Making a Killing From Killing

Painting shells in a shell filling factory during World War I – Public Domain

Thieves of private property pass their lives in chains; thieves of public property in riches and luxury.

– Cato the Elder

Though I encounter students and other young people who have never heard the term I hope most Americans are aware of the “Military Industrial Complex.” In his final speech to the nation President Eisenhower, surprisingly since he oversaw much of its formation, warned citizens of the growing danger of the “permanent armaments industry” controlled by those who owned and profited greatly from this new scientific and technological establishment. Many of the giant arms industries, both industrial and high tech, that dominate the corporate landscape today came into existence as the result of war and would long ago have gone out of business in the absence of the guaranteed government profits flowing from the manufactured wars that sustain them today.

Few citizens have ever heard of Charles Wilson of the General Electric Corporation who served as the “czar” of arms production during World War II. In 1944 as victory loomed the nation awaited the return of 16 million veterans. Would unemployment and bread lines await them again? “What we need,” said Wilson, is a “permanent war economy,” neglecting to add that such a scheme would also require permanent enemies.

Undoubtedly you have observed that the United States has been involved in one war or intervention or another, since the end of World War II. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are only the most obvious. Our nation has overthrown numerous governments, many elected by means as democratic as we assert our own to be. The U.S. has more than 800 military installations dispersed across the globe. Though the U.S. emerged from WWII as the most powerful nation in human history the American public has been endlessly propagandized to believe that we are a lone island of democracy and human rights surrounded in a geo-political ocean by sharks bent on our destruction.

In fact the “permanent warfare state” has been erected on the backs of American taxpayers by fraudulent claims of threats to our national security. In the case of “terrorists” these adversaries were the result of our own interventions in Muslim countries. In truth, no nation is, or ever has been, or ever will be capable of invading the U.S. or otherwise subjecting us to its will. Should collapse be our fate we will have none but ourselves to blame for accepting a dysfunctional system sustained by the dishonesty of our government officials and the establishment media that consistently fail to fulfill their obligation to hold power to account.

What should more honestly be termed the Military Industrial Congressional Intelligence University Media Complex is a parasite that cannot exist without permanent war or the implied and constant threat to our “security.” Our taxes represent the symbolic value of the American peoples’ collective labor and this vampire has long drained social resources from essential domestic needs. And many of these corporations pay no taxes at all. So that means that hard-pressed Americans, facing increasing costs, pay the bulk of the expense to maintain this leech like superstructure.

In 2016, CEOs of the top five military contractors “earned” an average of $19.2 million each. Compare that with an average of $30,000 paid to military privates in combat. Every hour, taxpayers are paying $32.08 million for the total costs of wars since 2001.

After the falsehoods spread by the Bush II administration about Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” can anyone doubt that our invasion of Iraq actually fostered the rise of Islamic State? What a windfall that has turned out to be for the MIC and the careers of military “lifers” and their post retirement enrichment as VPs in the very corporations they helped to profit or as talking heads on all networks fostering outright deceptions and half-truths about those “threats” to our security. We in Veterans for Peace know only too well that the lies LBJ told about the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” were calculated to promote full scale war throughout Indochina. Nothing has changed. The real historical record reveals, as opposed to our national Disney fantasies, that numerous leaders have misled the nation into foreign wars time and again, going all the way back to the Mexican War of 1846. By far the heaviest cost in all of this carnage is the lives lost, and the social wealth stolen by war-makers. As the blood-stained history of the last two centuries proves, war resolves nothing but only sets the stage for yet more war. I always think of a statement by the sociologist C. Wright Mills, “World War III will be caused by preparing for it.”

