Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why America DESPERATELY Needs Another War

Looking for a multipurpose solution to the myriad woes plaguing the United States at the current? The answer, it seems, is quite clear: wide-scale total war, and much sooner better than later


You don't really need me to tell you this, but America sure does have a lot of problems these days. A slagging economy. A gargantuan National Debt. Rampant unemployment and underemployment. So many sociocultural issues and problems -- running the gamut from education to racial strife -- that it feels less like an actual culture than it does the worst-managed game of "SimCity 2000" ever.

A lot of different proposals have been thrown out there by a whole host of different people regarding the best ways to rectify the nation's numerous hardships, but to paraphrase that great Houston-area philosopher Scarface, they "ain't done shee-yet."

Looking at the 20th century, I can't help but see a staggering number of parallels between America, circa 2014, and America, circa 1934. The same way we're all mired in a never-ending national recession (due in part to the semi-undesired emergence of a new economic system), our great-granddaddies found themselves knee deep in a rather literal famine (due in part to the semi-undesired emergence of a new modes of production.) A divisive democratic commander-in-chief has just unveiled a sweeping social program that detractors call soft totalitarianism -- an apt description of affairs, be it '34 or '14, clearly. And while political systems crumble ('34 vs. '14) and foreboding social upheavals transpire across the globe ('34 vs.'14), the U.S. finds itself mostly sitting idle, with its physical military footprint resting largely on the lower lumbar of states that really aren't worth occupying, anyway ('34 vs. '14.)

Ultimately, the thing that got the United States out of its nearly twenty-year long economic crisis wasn't FDR's alphabet soup of federal programs, but rather, the nation's entry into World War II. With a centralized national war effort, two major things happened: one, it got people on the home front corralled into actual manufacturing jobs, and two, it got the boys on the front-lines experience with the emerging technologies which would come to define the second half of the 20th Century. Prior to 1942, the American experience was either a Fitzgeraldian tale of privileged excess or a post-Hooverville nightmare; after Pearl Harbor, however, the American dynamic became a monoculture of sorts, complete with its own mono-economy. The numbers here don't lie: while unemployment estimates rest at 21.7 percent in 1934, the national unemployment rate tanked out to just 1.2 percent in 1944. Indeed, the World War II years were the closest the U.S. ever got to "full employment" in its entire history as a nation. 

According to Jan. 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly 30 percent of the nation's 18-24 year-olds are currently jobless. And on top of that, estimates for the total percentage of U.S. youth unemployed AND not enrolled in college and/or skills training programs rests at about 15 percent. And of course, the real unemployment rate (with underemployment and those who have just stopped looking for work factored into the chart) paints an even bleaker image.

In 1910, William James published an essay titled "The Moral Equivalent of War," in which he advocated for the conscription of youth into national service -- i.e, road-building and foundry work and the like -- in a manner similar to how youths were formerly drafted into military duty as a dual means of building jobs and citizenry ideals.

"To coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing, clotheswashing, and windowwashing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, and to the frames of skyscrapers, would our gilded youths be drafted off, according to their choice," James penned more than 100 years ago. "To get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas."

To say that today's military aged young people (18-25) are devoid of "healthy sympathies" or "sober ideas" would be the understatement of the goddamn millennium. Theirs is a culture completely averse to anything beyond the superficial, the aesthetically pleasing and the instantly gratifying -- basically, they're a first-generation consumer-nihilist class wholly incapable of finding inherent personal meaning in anything.

Clearly, the e-cigarette smoking, molly-taking, behavioral drug-addicted, adversity free middle-class young adults of today's America are in dire, dire need of salvation from what Voltaire called the "three great evils" -- boredom, vices and needs. With the Protestant Work Ethic recently bludgeoned to death by the snow shovel called "globalization" (and perhaps poked a few times afterwards by the ice scraper of "moral relativism," pending you're a full-on Bloomian), occupational and civic pride have since been replaced by a sense of commercial absolutism. It's not god, family and country that gives today's youth their sense of "identity" and "belief," but their obsessions with mass consumption, technology and popular culture. Ours is no longer a nation that vaunts actual productivity as virtuous; instead, we are a culture in a constant state of repackaging, and re-purchasing, and replicating. We know not heroism or valor, just the childish facsimiles of such things hoisted upon us by decades and decades of Nintendo, Saturday morning cartoons and Star Wars. In short, contemporary "gilded youth" aren't just detached from reality -- they cull most of their personal identity from, and indeed take much pride in, their own delusions and ignorance.

