Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire

The United States is a military empire that was built and is maintained by organized violence.

The origins of this country lie with the military conquest and either destruction or forced resettlement of indigenous people. Today, the modern American lifestyle is maintained, as Thomas Freidman (someone with whom I agree on very little) writes, by the “hidden fist” of the military.

“McDonalds cannot flourish without MacDonald Douglass,” Friedman wrote. “And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.”

I am reminded of this fact every August. August brings Seafair to Seattle, and with Seafair comes the Blue Angels, a Navy/Marines squadron of F/A-18 fighter bombers that travels the US each year, entertaining the public for an annual cost of $37 million.

As these jet aircraft roar overhead, I cover my ears and wince at the spectacle of widespread public adulation. These war machines are worshipped. Earlier today, I watched a five-year-old boy cheering and yelling “yee-haw” as the fighter formation shot overhead. Out on Lake Washington, a toxified remnant of what was once an ecological paradise, other Seattle residents on boats and rafts raised their hands towards the jets in supplication. As five aircraft passed directly overhead, I watched one white American man hold a can of beer above his face and pour the liquid directly down his throat.

For thousands of people, the roar of an F/A-18 fighter bomber is the last sound they ever heard. The F/A-18 aircraft played a major role during the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Between these two conflicts, more than a million civilians were killed—many of them in bombings. The same jet continues to be used in Syria, in Yemen, in Somalia, and elsewhere all around the world.

The US military uses its power to promote and protect a certain vision of prosperity and societal development. In 1948, George Kennan, then the Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, wrote in Memo PPS23 that “[The United States has] about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population… Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…”

In the 70 years since Kennan wrote that memo, that “pattern of relationships” has been successfully devised and maintained. The US military is the largest in the world by expenditure, with more than $600 billion in annual funding and more than 2 million personnel (including reservists).

The true costs of this are incalculable. They range from the ecocidal, genocidal destruction of Vietnam and Cambodia to the horrors of Gulf War Syndrome to the toxic remnants of weapons manufactories in cities across the country. In Guatemala and El Salvador, the legacy of US-sponsored right-wing terrorism still echoes through a shattered society. In Nevada and across oceania, indigenous lands remain irradiated from decades of weapons testing, and nuclear waste which continues to leak into groundwater and seep into soils will remain deadly for hundreds of thousands of years.

As Friedman reminds us, military might and corporate power remain inextricably linked in creating consumer culture. We are reminded of this at Seafair, where sponsors include 76, Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, Uber, Oracle, Microsoft, LG, Samsung, CapitalOne, and many others.

Each F/A-18 costs about $29 million, and is produced by Boeing, the second-largest weapons manufacturer in the world, one of the 100 largest companies in the world, with just under $100 billion in annual revenue. Seattle still fawns over Boeing, which brought so much wealth to this region, just as it now fawns over Amazon and Microsoft. Their digital products colonize our minds, just as Boeing’s weapons help control territory.

Seafair also includes public tours of two warships, the USS Momsen (an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer equipped with 96 missiles) and the USS Somerset (a $2 billion troop transport ship equipped to carry 600+ soldiers and vehicles into combat zones). As thousands of people file through the ships, exclaiming over the might of the empire, we must remember that the US military is also the single largest polluter in the world, responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other single entity.

Some people think that because I critique the US military and US empire, I must support this nation’s opponents. This logic is absurd. The Taliban and ISIS, the Nazi regime, the Stalinist Soviet state; US enemies have included countless reprehensible regimes. Repression must be fought, but this nation always has ulterior motives hidden behind humanitarian rhetoric. In the games of empire, the people and the planet are being sacrificed.

Our enemy is empire itself.

But despite my opposition to imperialist wars, I’m not a pacifist. A friend of mine, Vince Emanuele, served in the Marine Corps during the invasion of Iraq. He became disillusioned with the military, left the service, and became a leading voice of dissent against the war.

In the wake of one of the latest calls for mass regulation of firearms, he wrote:

“Sure, I’ll give up my guns, as soon as the NSA, CIA, FBI, DEA, ATF, police, military, and right-wing militias disarm themselves. Until then, my liberal, progressive, and “leftist” friends can eat tofu, watch MSNBC/Bill Moyers, and go fly a kite. Your collective commentary is akin to the “privileged white-classes” that you so often rail against.

Believe me, I’d love to live in a world without guns, violence, and so forth. But, I’m not naive enough to believe these things are going away anytime soon. This nation is extremely sick, twisted, undereducated, and plagued with an exploding prison population, growing inequality, and ever-expanding military empire and surveillance state. We should be expecting much more violence in the future, not less.

Clearly, within the context of rapid climate change, growing social ills, and a collapsing economic system, giving up your weaponry seems a bit insane and utterly naive. Interestingly, it’s the liberals and progressives, who’ve largely grown up in cosmopolitan/suburban areas, who sound like the spoiled little American brats we so often challenge.

If you’ve never carried, fired, cleaned, taken apart, or counted on a weapon to save your life, I suggest taking a more humble approach to this issue. Conversely, if you’ve only fired your daddy’s handgun, shotgun, and rifle in the backyard, I suggest scaling back the glorification of weapons and violence.

If I thought killing and warfare were fun, I would have stayed in the military–but I didn’t. If I though weapons were unnecessary, I wouldn’t own any–but I do.”

Perhaps it’s time for a people’s army—a left-wing guerrilla force, grounded in feminism, anti-racism, and respect for human rights—to fight back against the imperialist empire, to bring the fight home and make CEOs and corporations and right-wing neofascists afraid again.

Max Wilbert is a third-generation organizer who grew up in Seattle’s post-WTO anti-globalization and undoing racism movement. His first book, a collection of pro-feminist and environmental essays, was recently released. He is co-author of the forthcoming “Bright Green Lies,” which looks at the problems with solar panels, electric cars, recycling, and green cities.

More articles by:

Max Wilbert is a writer, activist, and organizer with the group Deep Green Resistance. He lives on occupied Kalapuya Territory in Oregon.

October 18, 2018
Erik Molvar
The Ten Big Lies of Traditional Western Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lockheed and Loaded: How the Maker of Junk Fighters Like the F-22 and F-35 Came to Have Full-Spectrum Dominance Over the Defense Industry
Lawrence Davidson
Israel’s “Psychological Obstacles to Peace”
Brian Platt – Brynn Roth
Black-Eyed Kids and Other Nightmares From the Suburbs
John W. Whitehead
You Want to Make America Great Again? Start by Making America Free Again
Zhivko Illeieff
Why Can’t the Democrats Reach the Millennials?
Steve Kelly
Quiet, Please! The Latest Threat to the Big Wild
Manuel García, Jr.
The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ Over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Adam Parsons
A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash
Binoy Kampmark
The Tyranny of Fashion: Shredding Banksy
Dean Baker
How Big is Big? Trump, the NYT and Foreign Aid
Vern Loomis
The Boofing of America
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail