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Astore writes: "Contrast this [WWII] with our current 1% wars. In them, 99% of Americans have no stake. The 1% who do are largely ID-card-carrying members of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower so memorably called the 'military-industrial complex' in 1961. In the half-century since, that web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and retired military types who have passed through Washington's revolving door has grown ever more gargantuan and tangled, engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington."

President Obama addressed troops at Camp Victory outside of Baghdad, 03/07/09.  (photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)
President Obama addressed troops at Camp Victory outside of Baghdad, 03/07/09. (photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)

Fighting 1% Wars

By William J. Astore, TomDispatch

08 December 11


merica's wars are remote.  They're remote from us geographically, remote from us emotionally (unless you're serving in the military or have a close relative or friend who serves), and remote from our major media outlets, which have given us no compelling narrative about them, except that they're being fought by "America's heroes" against foreign terrorists and evil-doers.  They're even being fought, in significant part, by remote control - by robotic drones "piloted" by ground-based operators from a secret network of bases located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the danger of the battlefield.

Their remoteness, which breeds detachment if not complacency at home, is no accident.  Indeed, it's a product of the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice, not wars of necessity.  It's a product of the fact that we've chosen to create a "warrior" or "war fighter" caste in this country, which we send with few concerns and fewer qualms to prosecute Washington's foreign wars of choice.

The results have been predictable, as in predictably bad.  The troops suffer.  Iraqi and Afghan innocents suffer even more.  And yet we don't suffer, at least not in ways that are easily noticeable, because of that very remoteness.  We've chosen - or let others do the choosing - to remove ourselves from all the pain and horror of the wars being waged in our name.  And that's a choice we've made at our peril, since a state of permanent remote war has weakened our military, drained our treasury, and eroded our rights and freedoms.

Wars of Necessity vs. Wars of Choice

World War II was a war of necessity. In such a war, all Americans had a stake.  Adolf Hitler and Nazism had to be defeated; so too did Japanese militarism.  Indeed, war goals were that clear, that simple, to state.  For that war, we relied uncontroversially on an equitable draft of citizen-soldiers to share the burdens of defense.

Contrast this with our current 1% wars.  In them, 99% of Americans have no stake.  The 1% who do are largely ID-card-carrying members of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower so memorably called the "military-industrial complex" in 1961.  In the half-century since, that web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and retired military types who have passed through Washington's revolving door has grown ever more gargantuan and tangled, engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington.  They are the ones who, in turn, have dispatched another 1% - the lone percent of Americans in our All-Volunteer Military - to repetitive tours of duty fighting endless wars abroad.

Unlike previous wars of necessity, the mission behind our wars of choice is nebulous, confusing, and seems in constant flux.  Is it a fight against terror (which, as so many have pointed out, is in any case a method, not an enemy)?  A fight for oil and other strategic resources?  A fight to spread freedom and democracy?  A fight to build nations?  A fight to show American resolve or make the world safe from al-Qaeda?  Who really knows anymore, now that Washington seldom bothers to bring up the "why" question at all, preferring simply to fight on without surcease?

In wars of choice, of course, the mission is whatever our leaders choose it to be, which gives the citizenry (assuming we're watching closely, which we're not) no criteria with which to measure success, let alone determine an endpoint.

How do we know these are wars of choice?  It's simple: because we could elect to leave whenever we wanted or whenever the heat got too high, as is currently the case in Iraq (even if we are leaving behind a fortress embassy the size of the Vatican with a private army of 5,000 rent-a-guns to defend it), and as we are likely to do in Afghanistan sometime in the years after the 2012 presidential election.  The choice is ours.  The people without a choice are of course the Iraqis and Afghans whom we'll leave to pick up the pieces.

Even our vaunted Global War on Terror is a war of choice.  Think about it: Who has control over our own terror: us or our enemies?  We can only be terrorized in the first place if we choose to give in to fear.

Think here of the "shoe bomber" in 2001 and the "underwear bomber" in 2009.  Why did the criminally inept actions of these two losers garner so much attention (and fear-mongering) in the American media?  As the self-confessed greatest and most powerful nation on Earth, shouldn't we have shared a collective belly laugh at the absurdity and incompetence of those "attacks" and gone about our business?

Instead of laughing, of course, we allowed yet more American treasure to be poured into technology and screening systems that may never even have caught a terrorist.  We consented to be surveilled ever more and consulted ever less.  We chose to reaffirm our terrors every time we doffed our shoes or submitted supinely to being scoped or groped at our nation's airports.

Our distant permanent wars, our 1% wars of choice, will remain remote from our emotions and our thinking, requiring few sacrifices except from our troops, who grow ever more remote from our polity.  This is especially true of America's young adults, between 18 and 29 years of age, who are the least likely to have family members in the military, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

The result?  An already emergent warrior-caste might grow ever more estranged from the 99%, creating tensions and encouraging grievances that quite possibly could be manipulated by that other 1%: the powerbrokers, money-makers, and string-pullers, already so eager to call out the police to bully and arrest occupy movements in numerous cities across this once-great land.

