A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny. -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has nothing to gain and all to lose – especially their lives. -Eugene Victor Debs
Few nations have such extensive borders or coasts as the United States. Few have borders as blessedly uncontested and unthreatened. Why, then, is the US so contemptuous of international law? Why does the US intervene in and invade other lands, often far from our shores, with such alarming frequency?
Why does this nation squander trillions of dollars on “security” and “defense”? Why does this nation maintain fleets and hundreds of costly military bases all over the globe? Why does this nation dissipate its treasure deploying the world’s most massive killing machine?
We may never solve these riddles unless we better understand both human nature and the nature of war. Toward that end, I’ll pose some questions; these may imply some answers, if only fragmentary ones.
Let’s start with “human nature” (whatever that means). Why does “human nature” seem often to lead to destruction, of others and of ourselves? (To really explore this issue, see Erich Fromm’s “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness,” published in 1973 during the Vietnam War.) Is brutality just part of who we are? Does militarism – highly organized violence – stem from our mammalian or primate pedigree? Or, as some might plausibly suggest, is it a male thing? Would women-led societies be steeped in militarism?
Who “volunteers” to be the cannon fodder and why? Don’t many enlistments – mostly male – stem from the “poverty draft” and from chauvinistic indoctrination? What impact does war have on those who serve and fight? How many come home intact? When the warriors come home, how do they and their families fare?
But maybe human nature – and men – get a bad rap. Perhaps war isn’t human or even male, but a reflex or emanation of power structures. Such structures aren’t persons: most humans have no say in the power structures’ callous indifference to life. These structures – mostly regimes and corporations – tend to be machines with connected, but blindered parts.
Each nut and bolt plays its little role often oblivious to its contribution to the machine’s malign functioning. Usually those who have risen to positions of oversight and command internalize the machine’s inhuman dynamics. Consciously or not, malevolently or not, these leaders tend to make policy detrimental to the 99 percent. The logic of their positions calls for achieving short-term gains with little consideration of anyone out of sight, whether socially, geographically or generationally.
Historically, did militarism loom as large as it has over the past century? Was human governance more – or less – warlike before the rise of agriculture millennia ago and before the rise of industrialism two or three centuries ago? Was the power structure as warlike before capitalism turned greed into an MBA program and a science?
On a finite planet, does exponentially rising population lead to exponentially rising aggression? Along with population pressure comes two quantitatively and qualitatively distinct types of consumption – that needed for human survival (essential consumption) and that merely sought for status, comfort or self-indulgence (excessive consumption).
Excessive consumption is at least an order of magnitude greater than essential consumption. But those consuming little more than what is necessary greatly outnumber we who consume far too much. Together, both the haves and the have-nots – the over-developed and the not-so-developed nations – wreak havoc on the planet and severely tax its habitats.
Our dependence on increasingly scarce resources (especially fossil fuel) spurs the national and imperial rivalries that intensify militarism. (See Michael T. Klare’s excellent “Resource Wars.”) And note: within the global power structure, much of the world’s limited resources are devoured maintaining the war machine(s). War itself is a major engine of ecological mayhem.
Can war – especially offensive or “pre-emptive” war – ever be morally justified? When has resorting to violence, rather than negotiation, ever served broad human interests? Doesn’t violence usually or always generate more violence? Doesn’t war corrupt? (What, for example, has become of the billions of dollars for which the Pentagon can’t account?)
War and Empire
Who benefits from the organized violence of war? War is enormously profitable for US “defense” industries. These industries shape US governance and foreign policy. This is true whether the target was Vietnam or the Pentagon’s current land and air wars elsewhere in Asia.
Despite the recent and projected drawdown of troops, will the US imperium ever voluntarily loosen its grip – all those bases! – on regions that corporations and the Pentagon deem strategic? Or must we wait until, like the Soviet empire, impending bankruptcy forces our full withdrawal and demilitarization?
Without designated “bad guys,” corporate war profiteering would wither. Negotiation risks leading to a peace settlement; peace is the enemy of the war industry. The war industry, through lobbying and by financing election campaigns, buys and sells Congressional representatives. These kept men and women, in cahoots with the Pentagon and with the kxecutive branch, keep the war pot boiling.
