A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

An Affair to Remember

Face it: it’s been an abusive time, to use a word he likes to wield. In his telling, of course, it’s he or his people who are always the abused ones and they — the “fake news media” — are the abusers. But let’s be honest. You’ve been abused, too, and so have I. All of us have and by that same fake news media. It isn’t complicated, really. Thanks to them, to those cable news talking heads who never stop yammering about him, to the reporters who clamor over his every word or twitch, he’s always there, 24/7. I know that it’s still called covering the news, but it’s a phrase that no longer faintly fits the situation. Yes, a near majority of Americans voted for him as president, but no one voted to make him a living (and living-room) icon, a never-ending presence not just in our world, […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

Thoughts on Election Day 2018

Who could forget that moment?  The blue [red] wave — long promised but also doubted — had, however modestly [however massively], hit Washington and [the Democrats had just retaken Congress] [the Republicans had held Congress] [the Democrats had taken the House].  The media, Fox News and the usual right-wing websites aside, hailed the moment. [Fox News and the usual right-wing websites cheered the president on.] Donald Trump’s grip on America had finally been broken [reinforced].  Celebrations were widespread.  Congressional investigations, possibly even impeachment, were only months and a new Congress away [were now a faint memory], and it was then, of course, that the unexpected struck.  It was then that President Trump, citing national security concerns and a crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, began the process whose end point we, of course, already know…

Okay, consider that the dystopian me speaking.  We don’t, of course, really know how our story yet ends, not faintly.  While I was writing this piece, I didn’t even know how Tuesday’s vote would turn out, though by the time you read it, you may.  Given the experience of election 2016, it would take a brave [foolish] soul to make a prediction this time around.

I certainly learned a lesson that November.  During the previous months of campaigning that election season, I never wrote a piece at TomDispatch that didn’t leave open the possibility of Donald Trump winning the presidency.  In the couple of weeks before that fateful November day, however, I got hooked on the polling results and on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website and became convinced that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in.

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

17 Years of War (and More to Come)

We’re already two years past the crystal anniversary and eight years short of the silver one, or at least we would be, had it been a wedding — and, after a fashion, perhaps it was. On October 7, 2001, George W. Bush launched the invasion — “liberation” was the word often used then — of Afghanistan. It was the start of the second Afghan War of the era, one that, all these years later, still shows no signs of ending. Though few realized it at the time, the American people married war. Permanent, generational, infinite war is now embedded in the American way of life, while just about the only part of the government guaranteed ever more soaring dollars, no matter what it does with them, is the U.S. military. This October 7th marked the 17th anniversary of that first of so many still-spreading conflicts. In league with various Afghan […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

The World According to The Don(ald)

I know you won’t believe me. Not now, not when everything Donald Trump does — any tweet, any insult at any rally — is the news of the day, any day.  But he won’t be remembered for any of the things now in our headlines. No human being, it’s true, has ever been covered the way he has, so what an overwhelming record there should be. News about him and his associates fills front pages daily in a way that only something like a presidential assassination once did and he has the talking heads of cable TV yakking about him as no one has ever talked about anyone. And don’t even get me started on social media and The Donald.

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

Or How to Fight a War of Ultimate Repetitiousness

Fair warning. Stop reading right now if you want, because I’m going to repeat myself. What choice do I have, since my subject is the Afghan War (America’s second Afghan War, no less)? I began writing about that war in October 2001, almost 17 years ago, just after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. That was how I inadvertently launched the unnamed listserv that would, a year later, become TomDispatch. Given the website’s continuing focus on America’s forever wars (a phrase I first used in 2010), what choice have I had but to write about Afghanistan ever since? So think of this as the war piece to end all war pieces. And let the repetition begin! Here, for instance, is what I wrote about our Afghan War in 2008, almost seven years after it began, when the U.S. Air Force took out a bridal party, including the bride herself and at […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

Mine, America’s, and Humanity’s

There was a period in my later life when I used to say that, from the age of 20 to my late sixties, I was always 40 years old; I was, that is, an old young man and a young old one.  Tell that to my legs now.  Of course, there’s nothing faintly strange in such a development.  It’s the most ordinary experience in life: to face your own failing self, those muscles that no longer work the way they used to, those brain cells jumping ship with abandon and taking with them so many memories, so much knowledge you’d rather keep aboard.  If you’re of a certain age — I just turned 74 — you know exactly what I mean. And that, as they say, is life.  In a sense, each of us might, sooner or later, be thought of as a kind of failed experiment that ends in […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

