How the war in Afghanistan is designed to be perpetual
By Isabel Braverman
“It’s not a matter of whether the war is real or not: Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous.”
This quote appears at the end of Fahrenheit 9/11, and although Michael Moore mistakenly attributed it to George Orwell, it has an eerie significance in our world. It says that we are in a state of perpetual war, suggesting that the idea is to keep people inspired to reach a goal that cannot be attained.
Despite Moore’s mistake, the quotation holds a decidedly Orwellian message. In Orwell’s book 1984, three nations are constantly at war. Replace Oceania with America, Eurasia with Afghanistan and Eastasia with Pakistan, and you’ve got yourself another literary classic. The thing is, this story doesn’t just describe a fictional scenario: It’s real.
The first step in understanding why we have perpetual war is to understand what it is. Put simply, it is a war that seemingly has no end. Norman Solomon, author and filmmaker of War Made Easy, defines it as “war with no end on the horizon. It’s a mindset, and a state of mind, and a state of the state.”
In our current state of warfare in Afghanistan, there can be no plausible or foreseeable victory.
Even the name itself, “War on Terror,” is vague. It suggests reaching a place of victory to avenge the crimes of 9/11 when victory is unattainable. But what is the so-called terror we are fighting?
It is only through understanding that we can move forward. That brings up the question hanging over the head of every American: Where are we going with this conflict?
Even after nine years of war, political leaders are still not sure. Despite this, some leaders seemed to know what they were getting themselves into before invading Afghanistan. According to Soloman’s article “Why Are We Still at War?,” in November 2002, a little more than a year after 9/11 and in the beginning stages of the war, retired U.S. Army Gen. William Odem said, “Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It’s a tactic. It’s about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we’re going to win that war. We’re not going to win the war on terrorism.”
Odem’s words of discouragement were not enough to dissuade political leaders from going to war. Solomon said that what happened on 9/11 was used as a “license to kill for the U.S. military in the perpetuity of Afghanistan.”
But it’s not so much Afghanistan that is the problem—it’s American politics.
The government gets us to believe that war is necessary. They do this by saying that we can’t just withdraw and end the war because we are needed there, and we trust that Congress will stop it if the war is wrong. They also tell us it’s not about capital gain but human rights—our soldiers are noble, and the other soldiers are bad. President George W. Bush made us believe going to Afghanistan was justified by repeatedly using his favorite word, “evil,” to describe the terrorists responsible for 9/11.
In a time of war, a nation is united against a common enemy. The government uses war to boost support and consumerism. It instills a fear that makes us buy, buy, buy and listen to those in power.
Government’s partner-in-crime, the media, hold similar responsibility for this shaping of patriotism and consumerism.
“[Media] is the central part of the war effort—any war effort,” Solomon said. “Especially in a country with important elements of democracy, it’s necessary to persuade a significant number of people that a war is justified.”
But what is justified about the War on Terror when the budget is going to military efforts and not humanitarian aid? It’s self-justifying in making people believe it is going on for so long because our presence there is necessary.
The Obama administration, hoping to keep its promises, has given certain dates that are just as vague as the war. We are told that 5,000 to 10,000 troops will be withdrawn in July 2011, but it seems the more likely year is 2014.
“This is a long-term war. Because of the war mentality and all those forces, it seems like it could continue. It will take a lot of force and a lot of people to reframe the options in Afghanistan,” Solomon said. “There needs to be changed discourse of policy in the United States because yes, it’s about Afghanistan, but even more, it’s about U.S. domestic politics.”
Isabel Braverman is a junior journalism major who wished it was true that nothing lasts forever. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.