July 8, 2009, 5:47PM
The war in Iraq is supposedly winding down (though this is in part a matter of definition). The war in Afghanistan is heating up and has extended to Pakistan. AfriCom is a secretly booming endeavour; as is strategic military operations throughout Latin America. George W. Bush put us on a permanent war footing, and President Obama is continuing that policy.
How long has it been since you have heard a discussion of peace? It has become a rare commodity over the last decade – perhaps decades. The only political discussion of peace was during the last campaign was Dennis Kucinich being laughed out of candidacy with his “Department of Peace.” It has been so long since any serious discussion of “peace on Earth” that I would guess that for many peace isn’t even a thought. In the U.S. – and perhaps the rest of the world – we have become so inured to war that we seem to think it is an inevitable and natural state.
I am not going to make an argument that the world does not have a history of warfare. However, I do not believe that a history of warfare proves the argument of the natural inevitability of war. War is a choice. As a choice, it means that humans could make different choices.
There is a good reason why even thoughts of peace seem to have fled the public dialog. Namely, that there is big money in weapons and war. I highly recommend Mother Jones’s special report “Shock and Audit” which is an analysis of the Defense Budget and where it is going. The short story is that more and more dollars are going to “defense” spending. A significant portion of this financing growth is the continued expansion of U.S. global military presence (see MoJo’s interactive map Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide).
So the path we are on does not seem to be focusing on peace, but focusing on endless, global, military conflict. Still, there seems to be (at best) muted complaints about framing our present and future within the context of endless war. The horror of that does not seem to sink in. I believe this is due to the spinning of war technology. U.S. war technology development seems to be headed towards involving fewer soldiers and more “remote” technologies. While this may reduce the number of U.S. troops lost and permanently injured, it definitely does not lessen the footprint of those wars where it tromps.
The remote technologies range from robotic weapons platforms patrolling streets, to weaponized drones flying overhead, to space-based laser (and energy) weapons platforms which can strike anywhere on the planet. Since the video game-esque presentation of the first Iraq War (Desert Storm), the U.S. public has been sold a bill of goods about “smart” weapons and “precision” weaponry. What is kept as distant as possible is that these weapons are neither “smart” or “precise,” and that civilians are constantly on the receiving end of them. Obama has apparently embraced the defense establishment hype and has expanded the “drone” attacks across Afghanistan and Pakistan – and also expanded the non-combatant toll of those weapons.
The other major area of development is the creation of the super soldier (or as the DoD prefers to call them – “future war fighters”). This line of pursuit engages in various degrees and types of technologies that either meld “war fighter” and machine externally (through robotics) or internally (through nanotechnology and the implantation of weapons and systems control devices in the “war fighter”). Another line of development is to improve the war fighter through biotech and genetic options which would allow things from rapid muscle repair/recovery to being able to digest cellulose (from boxes to grasses) so that time in the field without resupply can be extended.
Instead of discussing where we are going, our leaders continue to create more incentives to grow the military investment. The “military-industrial complex” is increasingly diverse and more an more private contractors take over former military tasks – from food services, to strategic monitoring, to mercenary forces. We are rapidly becoming (if we are not already) an economy with the war complex at its hub.
In his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower’ spoke of the dangers of the war machine that had been created (See end of article for quote and video). He stated that we must guard against this powerful military industry dominating our society. We have failed to heed that warning. Instead, through careful manipulation and strategic rhetoric we have not only come to embrace the war machine, but to accept the “need” for it, and the naturalness of war.
Perpetual war has become completely merged with a fatal belief in “capitalism.” We have been sold an ideology that idolizes the “benefits” of capitalism – particularly its “efficiencies” driven by “free market competition.” Meanwhile, government is presented as “bloated,” “wasteful,” and “corrupt.” We are led to believe in the inherent “badness” of government combined with the assumption that “business” is self-regulating. While the debacle of the current global economic meltdown should have debunked the myth of “efficiency” and market “self-regulation,” it apparently has not. There is little broad public discussion of the fact that the economic meltdown is the result of monopoly capitalism seeking the most “profit” imaginable while “free market” governmental believers turned a blind eye to regulating or controlling the “excesses” of capitalism.
Perhaps because this lesson is being missed, or perhaps because the connection is not made, we are incentivizing permanent war. More and more privatization of the military leads to more incentives (profits) from never ending war. Just as privatizing jails and prisons creates an environment to “grow the market” (increase the number of prisoners and the length of detentions), so privatizing the military creates an environment for more war.
Government is not a business. The activities it engages in (in part) are to address social needs that are not necessarily profitable. Increasingly, it needs to engage in meeting social needs that are dangerous when placed in the private market sphere. We are seeing this with the argument about health care, and we should be discussing it in relationship to defense (and other charges of government). Instead, where the concerns about capitalism occur, it is to pose government as a necessary competitor to the private sphere. This is an underlying argument of the “public option” in health care reform. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that the U.S. government has been argued to be a necessary competitor to bring U.S. industry back to competitive capitalism. In part, it shows how weak the monopoly barriers have become that the only agency big enough to offer corporate competition is the government of the United States.
The expansion of militarism and imperialism (soft or blatant) is following the same course with looming disastrous consequences. We need to seriously discuss the reality of perpetual war and the profit driven industry that is being created. We need to challenge the rhetoric of never ending conflict and that we can engage in “neat” wars. They are not, and never will be “neat.” They will always bear the costs of blood and life, deadly environments, and decimation of human connection and community.
A peace movement arose under the whip of the “war on terrorism.” It seems to have gone back to sleep with the election of Barack Obama. While there are numerous fronts on which people are struggling right now, it is critical that the peace movement be highly visible and loud. Obama and Congress are expanding the financing of the defense industry. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still being supplemented by “emergency” funding despite promises they would be transparently included in the federal budget.
We have a world at stake with the crises of energy, environmental destruction, and climate chaos. We need each other to meet these challenges if we are going to survive. We have the best bases in the world to come together peacefully than at any time in human history – our very survival. I firmly believe that our ability to successfully meet these challenges rests in peace – not war. We have a choice to make – peace or assured destruction (which will be profitable for a few).