Paraphrasing Tolstoy: all happy empires are alike; every unhappy empire is unhappy in its own way.  Without entering the rhetorical jungle of whether the United States has been exhibiting imperial tendencies in the early 21st century, it does share some unhappy symptoms with previous empires.

It is always a cause for wonderment that those most eager to go to war spend so little time thinking about its long term consequences, especially in human lives.  This commentator has carried on a running word-fight with the media over the definition of “casualty”, usually used to indicate those killed in combat but intended to be used to include those wounded in combat as well.  Total U.S. casualties in Iraq, for example, are approaching 40,000.

But now the long term payback for that war, and Afghanistan, is coming due.  In recent days Defense Department studies reveal the number of suicides, drug abuse cases, and psychological disorders among the troops.  Much of this is the result of extended deployments and repeated re-deployments, as well as the destructive mental impact of close-order counterinsurgency warfare.  Dead bodies and wounded everywhere, everyday.  This human toll is exacerbated by the lowering of recruitment standards to include those previously categorized as “morally unqualified”, people whose backgrounds would not otherwise permit them to serve.  A separate consideration is the impact on career military personnel of being required to serve with those with criminal records.

Why cannot political leaders level with the American people on the costs of warfare?  It is obvious if they did so, the appetite for voluntary invasions especially would be greatly diminished.  Unfortunately our society’s collective memory will have erased the human costs of Iraq and Afghanistan by the time some future president starts beating the drums and unleashing the dogs of war.  Reawakening memory requires statesmanship and a knowledge of history.  And we have very few leaders who qualify.

Perhaps we should create a public office and call it the Prophet Jeremiah.  Everytime the war drums were heard, the Prophet Jeremiah would remind us of the human costs we were assuming and the unhappiness of empires throughout history.

17 Responses to “The Hidden Costs of Warfare and the Prophet Jeremiah”

  1. Pat Boice Says:

    Thank you for these comments – Americans must wake up and realize we cannot continue these wars – it breaks the budget, as well as the human spirit.

  2. Tomas Agee Says:

    “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw

  3. Gary Hart: The Hidden Costs of Warfare and the Prophet Jeremiah | Says:

    […] To comment, please visit Sen. Hart’s blog site at […]

  4. Randy Says:

    My father fought in the last 6 months of WWII in Europe.
    He made a comment during the Vietnam war that has always stayed with me.
    He said there are two kinds of people who are pro-war : those who have never
    experienced it, and psychopaths.

    Great article !

  5. Tom Says:

    John Steinbeck
    “And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”
    — John Steinbeck

  6. Forest Henry Book Says:

    Inscription for a War by A.D. Hope
    “Stranger go tell the Spartans
    we died here obedient to their commands.” – Inscription at Thermopylae

    Linger not, stranger; shed no tear;
    Go back to those who sent us here.

    We are the young they drafted out
    To wars their folly brought about.

    Go tell those old men, safe in bed.
    We took their orders and are dead.

  7. Jeff Simpson Says:

    War is hard on those tasked with the doing and the dying, and so most of our leaders do not dwell on this subject, except to pay lip service to grandiose notions of patriotism, honor, duty, courage, and other abstract and stirring evocations. Keeping the harsh realities of war distant from the majority of the population minimizes objections, which is why every war should be peopled with soldiers from all demographics, if only to have the grim reality affect the family of the chickenhawk as well.

    Suppression of the ‘war is hell’ lesson deprives us, as a nation, of one of the lessons we might learn from our recent past. But other lessons exist; motive is important. Our base count continues to rise. By devoting an increasingly large percentage of our activity (GDP) to non-productive efforts (I lump unwinnable war funding in with finance, insurance, and real estate), we require an influx of cheap manufactured goods from abroad to support Reagan’s dream of an always-increasing standard of living.

    The economic concept of comparative advantage allowed us to approve shutting down our factories so that other nations could make our cars, clothes, footwear, and appliances, while we, as Americans, could focus on what we do best: intimidating others, pioneering complex speculative financial instruments, glamorizing excessive and conspicuous consumption, living on borrowed money.

