Michael T. McPhearson standing against the backdrop of an American flag

OPINION | Honor My Service by Being Honest About U.S. Addiction to War

by Michael T. McPhearson

If you Google “How many years has the U.S. been at war?” I’m sure the answer will shock you. I’ll let you do it for yourself. Some will not believe the source; others will accept it at face value. But as a combat veteran who joined the U.S. Army at 17 and grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, I have watched the U.S. wage war for over half a century. 

The U.S. has been involved in wars my entire life. I was born in 1964 during the Vietnam War. That conflict was a proxy war in the Cold War that began in 1947 and ended in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved. During the Cold War, there were too many military operations to enumerate here. Still, I will mention two short and high-profile deployments I remember: the invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. The U.S. openly participated in proxy wars, such as supporting the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989 and arming Iraq in its 1980–1988 war with Iran.

Michael T. McPhearson (right) in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Michael T. McPhearson)

I fought in the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War, after which the U.S. continued military operations, maintaining the no-fly-zones over Iraq until the 2003–2011 Iraq War. My son fought in that war. From 1992 to 1995, the U.S. led the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s intervention in the Bosnia War.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, ending that conflict just last year. During those 20 years of pursuing the Global War on Terrorism, the U.S. dropped bombs on numerous countries, including Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.

Even after leaving Afghanistan, the U.S. continues the war on terror, bombing countries as it sees fit. Meanwhile, U.S. support for Ukraine in its war with Russia dominates the public’s attention. That war threatens to widen and possibly escalate into a nuclear confrontation. As if that is not enough, U.S. relations with China are at the lowest in decades over Taiwan, and diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea is no better. All three are posturing by conducting drills and live fire exercises.

The point of this condensed and incomplete lesson on U.S. wars is not to demonize our country and claim the U.S. is the bad guy. I realize war is a human condition and will take a global collective effort to address it fully. But the U.S. is not always the good guy and goes to war far too often. Looking back on my 58 years, I conclude the U.S. is addicted to war. We are constantly fighting somebody or in a confrontation with war as a possibility. One war undoubtedly leads to another. When we are at war, we grow our military budget. When we are not at war, we grow our military budget. Our leaders too easily send our children to kill other people’s children.

People claim to care about the troops and veterans, and I believe most do. I appreciate the accolades, and thank you for your service statements. I know people want to show the U.S. military respect, and most are genuinely thankful for my service. They do not want to put themselves or see people they love in harm’s way. They are grateful someone else did and does it.

But thank you for your service is not enough. Endless war is not working. I was part of the awesome might of the U.S. military. I’ve seen what it can do up close. I saw the aftermath of U.S. sanctions and the invasion of Iraq and spent time with Iraqi families killed by U.S. troops. I know U.S. families who lost a beloved service member to war. One of my best friends died in a training accident preparing for war. I’ve sat with veterans spanning all eras in living memory, many with post-traumatic stress. I’ve talked to veterans who later died by suicide. A small number of U.S. Americans and millions of civilians caught in the crossfire of U.S. wars carry the burden of our nation’s addiction. 

In a democracy, soldiers follow orders. They agree to go where the nation sends them. They put their minds and bodies on the line to kill and die for their country. In return, they ask that the people they serve equip them to win, take care of them when they return home, and never send them to fight in frivolous or unjust wars. I submit that the government of a nation at constant war is not living up to this sacred agreement. The best way to support the military and veterans is to hold our national leaders — Republicans and Democrats — accountable for their failed endless war foreign policy and push them toward real diplomacy and peaceful solutions to conflict. It is our responsibility. We owe it to those who wore and wear the nation’s uniform.

How many years has the U.S. been at war?

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Michael McPhearson is executive director of the Emerald. He has decades of experience as an executive director of national nonprofit organizations, including Veterans For Peace. He’s honored to serve the community by listening, learning, and helping the Emerald grow to sustainability. As co-coordinator of the Ferguson/St. Louis Don’t Shoot Coalition and leading a delegation to support the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he recognizes the critical role of community media for social change. He has testified before Congress and is currently on the American Friends Service Committee Nobel Peace Prize Nominating Task Group and a board member of the ACLU of Washington.

📸 Featured Image: Michael T. McPhearson in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Michael T. McPhearson)

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