COMMENTARY-I’m going to lay down my sword and shield. . . So why can’t today’s politicians take that to heart?
Since the Great Depression, war has been another form of big business in the United States with total disregard to the costs, both human and economic.
For decades, the Pentagon has controlled every congressperson’s vote by ensuring there is at least one defense-funded business in their district. That it can threaten to pull out if they don’t vote for more military appropriations.
In response to lobbyists’ blandishments, almost half the Pentagon’s $14 billion budget since 9/11 has gone to private military contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing. Fraud is rampant; the Pentagon books are too complicated to audit due to multiple levels of covert operations that “don’t exist” and no-bid procurements ensure lavish profits.
Open Secrets reports that over a billion dollars was spent by the top five weapons firms in the past twenty years with a payout of $2.2 billion of our tax dollars. Not only have these corporations seen their value surge on Wall Street but their connections have introduced them to client governments around the world.
If foreign countries reject U.S. weapons directly or impede American corporate profits, there’s always a CIA operative willing to overthrow opposition – as has happened in Panama, Iran, Indonesia, Chile and more.
If their nefarious schemes lead to war, so much the better – Congress will bend over and vote more funds and more companies such Haliburton, DynCorp, and Academi get to profit from occupation and rebuilding.
Operations like in Guinea, where Green Beret-trained soldiers recently launched a successful coup against a democratically elected government, and the endless war in Afghanistan aren’t failures.
They are successes in a system designed to increase the flow of our tax dollars to support the war machine. This will not stop unless we the people demand a fundamental overhaul of American foreign policy.
Our governments – both Republican and Democrat piously talk about reducing the trade deficit so that they won't saddle future generations with debt, but that is exactly what they are doing.
Wars without end or victory are just too attractive for corporate contractors and their lobbyists to pass up. Trillions are squandered on wonder weapons with bells and whistles designed to get funding but not to work.
And from the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam to the Afghanistan Papers today, we learn that lies are pervasive and deception has been the rule not the exception in U.S. military operations ever since the 1950s when “The Russians are Coming” was enough of a threat for Congress to cough up more money.
The U.S. was shocked with the almost 3,000 deaths on 9/11. But does that justify the deaths of almost 7,000 American soldiers and 8,000 American contractors who died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years following?
Does it justify headlines about how many people have died which only list Americans? Does it justify the civilian casualties estimated to exceed one million souls?
And what about the injured and those suffering from PTSD?
Today on average, 18 American veterans die by suicide every single day in our country.
The U.S. military budget now constitutes nearly 40 percent of global military spending, yet Republicans and hawkish Democrats have just announced that that is not enough, pushing to add billions more to the budget this year.
Why can’t we convert Pentagon businesses into manufacturing goods needed to help people here and address global warming?
Requiring bomb and armament makers to repurpose their production facilities to produce wind turbines, solar panels and other needed materials would cover half of the figure needed to deal with climate change and reverse the human costs. It would also win us the hearts of countries around the globe instead of inspiring jihad.
Our leaders love wars on just about anyone or anything because they are endless money pits that enrich a few. But it’s those few who fund their campaigns.
Furthermore, wars and the military suck up funds that should be spent on healthcare and growth, killing some and keeping other people too poor to question their power, all while using inordinate amounts of natural resources to build their toys and move around the globe. Their exercises are an abomination of waste.
And say, isn't it about time we can had a War on the Climate Emergency?
Let me end with some prescient quotes from an American general who everyone has heard of. In 1953, Dwight David Eisenhower as a newly minted president gave a speech on peace that included the lines:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
And in his farewell speech on January 17, 1961, he laid out:
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
So where are we now?
Down by the riverside?
With banks flooding from climate change or diverted upstream to water profitable crops that the USDA has been bribed to subsidize in semi-arid areas, revealing concentrations of plastic pollution and toxins along with dead and dying water life?
Let’s all hope that the current and future administrations can take the need for a sustainable foreign policy to heart, and from the Pentagon’s swords beat social justice, remedial agricultural practices, a circular economy, and renewed hope for reversing global warming so all of us can look forward to a more peaceful future.
Down by the riverside.
(Liz Amsden is an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.) Cartoon image: Monte Wolverton. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.