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Jonathan P. Baird: War is a racket

For the Monitor
Published: 9/11/2021 7:15:06 AM

Probably like many, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about the events of 9/11. I was on my way to work in Claremont, listening to Don Imus on my car radio. Imus sportscaster, Warner Wolf, reported on seeing the World Trade Center on fire as he watched from his Lower Manhattan apartment. I had a hard time leaving my car as I listened to the events unfold.

Now, 20 years later, I suppose I have a dark view. There is an unfortunate direct line of unbridled and relatively little-questioned militarism from the Vietnam War to the war on terror. We have seen the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, the failure of any peace dividend, and the almost endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While mainstream commentators may deplore aspects of our military interventions, I would like to offer a more critical take on how we have been led into never-ending wars.

In the middle of World War I, progressive critic Randolph Bourne wrote, “War is the health of the state.” To understand the American obsession with war, the place to look is our military-industrial complex. Since the end of World War II, it has expanded as a way to massively subsidize corporations and as a mechanism for employment. The military-industrial complex depends on war and a search for new enemies.

As a society, we have developed an addiction to the war business. Congress always approves enormous military spending and that is a bi-partisan affair. There are multiple pots of money devoted to fighting wars, preparing for more wars and dealing with the consequences of wars previously fought. Some few Democrats complain about the size of the trillion-dollar war budget but, in the end, they are always ignored. There is too much money to be made by the military-industrial complex.

The Pentagon and its contractors thrive on new weaponry and there are never-ending opportunities to develop more sophisticated and advanced instruments of death from guns to tanks to drones to nukes.

The United States does not have a classic colonial empire but it does have roughly 800 military bases located in more than 70 countries and territories abroad. We can project military power anywhere in the world. We have created a global military machine to police a global empire. A big part of the reason for the empire is for the protection and control of world markets.

Americans have been fed a steady diet of propaganda to justify our continuing military interventions. We need to appear benevolent and we need to appear like we are fighting for democracy. So it has always been with imperial states. Governments all use a sales effort and marketing to sell war. In this, I do not think we are different from other empires.

A senior United States Marine Corps officer, Major General Smedley Butler, who served in military actions in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean and France in World War I, wrote in his book War is a Racket, “Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. This was the “war to end wars.” This was the “war to make the world safe for democracy.” No one told them that dollars and cents were the real reason. No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits.”

Butler went on, “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short. I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”

“I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

I do not see the last twenty years since 9/11 as that different from Butler’s era except that militarism has vastly expanded. War is good for Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, their executives and lobbyists and others of their ilk. We still have a revolving door where retired Pentagon officials get jobs with arms contractors while working-class people die to support the war profiteering.

Four administrations spent many trillions fighting the war on terror and they always wrongly lauded progress. During that time we saw renewed use of torture and creation of black sites, increased use of drone assassinations, mass warrantless surveillance, the Patriot Act and the weakening of the Fourth Amendment.

I worry that the military-industrial complex is already ratcheting up for the next war, possibly against China. Threat inflation is their business.

Right now the United States is building ultra-expensive new nuclear weapons. Northrop Grumman Corporation has a contract to replace our aging Minuteman III missiles. The Pentagon purchased 659 ICBMs. By some insane logic, this is seen as a military necessity. Among others, Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out the faulty logic and the obsolescence of ICBMs.

We could take steps to back off from the self-destructive militarism. Congress could begin by repealing the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force. They have been used too broadly to authorize forever war.

Our biggest national security threat is climate change. Increasingly, the U.S. military and other militaries around the world will need to focus on disaster relief, flood prevention, firefighting and population resettlement. The handwriting for that is already on the wall.

When he wrote these words back in 1963, Bob Dylan was ahead of his time:

Come you masters of war

You that build the big guns

You that build the death planes

You that build all the bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks

(Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot.)

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