I remember the days and weeks and months after September 11th pretty clearly. Almost immediately after the towers fell conservatives (and particularly the Bush Administration) became instant advocates of sending the US military abroad to counter the threat of Islamic extremism. Iraq quickly raced to the topic of Bush’s policy agenda and an invasion was planned and executed with impressive speed.
But America, and the right in particular, have severe cognitive blinders when it comes to the topic of war. War is sold to us under the branding of liberty and defending freedom. But I think it is demonstrably true that when we go to war we systematically underestimate the costs of war and overestimate the benefits.
Part of the hidden costs of war are found in the broken men and women who return from the battlefield with severe physical or psychological trauma. It is well documented how poorly the military’s own infrastructure is equipped to deal with these problems; indeed, one of the fundamental problems is that the military ethos is expressed in ways that deny soldiers the ability to approach and confront their own injuries, particularly the ones that aren’t understood well. There are huge asymmetries in power and knowledge inherent in military structure that leave veterans to suffer with little recourse. Is it any surprise then that suicide rates are so high amongst veterans?
Moreover, the right fails to understand that war is like any of the other government programs they criticize. War is functionally an entitlement program for the military-industrial complex, and for all the posturing the right engages in against health care or financial reform, I think you would be hard pressed to find a coherent group of conservatives who are serious about cutting defense spending.