In times of war, U.S. presidents have often talked about yearning for peace. “I am continuing and I am increasing the search for every possible path to peace,” Lyndon Johnson said while escalating the Vietnam War. In early 1991, the first President Bush offered the public this convolution: “Even as planes of the multinational forces attack Iraq, I prefer to think of peace, not war.” More than a decade later, George W. Bush told a joint session of Congress: “We seek peace. We strive for peace.”
While absurdly hypocritical, such claims mouthed the idea that the United States need not be at war 24-7. But the last decade has brought a gradual shift in the rhetorical Zeitgeist while a tacit assumption has taken hold—war must go on, one way or another. In this era, after all, the amorphous foe known as “terror” will never surrender—beatable, but never quite defeatable.
A permanent-war psychology has dug a groove alongside the permanent-war economy. Right now, we’re told, President Obama is wrestling with the question of how much to reduce U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. But just as the reduction of U.S. troop strength in Iraq allowed for escalation in Afghanistan, the search for enemies is apt to be inexhaustible.
The tacit assumption of war without end is now the old normal, again renewed in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death. Every day, the warfare wallpaper inside the mass-media echo chamber becomes more familiar, blurring the public vision into more drowsy acceptance of perpetual war.
Years ago, U.S. military spending climbed above $2 billion per day. Some of the consequences can be understood in the context of words that President Dwight Eisenhower uttered in April 1953.
In the speech, Eisenhower declared: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Norman Solomon is the author of a dozen books, including ‘War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.’ He lives in Marin, where he is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.