Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore conveys the essence of America’s war on terror under the sign of addiction. War is a drug, and the US is addicted, metaphorically speaking.
In the realm of reality-defining language, terms intermingle and entangle. Thus, we declare a war on drugs while high on the drug of war, seemingly without noticing the irony. And while we are at it, we declare war on poverty and crime, anything actually. It’s a totalizing mindset that constitutes what Astore calls “America’s omnipresent war ethos.”
Addiction is a useful metaphor because it readily conveys how being high on war shuts down deliberation on foreign and domestic policy and replaces reflection with rage.
As Astore observes:
When a war mentality takes over, it chooses the weapons and tactics for you. It limits the terms of the debate before you even begin. It answers questions before they are even asked.
When you define something as war, it dictates the use of the military (or militarized police forces, prisons, and other forms of coercion) as the primary instruments of policy. Violence becomes the means of decision, total victory the goal. Anyone who suggests otherwise is labeled a dreamer, an appeaser, or even a traitor.
Hence, the notion that the US might have responded to 9/11 with a “policing” model aimed at “taking criminals off the global streets” was a nonstarter “instantly banned from discussion.” Instead, the US defaulted to a global war of “vengeance” and “violent nation building” at a “staggering expense” with “disastrous results.” Defeat was a function of defining the problem as a war.
Still the US persists in its addiction, perpetuating the violence, unable to admit to defeat, while “mak[ing] a desert of what it calls peace” (Astore quoting Roman historian Tacitus).
Healing requires honest confession, recognition that the US cannot control everything, and awareness that violent rage makes things worse, not better. “America needs to make such a confession,” Astore observes. “Only then can we begin to wean ourselves of war.”