Our Military or Their Military?

As we fight wars of choice in distant lands for ever-shifting goals, what if "our troops" simply continue to grow ever more remote from us?  What if they become "their" troops?  Is this not the true terror we should be mobilizing as a nation to prevent?  The terror of separating our military almost totally from our nation - and ourselves.

As Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it recently to Time: "Long term, if the military drifts away from its people in this country, that is a catastrophic outcome we as a country can't tolerate."

Behold a horrifying fate: a people that allows its wars of choice to compromise the very core of its self-image as a freedom-loving society, while letting itself be estranged from the young men and women who served in the frontlines of these wars.

Here's an American fact: the 99% are far too remote from our wars of choice and those who fight them.  To reclaim the latter, we must end the former.  And that's a war of necessity that has to be fought - and won.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular.  He welcomes reader comments at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . your social media marketing partner


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+8 # Daisy 2011-12-08 19:38
It's a shame that most of us don't know/remember Eisenhower's comments about the military/indust rial complex. War is a racket was written just after WWI in the 1930s. General Smedley Butler's frank book shows how American war efforts were animated by big-business interests. This extraordinary argument against war by an unexpected proponent is relevant now more than ever. Check out this book for free at
+6 # futhark 2011-12-09 00:44
Thanks, Daisy, for the mention of a true American hero, Marine general Smedley Darlington Butler, not for the two Congressional Medals of Honor he was awarded, but for telling the truth about the war-for-profit racket to the American People and for being pivotal in thwarting the "Business Plot" from executing a military coup against President Franklin Roosevelt's administration during the great Depression.
+3 # John Gill 2011-12-09 02:11
Thank you both Daisy and Futhark.I think it is in part because of the propagandist effort on the part of our government, which sold our "winning" of the second world war to kids like me growing up in the sixties, that prepared a way to sell me on vietnam as a teenager, and the current crop of for profit wars to the current crop of Americans. But it is harder to sell an internet generation the same old load of shite, when the awareness that our antiJapanese position prior to the war was hugely influenced by their unwillingness to surrender their imperial interests in Manchuria to our imperial interests in Manchuria(vast oversimplificat ion, but pertinent)is only a google click away. I always have a little trouble with articles that try to favorably compare wwii with modern campaigns when, if we're honest, the only thing "better" about wars in the past was that they boosted our economies and the tremendous wealth and power won in them trickled down to Joe and Josephine Doe.
+3 # John Locke 2011-12-09 10:10
General Butler also exposed the attempt to take over the US Government by JP Morgan and the large corporations (by Force with a half million man army) they wanted a US Fascist government... Congress acknowledged Morgan't attempt but he was never prosecuted as he like Rockafeller were too powerful, ...Think Standard oil supplying Germany fuel during the second world war, and telling congress if they do anything to stop him America will lose the war!(THESE ARE FACTS)these are the bums we are dealing with today...
+1 # freedoverseas 2011-12-09 05:51
At the website of TomDispatch, another angle is displayed. Nick Turse did write in an introduction comment that an army of 3.3 million 'kids' played virtual war game 'Call of Duty - Modern Warfare 3' simultaneously together live just on XBox Live on a single day last month!
War minds are made daily. How then to draw attention to Peace instead? Let us find new slogans to address a favorable reality.


(Eventually followed by a subline:) Imagine Peace.

Right now, this can be exercised daily by refusing to buy into any war mongering at all. Directing all energy to peace initiatives and dialogue efforts, especially regarding Iran, is of utmost importance. How about building Palestine with a Rand Corporation (yes indeed) initiated blueprint developed by the Urban Architects Suisman. A sustainable and dignified Palestine can begin now, the NewPalestine Party endorses this far-reaching project called 'the Arc'. That would immediately change the situation in the Middle East and ease the tension in the world. And divert funds to building instead of destroying. The better part of the richest 1% is called to chip in, for a very profitable new adventure.
+3 # mwd870 2011-12-09 06:09
"Crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and retired military types who have passed through Washington's revolving door . . . engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington."

This sounds familiar - like the way all of Washington works today. Take the power away from the 1% and stop the indefensible waste of our country's resources and lives. I still agree with commentators who suggest reinstating the draft would cause enough of a public outcry to end the current warmongering tomorrow.

