Note to the revised version: This article was first written for publication in December, 2001, weeks after the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan. It appeared in the April 2002 issue of "Wild Matters," a national environmental journal Michael Colby published in Vermont.
By Mike Ferner
"So what is our mistake? We are also human beings. Treat us like human beings," Gulalae, a 37 year-old Afghan mother, told the Toledo Blade from the dust, hunger and fear of the Shamshatoo refugee camp in Pakistan. She calls Osama bin Laden an "outsider" and says that because of him, "Afghanistan is made into a hell for others."
Grim does not begin to describe the conditions Gulalae and her family endure. In one three-month period, in just one portion of Shamshatoo, bacteria-related dehydration killed a child nearly every day. The misery in this refugee city is like a grain of sand on the beach of suffering that is Afghanistan. But Americans know little of it.
If you only watch mainstream press accounts you'd never know that within the first three months of "America's New War," civilian deaths from U.S. bombing in Afghanistan surpassed 3,700—more than were killed in the attacks of September 11. The toll from unexploded cluster bombs, land mines, destroyed water and sewer systems and depleted uranium shells will no doubt reach into the hundreds of thousands. Add the additional innocents sure to die as the international cycle of violence continues, and our war to end terrorism seems calculated to do just the opposite – which points to a disturbing but plausible reason why we chose war: our government needs Osama bin Laden, just like we needed the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union.
For a year and a decade after the USSR dissolved in 1990, it looked like we would have to settle for homosexuals as the national boogeymen, but al Qaeda serves to crank up the armament budget much better than do homosexuals. We fool ourselves if we deny there was considerable behind-closed-doors celebrating in the board rooms of some of the biggest U.S. corporations when a distinctly unpopular president decided to become a War President and invade Afghanistan; then through the bloody logic of empire, Iraq.
Before the Evil Empire we had the Hun, the despicable Spaniards bombing the Maine before that, and the murderous Mexicans were in the way when we wanted Texas. Similar frights can be traced back through the British Empire and earlier than that to the Gauls up in France whom Caesar had to put to the sword to keep Rome safe.
These days government has much more sophisticated means of monitoring and spying on citizens, so the two plums of power and control now sway temptingly before those who would be our servants. How likely is it that without sufficient fright citizens would abide a PATRIOT Act, or partially disrobe to board a plane, or shrug off wiretaps or multitudes of surveillance cameras now invading city landscapes?
But returning for a moment to the economic incentives for war, the following explains as well as any and better than most: "War is a racket. It always has been…A racket is best described as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many."
Words of a radical peacenik? Only if a Marine Corps Major General qualifies as one. In his twilight years General Smedley Butler unburdened his soul as did other career militarists, such as Admiral Hyman Rickover, who admitted that fathering the nuclear Navy was a mistake and Robert McNamara, who almost found the words to apologize for overseeing the Viet Nam war. Though unlike Rickover and McNamara, Butler named names and exposed for whom the system works.
"I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914" Butler wrote in 1933. "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 American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested." Butler acknowledged that he'd spent most of his 33 years in the Marines as "a high class muscle man for Big Business, Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."
Thus did Butler simply and effectively expose a largely unknown truth—how the military serves the interests of the propertied elite and their wealth-gathering machines, the corporations.
Perhaps more commonly known is the corrupting practice of war profiteering.
"...Only twenty-four at the (Civil) war's beginning, (J. Pierpont) Morgan perceived from the first that wars were for the shrewd to profit from and poor to die in," wrote Robert Boyer and Herbert Morais in Labor's Untold Story. "He received a tip that a store of government-owned rifles had been condemned as defective and with the simplicity of genius he bought them from the government for $17,500 on one day and sold them back to the government on the next for $110,000...A Congressional committee investigating his little deal said of him and other hijacking profiteers, 'Worse than traitors are the men who, pretending loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the nation.'"
Lest we think such traditions are no longer observed, consider the case of Eagle-Picher Technologies Corp., producer of sophisticated batteries to power the guidance systems of "smart" bombs. Workers claim they were ordered to cover up defects on millions of batteries – defects that would ultimately cause guidance systems to fail. How many innocent civilians were killed by bombs guided by defective Eagle-Picher Corp. batteries?
Ignoring the indictable war profiteers like J.P. Morgan, consider just one instance of legal war profits and how they allow the few "inside the racket" to benefit economically and politically – for generations – at the expense of the many. The du Pont Corporation will suffice.
Compared to some of its fellow racketeers, the du Pont Corporation's profits during WWI look downright patriotic. The company whose gunpowder saved the world for democracy saw its average annual pre-war profit jump from $6,000,000 to nearly 10 times that amount during the war.
With this wealth the du Pont family was able to buy nearly a quarter of all General Motors Corporation stock by the mid-1920's. Not only would that become a shrewd investment during GM's successful campaign to destroy urban mass transit systems, but who better than a du Pont to run President Eisenhower's Bureau of Public Roads and develop the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways along with Eisenhower Defense Secretary (and former GM President), Charles Wilson?
