It is sobering to consider how crucially the war touches Smallsville. Here, in the middle of nowhere, America’s multi-pronged security initiative, once christened the ‘war on terror’, hits deep and it hits hard. A local woman tells us her son, a marine, has just returned from Afghanistan and the woman she expects to be her daughter-in-law is headed there on September 18. We hear yet another story out in the wilds – on a road that goes from Smallsville to Smallsville minus. The local taxidermist/ meat processing operation, which can I suppose be held to be part of civilization because it is near an ice cream parlour, tells us his son’s schoolmate may be off to Afghanistan as well. The young man is in the Reservists and maybe called up, the taxidermist explained. So many young Americans, off to foreign lands, for a war without end. And never mind that President Obama plans for American forces to leave Afghanistan in 2014. Tuesday’s audacious attack on the US embassy and ISAF headquarters in Kabul indicate the hard and real truth – Smallsville’s sons and their schoolfriends and future wives will continue to be deployed to fight America’s fearsomely expensive and ultimately futile wars for a long time. Remember Germany after World War II? The Americans are still there, six decades on.
There is a deeper point as well. Some say it is America’s poor who are reservists; unlike Britain where the middle-class and well-to-do elect to learn the art of warfare and how to protect their country. I’m yet to look into this but if it’s true, that’s grim. War is bloody and depressing in any case but to be doing it because you can’t afford not to – and have no other options – must be very hard. This neatly brings us to another fact of life, the dismal reality that America must look squarely in the face – deepening poverty. The US Census Bureau has released new figures – 46.2 million Americans now live in poverty. Soup kitchens are said to be busy and all across – and around – Smallsville yard sales have been in full swing right through the summer. The signs are clear – times are hard and the consumerist American is making do a great deal more than before. And when he does have to get rid of anything – old crockery, wonky lamps, rusty bicycles, inconveniently narrow-necked blenders – he tries to make a buck instead of throwing it away. This is a recycle economy now.