War just goes on. And on.

War just goes on. And on.

I wonder what would happen if the United States finally said, “Enough!”

LONDONDERRY — The United States has been at war almost continuously throughout my lifetime. This is a sad story of wasted opportunity, wasted dollars, and wasted lives.

The nation was entrenched in the Cold War when I was born in the late 1950s, and by first grade I had been taught how to “duck and cover” in case my hometown was attacked with nuclear weapons.

By the mid-1960s, the U.S. was embroiled in a protracted ground and air war in Southeast Asia. That quagmire dragged on for well over a decade until finally ending with our retreat from Vietnam in 1975. We left the region with our proverbial tail between our legs, and then managed a few years of relative calm while still maintaining a hair-trigger Cold War posture in Korea and with the Soviet Union, as well as fostering new tensions in other parts of the world.

In 1979, just four years after leaving Vietnam, we found ourselves drawn into an explosive conflict with Iran when 52 Americans were taken hostage. It was a terrifying event that put the homeland on edge and pushed President Carter to reinstate military registration for young men.

The U.S. draft had ended near the conclusion of the Vietnam war with the last official conscription drawing men who were born in 1952, and the last draft lottery positions being assigned to men born in 1956. The new Carter program required young men who were born in 1960 or later to register, but my birthday was in the gap years, so I was never formally brought into the system.

The Carter program was a big deal at the time because the new registration process was seen as returning the United States to a perpetual war footing, and many of my friends struggled with whether or not to participate.

The registration process has continued unabated, and it has become so routine that few Americans question the need for registration or how the availability of a fighting force affects American war culture.

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The Iranian hostage crisis ended in early 1981, but tensions with Iran and the threat of war have remained high ever since. Soon after the hostages came home, President Reagan led us into skirmishes in other parts of the world, including Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chad, and Honduras.

By early 1990, tensions were rising in the Middle East, and then Iraq invaded Kuwait. The invasion upset the regional balance of power, most notably with Saudi Arabia, a major oil exporting nation considered strategically important to the United States.

And so we entered that conflict, too, first in 1990 with Operation Desert Shield in defense of Saudi Arabia, and then in 1991 with Operation Desert Storm, a full-on invasion of Kuwait itself.

The American military was successful in quickly driving Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, and then established a tenuous ceasefire that relied upon keeping U.S. forces in neighboring countries and along the Kuwait/Iraq border on an almost-indefinite watch.

The announced objective of our continuing military presence was to provide regional stability and security, and to train the Kuwait military to protect its own land.

When I visited the front line as a photographer during the ceasefire period in 1997, it was readily apparent that the United States military was simply a mercenary force serving Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and that the “training” mission was seen as a pointless sham by both American and Kuwait troops. Nevertheless, the United States kept its air and ground forces in the desert for years and regularly launched small-scale engagements against Iraq, while also fighting in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and other hot spots.

In 2001, a terrorist action that originated in Afghanistan led to the destruction of the World Trade Center and damage to the Pentagon, so we invaded Afghanistan. But invading Afghanistan wasn't enough, so we invaded Iraq, too.

The unprovoked invasion of Iraq was not a direct response to the attack on our homeland; rather, President Bush defined it as a preemptive strike to thwart the potential of Iraq causing us (or the neighboring Gulf states) any future harm.

That fight and subsequent occupation of Iraq continued for a decade under the guise of an open-ended “War on Terror” that still has no end in sight. The policy of preemption birthed by President Bush as an excuse to invade Iraq lives on, and it gives the United States a sense of carte blanche to initiate future preemptive wars out of fear alone.

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These days, we are still in conflict with Iran and we're engaged in another ramp-up of tensions with Russia, as well as ongoing conflicts elsewhere in the world, including Korea.

But the big push right now is in Syria and Iraq (again), where we are re-tasking our military to fight a group of stateless thugs who have destabilized the region and murdered a few Americans.

President Obama assures us that the fight will be an air war with limited ground training and advising components, but no ground-level combat. Yet not many in Congress - Republicans or Democrats - appear to believe him, and the history of our military deployments makes it likely that Americans will once again be engaged in an all-out fight in the Middle East.

This year alone, the United States will funnel more than $600 billion to our military and less than $50 billion to our State Department. When we have a great big well-financed military grade hammer, everything else looks like a tiny little nail.

War just goes on. And on.

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In January 1981, while working for the Croton-Cortlandt News, I covered a protest following President Carter's reinstatement of military registration for a potential draft. The photo is a historical artifact, but it could have been shot at just about any point in U.S. history - or even today.

I wonder what would happen if the United States finally said, “Enough!”

What if good people on both sides of the political aisle refused to support another war unless politicians passing the budget were also passing our troops on their way to the front lines?

What would happen if we insisted the rest of the world take care of itself, and we refused to lead any more of their wars?

What would happen if Congress funded peace at the same level it funds war?

What would happen if American citizens simply stopped volunteering for the perpetual fight?

And finally, what would happen if our nation eased back on the celebration of warriors and honored peacemakers instead?

I shot this photo while on a newspaper assignment almost 35 years ago, and I'm guessing the older woman holding the sign has long since died.

But I still wonder. What if they gave a war and no one came?

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