Get Yer War On

Why war? Why now?

That’s easy. The United States had accumulated a nice store of the
dry kindling of business desire and citizen apathy, which was ignited
by the 9/11 terrorists.

And because We Won.

We won the War of Independence. The War of 1812. The Civil War. The
Spanish-American War. The Great War. World War II. The Cold War.
The Gulf War.

We Won, with military and industrial might.

Let’s recount our desire and apathy. We have:

A Presidential phalanx that is willing and able to tell the US
citizenry whatever they want to hear.

A Presidential phalanx that is willing and able to do whatever the
hell it wants.

An uncritical media, owned by the military-industrial complex or
morally bankrupt hegemons.

An uncritical Congress, intent on covering and fattening its own ass,
instead of providing governance.

An uncritical military leadership, blindly following executive orders
because it means appropriations.

A gullible citizenry, trained to love entertainment, not truth.

Now, let’s go back and sketch the beginning of the arc of American triumph.

Let’s start in a dark time for the world, the first part of World War
II. Evil abounds, and it’s not clear good will win. But with luck,
ingenuity, hard work, and a lot of pluck, the good guys do win. Yay!

Move forward to 1944, with US victory well in hand.

Charlie Wilson, president of General Electric, so one of the captains
of US industry, and also a key part of the War Production Board,

The US “should henceforth mount our national policy upon the solid
fact of an industrial capacity for war, and a research capacity for

And of course, says Wilson,

the “peaceful temperament of the American people is well known. We
can possess the mightiest and deadliest armament in the world without
becoming aggressors in our hearts because we do not have that
intoxicating lust for blood and power which periodically transforms
the German military caste.” 1

Seven years later, and Charlie Wilson, now Defense Mobilization
, is telling the American Newspaper Publishers Association:

The “free world is in mortal danger…. If the people were not
conviced of that, it would be impossible for Congress to vote the vast
sums now being spent to avert that danger.

“With the support of public opinion, as marshaled by the press, we are
off to a good start. But the mobilization job cannot be completed
unless such support is continuous. If the enemy had attacked in New
York instead of Korea, there would be no problem. The trouble is that
people’s imaginations are sharpened only by the immediacy of danger
and too often only by brutal disaster. It is our job — yours and mine
– to keep our people conviced that the only way to keep disaster away
from our shores is to build America’s might.” 2

(Ironically, of course, fifty years later a different kind of enemy
would attack New York, in spite of the United States’
large-scale military might.)

Flash forward to the late ’50s and early ’60s, and an engaging actor
named Ronald Reagan is playing the part of the friendly
personification of the military-industrial complex on the new-fangled
“television” appliance, hosting General Electric Theater: “When you
live better electrically, you lead a richer, fuller, more satisfying
life. And it’s something all of us in this modern age can have.”

You can probably follow the rest of the arc from there.

We Won, with military and industrial might. Big business is good
defense. Good defense is good business.

And the media tell the citizenry that, and the rich get richer, and
everybody’s happy. Capitalism works, especially media-savvy crony
capitalism, especially when it’s got its war on.

We Won. Get yer war on. Yay.


1. “WPB Aide Urges U.S. To Keep War Set-up,” New York Times, January
20, 1944, page 1.

2. “Text of Wilson’s Defense Plea to the People Through the Press of
the Nation,” New York Times, April 27, 1951, page 14.

Note: there are a couple of
Charlie Wilsons
— “Electric Charlie” is the one quoted herein.

Related Reading

the Shadow of the Garrison State
: America’s Anti-Statism and Its Cold
War Grand Strategy

Politics of Fear
: Or, the Pretexts and Stratagems of a Permanent War
on Terror. Part 1

Universities and
the Military

Addicted to
: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism (also at

and the martial state
: perhaps nation-states war by nature

Comment (1)

  1. SM wrote::

    Peter: good stuff and I’ll agree with most of your conclusions, except that America won the War of 1812 and The Great War (although they were on the winning side). Despite what has been taught as gloss in US schools in the past, many American historians, after more honest study, nearly all today believe that the war of 1812 was a British victory (or at least a costly stalemate for the US), with the US simply winning a number of battles.

    The reasons: The US began the war on a pretext, the real aim of which was to bring Canada into the union and remove British influence once and for all from North America (Manifest Destiny, look it up – it’s very interesting); a detailed study of ALL the fighting shows the US clearly got the worst of it; the British regulars and the Canadian militia repulsed virtually every attack on Canada; the British occupied Maine and most of New England wanted to secede to Canada at the behest of its own citizenry. While the fledgling US Navy won a few ship-to-ship naval battles, the Royal Navy managed to blockade the US east coast, virtually ending all trade – which was its mission, and in the final washup, the ledger was about even in the naval skirmishes.

    Prior to the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which led to the end of the conflict, it was the US which sued for peace, not Britain – although they were happy to end it. They also were quite magnanimous in victory, granting the US most of what it asked for during the meetings of the peace commissions (including the return of Maine). It led to good relations and quite possibly formed the basis of the enduring friendship between the two countries.

    The reason America lost? It achieved none of its aims, and was on the verge of total defeat, a fact President Madison and members of Congress were very conscious of, and are on record as saying, with British resources having been diverted from Europe at the end of the Penisula War against Napoleon, which was a much bigger conflict (they seem to have regarded it more as a minor annoyance). And like Vietnam and Iraq today, the American people were largely opposed to the conflict.

    The Battle of New Orleans was a postcript, and a bad one for the Brits, as it was fought after the signing of the treaty but before word had reached either side in the south. In the wake of that defeat (and debacle), they simply pulled up anchor and headed round to Mobile Bay and defeated the US garrison at Fort Bowyer, thus establishing their base in the south, which was the last action of the war. It is often called America’s second war of independence in the US, but might more accurately be called Canada’s war of independence from US designs on its sovereign territory.

    Independent historians around the world have long held these conclusions. Richard Nixon wasn’t the first US President to lose a war. That honour belongs to James Madison.

    What the war did do, however, was show that Americans could stand up to a world power and hold its own. That was its real legacy to the future of the US. It also gave rise to the world’s best national anthem.

    And the Great War: the US began comitting troops in small numbers in December 1917 on the western front. US casualties I believe all up were in the region of 120,000 dead – compared to figures in the millions for the other combatants.

    German military commanders are on record as saying that US involvement had little impact, except in psychological terms after a long, exhausting war.

    The same as there’s no denying by the British that they lost the Revolutionary War, In my view it’s important America learns truthfully from its own history, as a failure to do so carries the risk of it repeating.

    And for the record, I’m not British or Canadian.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 18:59 #