When I was in college, I took a two part class called War in the Modern World, as a conscious departure from the social history that was my focus of study. The experience was eye-opening, and continues to be.

By “modern,” it referred to the period from the US Civil War to the present (the early 1980′s), based on the fact that the Civil War was won by pure industrial might, and the victor was the belligerent that could out-produce the other and hurl the most materiel and men onto the pile.

Prior to the Civil War, less wealthy and powerful countries could occasionally beat better financed and larger foes by sheer force of will and superior strategy. By the late 19th century, however, wars became wars of attrition; whoever ran out of fuel and munitions first, lost.

All these years later, militarists everywhere continue to embrace this theory, with the disastrous results we see today. Time and again, countries “blessed” with oversized militaries overestimate the power of overwhelming force, and snatch strategic defeat from the jaws of tactical victory. The actual battlefield victories, and horrendous casualties they entail, don’t amount to a hill of beans in the end.

But in the process, while blood and treasure are flushed down the toilet for no good reason, some powerful people make money, dissent is quashed, and no one is ever held accountable for the waste and destruction. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The worst offenders, the US, Russia, and Israel, have tethered their entire economies to their respective military-industrial complexes, and stepping back from the abyss has become impossible, both politically and economically. Guns and butter are essentially the same thing, as military spending is the only acceptable economic stimulus left standing in this age of austerity for the many and prosperity for the few.

Handily, a bloated military and constant conquest serve twin goals; they create an insecure and jingoistic populace and a military perfectly suited to keeping the lid on unrest while the cash drawer is emptied. This drearily predictable dynamic is currently reaching its apogee in all three countries as social goals are steadily abandoned in favor of constant, futile attempts at conquest of the unconquerable: the human spirit.

The expensive and profitable machinery of war is thus being turned on whomever can be suitably demonized at the moment, although the aggressors know full well that any “victory” will be pyrrhic, even if it looks good on TV. But the makers of the machines are happy, so the innocent civilians of Gaza, Ferguson, Ukraine, and everywhere else are mere props in the Kabuki theatre of war.

Welcome to war in the post-modern world, where there are no victories, but plenty of spoils.