not invent this. Lately, for the most part, we have been preventing this.

    The US military, sometimes working through the UN, and sometimes not, has made open warfare a thing of the past. (ok, fine, for the most part, work with me here, i’m not writing a book–sure, maybe Africans can war with each other). In any event, it is clear, that you may not invade a developed country, or even a close friend of a developed country, and get away with it. This has not always been the case, and there is no law of physics that says that this must always continue to be the case. The relative peace that we have known since the end of WWII is a fragile man-made, US made construct.

    There is no doubt that US taxpayers have suffered, in some ways, as a result of this policy. We have borrowed money to provide freedom of the seas, upon which world trade is based. We have borrowed to keep China, Japan, and Korea from fighting each other, which they are want to do. It is the Pax Americana that has allowed 500 million Chinese to rise out of poverty. It is the Pax Americana that allowed the EU to build their generous welfare states–because we were providing the security. Certainly, it is the Pax Americana that prevents Tahiti from getting invaded. If we stop providing the Pax Americana, then war will start happening again. This is obvious to a deep thinking person, which I know you to be, so….please, take off the blinders.

    • Aaron,

      Yours is a long and thoughtful post, and there’s a lot there, most of which I disagree with. I am in favor of a military only in so far as it is used in order to protect your country. In other words, if your nation faces invasion, you need to have a military available in order to repel that invasion.

      As I have pointed out before and no doubt will again, that has not been a historic purpose of the United States military. With the exception of the war of 1812, United States has never faced invasion. The military has been used in a forward, aggressive, expansionist way almost exclusively throughout its more than 200 year history.

      The idea that there such a thing as a Pax Americana is silly, unless you’re comparing it to the Pax Romana. The Roman Empire also waged its wars on its periphery and made life quite miserable for the peoples of central Europe and England, for example. They were able to claim that there was piece back home in Rome but at what cost?

      United States likes to market itself as a force for stability, but in reality we are a disruptive force all around the world. We prop up dictatorships, we sabotage regimes that would have had a chance to survive, we undermine democratic movements. Stability? That’s not our thing.

  20. Have mistakes been made? Absolutely. Iraq and Afghanistan were/are tremendous fiascos. Do I hate George Bush? You betcha. Does Obama suck? No doubt.

    But should we unilaterally disarm and hope for cooler heads to prevail? Hell no.

    • I don’t think we should unilaterally disarm, but I do think that we should wind down our military to the point where we can defend our own borders and leave it at that.

  21. Ted, thanks for taking the time to respond. And in a gentlemanly manner.

    I’ll accept this statement of yours as some small victory:

    “I don’t think we should unilaterally disarm, but I do think that we should wind down our military to the point where we can defend our own borders and leave it at that.”

    That’s all I was really asking for.

    You do miss the point on the Pax Americana though, even though I laid it out fairly clearly, I thought. Certainly, granted, it hasn’t been very “pax-full”, so I guess that’s not the right term. But stability? Especially economic stability tied to global free trade?…I says yes.

    Anyways, cheers.

    • Civility is essential to debate worth paying attention to.

      I wouldn’t say the US is a stabilizing force: coups, wars, trade embargoes, world’s biggest arms dealer–quite the opposite. Chaos R Us