The first few months of WWII in Europe are often referred to as the “phony war”, nations had declared war on each other, mobilizations had occurred but there was no widespread or large scale combat. Civilian populations remained largely untouched, other than by constant media coverage of a war that was not personally involving them. It leads me to wonder what phrase future historians will use to describe America’s “wars” in the early 21st Century.
We have been in almost constant overseas combat since 2001, but there is no draft nor general military mobilization – in fact in the most recent years force levels of both personnel and equipment have been reduced. Regular military units simply serve more overseas “rotations” and we have constantly deployed the National Guard internationally and into foreign combat. A limited number of military families deal with an increasing percentage of injuries and losses of loved ones, but not the general population. Instead of increasing taxes to support the war efforts, taxes have been either reduced or frozen – and with no massive war bond initiatives such as seen in WWII.
With a bit of political maneuvering the cost of the actual warfare has been moved outside the regular budget, resulting in special and much less visible appropriations; its impact has primarily been on debt levels and that has been very real. And there has been no sign of “dollar a year men”, senior industry figures or scientists/engineers donating their time or resources to our war on terror, or on ISIS. It’s been pay as you go for the government, and often with cost plus contracts.
In the more contemporary chapters of Shadow Warfare, we traced the evolution of “gray warfare”, involving a mix of intelligence and special operations personnel in a fashion that keeps much of their combat operations out of the media. Equally importantly we explore the emergence of “contract warfare”, where both combat and support activities are privatized and performed by corporate entities or non-government entities. Unlike the “phony war” this combat is very real, highly targeted and while it sometimes involves civilian casualties, they are nothing on the scale found in earlier warfare. All of which means the combat goes on and on, the media is never involved on the ground as it was during the Vietnam era, no draftees are involved and the casualties are very real but largely invisible in the main stream media. While the relatives of the combatants continually deal with the results, the general civilian population suffers not at all, other than with its concerns about increasing government intrusion, loss of privacy and similar issues.
I’ve previously made a number of comments about the negative results of contracting security operations to private firms – in respect to both the impact on the uniformed military combat and on the military operations themselves. Shadow Warfare gives that story in some detail, using security contractors in place of uniformed military nicely moves the truly hard, fundamental decisions off the table, its results are obvious from Iraq to Benghazi. Beyond that it’s truly amazing that the fantastic support and construction scandals have escaped true national attention, including from all of the current presidential candidates. Senator Truman made a name for himself investigating contracting scandal during WWII, yet that pales in comparison to the graft, corruption and loss of American money in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you question the extent of the scandal, read the following articles:
The scope of the fraud is reinforced by the fact that the investigation into Iraq/Afghanistan contract violations could only estimate the overall amount since record keeping was so poor that it could not be sure if it was only $31 billion or as much as $60 billion. In any event, it’s not reassuring that once again, as we are putting a limited number of personnel back into Iraq, the same contracting firms and personalities are again getting multiyear contracts for everything from logistics to security.
The only conclusion that I can draw from all of this is that our continuing combat is very real for those involved, but as far as the nation is concerned, it’s not real at all. Which means that it is not generally painful enough to force any true national involvement – such as say a declaration of war – under virtually any circumstances. That includes the months long, brutal rape of an American hostage by the ISIS leader. If that sort of incident does not lead to anything more than a handful of news stories, then the American Congress is indeed doing nothing more than enabling ongoing combat – with limited loss of life but ongoing profit for what has to now be called a “military contracting complex” rather than a “military industrial complex”.