[haw-info] The New Faces of War
The New Faces of War
March 25, 2013
Leaders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the mid-1960s, as
the Vietnam War ratcheted up, sometimes talked of trying to stop, not
necessarily the current war, but "the seventh war from now."
Are we at seven yet? Since Vietnam we can identify the Gulf War of 1991,
the late-1990s bombings in the Balkans, the Iraq War that started with
the 2003 invasion, and the longest war in US history – namely, the war
in Afghanistan. Overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 constituted
war on the cheap, and present-day drone attacks in Sudan represent
warfare if not an actual war. It becomes harder and harder to know what
With the vast buildup and ever-expanding reach of the American military
and "security apparatus" since 2001, the changes have been dizzying.
When Historians Against the War, a small national group formed ten years
ago in response to the Iraq invasion, decided to hold a national
conference in Baltimore April 5-7, we chose the title "The New Faces of
War." With it, we hope to provide a forum for historians and activists
to analyze what is new and not new in American war-making.
The conference's opening session, a keynote event Friday evening, April
5, at St. John's Church (co-sponsored by a half-dozen local activist
groups), holds out two distinct slants on the question of how much is
new. Retired colonel and non-retired antiwar activist Ann Wright will
speak on "Putting New War Paint on the Old Faces of War." Her fellow
keynoter, University of Wisconsin history professor Alfred McCoy, will
address "Space Warfare, Cyberspace, and the Future of U.S. Global Power."
Looming in the background of this conference is the drumbeat for an
aggressive war against Iran. Pronouncements from Congress, the
mainstream media, and, perhaps reluctantly, the White House warn that
Iran must be stopped at all costs from developing nuclear weapons.
"Responsible" discourse on the topic takes as its starting point the
idea that "all options" (except, by implication, serious negotiations)
are "on the table."
And public support for a threat-wielding U.S. policy is high. A March 19
Pew Research Group survey found that 64% of Americans call it more
important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons than to avoid
armed conflict, and only 25% say the opposite.
The Pew findings echo public support for armed action against Iraq on
the eve of the invasion ten years ago. In other words, the bloody,
expensive, and unsuccessful wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan
seemingly hold no lessons for a huge swath of the American public.
In this superheated atmosphere, a small conference on "The New Faces of
War" may seem – and, by itself, certainly is – futile. But by bringing
together both national and local opponents of warlike policies, a
conference like this one can provide a kind of "time out" from the
mainstream assumption that the U.S. has both the right and ability to
impose its will overseas.
The conference's offerings are diverse. Besides the keynote session,
Saturday plenaries feature talks by Rashid Khalidi of Columbia
University ("The U.S. as a Dishonest Broker over Palestine") and
journalist Nick Turse ("Where Have All the War Crimes Gone? Reflections
on Historical Amnesia"). The conference website lists a total of twenty
breakout sessions Saturday morning and afternoon and Sunday morning,
ranging from "Law and the New Faces of War" and "Teaching the War on
Terror" to "Understanding and Responding to the Asia-Pacific Pivot."
Running through all the sessions will be the implicit question of "What
Can We Do?" The discussions will not yield a single answer, but perhaps
that is a lesson in itself. Modern warfare is such a many-headed monster
that it must be confronted from multiple angles. In its non-sectarian
variety, the conference will provide a look at what those possible
angles are. As Prof. Mark McCulloch of the Community College of
Baltimore County (CCBC) puts it, "The conference will give us a great
opportunity to hear what people are doing across the country, learn from
each other, and explore possible broader collaboration."
For all those who would like to see a more peaceful world, with their
country's policies turned from warfare to human needs, a conference like
this can offer a chance to refresh and reflect.
Jim O'Brien is co-chair of Historians Against the War, an organization
formed by historians calling for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq
and the restoration of civil liberties in the U.S. itself.
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