New Orleans Talking to Norman Solomon on Wade’s World about his new book, War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of its Military Machine, I knew how to start the conversation. I drew on Edwin Starrs famous song:
War, huh (good God)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me, oh
War, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes
I started with the first lines, and Norman chimed in with “absolutely nothing,” only partly because the “destruction of innocent lives” is one of the dominant themes of his work and the book.
The book makes the case that its title advertises; we are in forever wars that we don’t see or hear. There are a lot of reasons for this. There’s no draft, so many are able to turn their heads away. Long range missiles in an air war kill and destroy, but don’t send servicemen to your front door with a flag. Drone warfare involving soldiers with misnamed joysticks trying to hit blurry targets from thousands of miles away, which pretty much defines invisibility.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is both a good example and a complication for those of us who fight for wars to end, rather than to continue. The age-old concept of a “just war” is once again front and center, although surprisingly there are more Republicans in Congress wanting to walk away from Ukraine, than there are Democrats, while President Biden continues to be steadfast in support.
Anti-war activists seem to be on all sides of the issue, with Code Pink as a good example. The New York Times zinging of the group for its financing and relationship to a millionaire partnering with China are as much about the newspaper’s support for the administration’s position, as they are an indictment of the group and its efforts. Either way, it’s hard to refute Solomon’s argument that whether it’s Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or now Ukraine, the media plays a critical role in selling, shaping, distorting, and concealing the price and pain of war for the American public. These kinds of stories would be footnotes in Solomon’s book if he were writing it now.
His point is really not a plea for more visibility, but less war. His strongest arguments are not about the invisibility of high-tech war, but the incredibly huge body count of civilians as so-called collateral damage. When it happens, as he points out, it is compounded by the dissembling excuses made by the military and the enabling of these fictions by too much of the media.
Just or unjust war seems a permanent argument, but accountability in war and support for peace has to be a place where we can find common ground.