I'm hesitant to call today's 18-25 demographic a wayward generation, because that would imply that they are actually seeking something. Paeans to abject ennui and suicide ideation by shitty bands like Wavves and AWOL Nation are pretty indicative of this culture's utter spiritual emptiness, and the pharmaceutical-weaned masses have been more or less given an all-purpose, "get out of jail free" card in the form of medicinal dependency. Not too long ago, I was rear-ended by some 19-year-old piece of shit who told the police officer that he "hadn't slept in two days" and then proceeded to blame his error on having ADD. All the while, he kept toking on his vapor pen, laughing hysterically at something invisible to my feeble human eyes, and sucking down lime juice out of one of those plastic, fruit-shaped containers. Some Google research later informed me that kids these days tend to use lime juice as some sort of masking agent for drug tests -- allegedly, it's supposed to help 'em beat oral swabbings.

For awhile, I thought about this fine, upstanding young man -- speeding around town in his daddy's car while whacked out of his mind on god knows how many drugs, both illicit and legally prescribed -- and my grandpa, who at the same age, was shipped off to the Philippines by Uncle Sam to hunt down Tomoyuki "The Beast of Bataan" Yamashita. My, what a difference 70 years makes, no?

Simply put, there is no greater national identity framer than warfare. In battle, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic identities are completely obliterated, with the common quest of victory -- or at the very least, survival -- becoming the only real social qualifier that matters. There's a lot of things you could call today's kids, but "nationalistic" certainly isn't one of them; today's youth place their own ethno-racial, socio-economic  and consumer identities before their identification as Americans -- in fact, the very idea of labeling one's self as "American" is seen as uncool, and cheesy, and in the eyes of oh-so-many, prejudiced. Funny how, in a contemporary culture that bitches ad nausem about the benefits of multiculturalism, we tend to reject the only true multicultural label we share as a peoples -- that being, Americans ourselves.

War, as such, is the greatest cultural unifier humanity has ever known. With a common enemy and a palpable threat, we're able to put aside our collective differences and unite against an existential menace. Furthermore, the gruesome specter of death and subjugation is a sure-fire way to turn our attention away from trivialities and towards things that actually matter -- such as our own lives and the welfare of those we care about. All other forms of identity politicking are silenced; what matters is the battle in front of us, and all else is wholly inconsequential. The warfare mentality, then, is the precise opposite of the ADD, nothing-means-anything cultural mantra of the present.

The more I dwell upon it, the more I begin to think that America's problem in the latter half of the 20th century was its lack of war-waging. Yeah, we had the Cold War (which really didn't reinforce a national identity at all) and Vietnam and all of that tomfoolery in the Middle East, but there were quite a few things "wrong" with those theaters. For starters, America actually hasn't participated in a Congress-approved "war" since the 1940s, meaning Vietnam, Iraq I and II and Afghanistan were actually prolonged military escapades instead of existential battles for identity. Nor were any of those conflicts "war" in a traditional sense -- in all four campaigns, the battle strategies were to disrupt the adversaries as part of some longer, broader geopolitical ambition, and not to completely crush the opposing forces as a matter of self-preservation. Needless to say, the above-mentioned conflicts did little to galvanize Americans as a peoples, with Vietnam and Iraq 2.0: Electric Bugaloo actually making the cultural rifts among the masses more prominent than they were prior -- indeed, such escapades clearly reinforced class differences within society, with the well-to-do and their privileged progeny allowed college deferments while the lower classes were sent off to the marshes and deserts en masse. But on the plus side? At least draft dodgers like Bruce Springsteen were willing to write songs about their plight when they got back home, I suppose.

For all intents and purposes, America hasn't actually participated in classical warfare in seven decades -- and it's pretty damn clear that our lack of social cohesion at the current can be directly attributed to our profound lack of existential battles as a collection of peoples living within the same geographical boundaries. In a country with oh so many problems -- rampant unemployment, aimless youth, social dissent, class inequality, and the auger of losing our technological, scientific and even military advantage to emerging global powers -- it is perhaps time for our political leaders to turn towards the only thing that has been proven as a historically-backed remedy for all of the above-mentioned ailments: total war.

