Opinion: End the corruption of the human psyche


Published: 10-21-2023 5:00 PM

John Buttrick writes from his Vermont Rocker in his Concord home: Minds Crossing. He can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com.

According to Doug Bandow, senior fellow at Cato Institute, 750 American military facilities remain open in 80 nations and territories around the world. No other country in human history has had such a dominant presence. Washington has nearly three times as many military bases as embassies and consulates.

This extensive military presence around the world maximizes the temptation to use it, meddling in local controversies and entering nearby conflicts. The United States has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years and almost continuous for many more years.

These serial wars require extended active duty for military personnel. As a result, many soldiers develop negative side effects including PTSD and the stress of adjusting from a military hierarchy to a civilian democracy. However, seldom considered are the civilian costs involving the assault on the human psyche. With war always in the background, citizens are deluded with misinformation, drained of trust, determined to sanitize the horrors of war, driven to glorify war, devoid of requiring military accountability, and drawn to violence among themselves.

The spread of misinformation is reported on PBS News Hour’s, “War and Misinformation.” A senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab explains, “millions are getting their information through social media. Many posts are spreading misinformation or outright lies and criticism.” Also, engaging in perpetual war is perceived to require government deception and condones misdirection and censorship. Trust becomes elusive: “Don’t believe anything you see online,” according to a fellow at ACDFRL. Some rationalize that misinformation contains two or more different “truths.” Which truth may be trusted?

Another effect of continuous war is the glorification of the military. Warriors are treated both too reverently and too cavalierly, regarding them as heroes. Lacking understanding of the scourge and suffering of battles, Americans sanitize war. By ignoring the horrors of war, they are willing to send the military into conflict after conflict, blithely assuming we will win, “yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war.” These defeats are downplayed by giving even more accolades for the bravery and sacrifices of military personnel. A side effect is the lack of will to seek accountability for unsuccessful military campaigns – “our brave warriors can never really fail.”

Finally, “exposure to (perpetual) war makes violence more acceptable among civilians,” reports Jeremy Adam Smith writing for the Greater Good. We witness this in the violent disruptions of peaceful protests by such wannabe military groups as Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

In 2022, the SPLC documented 523 hate and 702 antigovernment extremist groups, totaling 1,225 active groups. Timmer, a criminologist at the California State University, Northridge, reports studies on why people commit acts of violence. “These studies suggest that violence does indeed beget violence, as exposure to war makes other kinds of brute force more acceptable and even more likely.” For example, retail clerks and hospital personnel report increasing verbal abuse and threats of violence from the public. It seems, glorifying military warriors becomes a model for accepting violence in daily living.

I strive to be a non-violent person, one with peacesense. However, I’m a citizen of a country engaged in continuing warfare. I fear war diplomacy creeps into my psyche. When I learned that Russia had invaded Ukraine, I felt like charging over there and destroying the invaders. When I learned about Hamas attacking Israel and Israel’s military response, I wanted to crack the leaders’ heads together. What happened to my peacesense? I suspect that our country has created within many of us an acceptance to be a part of a warring nation.

To bring us back to peacesense we need to face the reality of the destruction, maiming, and death of war. We need to recognize warfare as a source of misinformation, mistrust, glorified military, and aggression toward neighbors. War is hell that corrupts the peacesense of our human psyches.

To recover that sense I begin with the 60’s protest folksong, “Where have all the flowers gone?” / Gone to graveyards every one.” It’s time to bring our military home, not to graveyards but to a war-free democratic country.