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Filling the Empty Battlefield

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Posted on Apr 23, 2013
Nation Books

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 4)

So let’s not hesitate to say it: mission accomplished!  The world may not have been a battlefield then.  But they prepared the global battlespace so well that it’s heading in that direction now.

Almost unnoticed, imperial wars also have a way of coming home.  Take the reaction to the Boston marathon bombings.  The response was certainly the largest, most militarized manhunt in American history.  In its own way, it was also an example of the empty battlefield.  An 87-square mile metropolitan area was almost totally locked down. At least 9,000 heavily up-armored local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, hundreds of National Guard troops, SWAT teams, armored vehicles, helicopters, and who knows what else hit the streets of greater Boston’s neighborhoods in a search for two dangerous, deluded young men, one of whom ended up bloodied inside a boat in a backyard just outside the zone the police had cordoned off to search in Watertown.  It was a spectacle that would have been unimaginable in pre-9/11 America.

The expense must have been staggering (especially if you add in business losses from the city’s shutdown).  In the end, of course, one of the suspects was killed and the other captured—and celebrations of that short-term success began immediately on the streets of Boston and in the media.  But here, too, killing your way to success is unlikely to prove a winning strategy.  After all, we’re already in Scahill’s blowback world in which, no matter the number of deaths, there is unlikely to be a crossover point.

After Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second Boston bombing suspect, was captured, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted a new phrase into the American lexicon.  While calling for the 19-year-old to be held as an “enemy noncombatant” (à la Guantanamo), he wrote, “The homeland is the battlefield.”  That should send chills down the spine of any reader of Dirty Wars.


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Above all else, there’s this: while the world burned and melted, Washington set itself one crucial global mission: to send its secret forces out onto that global battlefield to hunt random jihadis. It may be the worst case of imperial risk assessment since Nero fiddled and Rome burned.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers:  This essay focused on Jeremy Scahill’s new book Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (Nation Books).  In June, a film of the same title directed by Rick Rowley and based on the book will hit the theaters.  I’ve seen it in preview.  Its focus differs from the book’s.  Scahill is its narrator.  It’s deeply personal and is powerfully humanizing of those whose doors we’ve kicked in during this last grim decade-plus.  It could be the documentary of the year.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

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