Unhappily, the simplest way to describe this book is that Mary L. Dudziak is ready to give up. The U.S. empire tromps around without clothes (but with drones) and apparently we all must accept that is just how it is and pretend that our monstrously deformed permanent wartime is an acceptable foundation for a democratic nation and a humane civilization. In War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences she writes:
Once upon a time, we were more aware of and more honest about war. I like to remind people that we have a national anthem that refers to war as an occasion of "desolation." In their heyday, the Brits called their worldwide power projection "the wars of empire," Dudziak points out. She goes on to contend that one reason we label World War II "the good war" is that we accept an idealized notion that it had a discreet beginning and end, that our "peacetime" society was little deformed by it.
Such a defined timescale was certainly not the case in the Cold War (1945-1989) as all the many commentators on the ascendancy of the national security state (think Chomsky, Zinn and Johnson) have taught us. Dudziak discusses the interesting point that, after beginning in a frenzy of fear that led to McCarthyism and other assaults on U.S. civil liberties, at length the craziness subsided.
Let's hope these guys are right about half-lives, because we've been stuck in a phony "war time" since 9/11 that shows little likelihood of abating. Leaders of both political parties have embraced it. And they have enjoyed an only weakly constrained increase in executive power. Perhaps if, on 9/11 we'd had a President of broad vision who was not surrounded by such authoritarian monsters as Dick Cheney and David Addington, we might have responded to the horror of that day as we should have, by recognizing that an extraordinarily successful made-for-TV movie was no existential threat to the country and certainly no reason to undo our history of law and liberty. We could have grieved, used our power and the outpouring of international sympathy to catch the perps, and brought them to justice in courts of law. But no:
And so, here we are, a lawless rogue state that tortures, "detains," and assassinates with an assumption of timeless unlimited impunity -- because we are living in "war time."
Some of us worked to elect President Obama in the hope that he was simply too intelligent to continue to propagate the essential lie that is this a permanent "war." But no, though he has modified the war's form -- eschewing full scale invasions "of choice," preferring targeted killing and high tech "assistance" to favored friends. And he has set some ostensible limits to the horrors U.S. operatives are allowed to visit on the phony war's captives -- though these are just easily revocable executive orders, shot through with loopholes and exceptions. The world may actually be a little better off with this President whose bellicosity is more intelligently directed, but neither civil liberties nor the international regime of basic human rights has gained much from replacing Bush with Obama. And yes, Romney, a dishonest, self-aggrandizing fellow, would probably be worse.
Anyone who gives a damn about the future of this country and planet needs to be working to end the phony "wartime." Big job, but we have no choice.
Cross posted at Can It Happen Here?
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
Jan Adams has worked with WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras since its beginning, coordinating distribution during the three years when the organization published an antiwar tabloid newspaper. She is a lifelong political activist who has worked for justice in Central America (Nicaragua and El Salvador), in South Africa, in the fields of California with the United Farmworkers Union, and for racial and economic equality with electoral and advocacy campaigns in many areas of the United States.
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