We Are Already at War With China

I was in Waikiki, Hawaii, recently. But not for pleasure. I was there out of obligation, fulfilling my parental duty to visit my son and his husband, who live there. I’ll admit, though, that I was getting some pleasure, looking out from the balcony of the 19th floor studio apartment I had rented. Across the street there were none of the high-rise buildings that block the view from most Waikiki balconies. Instead, there was a large, lush park. Beyond it I could see Diamond Head and the endless blue of the Pacific.

Then curiosity took over. Why such a large open space where the real estate is so fabulously valuable? And why, in the middle of that park, a set of buildings that were only two stories high, while all around the buildings rose to 30, 40, 50 stories?

Google soon gave me the answers. The park is military property, protected from commercial developers. And those two-story buildings are military, too. They house something with the innocent-sounding name, “The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.” It has a “non-warfighting mission,” according to its website: to “build capacities and communities of interest by educating, connecting, and empowering security practitioners to advance Asia-Pacific security.” Sounds pretty benign.

But then a little YouTube video tucked away in a corner of that website caught my eye, provocatively titled “The Struggle for Dominance without Fighting ” It gave me a presentation by Dr. Mohan Malik, Professor of Asian Security at the Center. He informed me in a matter-of-fact, academic manner that “the U.S.-led order is coming under challenge” in the Pacific. China wants to “subvert overwhelming US military power.”

The professor did not use the word war. I suppose that word would be a bit awkward when talking about an adversary that holds over a trillion dollars worth of our bonds. But if it looks like a war, sounds like a war, and acts like a war, why not just call it a war?

This is not a war with weapons of the traditional kind, the ones that shoot bullets or explode, the professor explained. But it’s war nonetheless, being fought every day in many arenas, such as international financial institutions and economic organizations, foreign aid, telecommunications systems, ocean beds, outer space, cyberspace, as well as political maneuvering for control of the South China Sea, Tibet, and other lands on China’s rim.

We are at war with China. Who knew? Apparently, the Pentagon knew. So did all the “security practitioners” from friendly nations in the Asia-Pacific region who come to Waikiki to learn the arts of this new kind of war. The rest of us may not yet have gotten the memo.

Now every time I looked out at Diamond Head and the Pacific from my balcony I saw those two-story buildings reminding me that we are already at war with China. Thoreau once said, “The remembrance of my government spoils my walk.” I had to say, “The remembrance of my government spoils my view.”

Still, at least the war is not an old-fashioned bullets and bombs war – bombs that, in a U.S.-China war, might well be nuclear. So I felt a bit reassured that this war is what we used to call a cold war, though that term is also now avoided out of deference to all those bonds of ours that the Chinese hold, I suppose.

I felt more reassured recalling experts like Stephen Pinker, who say that the long-term trend of history is leading us away from old-fashioned war, where millions were killed by bullets and bombs. At least there was a bit of comfort there.

My limited sense of comfort did not last long, though. It ended when I read The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two. That’s a new book by John Dower, the preeminent historian of America’s last war against a dominant power in the Pacific, our World War II battle against Japan, which started just a few miles away from my troubled Waikiki vacation spot.

Now Dower has written a book tracing the aftermath of World War II, especially in the US, up to the present day. It’s a small book; you can read it in one evening. But don’t expect to sleep well that night. Because it’s densely packed with disturbing facts and figures that directly challenge those supposed experts who confidently tell us that murderous wars are becoming a relic of the past.

No, Dower says, the war and killing and suffering goes on, from 1946 to today, at a disturbingly steady pace. And he leaves little hope that it will end any time soon. His explicit aim is to refute the optimists who see lethal conflict on the wane.

Woven through his thick collection of evidence are implicit arguments that cast a frightening shadow on our cold (so far) war with China.

Since World War II, the US government’s commitment to overwhelming military might has not declined. On the contrary, it has steadily grown. It was only in the 1990s that the Pentagon declared its determination to have “full spectrum dominance” in every conflict, forever – a doctrine that is still in force. So the US has been building an ever-expanding and modernizing military machine, preparing to unleash constantly higher levels of lethal violence.

And, as Dower shows, each use of that machine plants seeds of greater violence in the future. But it typically comes in unexpected ways. Victory over Japan, for example, unleashed both the cold war and the civil war in Vietnam. The combination of the two later brought the disaster of US intervention in Vietnam.

It was our defeat in Vietnam, in turn, that triggered the bellicose Reaganite reaction. Reagan showed how tough we were by defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan, using U.S.-trained and armed Muslim mujahadeen, who later formed the core of Al Qaeda and now the Islamic State.

But the seeds of our violent conflicts, and how we planted them, go unseen by the general public at the time. The conflict is always blamed on “the enemy” who wants to do us some evil – like, for example, challenging the U.S.-led order and subverting overwhelming US military power? That was often given as a reason to wage four decades of cold war against the communist bloc, including mainland China.

We cannot predict what particular justifications might some day be given for a hot war with China. But we can predict that those reasons will be based more in fantasy than empirical reality. That, too, is a pattern Dower traces, from our early nuclear buildup against a fantasized Soviet nuclear threat, to our support for dictators in Latin America against fantasized Soviet-controlled revolutionaries, to our war against Iraq for its fantasized nuclear arsenal and links to the 9/11 attack.

