Privatizing War Abroad, Invading Privacy at Home

Although there may be an international outcry that the United States has over a hundred and sixty thousand private contractors who are up to no good in Iraq most Americans are greeting the news with a resigned shrug. Nothing this government does seems to surprise anybody anymore. George Bush isn’t bothered by low approval ratings or the revelations of the crimes of his regime. He acts like he was just hoping some son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t like it. And we the people seem to be that son-of-a-bitch.

Bush is a lucky man which could be one reason for his insouciance. Other presidents didn’t have the luxury of ruling over a public whose social power is as weak as our present one. Lyndon Johnson didn’t have Bush’s luck. Richard Nixon didn’t either.

Up to the Tet Offensive in 1968 Johnson had been conscripting forty thousand American boys a month. The pressures of the peace movement and internal opposition within the conscript army forced him to seek mercenaries from other countries. American taxpayers were unaware they were paying the salaries of over a hundred thousand mercenaries from the Philippines, Thailand and South Korea. The South Korean government whose economy ultimately benefited from Johnson’s bribes supplied fifty thousand trained mercenaries who were in Vietnam with one job only. Kill Vietnamese. Johnson figured that by using professional killers it would decrease the direct participation of the American conscripts less willing to commit outright murder while still accomplishing his goals of fighting an unwinnable war.

While Richard Nixon promised people that he had a “secret plan to end the war” which got him the votes of even desperate Democrats bringing him a victorious election he wanted to escalate the war not stop it. But his use of mercenaries to fight it had an additional purpose. By 1969 domestic opposition had grown so intense that while both Johnson and Nixon had wanted to send an additional three hundred thousand American soldiers into battle in Vietnam they kept them in the States to be used for another conflict. They were convinced they would be needed to quell an internal rebellion on the level of a civil war right here at home. It is easy to forget that our society was once capable of intimidating our rulers to that extent. After Vietnam our rulers made sure the people would forget.

That was a long time ago. No need now for presidents to keep from the people that while our wars are privatized our own private lives are open to any scrutiny the State deems necessary strictly for our “own protection”. The “national emergency” of 9/11 saw a wholesale sell-off of our strength as a society as we fled into the arms of a protective federal government. Maybe by the time 9/11 rolled out that’s what we wanted.

The thing about the State is that it takes everything from the people and gives the people nothing in return. There’s nothing like a war or a national crisis for the State to take even more power to itself. But where does this power come from? We are not the State. We are not the government. We are a society and at present the poorer for it because almost without noticing the State has usurped our social power and taken it all to itself.

We keep electing into office the same incompetent politicians year after year who promise to represent us but who serve only to enrich themselves while enlarging the apparatus of the State. And then we wonder why nothing ever changes.

EVA LIDDELL is a painter who lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her email is