• How to Sustain Perpetual War (It’s Easy; Hide the Bodies)

    July 15, 2017

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military


    Sustaining America’s state of post-9/11 perpetual war requires skillful manipulation of the public at home. The key tool used for this purpose is the bloodless narrative, a combination of policy, falsehoods and media manipulation that creates the impression that America’s wars have few consequences, at least for Americans.

    How can the American government sustain its wars in the face of dead soldiers coming home? Why is there no outcry among the American people over these losses? The answer is the narrative of bloodless war.

    The Dead

    The bloodless war narrative’s solution to the dead is a policy of don’t look, don’t tell.

    Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense for George H. W. Bush, helped decide in 1991 the first Iraq War would play better if Americans did not see their fallen return home. He recalled the images of coffins from the 1989 invasion of Panama on television, transposed against the president speaking of victory, and banned media from Dover Air Force Base, where deceased American personnel would arrive from the Persian Gulf.

    The ban at Dover lasted 18 years, past George Bush 2.0 and Iraq War 2.0, overturned only in 2009, well after the casualty counts dropped off. Even then, allowing cameras at Dover was left at the discretion of the families, except of course when the president needed a blood-stirring photo op. Obama took one just before ordering the surge in Afghanistan.

    Death, when it is reluctantly acknowledged, must still follow the bloodless narrative as closely as possible. Death must be for a good cause, freedom if possible, “for his buddies” later when public opinion weakens.

    There is no better example in recent times than the death of Pat Tillman, America’s once-walking propaganda dream. Tillman was a professional football player making a $3.6 million salary. Following 9/11, he gave that all up, and volunteered for combat. When he died in Afghanistan, the Army told his family he’d been killed by enemy fire after courageously charging up a hill to protect his fellow soldiers.

    It was of course the right thing to say to support the narrative, but it was a lie.

    A month later, the Pentagon notified Tillman’s family he had actually died as a result of friendly fire. The month placed the non-narrative news safely after Tillman’s memorial service and in the fog of faded media interest. Later investigations revealed the Army likely knew the death was by friendly fire within days.

    The Physically Wounded
    For all the trouble the dead cause to the bloodless narrative, the wounded are even messier. They still walk around, sometimes speak to journalists, and, well, do not always look bloodless.

    The Honolulu side of Waikiki beach is anchored by a hotel run by the Department of Defense as a low-cost vacation destination for servicepeople. While some of the grounds are public by Hawaiian law, the hotel itself is off limits.

    I used to have a government ID that let me in. Inside, who is a soldier? The buff bodies stand out against the beached whale look more popular among regular tourists. The odd-patterned tans – browned faces with pale white limbs – betray a recent trip to the Middle East.

    But sometimes it is a missing limb on a 20-year-old, or a face that looks like raw bacon. Could’ve been a car wreck or a factory fire, but I doubt it. The burns sketched precisely where the helmet had, and had not, been, a map of pain.

    That’s on the inside. When we as outsiders see images of the wounded, they instead follow the narrative. Brave troopers, with their state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs, are shown skiing, surfing or working out. Some featured amputees even demand to return to active duty. They show off their new limbs, some decorated with decals from their favorite sports teams. They are brave and they are strong.

    The inside story is again very different. A recent book by Ann Jones, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars, fills in what the narrative omits. As a summation, Jones offers the haiku of one military trauma nurse: “Amputees up to the waist. No arms. No legs. No genitals. Age 21 or 22. We cry.”

    The Mentally Wounded
    Military suicides have made it through the screen of bloodless narrative, but just barely, thanks to the Hollywood-ization of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    Where we need clarity, we get tropes, such as the freaked-out-at-home scenes in Hurt Locker and American Sniper. Not to say those things don’t happen (they do) but to say those types of scenes are incomplete, giving enough info to arouse sympathy without actually being too alarming. As Ann Jones points out, such treatment of PTSD is “useful in raising citizen sympathy for soldiers, defusing opposition to Washington’s wars, and generally medicalizing problems that might raise inconvenient political and moral issues.”

