In the year 1973, the Cold War was at its height. The United States and the Soviet Union possessed enough nuclear weapons to destroy the earth several times over. Fortunately, Nixon’s policy of détente had brought us back from the brink of mutually assured destruction. Nevertheless, a new war had just begun in that year which has now claimed over 56 million American lives. Many people today are not aware of this war or why we are fighting it, even though in the last year alone this war has claimed more lives than all of America’s other wars combined. It is the Invisible War.
Historians do not tell us of any great tank battles or fleet actions in this war. The fallen heroes of this war did not write any poems or diaries for us to glimpse their personal struggles in the midst of so much violence. Indeed, the soldiers of this war were naked, unarmed, and utterly helpless. They did not even know that they were fighting for their lives until it was too late. Many of the battles of this war took place in secret and will never be known to the world.
Yet, there are signs of this war if you know where to look. Drive through the decaying brownfields and gutted derelicts of any American city and the empty houses that look out on the street stand as silent cenotaphs to the victims of this war who never came home. Ghostly block upon block of apocalyptic destruction could just as easily be Nagasaki even though no bombs were ever dropped from the sky in this war.
Most of the soldiers of the invisible war came from the ranks of the working poor and the urban slums. Had they lived, they might have lifted themselves up out of poverty and built homes and families of their own. Instead, politicians lament the plight of urban decay. Run-down schools are boarded up because there are no children. Baseball fields lie empty and overgrown with weeds in the summer. Once-vibrant thoroughfares are shuttered and covered in graffiti.
There are some who say we are better off without them. We are the lucky ones because we lived. Oh yes, we are very lucky. We can feel the warmth of the sun and hear the soothing patter of raindrops. We can taste chocolate and old wine and smell the warmth of the earth when it rains. The world is full of wonderful things, but it is also full of emptiness. The Invisible War has robbed us of not just one generation, but of all their descendents. Even if the war ended today, it will have reduced the American population by a quarter of what it would otherwise have been by the year 2050.
No other war in history has been so devastating. In the entire history of the world, only the Black Death rivals this magnitude of carnage. The Invisible War has claimed well over a billion lives worldwide—more than double the total number of people than were alive in the 14th Century. It took 150 years for the population of Europe to recover from the Black Death and the aftermath caused enormous upheavals that changed the course of history forever.
In time, we too can recover from the unimaginable human tragedy and overcome the consequences of this Invisible War which will haunt us far into the future, but first we must end it.