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Rebecca Gordon: War Without End
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Donald Trump, now preparing to lead the country into the latest version of our endless wars, recently offered this look back at American military prowess: “We have to start winning wars again. I have to say, when I was young, in high school and college, everybody used to say we never lost a war. We never lost a war, remember?… And now we never win a war. We never win. And don’t fight to win.” It was a curious bit of “history.” Logically, his memories should have been of victory-less wars, given the ones of his growing up years: Korea and Vietnam (which he evidently avoided thanks to a trumped-up medical condition and whose massive oppositional movement he seems to have ignored).

Born in July 1944, I’m two years older than President Trump and so understand just where he’s coming from: the movies. In those years of his youth and mine, sitting in the darkness catching Hollywood’s vivid version of reality, we both watched Americans win wars ad infinitum. In fact, this is hardly the first time I’ve thought about the on-screen wars of my childhood, actual war, and an American president. Here’s what I wrote back in January 2006, while considering the experiences of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney:

“In the 1940s and 1950s, when the generation of men now ruling over us were growing up, boys could disappear into a form of war play — barely noticed by adults and hardly recorded anywhere — that was already perhaps a couple of hundred years old. In this kind of play, there was no need to enact the complicated present by recreating a junior version of an anxiety-ridden Cold War garrison state… For children in those years, there was still a sacramental, triumphalist version of American history, a spectacle of slaughter in which they invariably fell before our guns. This spectacle could be experienced in any movie theater, and then played out in backyards and on floors with toy six guns (or sticks) or little toy bluecoats, Indians, and cowboys, or green, inch-high plastic sets of World War II soldiers. As play, for those who grew up in that time, it was sunshine itself, pure pleasure. The Western (as well as its modern successor, the war film) was on screen everywhere then.

“When those children grew up (barely), some of them went off to Vietnam, dreaming of John Wayne-like feats as they entered what they came to call ‘Indian country,’ while others sallied off to demonstrate against the war dressed either in the cast-off World War II garb of their fathers or in the movie-inspired get-ups of the former enemy of another age — headbands and moccasins, painted faces, love beads… as well as peace (now drug) pipes. Sometimes, they even formed themselves into ‘tribes.’


“As it turns out, though, there was a third category of young men in those years: those who essentially steered clear of the Vietnam experience, who, as our vice president put it inelegantly but accurately, had ‘other priorities in the sixties.’ Critics have sometimes spoken of such Bush administration figures as ‘chickenhawks’ for their lack of war experience. But this is actually inaccurate. They were warriors of a sort — screen warriors. They had an abundance of combat experience because, unlike their peers, they never left the confines of those movie theaters, where American war was always glorious, our military men always out on some frontier, and the Indians, or their modern equivalents, always falling by their scores before our might as the cavalry bugle sounded or the Marine Hymn welled up. By avoiding becoming either the warriors or the anti-warriors of the Vietnam era, they managed to remain quite deeply embedded in centuries of triumphalist frontier mythology. They were, in a sense, the Peter Pans of American war play.

“…From that same childhood undoubtedly came President Bush’s repeated urge to dress up in an assortment of ‘commander-in-chief’ military outfits, much in the style of a G.I. Joe ‘action figure.’ (Think: doll). It’s visibly clear that our president has long found delight — actual pleasure — in his war-making role, as he did in his Top Gun, ‘mission accomplished’ landing on that aircraft carrier back in 2003…”

Only the other day, Donald Trump made his own landing on an aircraft carrier and strode its deck togged out in a USS Gerald R. Ford green bomber jacket and baseball cap, showing similar pleasure in the experience. It should have had an eerie resonance for us all as we pondered just where our next movie commander-in-chief might lead us. Who could have imagined that, so many decades after the onscreen childhood that The Donald and I shared, we’d all still be at the movies and, as TomDispatch regular and American Nuremberg author Rebecca Gordon points out today, in an American world of forever war as well?

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Donald Trump 
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  1. KA says:

    George Kenney, a U.S. foreign service officer who resigned from the State
    Department in 1992 to protest U.S. policy toward the crisis in Yugoslavia,
    told me recently that the full-throated embrace of military violence is the
    fastest, surest way for the best and brightest to get ahead in Washington,
    and that their delusive faith in military violence as a humanitarian salve
    cannot be disentangled from their cynical careerism

    But this doesn’t apply to Trump .Why does he embrace it? Why did Obama or Bush jr embrace the wars as way forward ? May be it is the safest thing to do

  2. Sean says:

    If you are killed you are just as dead whether your country wins or loses a war, and even if a superstar in your own private movie, John Wayne’s character sometimes got killed. I don’t see that winning or losing takes away the main reason for not wanting your country to be in a war. Moreover, the author ignores a pertinent fact: individuals with an excellent understanding of just how dangerous it is to fight, sometimes choose to risk their own lives for what she would consider nothing at all. I’ am afraid Ms Gordon has led too sheltered a life for an insightful theory of war to come easilly. She is also a woman. But neither of these things preclude understanding so let us look at a bit of theory, backed up be actual experience.

    In his The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, the offensive Realist theorist Professor John Mearsheimer described sociologist Elijah Anderson’s explanation of inner city violence as being a species of Realism

    At the heart of the code is the issue of respect–loosely defined as being treated “right,” or granted the deference one deserves. However, in the troublesome public environment of the inner city, as people increasingly feel buffeted by forces beyond their control, what one deserves in the way of respect becomes more and more problematic and uncertain. This in turn further opens the issue of respect to sometimes intense interpersonal negotiation. In the street culture, especially among young people, respect is viewed as almost an external entity that is hard-won but easily lost, and so must constantly be guarded. The rules of the code in fact provide a framework for negotiating respect. The person whose very appearance– including his clothing, demeanor, and way of moving–deters transgressions feels that he possesses, and may be considered by others to possess, a measure of respect. With the right amount of respect, for instance, he can avoid “being bothered” in public. If he is bothered, not only may he be in physical danger but he has been disgraced or “dissed” (disrespected). Many of the forms that dissing can take might seem petty to middle-class people (maintaining eye contact for too long, for example), but to those invested in the street code, these actions become serious indications of the other person’s intentions. Consequently, such people become very sensitive to advances and slights, which could well serve as warnings of imminent physical confrontation. [...] This game of who controls what is thus constantly being played out on inner-city streets, and the trophy– extrinsic or intrinsic, tangible or intangible–identifies the current winner.

    An important aspect of this often violent give-and-take is its zero-sum quality. That is, the extent to which one person can raise himself up depends on his ability to put another person down. [...]

    A global police force or as George Santayana said “Only the dead have seen the end of the war”.

  3. Stogumber says:

    I’m somewhat surprised by the anti-war direction of Tom Engelhardt’s site. Okay, it’s a way to “get” the Donald – but wasn’t the idea to build a broad coalition? Can the McCains in the GOP be won over this way? What’s with Hillary’s anti-Putinists like Robert Kagan, can they reinvent themselves quickly as peaceniks? Or has Englehardt eventually dropped the “broad coalition” project just now?

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