Most dangerous of all, Dower suggests, is the fantasy that we are safe now because the era of massive war is over. Not only does that fantasy keep us blind to the reality of growing threats of war. It also fuels the belief in “the wisdom, virtue, and firepower of US‘peacekeeping,’” meaning that, even if it comes to old-fashioned war, America is always trying merely to make the world a better place. Dower reminds us that we first fought Iraq in 1991 in the name of building a “new world order.”

Now, as then, we are barraged by true believers telling us that we have a right to control the world because our goals are somehow morally purer than our adversaries’, that we are always on the side of the angels, always the innocent victim of some evil enemy. “The mystique of exceptional virtue,” Dower concludes, “does not accommodate serious consideration of irresponsibility, provocation, intoxication with brute force, paranoia, hubris, reckless and criminal actions, or even criminal negligence” on the part of the United States, even though all of these are evident enough in the historical record since 1945.

The Pentagon’s professors (and no doubt its war planners) at least admit that it’s all about keeping US dominance in far-flung regions of the world. They are so-called “realists,” assuming that nations will always want more power and that powerful nations will always vie with each other for control of the world – by any means necessary.

Combine that view with the Pentagon’s ever-growing means (Dower wrote his book before Donald Trump asked for another $54 billion for the Pentagon) and China’s own “realists,” calling for their nation to play its rightful role as a world power, and you have a recipe for a lot more sleepless nights.

I don’t mean to say that a hot war with China is inevitable. Not at all. John Dower does not mean to say that either. But he does want to remind us that hot wars of immense violence are still all too possible. At least one other prominent historian, Graham Allison, has publicly argued that a US hot war with China is a very real and frightening possibility. Eternal vigilance is still the price not only of liberty but of peace.

Meanwhile, the next time I visit my son and his husband in Waikiki, I’ll be glad to have my balcony staring at 50 floors of balconies across the street.

Ira Chernus is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of the book, American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. Reprinted from CommonDreams with permission.

  • Don

    My first reaction to this one is that the author ought to go back to Hawaii. go up to the top of a 50 story building and do a nose dive.

  • Tuyzentfloot

    I think that the general trend is very bad. The policy of US dominance has been compounded by two things: a loss of influence and a shift towards hard military power. This leads to more and more desperate attempts to redress the power balance. I don’t see Trump as an actor in that, more that Obama did have a modest dampening effect while Trump is more easily controlled. Erratic, but controllable

  • BrotherJonah

    The reason Hawaii became a possession instead of a sovereign nation was a familiar trick of the neocons before they were called neocons. Get a few business interests built up, like C&H Sugar and Dole Fruits, who now “own” the entire watershed of every island in the chain, manufacture some grievance these poor, innocent U.S. business professionals suffer at the hands of the “despotic” government, start a supposedly grass-roots revolution, if the local government responds in any way start screaming in Congress about the persecution and send in the Marines.

    It’s how the U.S. became the big brother dictatorship over Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona, aka the former northern third of Mexico. Also Puerto Rico, Guantanamo Bay, Florida, really the entire White English Conquest of what’s now the United States mainland, tried to do it to Canada, succeeded in the cases of Taiwan, the Philippines, Kuwait,Panama, partial successes in Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Oliver North was gloating about that Sunday and Yesterday. Like his coward rectal orifice accomplished those (Pyrrhic) ‘victories’ All of his own ‘victory’ is he kept the money from the Iran-Contra flustercluck where he sold weapons and secured banking for Hezbollah who thanked him by blowing away 300 U.S. Marines in Beirut. According to the Bush2 Doctrine, that would be 300 capital murder charges. Instead he has a propaganda platform on Fox News and every pig in America backing him up. And Hawaii is still a U.S. puppet, no matter how it’s described officially.

  • Tom

    I was reminded by another article today that General H.R. McMaster, our new National Security Advisor, was the author of the book about our Vietnam experience _Dereliction of Duty_. I bought it when it was first published, thinking I might gain some insight into what went wrong. But I stopped reading it about 20% through when I realized that McMaster had no inclination to examine why we were ever there at all, only why we lost. Until we stop making the knee-jerk assumption like McMaster that we have a right and a duty to intervene everywhere, all the time, there will be wars, and the hardest-working people in the world will be bankrupt.

  • PJ London

    People don’t just die from bombs and bullets.
    500,000 children died in Iraq between 1991 and 2003 as a direct result of the sanctions imposed by the USA (and it’s puppet the UNSC), but the US thought it was a ‘price worth paying’.
    Millions are dying of starvation in Yemen and Somalia and Sudan as a direct result of the civil wars instigated by the US to obtain oil, gas and the rights to run pipelines through their territory. ‘We will give you a carpet of gold or a carpet of bombs’.
    Either way the US corporations make huge profits.
    Don’t even get me started on the millions murdered by the Pharmaceuticals, with their free gifts from the US taxpayer to the poor sick children of the third world. Bill Gates will go down in (real) history as the greatest mass murderer since Genghis Kahn. But that is OK because he thinks there are too many people anyway.