When Does It End?

In a lecture Anne-Marie Slaughter recently gave at the University of Virginia law school she raised some interesting questions, all rooted in the fundamental question of whether we are at war and what it now means to be at war.  She noted that to justify its “counter-terrorism” policies, the Obama administration (and presumably the Bush administration before it) relies on the Congressional “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” passed following the 9-11 attacks.

Pursuant to that resolution “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”  

This resolution was relied upon to justify the invasion of Afghanistan, now the longest-running war in American history.  These days it is being cited as justification for drone attacks in places far-removed from Afghanistan, like Mali and Yemen.   Ms. Slaughter asks, “So now we’re talking about using drone strikes on individuals who are not connected to 9/11, who are not connected to the theater of war, who theoretically could be anywhere. Is that war?”

How far does the resolution extend?  If American forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014  as planned, are we still at war?  With whom?  Does the resolution continue to empower the President to wage war even if the war in Afghanistan is over?  Since the authority to detain the prisoners in Guantanamo, who have never been charged with any crime, is linked to the war in Afghanistan, what happens to them when the war ends?  “If we end the war in Afghanistan and continue keeping prisoners in Guantanamo, we are violating some of our most precious legal canons,” Ms. Slaughter said.

In the aftermath of 9-11 we created a massive anti-terrorism bureaucracy.  We also unleashed the military to wage a couple of ill-defined wars.  Lots of money and power rest on the continuing existence of some sort of state of war.  There is now an influential web of entities whose very existence depends upon war.

But are we at war?  If so, is it the kind of war that is capable of ending?  If we are at war with “terrorism,” how does such a war end?  Is there ever a time when such a war can be said to be over?

In times of war citizens are more willing to surrender or compromise their liberties.  They’re willing to make sacrifices for the war effort.  They’re willing to offer up their blood and treasure in  defense of the nation.

As Randolph Bourne put it, “War is the health of the State.”

It seems that our nation has entered into a state of perpetual war.  That is good for the health of the State and bad for the health of humanity.

Postscript:  After writing this, I came across this article, which I highly recommend.

7 comments on “When Does It End?

  1. El Guapo says:

    I often wonder if the endpoint of this in the US is an Orwellian/Pjillip K Dickian state, or a new citizens revolution.

    By the way, your post and my comment got us both flagged by the NSA.


    • Bill says:

      Let’s hope for neither. The former is far more likely than the latter.

      And yep, the civil servants at the NSA are protecting our freedom by reading our emails and monitoring our internet history. Bless their hearts.


  2. This post, and the excellent article you provide a link for, are the very questions I’ve been asking, mostly to myself, because the answers are blowin’ in the wind. My disappointment with this president is impossible to describe… Yes, we are in a perpetual state of war and the citizens of this country, including our so-called representatives, have nothing to say about it….


    • Bill says:

      Thanks Teresa. I hesitate to post things like this, because I know it’s not what most folks come here to see. But I just felt a need to share these thoughts. Eisenhower’s farewell address was prophetic.

      “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.

      We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”


  3. Sophie says:

    War isn’t what it used to be. I heard a prominent British neocon argue, while defending Guantanamo, that since the threat is no longer within the ‘laws’ of war, we have to go outside them, too. I see his point and I remember that Obama was all for closing Guantanamo until he became president. I wonder what changed his mind? We shouldn’t have gotten to this point in the first place, though, and as you say, we can’t go on like this indefinitely. To paraphrase one of my heroes, Einstein, “we can’t solve our problems by using the same thinking as when we created them”.


    • Bill says:

      Sophie, I am so sorry to learn that you have neocons in the U.K.

      As for Mr. Obama, he seems to have changed his mind on quite a number of such things. He’s been a real disappointment to many.


      • Sophie says:

        Oh yes, we have them here. They’re not hugely popular. I disagree with them but I think it’s good to have as many political standpoints represented as possible. We don’t seem to have any genuine, prominent libertarians who would oppose these kinds of foreign interventions, though. I’d like to see what a Ron Paul type could add to our national discussion.


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