Brown/My Turn: War! What is it good for?

During the last month or so, The Recorder featured two disturbing articles concerning our future military expenditures. One reported about a new class of aircraft carriers, costing umpteen billion dollars apiece. The Pentagon spokesman warned that these behemoths were necessary for any future confrontation with China. A more recent article about the proposed militarization of the Arctic quoted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who said this new policy was to “detect, deter, prevent and defeat threats to our homeland.”

Once upon a time, we used to justify our over-bloated defense budget by pretending we were “Fighting for Freedom.” That myth got exploded over the past decades when G.I. Joe the Liberator became the hated foreign occupier (through no fault of the honest soldier). Plus, it was difficult for our nation to be seen as a freedom fighter while it supported murderous right-wing dictatorships throughout Asia, Central and South America.

Today, the self-serving justifications of why we fight wars no longer work. The real reason comes down to resources. Those in power are aware that as oil, water, arable land and precious minerals become more scarce, it will become necessary to compete and perhaps kill for them. The future promises the world population increasing in direct proportion to the depletion of necessities. The deceptively agreeable phrase, “Protecting our national interests” refers to the multinational corporations that control or want to control these commodities. We already began that process by our two oil wars in Iraq. Up north, global warming has melted the Arctic ice caps enough to make more oil and gas reserves available so we can challenge Russia, Norway and China over who grabs them.

Obviously, military recruiters cannot tell their young prospects that they will be killing for stuff, preferring to disguise this fact with promises, heroic imagery and patriotic exhortations. And to some degree it works, although the final choices aren’t always about flag or country. Several years ago, there was a television documentary called “Nimitz” in which a film crew spent six months on this super-carrier interviewing every member of the ship from the lowliest sailor to the captain. There was no editorializing, just pure fly-on-the-wall reporting. During the conversations, most of the crew was asked why they had joined up. Some answered the call out of patriotic duty (which I support), others because Navy service was a family tradition. But too many offered that coming from small decaying towns across America, the only choice available to them upon graduating high school was to deal drugs, work at McDonalds or join the armed forces. Obviously, this last option had the most opportunities.

It is discouraging that a so-called superpower has nothing better to entice its youth with other than low-paying jobs, illegal activities or becoming fodder for a military whose reason for existing becomes more mercenary than beneficial. One wonders how those who fight these wars will react when the noble rationales get stripped away. How will our sons and daughters feel about going off to be killed and maimed in order to maintain a lifestyle based on mindless consumerism?

The fact that a war with China is even being contemplated as a possibility strikes me as madness compounded. What exactly will we be fighting for besides stuff? A game of superpower “King of the Mountain” promises dire consequences for both parties. Anyone crazy enough to think we could win such a conflict should remember that China could lose a billion people (that’s with a “b”) and still outnumber us. To be honest, the Chinese are not helping matters much by increasing their own military and buying up resources worldwide. At least they’re not pretending to be motived by anything other than self-interest.

There is another option, and I will admit to being wildly optimistic here. The world populations could tell their leaders that wasting precious lives, energy and money on mass murder is no longer an option. Warfare and the corporate machine that fuels it both need to be restrained. This can only happen if the people, not the politicians, take control of their own national destinies.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of World War I, an unnecessary conflict that derailed the promise of the 20th century, we might reflect on the horrific cost, tragedy and stupidity of warfare. After a lifetime of contemplation, I consider peace to be a matter of spiritual evolution as well as a political process. The motivation for change comes before the action. Like an addict who one day wises up and finds the willpower to get clean, so must humanity decide to cast aside this scourge and forge a future of innovation and cooperation. To have peace on earth, we must first collectively want it above all else.

Daniel A. Brown has lived in Franklin County since 1970 as an artist, writer, amateur historian, and photographer. He is a frequent contributor to the Recorder and welcomes feedback at

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