Opioids, Donald Trump, and War

When you think of addiction in America today, one thing comes to mind: the opioid epidemic. And it should. It’s serious. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 64,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2016 (more than died in the Vietnam War), an average of 175 people a day. In that year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that 11.5 million Americans “misused” pain medication. (Note that such figures are still on the rise.) Only recently, the surgeon general issued a rare national advisory “urging more Americans to carry naloxone, a drug used to revive people overdosing on opioids.” This crisis of addiction has already cost the country an estimated $1 trillion since 2001 and might, in the next three years alone, cost more than half that much again. The United States, however, has two other crises that, in the long run, will cost Americans far more. Yet they get remarkably little […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

The U.S. Military Takes Us Through the Gates of Hell

As I was putting the finishing touches on my new book, the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute published an estimate of the taxpayer dollars that will have gone into America’s war on terror from September 12, 2001, through fiscal year 2018. That figure: a cool $5.6 trillion (including the future costs of caring for our war vets). On average, that’s at least $23,386 per taxpayer. Keep in mind that such figures, however eye-popping, are only the dollar costs of our wars. They don’t, for instance, include the psychic costs to the Americans mangled in one way or another in those never-ending conflicts. They don’t include the costs to this country’s infrastructure, which has been crumbling while taxpayer dollars flow copiously and in a remarkably — in these years, almost uniquely — bipartisan fashion into what’s still laughably called “national security.” That’s not, of course, what would […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt
Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

And a Planet in Ruins

They are the extremists. If you need proof, look no further than the Afghan capital, Kabul, where the latest wave of suicide bombings has proven devastating. Recently, for instance, a fanatic set off his explosives among a group of citizens lining up outside a government office to register to vote in upcoming elections. At least 57 people died, including 22 women and eight children. ISIS’s branch in Afghanistan proudly took responsibility for that callous act — but one not perhaps quite as callous as the ISIS suicide bomber who, in August 2016, took out a Kurdish wedding in Turkey, missing the bride and groom but killing at least 54 people and wounding another 66. Twenty-two of the dead or injured were children and the bomber may even have been a child himself. Such acts are extreme, which by definition makes the people who commit them extremists.  The same is true […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

Or Five Lessons in the History of American Defeat

The lessons of history? Who needs them? Certainly not Washington’s present cast of characters, a crew in flight from history, the past, or knowledge of more or less any sort. Still, just for the hell of it, let’s take a few moments to think about what some of the lessons of the last years of the previous century and the first years of this one might be for the world’s most exceptional and indispensable nation, the planet’s sole superpower, the globe’s only sheriff. Those were, of course, commonplace descriptions from the pre-Trump era and yet, in the age of MAGA, already as moldy and cold as the dust in some pharaonic tomb. Let’s start this way: you could think of the post-Cold War era, the years after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, as the moment of America’s first opioid crisis. The country’s politicians and would-be politicians were, then, […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

You’re Watching Him!

A record? Come on! Don’t minimize what’s happening. It’s far too unique, too unprecedented even to be classified as “historic.” Call it mega-historic, if you wish. Never from Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar to Soviet despot Joseph Stalin, from the Sun King Louis the XIV to President Ronald Reagan, from George Washington to Barack Obama, has anyone — star, icon, personality, president, autocrat, emperor — been covered in anything like this fashion. In our American world, the only comparison might be to a few days of media coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan or, in more recent times, a terror attack like the one in San Bernardino. Keep in mind, though, that such coverage has been going on for more than two and a half years now.  So here’s another possible point of comparison, though it only lasted a couple of hours almost […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

A Planet Boiling With Unintended Consequences

You want to see “blowback” in action? That’s easy enough. All you need is a vague sense of how Google Search works. Then type into it phrases like “warmest years,” “rising sea levels,” “melting ice,” “lengthening wildfire season,” or “future climate refugees,” and you’ll find yourself immersed in the grimmest of blowback universes.  It’s a world which should give that CIA term of tradecraft a meaning even the Agency never imagined for it.  But before I put you on this blowback planet of ours and introduce you to the blowback president presiding over it, I want to take a moment to remember Mr. Blowback himself. And what a guy he was!  Here’s how he described himself in the last piece he wrote for TomDispatch just months before his death in November 2010: “My own role these past 20 years has been that of Cassandra, whom the gods gave the gift […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror

He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country. More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

Not Them, Not It, Not Him, Not (Evidently) Us

Let’s start with the universe and work our way in. Who cares? Not them because as far as we know they aren’t there. As far as we know, no one exists in our galaxy or perhaps anywhere else but us (and the other creatures on this all-too-modest planet of ours). So don’t count on any aliens out there caring what happens to humanity. They won’t. As for it — Earth — the planet itself can’t, of course, care, no matter what we do to it.  And I’m sure it won’t be news to you that, when it comes to him — and I mean, of course, President Donald J. Trump, who reputedly has a void where the normal quotient of human empathy might be — don’t give it a second’s thought.  Beyond himself, his businesses, and possibly (just possibly) his family, he clearly couldn’t give less of a damn about […]