    In an effort to wean the military-industrial beast from the teat to which it is so firmly attached, the Army Corps of Engineers should be given an ever-increasing slice of the defense spending pie. Building roads, bridges, dams, and especially dredging waterways to make them navigable is how we should be spending those defense dollars. But the margins for Caterpillar aren’t as good as for Raytheon or Lockheed-Martin, so that will be an uphill slog.

    Not that the difficulty of two paths should determine whether one chooses good versus evil.

  8. Jaya Santhan Tony Says:

    True…as long as our nations’ security is intact there should be no need for a prolonged war. However, there are also dangers of immediately withdrawing b/c people who depend on our humanitarianism will be abandoned w/o some self-sufficient defense. It is an irony how a lot of elected leaders complain about the nation’s deficit and are unwilling to extend unemployment benefits or free health care to our own but have no problem wasting billions on starting war and continuing to do so.

  9. Bette S Baysinger Says:

    Dear Mr. Hart,
    Consider that those in positions to lose the most had some idea that something like these wars would happen over 20 years ago, as an estimate. It makes sense if you consider those in position to lose most were also in the position to interpret historical documents in such a way as to allow the citizenship to all born here to mother’s that got here illegally without going through “proper channels.” Now there are MANY Mexican-American boys and girls filling body bags, and lining up to have the honor.

    The criminal soldiers intermixed with worthy people, how terrible. I doubt those with power have anything to worry about by having to watch those criminal elements get blown away other than the brain damage that happens to anyone that watches that kind of stuff, if it has any emotional effect on them. Perhaps becoming a career military person requires some special ability to NOT have an emotional response to watching any living thing be blown away, I do not know.

    Why are you invoking religion here, did not we already have this discussion?  smiley face
    Bette S Baysinger

  10. Guerrier Elisabeth Says:

    I’ve been staying in NYC for about 15 days in June, going here and there, and while I was invited to a party in Manhattan, I watched people dancing, drinking with some level of “infuriated” oblivion, something “over the top” in the excitement. I thought “Are these people really living with two wars on their backs?” and of course they are but they don’t or cannot know it.
    During the Viet-Nam war, I think everybody remember how strong was the population’s level of conscientiousness and involvement.
    Are these wars more legitimate than the Viet- Nam war was?
    And about this danger of withdrawing for the civilians, just keep the information going about how it IS, for instance in reading the work of Mrs Carol Mann who is a specialist of Afghanistan’s culture.
    The civilians and of course women at the forefront, are in a complete distress for decades now and the money and people involved didn’t change anything and I’m afraid, won’t.

  11. Dieter Heymann, Houston, USA Says:

    I would cast the net even wider than Jeremiah because the function of prophets was to warn rulers of their follies and disastrous mistakes.
    One interesting aspect about Jeremiah: he did not witness the burning of Jerusalem because he was already dead and buried when that happened. Was Rembrandt therefore wrong? No, Rembrandt just followed a centuries-old tradition of depicting Jeremiah saddened by the destruction of his Jerusalem.

  12. Publius Says:

    When I reread President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation I am struck by how “liberal” his ideas are. His ominous warning is as powerful and possibly more prophetic than Jeremiah.

    “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military/industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

    The Cheney/Bush White House fulfilled the prophecy. Obama is in a no-win situation, commentators such as George Will are assailing him for not withdrawing, and many left-leaning are joining the chorus. Why did Obama decided to expand rather that extract forces out of Afghanistan – was it the MIC? That will be the question that will dog his legacy. Only a fool would not have recognized that history was against any kind of “victory” in Afghanistan. The USSR with all their firepower and much closer (and legitimate) geographic resupply ability lost – and by the way folks that was the reason for their collapse not Ronald Reagan saying; “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” Our arrogance as a nation is showing once more. This can only end badly.

    We lost track of the whole ethical reasoning for the ’60s peace movement, Eisenhower had it right:

    “Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war — as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years — I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.”

    Greed and money is all that matters in our society. The more we have the more power we possess and use that money to attempt to instill what we believe is “right” on the world.

