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Cashing in on Conflict

War Profiteers, Slavery and the Hypocrisy of Imperialism

by NATHAN GOODMAN

Across the world, people are protesting against US intervention in Syria. Polls show widespread skepticism of the impending war. Rather than making Americans safer, intervention is likely to support forces connected to al Qaeda. Yet it still seems inevitable that the US government will launch cruise missiles at Syria, escalating the country’s bloody civil war. Why?

Because politicians don’t work for the people. As Thomas Knapp of the Center for a Stateless Society puts it, “politicians and soldiers work for (and constitute part of) the political class. Their job is to transfer as much wealth as possible from your pockets to that class’s bank accounts.”

In that case, they’re doing their job quite well. The war profiteers at Raytheon have seen their stock prices soar in anticipation of the Syrian war. As the Boston Herald reported on August 31st, “The Waltham-based manufacturer of the Tomahawk cruise missiles, expected to be used in any strike on Syria, saw its stock hit a 52-week high last week at $77.93 per share, and has stayed near that high, closing yesterday at $75.41.”

Officials like John Kerry argue that this war is somehow a humanitarian response to atrocities by the Assad regime. But the corporations that stand to profit are no humanitarians. To the contrary, they have been involved in some of the most grotesque human rights violations of our time.

For example, war profiteers profit off slave labor. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, and BAE Systems all use prison labor to manufacture military equipment. Prisoners are often forced to labor under sweatshop style conditions, and when they are paid they often receive meager wages like 23 cents an hour. As William Hartung puts it, “There’s no greater restriction on a worker’s rights than being stuck in prison.” Profiting off prison labor creates an incentive to keep prisons full, which may be part of why America has the largest prison population on Earth. Most of America’s prisoners are non-violent offenders, and the majority are people of color. The racism and injustice of slavery remains, and war profiteers benefit from it.

War profiteers also benefit from human rights violations at America’s borders. Their products are used to violate privacy through pervasive surveillance at the border. They are wielded by Border Patrol agents who murder migrant workers and break indigenous communities like the  Tohono O’oodham Nation apart. This aggressive border security helps bosses exploit and abuse undocumented workers. With the threat of deportation and a militarized border hanging over their head, they are deterred from reporting wage theft, sexual violence, and other abuses by their employers. So once again war profiteers enable exploitation, violence and abuse.

Then there’s the warfare they profit from worldwide. General Atomics profits by making Predator drones that kill innocents in Pakistan and Yemen. A litany of corporations profited from the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Like the impending war in Syria, this invasion was justified largely under humanitarian pretenses. Yet rather than “liberate” Iraqis, this invasion brutalized them. The US government murdered innocents, tortured prisoners, and illegally used white phosphorus, a chemical weapon, to kill Iraqis. American war profiteers made a killing from a war in which the US government crossed the very same “red line” they accuse Assad of crossing.

As Emma Goldman wrote decades ago, “no one, be it individual or government, engaged in enslaving and exploiting at home, could have the integrity or the desire to free people in other lands.”  By this standard, we must not trust the US government or the war profiteers to “free” anyone in Syria.

Nathan Goodman is a Senior Fellow and Lysander Spooner Research Scholar in Abolitionist Studies at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).