Introducing Semper Bellum: a podcast about war
There are 32 countries currently at war, around the world, right now. The Ukraine conflict has displaced about seven million people, and at least 5,700 civilians have been killed so far.
The Iraq war lasted nearly nine years. According to the US Veteran’s administration, between 11 to 20 out of every 100 troops who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and/or Operation Enduring Freedom have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For Vietnam veterans, that number’s estimated at about 30 in a hundred.
These numbers say a lot but they’re just a tiny piece of the story. And there are thousands of these stories.
Semper Bellum means “always war” in Latin. It’s not a common phrase and, due to my very limited understanding of the language, it may not even be grammatically correct. But, to me, it says everything.
I think about war every single day. I dream about it every night. No matter what I do, there’s always war.
Who I am
I served in the US military for 10 years. During that time, the US was engaged in three wars, each of which we lost.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, we tried to fight entrenched guerrilla insurgents with modern battlefield tactics. Our eventual withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 marked an inglorious final act to the sixth-longest war in US history. And when we finally got out of Afghanistan in 2021, our withdrawal spelled the end of the US’ longest conflict, one lasting longer than World War I, II, Vietnam, and the US Civil War combined.
The third war we lost was the war on drugs. To paraphrase a fictional general named Obi-Wan Kenobi: we became the very thing we swore to destroy.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, US military leaders were bound by the Geneva Convention and various other global policies surrounding the use of force during war. We repeatedly, consistently, and with full foresight broke those rules and committed innumerable war crimes against combatants and non-combatants alike.
In the war on drugs, as has been well documented, US intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies have caused catastrophic community damage in the form of economic destruction and mass loss-of-life through direct violence, destabilization, and displacement both domestically and abroad.
I served in both the Iraq War and the War on Drugs. I did things I’m not proud of in places I should have never been.
What I’ve done
It’s been more than ten years since I left the service, but part of me feels like I’m still at war. I’ve tried to shrug off my experiences and treat what happened as just another chapter in my life. I’ve tried to suppress my survivor’s guilt and ignore the indelible mark that participating in warfare left on my conscience. As you can imagine, it hasn’t worked out so well.
The thing about trauma is that you don’t get to pick what sticks in your brain and what doesn’t. I haven’t slept through the night since 2009. And, if I’m being honest, it’s been a bit tougher since I started this project.
Reliving the things I saw and experienced isn’t easy. That’s because I’m not dealing with memories. Memories are malleable.
These are moments that are scorched into my consciousness. It’s like I’m still there. I don’t have to try to remember what it feels like, I have to try not to.
I’ve always been a military history buff but, A few years back, I started researching the topic of war in earnest. I wanted to understand my wars, the Iraq War and the US War on Drugs, but I also wanted to understand the nature of war itself — A Sisyphean task if ever there was one.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that there were three essential resources for the study of war: military records, personal accounts, and media reports. And the more you read or listen, the more you begin to understand that even the most reliable of sources is forced to take a bit of storyteller’s license in their depiction of war.
That’s because war is incomprehensible. When we endeavor to wrap our heads around it, the mind revolts. War is a machine with more moving parts than our brains can ken at once. The king, the warlord, the industrialist, the general, the soldier, the minister, the peasant, and the child all experience war differently. Those who survive, survive differently.
What I want
I want to talk about war in a sober, educated fashion that, first and foremost, recognizes the sanctity of all life. The conversation I want to have about war is one that respects history but doesn’t glorify battle as anything other than sanctioned murder.
That being said, there are times when you have to separate the warrior from the war. History is littered with the corpses of warriors who gave their lives in service to others.
It’s worth keeping in mind, for example, that the average age for US troops in Vietnam was 19. And many of them were either drafted or reluctantly signed up voluntarily in hopes of getting a better assignment than the draftees. Those kids didn’t go to Vietnam with a political agenda. They were fighting for the guy next to them in hopes that they’d all get to go home. Nearly 60,000 didn’t.
But there are also times where you have to hold power accountable. There can be no honest, reasonable discourse on the nature of warfare without also including frank discussion of war crimes and war criminals.
This means we will be unflinching in our discussion of evil and unapologetic in our discourse on heroism.
Semper Bellum is a podcast about war. It’s provocative, emotional, and honest. Our weekly mission is to bring you firsthand accounts, tales from history, and thoughtful analysis of all things related to war.
Every episode will be accompanied by an immersion guide full of links to our sources and additional resources to enhance your listening experience.
Click the link below to listen to the first four episodes now!