    At the same time, another non-Hollywood narrative bubbles just below the surface, that some vets are exaggerating or outright faking it. PTSD inherits all of our stigmas toward mental illness, and that dilutes the bad news.

    One way of not knowing is not to look for the answers at all. The narrative says we should be like Mafia bosses’ kids, who never ask what Daddy does for a living despite our big house and fancy cars.

    When the Narrative Fails
    During the year I spent in Iraq, the only deaths experienced by the Army units I was embedded with were suicides.

    The death I was most familiar with was a young Private, who put his assault rifle into his mouth. No one back home saw what I saw, because they were not supposed to see: the fan spray of blood and brain on the wall, already being washed off as I arrived to look.

    These things are not unspeakable, we just don’t want to talk about them, and the bloodless narrative says we don’t have to. That keeps it alive. Because when the narrative fails, the wars tend to end.

    For example, in 1969, Life magazine published a famous edition consisting entirely of portraits of the Americans who died in Vietnam that week. Many subscribers canceled, but many more looked for the first time outside the narrative. The war found its end.

    In another conflict, President Bill Clinton pulled American troops out of Somalia after a photo showed crowds cheering a dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. That image dogged American war mongering until it could be cleaned up by the bloodless narrative of Gulf War 1.0.

    We are no longer likely to see those nasty pictures. The military has become more skillful at manipulating the media, even as the media has become more compliant. In the X-rated world of war, most of the media refuses to budge from family fare.

    The military-media symbiosis is just one more tool that feeds the narrative. As long as Americans are convinced of the bloodlessness of perpetual war, the wars will go on.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      I remember the news during Vietnam, showing not only the bodies coming home, but the actual fighting going on. I think that is why the anti-war crowd gained so much strength. Unfortunately, 50k dead Americans didn’t stop the psychopaths in WDC from lying through their teeth until North Vietnam kicked the American military’s ass out of Vietnam.

      However, that all changed under Bush. What he DID allow us to see was SHOCK AND AWE.

      America never saw consequences of the real war…

      Ya know, there SHOULD be a law, requiring every single Congress member to work in a Vet hospital for a week, notwithstanding having his/her face shoved into a bloody body bag.

      Meanwhile, the Lords of War proudly display their works of death at this years worlds largest trade show of the means to kill anything that moves…


      Given 90% of the UK’s industrial manufacturing was turned into weapons manufacturing under Thatcher, it’s a no brainer why this is held in the UK.

      10/6/15 10:01 AM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...


      BLOODLEϟϟ? US turnips bin Bled DRY (and are now tossed on the ash heap of history)!

      10/6/15 11:32 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Two dangerous falsehoods which are taken as truth.

      #1 The pen is mightier than the sword. Didn’t anyone think that the sword guys could hire their own very effective and clever pen guys?

      #2 A free press is necessary for democracy to thrive. Didn’t anyone anticipate that an unrepresentative government would run their own press- one that vastly captured the ears and eyes of the populace. Yeah, sure run your little protest rag and pass it out on campuses. The NYTimes rules! It is an arm of empire.

      A military creep under Obama says it may be necessary to hold the hands of the Afghan forces a little longer. Wasn’t there something about steadying the bicycle seat of the Iraqis many years ago by a retired and still comfortable Secretary of Defense? Yeah, progress. from seats to actual hands.

      10/6/15 12:06 PM | Comment Link

    • StarkNakedTruth said...


      John Poole…

      A free press is (indeed) necessary for a Democracy to survive. Unfortunately, when the White House hands out the morning talking points, and then threatens those who refuse to spew the vomit, Democracy is dead.

      10/6/15 1:31 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Yes indeed. We have well paid and well groomed stenographers not reporters to do the bidding of this highly non democratic empire.

