August 2021, the world watches in distress as the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. Many are criticizing the US military for failing to build a lasting government, for failing to establish robust institutions capable of withstanding the assault of barbarism. But I think that some aspects of this war are underappreciated. Namely, that Americans have a deep need for war, regardless of the practical outcome. This might offend some people as it’s not something that we often talk about. But there are many lenses through which to view the Afghan conflict.
The military has an inherent need for war of course. That is the purpose of a military: to fight and to populate it’s ranks with actual combat veterans. Imagine how soft our military would become without blood splattered survivors of armed conflict among it’s officers. This is equally true of the defense contractors, so careful to spread their plants and economic benefits across all 50 states, these masters of lobbying, these builders of the toys so necessary for the military. The revolving door between the military and the private sector is well documented and the true leftists can expand upon it better than I.
But this is also true of the American people. We need war to fulfill our need for emotional transactions (as my friend Leo might say.) Emotional transactions. The anarcho-left, so dear to my hearts needs war in some sense to have some horror to fight against, to provide further proof of the evils of American Hegemony. The milquetoast reforming liberals, puritans at heart eager to meddle in the affairs of others in order to better them. They enter into a well worn transaction in Afghanistan. They will save the Afghan girls from oppression, send them to school. I myself have been guilty of entertaining a story about the great virtues of Western civilization. I don’t believe it can be spread through war anymore, since proper imperialism is long dead. But I can sympathize with those who would spread enlightenment values to those dark places where folks are still too busy trying to put food on the table than worry about moral evolution.
The old conservative right needs war so that they can have the lived experience of pride in their “support our troops” stickers. Our military sons and daughters are hollowed out by PTSD come home and wield 1000 yard stares, starved for dopamine and adrenaline after the nonstop shitshow madhouse of battle. These scarred warriors must play the role of strong protectors, fearlessly sacrificing for the greater good and there are many around them, in rural places especially, who need to enter into the emotional transaction of “supporting” them. Or at least paying lip service to support. Few of these supporters appreciate the vets who come home broken and end up on the streets, panhandling for drugs to kill the pain.
So many emotional transactions to be fulfilled. So why stop now? Clearly, this war has stopped meeting the American need for conflict. Perhaps too much cash was printed off for domestic economic stimulation. Certainly covid sharpened the internal tribal “transactions” of conflict. More than ever, we can indulge in the vanity of small differences as we battle our neighbors along lines defined by vaccination status and mask protocol adherence. That sort of makes sense actually. There are many satisfying emotional transactions to be had in lambasting the liberal mask wearers and the conservative vax deniers. Ahh, so satisfying. Who needs Afghanistan anyway?