Cross-posted from TomDispatch.com
“Bring the war home.” Once, a long, lost time ago ― in October 1969, to be exact ― that slogan represented a promise made by the most radical wing of the vast movement against the war in Vietnam. Wearing football helmets and wielding lead pipes, that tiny crew of extreme leftists carried out what they termed the “Days of Rage” in Chicago, smashing cars and store windows in an attempt to give Americans a small sense of what war felt like, of what their military had delivered to the Vietnamese. Those radicals, who came to be known as Weathermen (in honor of Bob Dylan’s line “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”), would later graduate to the bombing of a Pentagon bathroom, a bathroom on the Senate side of the Capitol, and themselves.
Just in case you haven’t caught on yet, in bringing up that ancient slogan and that long forgotten group, I’m heading directly for irony in the world of 2017. So consider yourself warned because, as far as I can see, the dream of the Weathermen has, in some strange fashion, been fulfilled in twenty-first-century America by... the U.S. military. Unlike in the Vietnam era, the U.S. has been fighting its unsuccessful post-9/11 wars for 16 years in distant lands with barely a trace of an antiwar movement to show for it. The last significant protests in the streets of America came more than a decade ago, and this country ― mass murders like the one in Las Vegas aside ― has remained remarkably peaceful and eerily unconcerned about the wars being fought in its name. And yet in that strange vacuum, those distant wars have been brought home in a host of ways.
I was struck by this on a recent trip to Santa Fe during which I set off one of those airport metal detectors and promptly had my hands swabbed and tested for explosive residue. Obviously, we all now live in a strikingly more militarized and securitized world. Who in twenty-first-century America hasn’t been wanded (something unheard of in the Vietnam era)? Who hasn’t felt the rise of the national security state up close and personal in a country in which military drones are in the air, our borderlands have been turned into fortresses, military-style surveillance is a way of life, taxpayer dollars pour into the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, and sports events are a riot of militarized activities (paid for by the Pentagon)? And of course, the secretary of defense, the national security advisor, and the White House chief of staff, arguably the three most powerful figures in Washington other than the president himself, are generals from America’s losing wars. Though no one seems to notice, these truly could be considered our days of rage.
Today, in “The Empire Comes Home,” U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen, author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge, focuses on one striking way in which our wars have indeed come home, via the militarization of the police and police practices nationwide. This country, as he says (from his own experiences in those wars), is being “Baghdadified.”