Critics of what I have just said may point to the Military Industrial Complexes of the other superpowers. Let us focus on China for the moment. American and other imperial powers attempted to carve up China for their own benefit in the early 20th Century. Then, after the defeat of Japan in 1945 the Chinese won their independence under the leadership of the Communists. The U.S. did not wage war with Japan so that China or any other Asian nation might go its own way. So in 1950 the U.S., via the war in Korea, provoked war with China. At that time Chinese strength of arms barely exceeded rifles and foot soldiers. Nevertheless American military commanders, including then presidential candidate Eisenhower, threatened China with nuclear weapons. Are we really to be astonished that today China is a highly developed nuclear and military power itself? Our own policies and actions impelled Chinese choices over the next half century after World War II. If China ever does pose a potential military threat it will be because we have threatened them into a thoroughly predictable reaction. It is not too late to stand down on all the military fronts we have generated ourselves. But it is imperative that we initiate, in good faith if we can find the honest and principled leaders to do so, the first steps in a global withdrawal from the edge of the precipice.

Here in Boston an alliance of Veterans for Peace, Massachusetts Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee, Code Pink and many others is fighting an uphill battle to persuade citizens and the legislature to divest the Commonwealth’s retirement funds from Raytheon, a company soaked in the blood of innocents from its sales of Patriot Missiles and other armaments to Saudi Arabia and others waging a monstrously illegal, and catastrophic war in Yemen. Raytheon is the largest member of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) doing business in the Massachusetts and more than a few legislators, both federal and local, are more than willing accept contributions from this giant. Of course they are expected to protect Raytheon’s, and its investors, access to profit and that means never questioning the authenticity of claims made by “national security” officials. The same pattern is repeated across the nation.

Proponents of the Green New Deal have argued that societies worldwide cannot avoid the looming catastrophes of global climate change unless the industrially developed countries convert to modes of life that disavow carbon fuel sources and transform to sustainable and “green” modes of energy. In the U.S. the American military is the single largest consumer of oil and therefore the greatest contributor to carbon emissions and global warming. At the same time the Pentagon is also ramping up its future reliance on nuclear weapons and thereby inducing our “adversaries” to do the same. As climate disasters intensify and mass migrations continue the risks of conflict and violence also worsen. The conflict between India and Pakistan is an example of this and both nations have their nukes at the ready. Is this really the way the world will end…or do we wake up and demand the changes critical to our collective future? Climate change, beyond its own certainty of initiating human extinction, has every potential to result in nuclear war.

So what is really needed is not mere divestment from companies on the stock market but a demand on the part of citizens for our government to withdraw from its alliance with parasitical corporations that rely on permanent production for permanent war. Anything else is suicidal. If we keep on our present course it is virtually certain that we will bring about our own annihilation. The means are fully known to exist to convert our energy requirements and the industrial and technological wherewithal toward a new system, call it what you will, that can reduce carbon emissions, eliminate the threat of nuclear war, and re-focus the energies of citizens toward new forms of occupation that can stop the march to destruction. Is it not obvious that we must do so? Evidently the ruling elites are far more worried about their own grasp on power and control of wealth to perceive the impending dystopian future they oversee so it is we the citizens of this country who must find a way to break their lock and accept nothing less than the radical changes that polls show the majority see as necessary. I personally have never voted for a Democrat or Republican since I long ago lost faith that either party represented or cared about the fate of the majority. Nevertheless new contenders for political transmutation have emerged with ideas for fundamental change. The old guard in both parties must be booted out if we are to take the necessary steps toward the obligatory transformations that must be implemented.

We know that our society is reeling from dire social and economic problems like unemployment, medical care, homelessness, gun violence, suicide, drug addiction and many others. Leaders of both parties tell us that there are limited resources to address these basic issues. Don’t we know better? Is our nation not the richest in human history? The U.S. can defend itself against any would-be enemy with a quarter or less than the sum now approaching one trillion dollars allocated to the wasteful and bloated military. No nation wishes to invade us but only to resist the planetary overreach of America Inc.

The only genuine solution is to halt the insane incentives to make a killing on killing. A movement by cities, towns, states and individuals to divest from the banks, hedge funds, brokerage houses, universities and state and private retirement funds that funnel the nation’s collective real wealth into what is truly a dead end would be a step in the right direction but what is really needed at this critical juncture in human evolution are giant steps. Our nation as a whole must stop our investment in this mass murder machine or continue to take the fateful strides toward our own failure as a species.


Paul Atwood is the author of War and Empire: the American Way of Life.