“In the near future, these planes might well be used for something more than show.”
Media reports come in hourly from the battlefield, showing the latest images of the horrors ripping a country apart. Newspapers devote their front pages to pieces on the suffering imposed by the cruel regime. Public discussion of the crisis becomes difficult, as soft oppression silences dissenters.
Fear, anger, nationalist rhetoric: These troubled times are just short of all-encompassing war… Well, a culture war that is.
Considering the attention paid by the media in recent weeks, one might think a culture war, rejuvenated by the NFL kneeling protests, poses America’s most existential threat. Forget for a moment that the media itself has largely inflated these disputes, building on the cultural sensationalism that carried their ratings through the 2016 election. The public has grown a devoted, personal furor towards the identity politics of our time.
This misguided anger, however, comes at the the expense of attention towards legitimately dangerous issues that coalesce on the horizon. Chief among these present issues - and starkly contrasted with the “culture war” - is the looming threat of bona-fide, military war.
For the 56th time in as many years, the Senate recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act, an all-purpose bill whose suffocating length and inevitability of passage has historically made for boring news. The trend seemed to continue this year, as the press has paid little to no attention to its passage. All this despite the fact the bill appropriated a historic $700 billion in military funding for the coming year.
Representing an annual increase of over $80 billion, the bill brings military funding back to levels not seen since the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bernie Sanders proposes that $47 billion is enough to subsidize a nationwide free college tuition program - only about half the cost of the recent increase in NDAA expenses, let alone the entire $700 billion behemoth. Observers of many political streaks will lampoon the abrupt impracticality, and lack of constitutional precedent for nationalized college funds. Yet the Senators for either major party willing to stand against large increases in military funding are so few that they can be counted on one hand.
Alongside bringing many times more the expense of various domestic initiatives, the latest NDAA extends funding to an executive branch with an already tenuous use of Constitutional war making powers. President Trump is on pace to shatter Obama’s record for drone strike usage - a president who received ample Constitutional disputes over his own. And his April order to fire missiles upon a Syrian airbase shows that the current administration is happy to extend their extrajudicial powers into more conventional tactics. Despite their professed fear that Trump will “greatly escalated the danger [of war],” and sets America “on the path World War III,” Republicans like Bob Corker and Democrats like Diane Feinstein were more than happy to extend the financial scope of his military. All this under little skepticism, as television news and the American public focus on Cam Newton’s sexist jokes and whether the NBA is going to kneel.
Ultimately, important American policy initiatives are now being drowned out by the war drums. Furthermore, it became the case with little public discourse on these decisions. Be it infrastructure projects, education, or even less expensive (and more relevant) stateside defense, American taxpayers would be better served with excessive military dollars being brought more closely to home. Instead of going to domestic goals, however, this funding is shipped overseas to fund American military ventures in a time of ostensible “peace,” often in ways that challenge the War Powers Act, the Constitution itself, or both. Such sharp changes in funding raise a salient question: what military ventures demand this new funding? And why do the biggest stages in media continue to belittle these shifts?
An easy culprit would be the crisis with North Korea, which has paradoxically received ample media coverage in recent months. However, for every tweet fired at the “Little Rocket Man” and each government rally staged in Pyongyang, there have been infinitely more harrowing warnings issued on a military front. At the end of September, American bombers flew exercises over the North Korean coastal waters that went further north than seen during this century. Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un has executed increasingly worrisome nuclear tests, recently closing in on development of hydrogen bombs most feared in the international community. Even with nuclear concerns aside, experts project standard artillery fire could lead to over 300,000 casualties in the first few days of a prospective war. As about half of South Koreans live within 50 miles of their border with the North, there is a legitimate prospect for unprecedented casualty counts.