      10/6/15 2:00 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      I think we’ll see “democracy” in action (or the lack of it) if Sanders starts to worry Hillary’s camp. How will they nullify Sander’s threat? Or he even a threat? Will he just throw his support for her at the last. Biden running seems very unlikely. Stay tuned.

      10/6/15 3:29 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      John Poole said…

      “Stay tuned.”

      Hahahahahah a ha h ahahahahah!
      The most used set of dialog ever used to keep the listener captured for….at least a few seconds.,

      Meanwhile, …take a break

      10/6/15 5:30 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      ps John. I agree.

      10/6/15 5:34 PM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...


      In Japan there is an entire museum devoted to following the lives of wounded soldiers after they returned home, and recording their suffering etc. I don’t think America could stomach such a thing.

      10/7/15 12:01 AM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...


      Poppy BushWhack’s AKANCIDED the Hole US’ armed farces’ dupes who, continuing to $hip 0UT, deserve everything they get.

      07/15/17 11:21 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Where are the tapes? Peace! Grab your garden tool and work for the people. Have a nice day!

      07/15/17 3:21 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      “War Is A Racket”.

      07/15/17 3:30 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Too many Politicians have phucked me over. They know, and call me nasty. Watch out,

      07/15/17 3:36 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Have a nice day. Vote often!

      07/15/17 3:54 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Hey, nice to have a second shot at the subject- Under Feudalism V2.0 we can all hope for jobs doing estate yard work and polishing $400K sports cars of America’s weapons barons.

      07/16/17 9:08 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...



      New book hitting the shelves this week about Obomber’s get ouf of jail deal with the Wall Street War Party- The Chickenshit Club. Thought it was about the State Department.

      07/16/17 11:27 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Speaking of chickenshit, Demented Donald Trump reportedly urged U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to ensure he gets a warm welcome in Britain for his state visit—warning that he would not visit the country until he had been given guarantees, a British newspaper reported on Sunday.

      “When I know I’m going to get a better reception, I’ll come and not before,” Trump told May in a private conversation, according to the U.K.’s Sun on Sunday newspaper.

      Why would he expect a better reception than when he returned to this country? Hey, Demented, next time you travel we will show up at Andrews and tell you to stay the hell out.

      07/16/17 11:33 AM | Comment Link

    • jim hruska said...


      pitch fork,
      please tell me how and where the NVA kicked us out of rvn?
      do you always have your head up your 4 th point of contact?
      you sure have a loose lipped mouth.
      jim hruska

      07/16/17 3:01 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Hate, Death , Life…and ppp’s? Why no answer to the problem? Keep on. Help wanted.

      07/16/17 3:30 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Can I get paid for being a Troll? Howard Dean and Bernie have paid me. Capitalisism rules, and food, especially peas… how is AmeriKa health? How is the Colonialism going for profits? I like the blacks, etc.. BDS

      07/16/17 3:53 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      I have taken the red white and blue pill. Vote often! Wave multiple flag$. Educate…. Write in MICkey/Deep/2020

      07/17/17 9:12 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      We need more F-35s.

      07/17/17 9:13 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      “When exposing a crime is treated as a crime, you are ruled by criminals.”

      07/17/17 11:21 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Yeah, if some poor schmucks have to die to make the people who really count rich, too bad.

      Eugene Debs, on the more things change:

      “The capitalist who does no useful work has the economic power to take from a thousand or ten thousand workingmen all they produce, over and above what is required to keep them in working and producing order, and he becomes a millionaire, perhaps a multi-millionaire. He lives in a palace in which there is music and singing and dancing and the luxuries of all climes. He sails the high seas in his private yacht. He is the reputed “captain of industry” who privately owns a social utility, has great economic power, and commands the political power of the nation to protect his economic interests. He is the gentleman who furnishes the “political boss” and his swarm of mercenaries with the funds with which the politics of the nation are corrupted and debauched.”


      07/17/17 11:30 AM | Comment Link

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