    “Hu Huh! I was in the right!”
    “Yes, absolutely in the right!”
    “I certainly was in the right!”
    “You was definitely in the right. That geezer was cruising for a bruising!”
    Pink Floyd – Money

    Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

  13. Robert Crump Says:

    Well, I for one feel like we’re finally getting somewhere here Senator. Perhaps I am alone, I am certainly in the minority, but I believe most of what ails us as a nation today is a direct result of the seduction of empire that began with McKinley, Lodge, Roosevelt, Hearst, etc., etc. We’re a kinder, gentler empire than those that have come before us. I would argue we’re an empire that exists to serve the interests of US based multinationals and the likes of Lockheed-Martin, but make no mistake; we’re an empire nonetheless and have been for some time. What began with the Spanish-American war came to maturity in the wake of the Atlantic Charter, World War II and the first Bretton-Woods Conference.

    Ben Franklin nailed it when answering the question what type of government the Constitutional Convention would create; He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” And that notorious radical Dwight Eisenhower told it like it was when he looked the American people in the eye on his way out the door and laid bare what was to come. Within three years the Commander in Chief was shot dead in an American city under auspicious circumstances and ever since we’ve all witnessed a steady erosion in the qualities that once defined this nation of ours. And so it goes.

    Make no mistake about it, they’ll soon have done away with your social security folks but the sanctity of the defense budget will never be compromised any time soon. And so long as long as Walmart can continue to provide cheap bread loaded with diabetes inflicting corn syrup, and cable television is able to offer their gladiator-esque reality programming, then the majority of the American people will continue to sit on their brains oblivious to the fact that Reaganism and likeminded sycophants from the DLC threw them overboard thirty years ago.

    Thoughts, as to how we reverse the course of history we all see before our eyes?

  14. KalPal Says:

    Since you used to be a politician, you should remember that politics breeds an allergy to truth in its practitioners. No politician will reveal anything likely to cost him his office and any truthful politican is out looking for work as soon as he loses his office at the next election.

  15. Martha Eberle Says:

    Excellent. I always enjoy your posts — well thought out, and a sense of history. The office of Jeremiah (or just “prophet”) is a wise idea.

    I find, not only do Americans have very short attention spans and memories, but most do not find history “interesting.” The old saying about … if one does not learn from history, he will repeat it. Another thing that most Americans would probably deny: that we are a war-mongering people. We are ALWAYS in some other country, “keeping the peace.” We tout how peace-loving we are … then why are we always fighting? And why does it never produce anything except death, maiming, destruction, uprooting of the civilian populations? We’re so “good,” but really we like to be “big and bad.”

    We need a wise person to remember us some history, when the drums of war are next sounded.

  16. MJR Montoya Says:

    It would be interesting to see how a radical redevelopment of our institutions meant to guard our history (like the Library of Congress) actually had people who were active public scholars, who could have actual influence in the direction their nation is taking using the braintrust of this country. Unfortunately, this is not the case, nor does it register as a viable option in our public consciousness. Our public intellectuals, like Senator Hart, are rare in congress or the white house, and our intellectuals don’t have the institutional intelligence to make their way into decision making spaces. What Sen. Hart proposes is a push back from the true brain trust in this country, and that call needs to be heard everywhere that term has meaning.

  17. Jeff Simpson Says:

    What makes America great, what really makes people from across this planet want to come here to live, is the potential for upward mobility and the American Dream. It means different things to different people. In times of peace it used to allow us to plod along contentedly in our insular professional and personal trajectories as we mapped out the arcs of our lives. With a volunteer army we have allowed this happy state to occur even in times of war, albeit limited in scale and scope compared to the two World Wars. A few years ago a college student was being interviewed and said that he didn’t think people in his generation cared as much about foreign policy as during the 60’s when the Vietnam war was taking place. It occured to me that if there was a draft, his viewpoint might be entirely different. Osama Bin Laden explained that he was targeting all Americans because we all pay the taxes and tolerate the government that keeps oil cheap at any cost, and on some level one has to give him some rather high marks for consistency.

    Getting low marks for consistency are the hawkish politicians who claim to love this country and want to preserve our way of life. We have painted ourselves into an unsustainable corner, and corrective action will be required in the next 20 years. That is five presidential elections and five midterms. Not too many.

    The key is education of the next generation. A big wake-up call may be required to divert our attention from regular programming. It may take many forms, pick a horseman. Anyone?

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