War Is the Health of the State
I have been reading Max Blumenthal’s book, The Management of Savagery, which is his account of “how America’s national security state fueled the rise of al Qaeda, ISIS….” Like most commentators, Blumenthal argues that America’s national security state fueled the rise of these entities because America’s elites ignored certain facts and ended up involved in civil wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. And these wars gave rise to al Qaeda and ISIS, making then more powerful than they otherwise would have been.
From this perspective, these civil wars were mistakes, i.e., were events that US elites could and should have avoided or even prevented. And this reasoning seems to make perfect sense, especially in light of the widely accepted thought that politicians and nations always should try to avoid war because war represents failure.
But suppose, at least momentarily, that “war is the health of the state,” to borrow the title of an essay written by Randolph Bourne in the early 20th century. If we give play to this possibility, then it emerges that the civil wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria and America’s involvement in them were not mistakes. Or, even they were mistakes, they have contributed to the health of the US state, have contributed to its power and its wealth, as well as to its place in the world.
Think about it: When has war not contributed to the health of a state? Did WW I contribute to or compromise the health of the German state? Both, you might say. And the same phenomenon appears regarding the Vietnam War. Did it contribute to or compromise the health of the American state? Again, both you may say. That war, Vietnam, has been used to help build up the power and wealth of the United States, especially after the onset of “the Reagan Revolution.” And it is still being used today to fortify American patriotism and unity, thereby making the American state healthier. And America’s embrace of war, of several simultaneously, has produced what some call “a war culture,” a culture characterized by reinvigorated patriotism and unity, as well as the whole-hearted embrace of “American exceptionalism” to the point that Americans refer to the United States as “the indispensable nation.” War politics produces a war culture, and a war culture contributes to the health of the state.
From the viewpoint of the state and those who are invested with its powers, war politics is good politics. So, if your goal is a powerful and wealthy state, i.e., greatness, then war is the way to go.
It could be then that Blumenthal and others are not clearly seeing the character of US politics, or of politics generally. Because US elites and its people pursue greatness, i.e., political health as it is commonly, even universally understood, the US doesn’t “stumble” into wars, isn’t dragged into “quagmires” that lead to war. Rather, the US embraces war willingly, vigorously, even whole-heartedly because war will make America great, will cause, display, and fortify America’s political health to such a degree that the US can feel free to call itself “the exceptional,” “the indispensable” nation. Oh, the glory in that! A glory that, as Pericles said of Athens, might prove to be immortal. So, as the death toll rises, remember there is glory, greatness to be harvested from those bodies.