Do you feel another war coming on? I do.
Ominous signs are plentiful. For example, a recent New York Times article headlined "U.S. reliance on Saudi oil is increasing again" essentially says that we've had a setback in whatever indifferent progress we've made toward energy independence from the Middle East. Imports from Saudi Arabia are up 20 percent this year, despite an increase in domestic oil production over the past three years.
This reversal of a healthy trend toward less dependence on Saudi oil is related to increased tension over Iran's reputed interest in developing nuclear weapons. As the U.S. and Europe have diminished Iran's ability to sell crude oil, Saudi Arabia increased production, thereby hastening the day when the once-extensive Saudi reserves will be exhausted. Some experts believe the slow-motion Saudi collapse has already begun. (See Twilight in the Desert, by Matthew Simmons.)
In the meantime, the news from Iran is bad, as well. On Aug. 23, the Times published "Signs Suggest Iran Is Speeding Up Work on Nuclear Program," a headline filled with dangerous portent. Nuclear inspectors are reporting that Iran in recent months has installed hundreds of new centrifuges of the type required to produce nuclear fuel, while negotiations show less and less likelihood of slowing down Iran's reputed efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
The report adds that the new centrifuges are being installed deep underground, where they would be nearly invulnerable to a military attack. Nevertheless, the news from Iran will certainly provide fuel for factions in Israel that are pushing for a pre-emptive attack to slow down, if not stop, Iranian progress toward nuclear weapons.
Dangers lie elsewhere, of course -- Syria, North Korea, a rising China, a failing Iraq or Afghanistan -- but consider the precarious psychological backdrop that makes a new war possible or probable, even inevitable.
We don't have to go far back in history to remember when a war was a discrete, significant event, with a distinct beginning and end. Then there were Korea and Vietnam, with their hazy, gradual beginnings and ambiguous endings. Our troops have seen plenty of action since then, but we're often less sure about why we're fighting and less certain about how we know when we've won.
For a decade we fought two wars so vague in their purposes that, unless you were a soldier or part of a soldier's family, they faded into background noise. In fact, we managed to fight them with no personal cost for many of us.
Even the technology we use to fight our wars, as it has become more sophisticated, has made them more remote. Now a soldier sitting in a bunker in the Midwest can wage warfare with lethal drones halfway around the world and be home with his family in time for dinner. This is the technology, of course, that we'll use to fight future wars. It's good for our soldiers, but as wars cost less in personal commitment, they become more likely.
Furthermore, we're at a psychological risk of an astonishing creeping apathy about the fact that we're at war, at all. Every Sunday morning, TV news programs report our casualties in Afghanistan. Sometimes three soldiers have died, sometimes six. Last Sunday, it was 13. In a few American households tragedy strikes every week; the rest of us barely notice.
Recently the death toll in Afghanistan exceeded 2,000 soldiers. But as they move into their conventions, neither political party is talking about why we're there or how to get out.
Gen. Robert E. Lee said, "It is well that war is so terrible -- otherwise, we would grow too fond of it." We've managed to separate ourselves from the terribleness of war. But the real danger isn't growing too fond of war, it's allowing ourselves to become tolerant, even indifferent, toward war, thereby assuring that another won't be long in coming.
(John Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.)