If war profits provide such a good return on investment, imagine how much planning goes into winning the geostrategic spoils of war? For a peek inside this game there are few better tour guides than President Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Having also served on President Reagan's Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, Brzezinski was well-qualified to write his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. It's one of those books that beg the question, "why would anybody actually put this stuff in writing?" It also provides useful documentation for those who find it more than a little odd that "Zbiggy" has more recently joined critics of the war in Iraq.
Brzezinski describes the Europe-Asia landmass as the key to global dominance. He asserts that the fall of the Soviet Union cleared the way for the U.S. to become the first non-Eurasian power to dominate this critical area, "…and America's global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained..."
In 1977 he named the Central Asian "stans" as the next center of conflict for world domination, and in light of expected Asian economic growth, he called this area around the Caspian Sea "…infinitely more important as a potential economic prize: an enormous concentration of natural gas and oil reserves…dwarf(ing) those of Kuwait, the Gulf of Mexico, or the North Sea…in addition to important minerals, including gold."
The former Reagan National Security Council member reasoned: "It follows that America's primary interest is to help ensure that no single power comes to control this geopolitical space and that the global community has unhindered financial and economic access to it."
He further deduced: "That puts a premium on maneuver and manipulation in order to prevent the emergence of a hostile coalition that could eventually seek to challenge America's primacy." Leaving nothing to doubt, he clarified "…To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep (satellites) pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."
For those foolish enough to imagine planet Earth not being ruled by the U.S., he warns that "America's withdrawal from the world—or because of the sudden emergence of a successful rival—would produce massive international instability. It would prompt global anarchy."
Brzezinski advises to "keep the barbarians from coming together," and predicts "global anarchy" if U.S. dominance is threatened. The cold warrior's language, while picturesque, is not as precise as that used by Thomas Friedman, yet another acolyte of empire who now wants to distance himself from a badly mismanaged adventure in Iraq.
The foreign affairs columnist for the NY Times in his much-hyped book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, wrote: "Markets function and flourish only when property rights are secure and can be enforced…And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."
With a Silicon Valley reference, Friedman updates General Butler's statement that "I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests." Notwithstanding Friedman's update, oil retains its century-old rating as the imperial standard – now with Afghanistan and Iraq at center stage. UNOCAL Corp. for one does not hesitate to demand that Afghanistan be made safe for American oil interests. "From the outset," a corporate executive testified to Congress in 1998, "we have made it clear that construction of our proposed ($2.5 billion Afghanistan) pipeline cannot begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders and our company. UNOCAL envisions the creation of a Central Asian Oil Pipeline Consortium…that will utilize and gather oil from existing pipeline infrastructure in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia."
Smedley Butler learned that in war "nations acquire additional territory if they are victorious. They just take it." With leasing more in vogue than ever, getting the use of additional territory – call it property –can be more profitable than actually acquiring it. But the end result is the same. "This newly acquired territory is promptly exploited by the few," Butler explained, "the self-same few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill."
A small measure of historical perspective makes America's latest war much less surprising. Yes, this time it's oil. But as important as that commodity is, it's not oil alone for which we are killing. It's to insure that human rights are subjugated to property rights. Sometimes we call property "oil," sometimes we call it "land," sometimes we call it "human beings." The names change, but the song remains the same throughout history.
For example, it is illuminating to read a few lines from our Constitution, such as Article 4, Section 2. Imbedded in the most fundamental law of our land was the duty to return property in the form of runaway slaves and indentured servants to the owners. The Commerce Clause and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it has insured that property rights trump citizens' rights to govern themselves as described in the new expose, "Gaveling Down the Rabble." And nobody who works for a living needs a source citation to tell them that corporations have more free speech rights than human beings.
That's why the United States government didn't choose to seek justice through a criminal prosecution after September 11. Our government wasn't interested in justice. It was interested in empire and property. Some things never do change.
This article was first written for publication in December, 2001, weeks after the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan. It appeared in the April 2002 issue of "Wild Matters," a national environmental journal Michael Colby published in Vermont.
The initial purpose of War, Inc. was to question why the U.S. chose to go to war after the attacks of September 11, 2001. One could argue that other kinds of responses were possible, such as treating the attacks as a criminal act instead of an act of war which, in any sense of how we understand the word, they were not. Pursuing a criminal response would bring to bear the intelligence-gathering forces of virtually the entire world, then in universal sympathy with the United States, to arrest and try those responsible for the attacks. Leaving aside for a moment the argument that a criminal investigation into the September 11 attacks would never have been allowed since the federal government at the very least looked the other way before the attacks took place, I think we can safely say the last seven years prove that the path we chose – war – has generated far more innocent victims, grieving families, ruined lives and overall problems for the U.S. than had we sought justice without resorting to war.
Which leaves open the question, why did our government choose to respond by invasion and war?
Ferner is author of "Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq."