This is the American era of endless war. To grasp its sweep, it helps to visit Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where the army will soon open a $31 million complex for wounded troops and those whose bodies are breaking down after a decade of deployments.
The Warrior Transition Battalion complex boasts the only four-story structure on the base, which at 105,000 acres is more than twice the size of Washington, DC. The imposing brick-and-glass building towers over architecture from earlier wars.
“This unit will be around as long as the army is around,” said Lt. Col. Bill Howard, the battalion commander.
The two sets of buildings tell the story of America’s embrace of endless war in the 10 years since September 11, 2001. In previous decades, the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.
Today, radical religious ideologies, new technologies and cheap, powerful weapons have catapulted the world into “a period of persistent conflict,” according to the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security. “No one should harbor the illusion that the developed world can win this conflict in the near future,” the document concludes.
By this logic, America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive.
The new view of war and peace has brought about far-reaching changes in agencies such as the CIA, which is increasingly shifting its focus from gathering intelligence to targeting and killing terrorists.
On the home front, the new thinking has altered long-held views about the effectiveness of military power and the likelihood that peace will ever prevail.
In June, when President Barack Obama laid out his plans to begin reducing the number of US troops in Afghanistan, he sought to assure a weary American public that the country’s longest war was drawing to an end.
Obama was not promising an end to America’s wars. He was suggesting that the United States needed to find new, more cost-effective ways of fighting them that do not involve tens of thousands of American soldiers and Marines patrolling in Iraqi and Afghan villages.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Americans were willing to bear almost any price for their security. One lesson of today’s endless war seems to be that Americans will have to learn to live with a certain amount of insecurity and fear.
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