Can the War Machine be Contained?

Today is a good day to begin to end war. It is a logical and timely day because we have run out of enemies.

Iran’s record has been cleared by the UN regarding uranium usage, so we don’t need to bomb them. North Korea is shutting down its atomic programs. The only countries with nuclear weapons, besides ourselves, are those we approve of. We are no longer in a face-off with an equally powerful nation state, like Russia, bent upon our destruction. Our current adversaries are clusters of disgruntled people with improvised explosives and suicide bombs. Surely, all the imagination, science and muscle that created the mighty American war machine could be reprogrammed to negotiate mutual agreements of peace with such irregular forces. Or can it? Perhaps the war machine has taken on an all-pervasive, self-perpetuating life of its own and cannot be curtailed.

Long before 9/11, President Bush declared that his comprehensive defense policy goals would include “creating the military of the next century.” Had he instead focused on “creating the peace of the next century” instead of building super war toys, we may have had garnered the cultural intelligence we needed to prevent 9/11. The Bush administration substituted code phrases like “war on terrorism” and “bringing democracy” for military domination of the world. Perhaps if “Expand Empire” had been listed as an option on ballots, things wouldn’t have gone this far. Perhaps if the plan had been openly discussed by military recruiters, Human Resource folk in weapons labs, or politicians – especially politicians – we could have quelled Godzilla in his infancy.

Unfortunately, the pervasive veil of secrecy prevailed and the corporate war machine continued to lobby both Democrats and Republicans. In Bill Clinton’s first year of office, despite his campaign rhetoric, arms sales doubled. It was Clinton who initiated an illegal nine year bombing of Iraq and the wars in the Balkans.

It was, however, Bush’s preemptive war on Iraq that swamped the national attention and somehow, before we knew it, the mighty war machine became the driving force of our economy. We don’t manufacture anything any more except weapons and high-tech weapons systems. Hundreds of thousands of us depend on some arm of the war machine for our jobs. The military-industrial complex controls the largest bloc of industry in the US. More than one third of engineers and scientists in the US are employed in military related projects. Forty US firms account for sixty-three percent of the top one hundred arms sales in the world. Shipbuilding and aerospace industries are dependent upon arms sales and military spending.

There are over one hundred thousand civilian contractors in Iraq working for companies like Perini Corp. and URS Corp. (majority-owned by Richard Blum, Dianne Feinstein’s husband), who provide technical and construction services for the military. A tangled web of government/corporate corruption is significant in the build-up of the war machine. For instance, Dianne Feinstein was chairperson of Military Construction Appropriations when the multi-million dollar Perini and URS contracts were awarded.

Besides the one hundred and sixty thousand people in uniform and thousands of support personnel, fifty thousand private security forces are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Untold thousands of low-income, young women work as prostitutes serving each of the one thousand overseas military bases and six thousand bases in the US and its territories. There is no end in sight. DARPA, an agency of the Defense Department, is girding for twenty and more years of war. They are working cooperatively with Silicon Valley companies to develop more-realistic prosthetic limbs, drugs and aircraft carriers in the sky.

Our economy is so dependant upon war, our culture so soaked in war propaganda, that we suffer a self-inflicted blindness which distances us from those continuing to suffer the day-to-day brutalities of war. We can’t pay much attention to the thousands of war refugees who continue to be driven from their homes and who live in destitute make-shift camps around the world. We can’t think about the thousands of soldiers and civilians, including many, many children who, if they live, are left without limbs or organs and carry traumatic baggage that hammers them, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

War has pervaded our culture. We think, talk and dream war. Graphic violence in our entertainment industry continues to escalate. The increase of TV violence after six years of War on Terror was succinctly documented by Margot Pepper in a recent Berkeley Daily Planet article. The American Psychiatric Association claims that, “viewers become more desensitized, fearful . . . they identify with the aggressor and the aggressor’s solutions.”

So what can we do? An insignificant place to start might be to shine our flashlights in the war beast’s eyes. Light up his whole body with words, music, pictures, whatever we’ve got, for all the country and all the world to see. Surely if we can see how he’s got us under his spell, we’ll want to pull free. Otherwise, we have to keep doing what we do, like stepping up the pressure on the reconvening Congress. Somehow we have to loosen the grip of the rightist Democratic Leadership Council (including Bill and Hillary Clinton) on the Democratic Party which, along with media, has distanced itself from Dennis Kucinich, the only competitive candidate calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. We must entice the Democrats sitting around with their calculators muttering about the election, to action.

We must continue to call for impeachment. Despite Nancy Pelosi, we must stay focused on the impeachment of Cheney and Bush. Impeachment is one of the few tools we have to defocus the administration from its wars, defer an attack on Iran and demonstrate to children that we are responsible for our actions.

Somehow we must push the debate away from whether or not the Iraqis are pulling up their socks to whether we really want to live in the grip of endless war. Historically, we’ve never really embraced world peace as a desirable option. Imagine the possibilities if we actually tried.

If we stay the course and we are very lucky, many local, congressional and presidential candidates will emerge or current contenders will find new voices, people with the vision, courage and the honesty necessary to take on the task of whittling at the war machine. More than our lives depend upon it. The task is formidable, but the beast can and must be minimized, re-sculpted, regulated, turned around. The rich, testosterone-drunk adolescent has run out of enemies and is suffocating itself — and us — in its own regurgitation.

LAURA SANTINA is co-chair of the Berkeley/East Bay branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She is a freelance political and environmental writer and author of the novel, The Used Husband Store. She can be reached at: