The history of the United States is one of war. Beginning with the War for Independence, the country has had precious few years of peace. Consider the timeline of these major conflicts (excluding the several before the Declaration of Independence):
- War for Independence (1775-1783)
- Franco-American Naval War (1798-1800)
- Barbary Wars (1801-1805)
- War of 1812 (1812-1815)
- Creek War (1813-1814)
- War of Texas Independence (1836)
- Mexican-American War (1846-1848)
- War Between the States (1861-1865)
- Spanish-American War (1898)
- World War I (1914-1918)
- World War II (1939-1945)
- Korean War (1950-1953)
- Vietnam War (1960-1975)
- Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961)
- Grenada (1983)
- Invasion of Panama (1989)
- Persian Gulf War (1990-1991)
- Bosnia & Herzegovina (1995-1996)
- War in Afghanistan (2001-present)
- War in Iraq (2003-present)
This list does not include wars and coups begun through covert means, such as the overthrow of governments in Chile and Iran, or current U.S. military involvement in nations like Libya, Uganda, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and perhaps, Iran.
Why would America willingly engage in such seemingly endless warfare? James Madison warned, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” He also said, “Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.” Benjamin Franklin famously added, “There never was a good war, or a bad peace.”
So, why all the war?
The causes of the various wars differ, of course, and it is quite difficult to distinguish the motives we are given by the government from the actual motives. For example, Americans were told that war with Iraq was needed because Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.” We now know that they never had such weapons and all the President’s men knew it beforehand. The stated motive for war was a lie.
How, then, can we ever expect to answer the question “Why the constant war?” when we can rarely answer why we have had any one of our wars? Ambitious, I grant, but possible.
Early in U.S. history, the country’s wars took place predominantly on American soil (though they were certainly not all just wars) and this continued through World War I, as America followed a more non-interventionist policy, keeping them out of foreign wars.
In the early 20th century, American citizens had to be provoked into war or most simply would not support it. In World War I, the bombing of the Lusitania and later German attacks on American cargo ships (going to supply Allied troops) were precipitating factors that drove President Woodrow Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war. With World War II, America remained neutral until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 (though many debate the cause of that attack as well, including historian Thomas Fleming, in his book The New Dealer’s War). Congress declared war on December 8th, 1941, the last time a constitutional declaration of war has been made.
Ever since, Americans have demanded no such cause and no such declaration. Going from a largely non-interventionist foreign policy to becoming the world police, the U.S. now requires little to no justification for war. Wars entered into by the U.S. do not obtain Congressional approval – the Constitution requires it, but the people and the Congress do not. As a result of such easy access to war, America has been not ceased its warmongering.
But, this brings us back to the original question: Why does America engage in constant war?
Wars are about dominion, over one’s own territory (which could be a defensive, just war) or the territory of others. And such dominion or control of territory brings power and money.
Take the war in Iraq, for example. Some estimate, quite conservatively in my opinion, that the war has cost well over $1 trillion dollars, with a current expense of about $7.1 billion per month. This, in addition to the unconstitutional and illegal manner in which the war was begun – no Congressional declaration of war, false motives for beginning – should absolutely outrage American taxpayers. It is, after all, over $1 trillion of their money. Governments have no money of their own, only what they take from the citizens.
Why has the war cost so much money? War money goes to banks, contractors, and manufacturers, but only those selected by the government. During the Vietnam War, President Johnson granted lucrative government contracts to Brown & Root, a contracting firm that was charged with building airports, bases, and more during the war. Turns out, President Johnson received large campaign contributions from the firm and, in turn, they were granted the government contracts.
Today, Brown & Root is a subsidiary of Halliburton called Kellogg, Brown & Root or KBR. One of Halliburton’s previous CEOs is former Vice President Dick Cheney. In the early days of the current Iraq war, the firm was rewarded for their connections with Cheney in the form of a two-year, $7 billion, no-bid contract to put out oil well fires. This, folks, is what the “military-industrial complex” looks like.
Why the constant war? Money and power.
In fact, it seems that the American government is so bent on expanding power and making more money, that they will pick fights to ensure continual war. Why do we engage in foreign policies that will embitter other people groups against us? Why conduct a “War on Terror” that has been shown only to lengthen recruiting lines for the organizations we claim to be fighting? Could it be that such provocations guarantee endless justifications for endless wars? We occupy their lands and, if they dare fight back, we label them as “terrorists” or “insurgents” – and off we go exporting “death and violence to the four corners of the Earth in defense of our great nation.”
But, the fear conjured up by “terrorists” provides another great benefit to the government. Without the threat of terrorism, how would Americans be brought to accept the PATRIOT Act and the TSA? The PATRIOT Act, which eliminates civil liberties and Constitutional protections for American citizens, would have never stood without the great terrorist threat. The TSA molests, searches, gropes, and seizes from all passengers who go through airport security checkpoints and are now expanding to the highways. Such measures, enacted by any government, ensure firm control over the people and provide the means to crush dissent. They know what we buy, where we go, what we say, what we write, and what we read; and, because of legislation like the PATRIOT Act, we have no more legal protection to the contrary.
The American people have been all too willing to surrender their liberty in exchange for the illusion of safety, because fear makes people stupid. People think on a merely emotional level when they are afraid. The TSA has failed to catch a single terrorist in their 10-year existence, but the American people “feel” safer – strangely, because government agents, paid by tax dollars, molest them in airports. It does not have to make sense when you are afraid
And, because the people are frightened into submitting to such measures, the government has no problem funding such lucrative endeavors. President Obama has asked for $43.2 billion to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an entire government agency created after 9/11. The TSA, a branch of the DHS, will receive $8.1 billion of those funds. That’s just for 2012.
Why does the U.S. government need ongoing war? Because the fear of war grants them more power with which to control the people and more money to line the pockets of banks and the elite members of the “military-industrial complex.” Randolph Bourne said, in The State:
“War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties. The minorities are either intimidated into silence, or brought slowly around by subtle process of persuasion which may seem to them really to be converting them.”
Bourne goes on to note, however, that “In this great herd-machinery, dissent is like sand in the bearings.” The American war machine wants more fear, more money, and more power. I say we give them more sand.