Just look at all the manufactured frenzy about Iran – as if modern Iran has ever invaded its neighbors, as if Iran itself wasn’t totally flanked by saber-rattling nuclear powers, as if Iran had a fraction of the air (or land or sea) power of the US and Israel.
Nationalism and Patriotism
What is the role of nationalism and patriotism – each a type of tribalism, each promoted by imperialism – in fostering war? Considering how many of the victims are non-white or Islamic, what role do white racism and “Christianity” play in the mindsets that make mass killing so casual?
By refusing to close Guantanamo and by authorizing the Reaper drone’s extrajudicial and civilian killings, Congress and the Pentagon assure that whole swaths of the Middle East and Central Asia will long remain hostile to the US. Since US contempt for the “other” isn’t a policy calculated to “win hearts and minds” – i.e. to quell hostilities – what is it calculated to do?
We can imagine why the 1 percent don’t embrace nonviolence. But why do the insights of prophets like Gandi, Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. elude so many of the 99 percent? Is it “false consciousness”; how has Debs’ subject class come to be so misled and dumbed down? Is critical thinking so absent from school curricula and university courses? Are our minds so colonized and compartmentalized that we can’t see the consequences of our actions?
To mobilize the US population to support its interventions and invasions, the Bush administration eagerly seized on 9/11 as a pretext for its phony “war on terrorism.” I say “phony” because many questions about 9/11 are studiously avoided. For example, the official 9/11 Commission failed to investigate leads suggesting that elements of the Bush administration, despite pointed warnings, chose not to take measures preventing that disaster.
Although “terrorism” is incessantly invoked by politicians and the corporate media, defining the word seems to be taboo. Surely such a taboo will persist as long as the Pentagon – with its gunships, napalm, Reaper drones, white phosphorus, cluster bombs, hellfire missiles, cruise missiles etc., etc. – keeps raining terror on poorly defended peoples.
Weakness or Strength?
Do militarism and the imposition of a surveillance state make a nation safe and strong – or vulnerable and weak? The “war on terrorism,” it turns out, has been a wonderful device for stifling dissent and ratcheting up surveillance and social control here in the US – witness the Patriot Acts and the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act. Witness the prosecution of Muslim charity head Dr. Rafil Dhafir and the calculated intimidation of Muslims in my hometown of Syracuse – a pattern repeated across the country.
Why do we refuse to see what the Pentagon does, not only over there, but here? The trillions squandered on US land and air wars provide the rationale for class-targeted domestic budget cuts. Such cuts help heighten the privilege precious to the 1 percent, and to those who curry their favor or aspire to join their ranks.
Such cuts decimate the safety nets that reduce human despair and help assure domestic tranquility. The ensuing social discord is then used to justify the further militarization of our police. With that domestic militarization, the US itself insidiously becomes an occupied territory. Unlike people of color, middle-class white folk seem blithely unaware of the process. As the middle class shrivels, that ignorance will diminish.
And can’t we see our complicity in our own oppression? Don’t we contribute to militarism through the federal taxes we pay – about half of which goes to the Pentagon? The Pentagon, of course, then funnels much of this swag to its corporate cronies.
Are we so caught up in personal debt, are our lifestyles too snared in addiction, distraction and co-optation, that we can’t think straight? Are we so snared that our hearts have gone AWOL?
Don’t we give a damn that our children are inheriting an increasingly depleted and dangerous world? Or that our nation’s much vaunted democracy – like our proud Judeo-Christianity – risks becoming a soulless sham.…
Ed Kinane is an essayist and anti-state terror activist based in Syracuse, New York. In 2003, he spent five months in Baghdad with Voices in the Wilderness … before, during and after “shock and awe.” An advocate of “prison witness,” he has twice done federal time for direct actions against the Pentagon’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Ed has worked on Peace Brigades accompaniment teams in the war zones of Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Sri Lanka. In the eighties, he spent nearly three years teaching in and hitchhiking around Africa.