Thursday, May 7, 2009

American Wars: Illusions and Reality-- Book Review

American Wars: Illusions & Realities
Edited by Paul Buchheit
Paperback: 192 pages
Clarity Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-932863-56-0

Reviewed by Rebeca Schiller

In this slender, but thought-provoking book, Paul Bucheit, professor at Chicago Colleges, founder of and co-founder of Global Initiative Chicago, packs a wallop in presenting the glorified illusions of war, juxtaposing them with the realities and horrors of military force and occupation.

Divided into six sections that each examine a highly regarded human value (Honor, Truthfulness, Self-Awareness, Compassion, Altruism, Realism) every essay is presented with a specific and distorted illusion--typically advocated by hawks in government and big business--followed by a statement reflecting the true nature of war. Professor Bucheit and a distinguished group of writers, which include academic scholars, veterans, and experienced researchers, and who have been in the forefront of the human rights and peace movements, challenge the conventional rhetoric of warfare and our forced attempts to democratize the world.

In the first essay, Bucheit introduces a brief, yet thorough, historical overview of American wars and the United States long history of occupying other people’s territories. The prevailing belief from proponents of military intervention, writes Bucheit, “[is] the spread of American morals and culture will eventually bring prosperous wealth to everyone.”

For the nuts and bolts of a military society, Bucheit breaks it all down to dollars and cents. No matter what we’re told, the U.S. is in fact a military-oriented society that spends obscene amounts of money building its stockpiles of weapons and staffing its bases across the globe. The U.S. is “responsible for almost half of the world’s total military expenditures, which surpassed $1.1 trillion in 2005.” And while we allocate a lot of money to the defense budget, we also profit from war. Bucheit cites a study by Executive Excess 2006, “…34 publicly traded U.S. defense contractors and found that average annual CEO pay doubled from $3.6 million to $7.2 million since the War on Terror started.” Stock prices for these companies increased 50% between 2000 and 2005.

In spite of his informative overview of war and the U.S.’s role, Bucheit concludes his essay weakly and abruptly by questioning how we can achieve peace and democracy in world threatened by terrorism. He turns to foreign policy experts who agree that our priority in the war of terrorism should be on the reduction of oil dependency--a pat and easy answer to a complex question.

In the “Self Awareness” or “We Understand How War Affects Us” section, the most hard-hitting essay in the collection is the one that deals with the economic impact of war on the general public. The illusion that war boosts the American economy is based on how World War II jumpstarted it as jobs in industry were created, propelling the U.S. out the Great Depression. Dr. Jesu Estrada, professor of English at Chicago City College and editorial board member of Tribuno del Pueblo, a bilingual anti-poverty newspaper based in Chicago, exposes that myth and writes that wars benefit the rich (as noted in the Bucheit’s opening essay) yet American standards of living decline with the poor paying the brunt for the expenditures with cuts in social services, specifically in Medicare and Medicaid.

Does the military take good care of its soldiers? Tod Ensin, a veteran’s rights lawyer and the Director of Citizen Soldier, a non-profit GI and veteran’s rights advocacy group, tackles the question of veteran healthcare and argues that with the money spent on veteran affairs, the VA takes more than a year just to process a simple and routine disability claim. In addition, with the increase of returning veterans with extensive and expensive medical needs, especially those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), who need prolonged treatment, the VA has made medical access more difficult. Combat veterans are given healthcare for only two years, beginning from their discharge, whereas non-service connected veterans with income above poverty level can no longer be enrolled. The harsh reality is that returning soldiers with physical and mental health issues are largely ignored.

Other essays included in the collection examine the US-Israeli alliance, the impact of war on the environment, mainstream media, the myth of balanced reporting within the mass media and the question of patriotism is addressed in a poignant essay by anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, each of these articles provide readers with insights from individuals who have studied these issues and have been in the frontlines of activism.

American Wars: Illusions and Realities is an important book for readers all ages who take an interest and an active role in current affairs and peace studies. In the final essay and the book’s conclusion, Bucheit neatly ends with, “Opinions derived from any one source may be inaccurate, biased, or simply wrong. Americans need to research, the issues, to seek multiple sources, if there’s any question about the information available to them. That can be hard work. But it will teach us a lot about America’s role in the world, and about the values that are important to us.”