The Korean conflict is indeed a frightening picture. However, it’s hard to argue that American interests in preventing such a war are well-served by spending $80 billion more per year on developing more destructive technology. Particularly in the tradition of limited government, this expensive incursion in the Far East stands against fundamental conservative values. Patrick Henry, among America’s seminal thinkers on limited government and the American tradition, warned 230 years ago that for America to seek a “great and mighty [military] empire” is “incompatible with… republicanism.” Yet such wisdom increasingly falls on deaf ears in the transitory political environment of today.
It’s doubly harder to discuss the ideological implications of this conflict as the public instead redoubles its focus on football jerseys and nationalist symbols. Beyond even the abstract shift in ideals, the practical elements of waging war aren’t as widely considered. While North Korea has received some airtime due to its controversial appeal, it has mostly been courtesy of the antics of the bloviating president sorting it out. Furthermore, many of its less sensational foreign policy counterparts have gotten even less airtime.
Almost five thousand miles west of Korea’s DMZ, another conflict explosively boils over. While media reports these days are few and far between, the ones that do come in exhibit a frightening imagery of terror. Similarly, remaining news sources resoundingly denounce the suffering under the current regime. Even discussion over the crisis has grown sticky, with political sentiments making it difficult to fully express key views.
In every sense of the word, Syria’s Civil War has been just that. Costly, globally-threatening war.
However, as aimless American media attention has attempted to position cultural disputes as even weightier, the Syrian crisis has erupted right under our nation’s nose. Russia has consolidated its efforts towards destroying the Free Syrian Army - which was backed by the United States until this summer - to a devastating effect. Concentrating on civilian centers with populations in the millions, Putin’s forces potentially dropped over five-hundred bombs on the city of Idlib alone. Many of these attacks hit hospitals and the bases of rebels who had already signed truce agreements. Aside from a possible (and glaringly unethical) under-the-table agreement with American officials, Putin has also pushed ahead on more effective truce agreements with next to no input from his Western counterparts.
In a war initiated by an American-backed force, the U.S. is being left on the outside in bringing it to a diplomatic close. Furthermore, the suffering on its battlefield is reaching all-time highs. But there’s a reason - and it might have something to do with the fact most investigative reports on this crisis are coming from Japan, France, and other nations.
The American mainstream media largely ignores these large scale issues. While newspapers include reports on some casualty counts or the increases on military funding, they are rarely addressed as the chief conflict of the day or much ground for editorial content. And God forbid any insightful analysis on the crises come from television news or the rapidly-expanding Twitterverse. The majority of American voters and taxpayers are being guided by the media away from issues which directly threaten their very security towards the artificial threats of a contrived culture war. Beyond just shutting down conversation on the legitimate issues with American imperialism and militarization, it is sapping the political leverage needed to keep this country safe.
While Kaepernick jerseys are set ablaze in San Francisco, entire cities burn across the globe. And while left-wing reactionaries decry the oppression of millionaire football players, America’s policy of virtue abroad is visibly collapsing. Between its bold recognition of the link with domestic freedom and peace abroad, or even its own privileged place atop the liberal order, some of America’s most unique aspects are threatened by its wartime involvements in the 21st century. But so long as we think the “war” is taking place during the national anthem at our football games, it will be impossible to repair these crumbling but all-too-important values.
Ultimately, the questions surrounding racism, criminal justice, and even the value of our national symbols deserve a fair hearing. Alongside aforementioned plans for infrastructure or free college, the domestic issues driving the recent cultural protests demand our full attention, however this is an attention which is incompatible with America’s practical focus on militarization that remains largely ignored in the abstract. In order to address domestic issues which interest so many Americans, the country must first bring light to and ultimately change their wanton behavior abroad.
So take a knee. Or even stand if you’re so inclined. But don't mistake the rhetoric of America’s culture war for being that of the true conflict to rip America apart. Instead, recognize these disputes for what they are: the ploys of a profit-seeking media that only distract from our real issues. If we fail to do so, those flyovers we so enjoy at our games today will be the very ominous reality of our cities tomorrow.