President Obama's recent declaration of a new front in the war on terror - Yemen - put me to mind of a line from The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), the classic Western starring Clint Eastwood. In pursuing and massacring Confederate "terrorists" who had fought against the Union, even after they surrendered in 1865, Captain Terrill rejects the idea that the killing will stop once the final two "outlaws" are dead. "Doin' right ain't got no end," Terrill coldly says.
That's our attitude in a nutshell: "Doin' right ain't got no end," especially when the "good" involves killing "terrorists." No matter how many we kill, there'll always be more to find. And in the brutally imprecise process of rooting them out and killing them, we'll make many mistakes and harm many innocents, thereby creating many new enemies - and many more men like Captain Terrill.
Like Terrill, our actions and attitudes have conspired to create our own forever war, a score-settling exercise against terrorists that serves to perpetuate terror. We've become trapped in a cycle of violence that's very much of our own making. We believe we inhabit an implacably hostile realm that supposedly hates us and our freedoms too.
This neurotic state recalls a science fiction novel, Deathworld (1960), that I read as a kid. Its author, Harry Harrison, imagined a world where the flora and fauna are relentlessly hostile to a certain band of can-do colonists, who reply in kind with Spartan-like warrior intensity and murderous brutality.
As impressive as these warriors and their death-dealing technology are, their actions merely beget more violence. Until an outsider visits and sees the situation for what it truly is, the colonists cannot perceive that it's their own fears and violent natures that are driving their enemies to attack. Unless they change their mindset, their ultimate defeat is inevitable because their actions spawn new enemies and endless violence everywhere.
As we seek global power in the name of greater security, we are creating a death world of our own making. And as long as we continue to believe we're "doin' right" in opening new fronts in the terror war, Captain Terrill's words will continue to render a harsh and endless judgment.
Correction: An earlier version of this post inaccurately quoted a line from the 1976 film 'The Outlaw Josey Wales.'
Professor Astore currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. He writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.