On separate occasions, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has casually threatened war against Russia and Iran. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has casually threatened war against China and North Korea. That these threats are largely without provocation is another topic entirely.
While America has not known even momentary peace in 15 years, it can seem surreal to consider the realities of a third World War.
In 1915, Russian Socialist Leon Trotsky penned a letter planning the October Revolution addressed to “Proletarians of Europe!” The world was one year into fighting The Great War and Trotsky warned against the ever-decreasing liberties of the people beyond massive loss of life and wealth — the appropriation of labor for the purpose of war.
“The burdens of war will consume the best energies of the peoples for decades, endanger the achievements of social reform, and hinder every step forward.” — Leon Trotsky
War consumes the best energies of the people
Less than one month after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt told Congress and the country:
“Powerful enemies must be out-fought and out-produced. It is not enough to turn out just a few more planes, a few more tanks, a few more guns, a few more ships than can be turned out by our enemies. We must out-produce them overwhelmingly, so that there can be no question of our ability to provide a crushing superiority of equipment in any theatre of the world war.”
And out-produce, we did.
When auto manufacturers transitioned from producing cars to producing weapons and tools of war, already efficient production ramped up to historic levels. PBS reported 3 million cars were produced in 1941, yet only 139 more were produced during the entirety of the second World War:
“Instead, Chrysler made fuselages. General Motors made airplane engines, guns, trucks and tanks. Packard made Rolls-Royce engines for the British air force. And at its vast Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Ford Motor Company performed something like a miracle 24-hours a day. The average Ford car had some 15,000 parts. The B-24 Liberator long-range bomber had 1,550,000. One came off the line every 63 minutes.”
This massive scale in production was earned through widespread propaganda — from beloved Rosie the Riveter co-opting female empowerment for production’s sake to more overt threats — the “Japs” love when you call in sick. Everyone did their part.
In a farewell speech years after the end of World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower issued an ominous warning against the rise of war production:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
Until the last of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of ploughshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.”
Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has been in a near-permanent state of semi-war. We are currently engaged in no less than seven conflicts of war, several without proper war authorization. Today, the Department of Defense (DOD) (formerly more aptly called the ‘Department of War’) is the nation’s largest employer with more than 2.4 million federal employees, hundreds of thousands more federal contractors, 20,000 estimated CIA personnel, and more than 800,000 in the National Guard and Reserve forces.
Even in the private sector, arms sales can make up staggering percentages of total sales for corporations who, not coincidentally, lobby the government on matters of defense. For example, more than 78 percent of behemoth Lockheed Martin’s total sales of $46.5 billion are made up of arms sales. It is of note that public corporations are also legally required to provide returns for shareholders above all other factors — including public welfare or environmental concerns.
Even in times without world wars, military action of this sort frequently and very literally consumes the best energies of the people.
War endangers the achievements of social reform
Deliberate attacks on civil rights like The Patriot Act and its bigger, badder relative the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), NSA surveillance, and the infringement of the rights of journalists and whistleblowers have followed heightened security in the unsettling times post September 11.
Meanwhile, as the public loses power in the political arena to hold an expansive centralized government accountable, austerity measures often reduce spending on infrastructure like education and health care or in supporting social reforms to redirect seemingly endless moneys to war. In these times, we send a clear message to the hungry, poor, overworked masses that there is not enough money for programs people need, but there is never enough money for ‘defense.’
Despite American defense spending swallowing that of the next seven nations combined, there is, in the eyes of war profiteers and budget wranglers alike, more money available for war in the future. That money will simply have to come from services the public relies on — for the greater good. When wars begin with manufactured consent (as we are teetering on under this exact premise with any one of three world powers — Russia, Iran, China), arguments to cut healthcare, social security and worker’s programs or to reduce commitments to transportation, energy, etc. can be made with seemingly sound mind. Of course, temporarily, the nation will need to squeeze the belt holding society together to pay for war, but the war is just! Support the troops!
Once we are at war, there is little use questioning the merit of the engagement itself, as we have seen plainly in the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or even in the burgeoning conflict with Syria increasing tensions with Russia. Once we are at war, it is all we can do to argue against the crippling measures of austerity.
“The movement was provoked by lack of bread. This, of course, is not an accidental cause. In all the belligerent countries the lack of bread is the most immediate, the most acute reason for dissatisfaction and indignation among the masses. All the insanity of the war is revealed to them from this angle: it is impossible to produce necessities of life because one has to produce instruments of death.”
— Leon Trotsky
George Orwell wrote in “1984” that the act of war was destruction of the products of human labor, that, if allowed to be used by the masses, would make the populace too intelligent and comfortable to be controlled by their governments.
If one cannot comprehend war being for the destruction of human labor, certainly we can understand it as a result. Not only the destruction of labor, but the socialization of massive debt and cost for war among the people who cannot withstand another squeeze as it is.
Trotsky addressed this as well, in the context of the first World War:
“The American bourgeoisie has earned billions from the blood of the European worker; but what did the American housewife, the workingwoman, get? Her share is scarcity, and the tremendous cost of living. It is the same in all countries, whether the bourgeoisie of one or the other country wins or suffers defeat. For the workers, the toiling masses, the result is the same: exhaustion of food stocks, impoverishment, enhanced slavery and oppression, accidents, wounds, cripples — all this pours upon the popular masses.”
And in the context of the second World War, former President Eisenhower:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
It is arguably easy to wage ideological warfare when the real price is paid by others. One may call these ‘hard choices’ all they like, but they are made from leather office chairs nonetheless.
It is also easy to look back on the War in Iraq and claim the populace was duped into supporting military action while conveniently ignoring the vivid reality of the time in which the populace largely clamored for war and clung to justification of it.
When World War III comes, it will come with the support of the majority, as every world war to date has. It is likely that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. She has threatened overt military action against Russia in response to their unproven connection to leaks of communications within the Democratic National Committee. She has also repeated support for a no-fly zone over Syria, which, according to numerous experts, will result in war with Russia.
At which point, it’s probable even those who clamor for peace now will instead call for war when antagonized with a one-side portrayal of Russian villainy. How many of them will volunteer to join the civilian military? One could argue there should be a one-to-one ratio as one should not support war unless they are also willing to support it with their lives.
As long as the disconnect of ideological support for war ‘equals’ patriotism, the American public runs the risk of unwittingly bearing the heaviest burdens of war.
As an alternative, the toiling, oppressed and exhausted proletariat whose bodies are being factored into equations on collateral damage daily could choose to feel empowered by those who have historically rejected war, even under the often thin veil of ‘justice.’