The Disease of Permanent War

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The
embrace by any society of permanent war is a parasite that devours
the heart and soul of a nation. Permanent war extinguishes liberal,
democratic movements. It turns culture into nationalist cant. It
degrades and corrupts education and the media, and wrecks the economy.
The liberal, democratic forces, tasked with maintaining an open
society, become impotent. The collapse of liberalism, whether in
imperial Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Weimar Germany,
ushers in an age of moral nihilism. This moral nihilism comes in
many colors and hues. It rants and thunders in a variety of slogans,
languages and ideologies. It can manifest itself in fascist salutes,
communist show trials or Christian crusades. It is, at its core,
all the same. It is the crude, terrifying tirade of mediocrities
who find their identities and power in the perpetuation of permanent
war.

It was a decline
into permanent war, not Islam, which killed the liberal, democratic
movements in the Arab world, ones that held great promise in the
early part of the 20th century in countries such as Egypt, Syria,
Lebanon and Iran. It is a state of permanent war that is finishing
off the liberal traditions in Israel and the United States. The
moral and intellectual trolls – the Dick Cheneys, the Avigdor
Liebermans, the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads – personify the moral
nihilism of perpetual war. They manipulate fear and paranoia. They
abolish civil liberties in the name of national security. They crush
legitimate dissent. They bilk state treasuries. They stoke racism.

“War,”
Randolf Bourne commented acidly, “is the health of the state.”

In Pentagon
Capitalism
Seymour Melman described the defense industry
as viral. Defense and military industries in permanent war, he wrote,
trash economies. They are able to upend priorities. They redirect
government expenditures towards their huge military projects and
starve domestic investment in the name of national security. We
produce sophisticated fighter jets, while Boeing is unable to finish
its new commercial plane on schedule and our automotive industry
goes bankrupt. We sink money into research and development of weapons
systems and neglect renewable energy technologies to fight global
warming. Universities are flooded with defense-related cash and
grants, and struggle to find money for environmental studies. This
is the disease of permanent war.

Massive military
spending in this country, climbing to nearly $l.1 trillion a year
and consuming half of all discretionary spending, has a profound
social cost. Bridges and levees collapse. Schools decay. Domestic
manufacturing declines. Trillions in debts threaten the viability
of the currency and the economy. The poor, the mentally ill, the
sick and the unemployed are abandoned. Human suffering, including
our own, is the price for victory.

Read
the rest of the article

May
20, 2009

Chris
Hedges has been a war reporter for 19 years, most recently for the
New York Times. He is author of What
Every Person Should Know About War
a book that offers a critical
lesson in the dangerous realities of war. He’s also author of War
is a Force that Gives Us Meaning
. He writes a weekly column
for TruthDig.

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