Today (May 30), as we mark Randolph Bourne’s 131st birthday, it seems an especially appropriate time to step back from the noisy distractions of the ongoing public debate over American foreign policy and reflect quietly for a few moments on the larger picture. For what larger picture do we see when we contemplate war, peace, and the institution of coercive government – the State – and what we have learned over the past century about their myriad interconnections and interrelations?
I think we see the same thing one of America’s most remarkable public intellectuals, Randolph Bourne, saw when he looked at the involvement of the American State in World War I nearly a hundred years ago. We see that, as Bourne famously put it in his last and greatest essay, "war is the health of the State." It is this insight, that the condition of war, in addition to the death, injury, and destruction it brings with it by its very nature, also builds up the warmakers – the States that fight the wars – leaving the victorious ones, at least (and not infrequently even the losers), larger and more powerful in their dealings with their home populations, so that they are better positioned not only to fight yet another war but also to hire more effective warmongers to sell it for them. It is this insight of Bourne’s that inspires our work here at AntiWar.com, as it is after Bourne that our parent organization, the Randolph Bourne Institute, is named. On this day, Randolph Bourne’s 130th birthday, please join me in honoring his timeless insight by supporting AntiWar.com as generously as you can (matching funds are still in effect).
In late 2009, I wrote the following article for Huff Post under the title, “One Grizzled Veteran’s Dream.” This Memorial Day Weekend, I’d like to remember the dream a veteran shared with me and lots of other high school juniors back in 1980. Sadly, that dream is even more distant today than it was in 1980.
Thirty years ago, I attended Boys State. Run by the American Legion, Boys State introduces high school students to civics and government in a climate that bears a passing resemblance to military basic training. Arranged in “companies,” we students did our share of hurrying up, lining up, and waiting (sound preparation, in fact, for my career in the military). I recall that one morning a “company” of students got to eat first because they launched into a lusty rendition of the Marine Corps hymn. I wasn’t angry at them: I was angry at myself for not thinking of the ruse first.
Today, most of my Boys State experience is a blur, but one event looms large: the remarks made by a grizzled veteran to us assembled boys. Standing humbly before us, he confessed that he hoped organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars would soon wither away. And he said that he hoped none of us would ever become a member of his post.
Private First Class Brian Edward Hutson, in Iraq, put the barrel of his M-4 rifle into his mouth and blew out the back of his skull. He was college-aged but had not gone and would never go to college. Notice appeared in the newspapers a week after his death, listed as “non-combat-related.”
May 30, 2017: Lincoln Memorial • White House Hundreds of Veterans and allies gather at the White House December, 2010 to demand Peace Hundreds of Veterans and allies gather at the White House December, 2010 to demand Peace