From a country long served by its armed forces and a region long buoyed by the men and women who make up those forces, we joined the chorus saying, “Happy Veterans Day“.
The phrase was a trending topic nationally on Twitter Monday as people shared well wishes and pictures of family members.
But, in a war between nations, we must look closely at what we mean by the term “enemy”.
Do we mean someone who is completely evil and must be destroyed if everything we hold good is to be preserved? If we engage in this kind of mythic thinking, do we then consider the lives of “enemy” civilians, including women and children, expendable to preserve the good for which we struggle?
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Great War ended. This is the origin of Veterans Day. In Great Britain and many countries of the former empire, it is Remembrance Day. World War I cost more than 16 million lives, another 50 million to 100 million from the war-related 1918 flu pandemic, toppled four empires and birthed the Soviet Union.
It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy. But, the fact is that most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the war’s beginning, attention should be paid, even to the economic issues.
War has influenced economic history profoundly across time and space. Winners of wars have shaped economic institutions and trade patterns. Wars have influenced technological developments. Above all, recurring war has drained wealth, disrupted markets, and depressed economic growth.
War is widely thought to be linked to economic good times. The second world war is often said to have brought the world out of depression, and war has since enhanced its reputation as a spur to economic growth. Some even suggest that capitalism needs wars, and that without them, recession would always lurk on the horizon.
Today, we know that this is nonsense. The 1990s boom showed that peace is economically far better than war. The Gulf war of 1991 demonstrated that wars can actually be bad for an economy.
Wars are expensive (in money and other resources), destructive (of capital and human capital), and disruptive (of trade, resource availability, labor management). Large wars constitute severe shocks to the economies of participating countries. Notwithstanding some positive aspects of short-term stimulation and long-term destruction and rebuilding, war generally impedes economic development and undermines prosperity.
Because of what economists call the “broken window fallacy”.
Specifically, if a window in a store is broken, it means that the window-maker gets paid to make a new window, and he, in turn, has money to pay others. However, economists long ago showed that – if the window hadn’t been broken – the shop-owner would have spent that money on other things, such as food, clothing, health care, consumer electronics or recreation, which would have helped the economy as much or more.
If the shop-owner hadn’t had to replace his window, he might have taken his family out to dinner, which would have circulated more money to the restaurant, and from there to other sectors of the economy. Similarly, the money spent on the war effort is money that cannot be spent on other sectors of the economy.
Indeed, all of the military spending has just created military jobs, at the expense of the civilian economy.
The United States has been at war for more years than it has been at peace. War is not a “last resort,” something we fall back on when diplomacy, sanctions and other tools fail. It has become our normal condition. Within just the past two decades, we have been engaged in two Iraqi wars and an ongoing war in Afghanistan, and perhaps soon we will be at war with Iran.
We justify these adventures in terms of spreading freedom abroad and making our world safe for democracy, but we are accomplishing neither. Meanwhile, badly needed resources to confront a range of domestic challenges are redirected to the war efforts.
Maybe it is time to reconsider how readily we prepare for and engage in war?
The “business” of war and the arms industry is another shining example of the upside-down logic of the current economic paradigm. Governments spend money on technologies of oppression instead of tools for development – to the tune of 1.7 trillion dollars per annum. And while almost every other business produces products that positively contribute to society in some way, there can only be one possible Return On Investment for this business: death or destruction.
The products of the arms industry are designed to destroy what we normally invest in during peacetime; the lives of other human beings and physical infrastructure and technologies of human civilization. Nothing epitomizes more the anti-human values of the current economic system than the business of war; the ledger books of arms manufacturers show massive arms sales in the billions of dollars yet not a single human life or destroyed building is accounted for.
During times of crisis, real or imagined, we are fond of saying “all options are on the table.” We hope diplomacy, sanctions or other tools will work. But the world now knows we are more than ready to opt for the military option. If we ever suffered from a “Vietnam syndrome,” in which we hesitated to take military action, we have overcome it.
President Obama so warned Iran in his speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last spring. This is not to suggest that our leaders would not prefer diplomacy or other tools short of war. But somehow, some way, we have found ourselves almost always at war somewhere.
Corruption is rife at the very top level of arms manufacturers throughout the world.
BAE’s guilt was just the most public example showing how Europe’s largest defense contractor paid 100 million dollars worth of bribes to the Saudi government in order to win their 44 billion pound contract. This bribery exposed hypocrisy at the highest level of both UK business and government.
There is no morality to arms sales and the bottom line is profiteering at the expense of human lives.
By global enculturation of people into violence and creating a global economy which is dependent on the sales of war machinery, we cannot help but contribute greatly to the causes and conditions of violence in the world and to the destabilization of peace itself.
The arms industry continually plays on people’s fears and reinforces the false logic that war is necessary for peace. For ultimately, once weapons are created, anybody with any agenda can access weaponry thru a combination that has historically been proven to work: ideology and/or money. Authentic and long lasting peace is not in the best interest of the arms industry.
In order to keep itself running and earning large profits, the military industrial complex must encourage fear, distrust and conflict to exist in the world. To do otherwise would be an act of suicide.
Those who support the status quo are those who count and, therefore, see their careers advance with the help of government contracts, while opponents are dismissed as irrelevant or worse. The real challenge is not how we can carry out war more efficiently or effectively to subdue our enemies, but rather to find alternatives to war. As Randolph Bourne observed shortly after World War I in his classic book War and the Intellectuals, “The real enemy is War rather than imperial Germany.”
We could replace Germany with a host of countries since that “war to end all wars.”
Despite the many costs, it is increasingly evident that we are not effectively spreading freedom abroad or making the world much safer for democracy. At the same time, growing challenges at home are increasingly starved for resources as we maintain the warfare state and struggle with a debt crisis.
Our leaders point with pride to democracy and freedom as core American values. But these values are compromised by what continues to be our permanent war economy and the routine use of war to resolve conflicts abroad and preserve our “unchallenged” position in the world.
But there are broader costs that generally go unrecognized. The unseen scars are often as painful as the ones seen. But most are explained away as the inevitable collateral damage. From My Lai in Vietnam to the civilian murder spree in Afghanistan in March resulting in seventeen deaths, apparently at the hands of one US military officer, we regret such incidents but acknowledge that in times of war not everything and everyone can be controlled. Even the most strategic missions and surgical air strikes are going to have unintended casualties.
For decades, Seymour Melman, the late professor of engineering and author of the classic book America’s Permanent War Economy, documented the vast material and human costs of war. In addition to the obvious lives lost (among our own military as well as that of our enemies, along with innocent civilians), there are the trillions of dollars spent on military hardware, and often we do not even know where the money is spent.
In 2001 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions.” