The More Things Change…

Posted: February 21, 2009 by Shawn in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Well, Blog-Master Liam has demanded a second post this week and as I have been unable to gnaw through my leg where I am chained to my desk, a winner is you!

Thusly, we return to Afghanistan, “The Graveyard of Empires,” as it has become chic to declare. As Tom Engelhardt pointed out earlier this month, this idea has actually been getting some play recently in mainstream liberal circles. Engelhardt is also probably right that this peculiar state of psychology amongst our ruling class, namely doubt, probably has its roots in the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left America sans its favorite bête noire.

No, silly. A metaphorical graveyard.

So we have found the leash’s end as far as our military prowess is concerned. Why has this provoked such a crisis of meaning for the political establishment? Basically because the establishment’s conception of the Cold War bears only a tangential relation to reality.

I’ll kick it over to IOZ to set the scene:

The year is 1945. The United States has lost a bit under 420,000 people, or about a third of a percent of its population. Its domestic infrastructure is unharmed. Its productive capacity has actually increased during mobilization. Its manufacturing base is strong. Its military, especially its Air Force and blue-water fleets, dominates the globe. Oh, and we got us some nukes.

The year is 1945. The Soviet Union has lost over 23 million people, or just under 14% of its population. The infrastructure of its densely populated eastern region is functionally nonexistent. Its military is a shambles. It has no blue-water fleet to speak of, no Air Force. No nukes.

Yup, that was the beginning of our grand, existential struggle. Of course the general population’s social democratic feelings in the post-war period were tremendously frightening. Something had to be done. Luckily, Truman was there to rescue America from a potentially nightmarish scenario of peacefulness and egalitarianism and with NSC-68 (it’s actually quite a laugh, give it a read) the United States launched itself into a struggle of its own creation.

Lasers in space will solve our problems!

Of course there was lots more red political hay to be made in the following decades: Kennedy, Team B, Ronnie Ray-Gun. Then from 1989 to 1991 the whole house of cards came down. The raison d’être for our precious national security state disappeared with a whimper rather than a bang.

Now, reasonable people might have used this as an opportunity to do some self-reflection, but rather triumphalism was the mood of the day. Cognitive dissonance was just what the doctor ordered; it was much easier to just declare that we had won the grand battle for the soul of the world than to entertain alternate conceptions of reality from our own.

Fast forward back to 2009 and the mood has soured. The reality of the situation is that our position is really no different than they were 40 years ago in Vietnam. We remain unmatched in hard or soft power, but unable to defeat an insurgency that, while outgunned, wants us out more than we want to stay. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, c’est la vie.

~ Shawn O’Donoghue

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