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Book Review: American Wars: Illusions & Realities


By Rebeca Schiller

American Wars: Illusions & Realities


Edited by Paul Buchheit
Paperback: 192 pages
Clarity Press, 2008.

In this slender, but thought-provoking book, Paul Buchheit, professor at Chicago Colleges, founder of
fightingpoverty.org and co-founder of Global Initiative Chicago, packs a wallop in presenting the glorified
illusions of war, juxtaposing them with the realities and horrors of military force and occupation.

Divided into six sections that each examine a highly regarded human value (Honor, Truthfulness, Self-
Awareness, Compassion, Altruism, Realism) every essay is presented with a specific and distorted illusion
– typically advocated by hawks in government and big business – followed by a statement reflecting the
true nature of war. Professor Buchheit and a distinguished group of writers, which include academic
scholars, veterans, and experienced researchers, and who have been in the forefront of the human rights and
peace movements, challenge the conventional rhetoric of warfare and our forced attempts to democratize
the world.

In the first essay, Buchheit introduces a brief, yet thorough, historical overview of American wars and the
United States long history of occupying other people’s territories. The prevailing belief from proponents of
military intervention, writes Buchheit, “[is] the spread of American morals and culture will eventually bring
prosperous wealth to everyone.”

For the nuts and bolts of a military society, Buchheit breaks it all down to dollars and cents. No matter what
we’re told, the US is in fact a military-oriented society that spends obscene amounts of money building its
stockpiles of weapons and staffing its bases across the globe. The US is “responsible for almost half of the
world’s total military expenditures, which surpassed $1.1 trillion in 2005.” And while we allocate a lot of
money to the defense budget, we also profit from war. Buchheit cites a study by Executive Excess 2006,
“34 publicly traded US defense contractors and found that average annual CEO pay doubled from $3.6
million to $7.2 million since the War on Terror started.” Stock prices for these companies increased 50
percent between 2000 and 2005.

In spite of his informative overview of war and the US’s role, Buchheit concludes his essay weakly and
abruptly by questioning how we can achieve peace and democracy in world threatened by terrorism. He
turns to foreign policy experts who agree that our priority in the war of terrorism should be on the reduction
of oil dependency – a pat and easy answer to a complex question.

In the “Self Awareness” or “We Understand How War Affects Us” section, the most hard-hitting essay in
the collection is the one that deals with the economic impact of war on the general public. The illusion that
war boosts the American economy is based on how World War II jumpstarted it as jobs in industry were
created, propelling the US out the Great Depression. Dr. Jesu Estrada, professor of English at Chicago City
College and editorial board member of Tribuno del Pueblo, a bilingual anti-poverty newspaper based in
Chicago, exposes that myth and writes that wars benefit the rich (as noted in the Buchheit’s opening essay)
yet American standards of living decline with the poor paying the brunt for the expenditures with cuts in
social services, specifically in Medicare and Medicaid.

Does the military take good care of its soldiers? Tod Ensin, a veteran’s rights lawyer and the Director of
Citizen Soldier, a non-profit GI and veteran’s rights advocacy group, tackles the question of veteran
healthcare and argues that with the money spent on veteran affairs, the VA takes more than a year just to
process a simple and routine disability claim. In addition, with the increase of returning veterans with
extensive and expensive medical needs, especially those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), who
need prolonged treatment, the VA has made medical access more difficult. Combat veterans are given
healthcare for only two years, beginning from their discharge, whereas non-service connected veterans with
income above poverty level can no longer be enrolled. The harsh reality is that returning soldiers with
physical and mental health issues are largely ignored.

Other essays included in the collection examine the US-Israeli alliance, the impact of war on the
environment, mainstream media, the myth of balanced reporting within the mass media and the question of
patriotism is addressed in a poignant essay by anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, each of these articles
provide readers with insights from individuals who have studied these issues and have been in the
frontlines of activism.

American Wars: Illusions and Realities is an important book for readers of all ages who take an interest and
an active role in current affairs and peace studies. In the final essay and the book’s conclusion, Buchheit
neatly ends with, “Opinions derived from any one source may be inaccurate, biased, or simply wrong.
Americans need to research, the issues, to seek multiple sources, if there’s any question about the
information available to them. That can be hard work. But it will teach us a lot about America’s role in the
world, and about the values that are important to us.”

See fightingpoverty.org here.