A prolonged police action -- which is more or less what Afghanistan and Iraq became -- isn't going to cut it here. In order for America to grind its way past the post-2008 ash-heap, the nation needs an all-encompassing, levee en masse comparable to, if not larger than, the concentrated war economy efforts that took place during World War II. I'm generally a bit hesitant to lift material from Wikipedia, but this passage (penned by whoever) on the U.S. total war efforts during the 1940s is worth quoting in full:

"Civilians (including children) were encouraged to take part in fat, grease, and scrap metal collection drives. Many factories making non-essential goods retooled for war production. Levels of industrial productivity previously unheard of were attained during the war; multi-thousand-ton convoy ships were routinely built in a month-and-a-half, and tanks poured out of the former automobile factories. Within a few years of the U.S. entry into the Second World War, nearly every man fit for service, between 18 and 30, had been conscripted into the military 'for the duration' of the conflict. Strict systems of rationing of consumer staples were introduced to redirect productive capacity to war needs.
Previously untouched sections of the nation mobilized for the war effort. Academics became technocrats; home-makers became bomb-makers (massive numbers of women worked in heavy industry during the war); union leaders and businessmen became commanders in the massive armies of production. The great scientific communities of the United States were mobilized as never before, and mathematicians, doctors, engineers, and chemists turned their minds to the problems ahead of them.
By the war's end a multitude of advances had been made in medicine, physics, engineering, and the other sciences. Even the theoretical physicists, whose theories were not believed to have military applications (at the time), were sent far into the Western deserts to work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on the Manhattan Project that culminated in the Trinity nuclear test and changed the course of history."

And that's not to neglect the post-WWII U.S. economic boom, which saw the national GDP and quality of life grow for Americans for nearly half a century. With the G.I. Bill and technological skills acquired during warfare allowing the former lower classes to attend college and get middle class industrial, clerical and engineering jobs, the United States entered a period now joyously remembered as "The Golden Age of Capitalism." Astonishingly, this cultural shift even led to the economic resurgence of the same nations that were completely devastated in World War II, with Japan, Germany, Italy and even Greece rebounding just years after being reduced to rubble and scrapheap.

Of course, warfare is not a happy experience, and it demands massive sacrifices. It should never be entered into lightly, but at certain junctures -- when the very livelihood of one's culture is on the line -- it is quite frequently an existential necessity. Looking at today's empty-eyed, internally-void youth -- and their parents, stuck in a financial purgatory sans any possible escape opportunities -- it becomes glaringly apparent to me that there's a large swath of the American citizenry that are indeed fighting for their very existences. Without mass mobilization accompanied by fiscal stimulus and other government investments (indeed, both are time-tested kick-starters for private enterprise wealth), there will indeed by a miniature mass death among the U.S. lower classes -- an economic extinction of sorts brought about by a lack of employment and spiritual purpose. And of course, the mass mobilization efforts would also allow the middle and upper classes to share a common identity with the proles, and actually contribute to the social system personally. It's a panacea that the collectivists and nationalists alike can all rally behind -- a true, unquestionable group cause.

As much as I admire William James's "moral equivalent" idea, the frank economic reality is that only a true total war can rouse such wide-sweeping, all-inclusive social system changes. Perhaps Russian adventuring in the southern ex-Soviet states could prove a pivotal first cog in the machinery of continental warfare, or perhaps tensions between bitter rivals China and Japan could escalate into a full-on militarized conflict. Most likely, a trans-Eurasian conflict is necessary to bring about the mass mobilization of U.S. forces and resources; perhaps not something as (seemingly) grandiose as a robotic war against an allied Turkish-Japanese-German front because they blew up our strategic defense satellites, but alas, one may dare ponder.

A pro-war stance is a bit out of fashion these days, and the idea of engaging in total warfare, at least partially, for the economic benefits therein will no doubt be controversial. That said, what is better for the layman: the possibility of a heroic death on foreign soil for the prospects of middle class assimilation ("The American Dream," I've heard it was once called), or a slow, painful, pitiful death amid a decaying social system, sans any hope of financial improvements?

To reinterpret the squealing of one Edwin Starr, what is war good for these days? Looking at the totality of the human fabric in today's America -- and in particular, the lower class masses -- I'd say pretty much everything.

1 comment:

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