Book review: War made Invisible by Norman Solomon

A masterful insight into the mechanisms that hide the US’s constant state of war from its own citizens.

This Pentagon map shows US military bases in Africa. The USA’s Africa Command (Africom) mission supposedly aims to ‘partner, counter transnational threats and malign actors, strengthen security forces, and respond to crises in order to advance US national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity’. The instability having been created by imperialism in the first place, in order to provide a justification for introducing troops, whose only aim is to support the continued ‘stability’ of imperialist looting.

This article is reproduced from Savage Minds, with thanks.


Usually when I read a interesting book I’m reviewing and being a journalist, I often find myself inspired to write an article that delves further into some aspect that the book brushed over. But in the case of Norman Solomon’s infuriating, well-documented and much needed book War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of its Military Machine, I’m stymied: he’s covered it all in such depth and in a very readable and not imposingly lengthy volume, it’s hard to find something else to say.

Solomon does a masterful job of explaining how since the American war on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and early 70s, which led to massive protests at home and even to insurrection among the troops doing the fighting, a bipartisan strategy has been developed and refined – of insulating the American public from the realities of what has become a trillion-dollar-a-year US policy of permanent war.

By ending conscription, the dirty work of asserting global dominance and of slaughtering large numbers of civilians and destroying whole countries is being done by young Americans who have enlisted in the various services – a professional army whose soldiers are much less inclined to complain about what they are ordered to do. Protests have reduced as America’s war-fighting, as Solomon explains, is increasingly conducted by air, using piloted planes that stay far from where the rockets they launch explode.

In recent years, cruise missiles and missile-firing drones have been used to do killing which takes place hundreds or thousands of miles away from the Starbucks and Coke-swilling joy-stick jockeys on US military bases who are the pilots. These control centres are located in places like Burkina Faso, Germany, Italy, Turkey – and a town next to mine: Horsham, Pennsylvania. (Some of those killer drone pilots have become whistleblowers, but their stories get short shrift or aren’t reported by American news organisations.)

I imagine many Americans walking through a bookstore, or scanning new titles on Amazon’s book site, running across one that says it’s about how the USA makes its wars invisible will find themselves asking: “What wars?”

And that’s the goal of the leaders of both of Washington’s parties: to allow Americans to forget that our country is at war almost everywhere and all the time around the globe.

This was basically, he writes, the object of President Biden’s ludicrous assertion early in his presidency in a 2021 address at the United Nations after the last US troops had been pulled out of the 20-year war on Afghanistan, when he said: “I stand here today for the first time in twenty years, with the United States not a war. We’ve turned the page.”

As Solomon comments dryly: “Actually the ‘turned’ page was bound into a continuing volume of war. Biden’s claim was mendacious on a global sale. In September, the same month as his pronouncement at the UN, a new report from the Costs of War project at Brown university showed that the USA’s ‘war on terror’ launched two decades earlier was still underway on several continents” – indeed in some 80 countries!

Furthermore, as Solomon writes, in the week that the last remaining US troops flew out of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, Biden, who was getting hammered by Republicans and some Democrats for “abandoning” the people of Afghanistan, assured America not to worry, because the USA would continue to “exercise its ‘over-the-horizon’ muscle” in that country. This in a country where 75 percent of those being killed by US bombs and rockets and troops have been non-combatants. Biden was telling Americans: “Don’t worry, we’ll keep killing Afghans, but America is at peace.”

‘Over-the-horizon muscle’ is a euphemism for the use of drones, or sometimes piloted bombers or cruise missiles. That would not be ‘war’ in the new US construct, because no Americans would be dying. Just Afghans, or people from whatever other nationality is the target. As Solomon notes, Our Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama claimed he didn’t need to seek Congressional approval for his war ousting the government of Libya because it was just American planes attacking the country. If no American troops were dying it “wasn’t a war”.

Solomon spends a good deal of time excoriating the corporate media, which he explains play a crucial role in helping the government hide its wars and the damage they do to the people and countries that the USA military attacks, and to the US men and women who pilot the drones and make the decisions to fire the Hellfire missiles.

Indeed, War Made Invisible, even as it so thoroughly exposes the machinations of the US military, the White House and the State Department to hide the country’s wars and interventions, and even as he provides details of the horrible war crimes and genocidal killing that the USA has been perpetrating around the globe, is also a kind of update to that classic Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky media analysis work Manufacturing Consent. It is entirely focused upon the way the mainstream corporate media work hand-in-glove with the national security state and the Pentagon to hide the costs and the bloody reality of America’s 21st-century militarism and endless war policy.

In painful detail, Solomon documents how major news organisations and their top journalists and talking heads avoid asking the hard questions when civilians are slaughtered by US bombs, and base most of their reports on US wars and counterinsurgencies on unchallenged press releases issued by the Pentagon and the State Department.

We do see the horrors of war on our TV screens to be sure, but what we see are the horrors visited on the Europeans of Ukraine by America’s ‘evil-doer’ of the day, Vladimir Putin. It’s the kind of ‘reporting’ the USA media should have done when those same horrors, though on an even larger scale, were being visited on Afghanistan and Iraq by US troops. We didn’t see those things, though, in our homes, or even read about them (or didn’t until Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks made them available).

In fact, Solomon tells how a rising star at NBC News was removed from the air by senior management for mentioning this travesty of censorship at a college talk. Senior corporate management let it be known when she came back to work, whenever some embarrassing killing was caused in those wars by US soldiers, the reporter was to mention the dead in the USA from the 9/11 attacks.

This is not a book for reading to your young kids at bedtime, but it is a book to hand to your teenage son if he ever talks about wanting to be a helicopter pilot for the army, to join the marines, or to fly an F-35. It’s a good book to buy for relatives and friends who don’t know the USA is a nation at war.

And it’s a book we all should read cover-to-cover and then talk about when we’re done.