In a review of Mark Danner’s latest book, Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War, Samuel Moyn questions the focus of Danner’s polemic: where Danner sees American war efforts around the world as a result of a “state of exception” generated in the early part of the War on Terror, Moyn contends instead that US military action is anything but exceptional—it is regulated, legalized, and controlled and therein lies the problem. “What if,” Moyn argues, “stigmatizing atrocity, making military sprawl less offensive to many even as it transcends all known chronological and territorial limits left the conflict harder to rein in? Indicting dirty war by itself [as Danner does in his book] does not reach the core of our spiral—indeed, doing so may help it continue to spin.”
Reading Elaine Scarry’s analysis of the language of war and the metaphors by which we understand, prosecute, and explain war, leaves me wondering if, as Moyn seems to suggest, we are in a new era of thinking about war. In a typically smart twist of logic, Scarry takes apart the famous Clausewitz dictum that “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” Scarry writes that this saying “achieves its authority and authenticity in the brilliant ease of assertion with which a complicated and elusive phenomenon is suddenly made to stand before one as though it had always been self-evident.” As war becomes almost a state of being—natural, not exceptional—the political product or conclusion that war was supposed to achieve loses its significance. “One may begin with the large claim,” Scarry explains, “that ‘war (injury) is the cost of freedom (or better boundaries, or whatever the issue the participants believe themselves fighting for).’ But now the scope of this claim may begin to contract so that ‘war’ itself, first conceived of as the cost, now becomes the thing purchased by, for example, battle.”
In David Finkel’s book The Good Soldiers about a specific battalion that fought in the middle of George W. Bush’s Surge in Iraq in 2007 (the 2-16, the Rangers), he recounts a discordant moment between the president and the wife of a severely injured soldier. Bush came to visit the hospital where Maria Emory watched over her husband, and she remembers Bush saying, “Thank you for your husband’s service to his country” and that “he was sorry for what our family was going through.” Maria Emory thanked the president for visiting but wanted to say something else. “I mean, when I saw him,” she explained, “I was angry I started crying, and he saw me and came to me and gave me a hug and said, ‘Everything’s going to be okay.’”
Finkel’s observation of this moment relates to that deadly ambiguity of war without end or war as an end in itself. Bush “had no idea that [Maria’s tears] were because of anger, and he had no idea they were because of him. And nothing was okay, she said, so he was wrong about that too. Her husband was ruined.” Injury purchased in battle was the price of this war, but was there anything more? Such frustration echoes a passage from Siegfied Sassoon’s, “The Battle of the Somme” from Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, in which he lamented:
I leant on a wooden bridge, gazing down into the dark green glooms of the weedy little river, but my thoughts were powerless against unhappiness so huge. I couldn’t alter European history, or order the artillery to stop firing. I could stare at the War as I stared at the sultry sky, longing for life and freedom and vaguely altruistic about my fellow-victims. But a Second-Lieutenant could attempt nothing — except to satisfy his superior officers; and altogether, I concluded, Armageddon was too immense for my solitary understanding.
My sense of war now is that we don’t fight for any particular history and we resist imagining war as a continuation of any particular politics—to do either would suggest a clash of ideologies where either none exists or too many exist. And so we get what Scarry observes as the contraction of war to the battle, the injury, and in the case of Maria Emory, the tears.
 Samuel Moyn, “Why the War on Terror May Never End,” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/books/review/spiral-by-mark-danner.html?_r=0
 Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 77.
 Ibid., 76
 David Finkel, The Good Soldiers (New York: Picador, 2009), 82.