If nothing else, for the sake of the "lone percent of Americans in our All-Volunteer Military - to repetitive tours of duty fighting endless wars abroad."
-6 # Robt Eagle 2011-12-09 06:39
Was the two planes flying into the Towers and a third into the Pentagon, and a fourth downed by passangers in PA fiction? That was surely a "a war of necessity" as we were attacked. Read "Intelligence Failure" by David Bossie to learn the causes leading up to 9/11/2001.
-8 # Robt Eagle 2011-12-09 06:45
My Navy SEAL son and my daughter who is serving on a destroyer both know why we are in these so called 1% wars. Both of my children chose to go to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and serve because in our town on LI, NY we lost 48 people in the towers on 9/11/2001. Each of them had three different friends who lost parents in those towers going down. They serve in our military so the rest of us are able to enjoy the freedoms we have. It is not all about big business.
0 # gentle 2011-12-09 08:37
I want to thank your son & daughter for their service. Sometimes a political fever causes such an emotional response that their service is somehow diminished. We all remember the sacrifices made in service to our country and honor them.
+3 # John Gill 2011-12-09 16:48
I hope it is possible to support a father's pride in his children, and the courage and skill of young men and women in our military, while still naming the conflicts our politicians have involved them in wars for profit and for the one percent. There is certainly honor in laying one's life on the line with the personal motivation for doing so a deeply felt conviction of support for loved ones and friends at home, but the honor and courage of individual soldiers is not a justification for a war of profit for the one percent, any more than the honor and courage of individual german soldiers in world war two was any sort of justification for the Nazi party or its policies, either foreign or domestic. Politicians make wars. The honor of the individuals who end up fighting them is an entirely different matter. To suggest that a war is honorable because my son or daughter who fights it is honorable is a logical fallacy, just as it is a logical fallacy to suggest that a soldier who fights for his country is dishonorable simply because the war his leaders make is an illegal, or dishonorable one.
+5 # WLawpsh 2011-12-09 06:54
"Remote." Yes. "Unconstitution al." Yes-er. The constitution's commerce, defence and treaty clauses as a set preclude war except to repel invasion, which is anti-imperialis m. The federal imperial statutes are the opposite: Appropriations Act of 1871 (territorial sovereignty of Indian Tribes abolished without compliance with Amendment Clause); War Powers Act of 1973 (same for Foreign Nations); National Defence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (tyranny of American citizens under "the law of war" established domestically by de facto repeal of the fundamental freedoms in the 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments).
+4 # walt 2011-12-09 07:06
The USA has been using war for the last sixty years as our foreign policy. Not since WWII has Congress even declared a war. Yet, we lost 58,000 troops in Vietnam alone, not to mention Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now we even see how the Party of the 1% (the GOP) try again to call Obama "soft on defense." And sure enough, he responded citing his victories in killing Bin Laden and the others via drone attacks. The good old GOP, the "party of the 1%," insures that the war industries are kept well fed!

We need to seriously re-examine the "War Powers Act" that allows a president to wage years of war without a declaration from its representative body. Obama was a hope of millions to end that, but it seems he has had to prove to the GOP and the military-indust rial complex that he is not "weak on defense."

Imagine if we ever had a president who disdained war and the use of force! We might have many allies around the world.
+3 # Dale 2011-12-09 07:58
Well, the 1%, the banker plutocrats and corporate bigwigs of the War Industry, need to pursue their Imperial Vision by all means necessary and they recruit politicians to serve them and young people without a future to go die for them.
+4 # jwb110 2011-12-09 10:08
This whole to-do with the 1% is very much in the mold of the fable of King Midas. In a wish to turn everything he touched to gold he made it impossible to feed himself. All his gold could not sustain him.
As this OWS thing, which I heartily support and am gladdened at its expansion, I have marveled at the at how good the OWSers are to one another and even their oppressors. The intrinsic goodness of the human has been brought into focus around these people makes me proud again of America. For me, a grandson of European immigrants, it is the process of mending the net we provided for one another and greater family and friends. We were never so poor that we couldn't find a potato for the pot should a hungry person show up at the door.
America's greatness is its heart, not its money.
I am poorer now than I have ever been in my life and the everyday scrounging to stretch a non-existent dollar to pay more then one bill at a time. I don't look poor. One basic tenant of the immigrants who raised me was, "you can't help being poor but you can help being dirty." I have re-discovered the " great grandmother's" tricks to stretching a meal but still stay healthy. I still hold the door for people, say hello to strangers. Lend a helping hand when i see it could be of use.
That is my America. The trick is not learning to live with wealth it is learning to live with grace. The 99% reminds me that that grace still exists.
+2 # panamericans 2011-12-09 16:13
William J. Astore article is eloquently concise and thought provoking. Actually, it takes my breath away in its scope and accuracy.
0 # Robt Eagle 2011-12-10 10:43
How do you folks blame the 1% "war machine" for radical islamists flying planes into the WTC towers, the Pentagon, and PA??? And the OWS has accomplished nothing other than cost municipalities tens of millions in expense and inconvenience middle class people trying to get to work.

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