The Fog of Forever War

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Media Outlet: Wall Street Journal

Rosa Brooks' new book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal

In a world where our enemies do not belong to armies or wear uniforms—where a weapon can be a roadside bomb or a computer virus—confusion reigns. Do the laws of war apply, allowing for the liberal use of force? Or must we adhere to the laws of peacetime, which constrict the application of force within a web of legal procedures? “We don’t know,” Ms. Brooks writes, “if drone strikes are lawful wartime acts, or murders.” We don’t know “when it is acceptable for the U.S. government to lock someone up indefinitely, without charge or trial.” We don’t know “if mass government surveillance is reasonable or unjustifiable.”
Thanks to the haziness of our present situation, Ms. Brooks concludes, we are losing “our collective ability to place meaningful restraints on power and violence.” Decisions taken first by George W. Bush and then by Barack Obama, she writes, “have allowed the rules and habits of wartime to pervade ordinary life.” She cites “the militarization of U.S. police forces,” evident in the proliferation of SWAT teams armed with equipment intended for war zones; the blanket of secrecy thrown over court proceedings; and intensified surveillance that can have “chilling effects” on the exercise of constitutional rights.

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Rosa Brooks is an ASU Future of War senior fellow at New America, working with the International Security program and the ASU Future of War project. She writes about the changing nature of warfare, the changing role of the U.S. military, and need to rethink core assumptions about the laws of war.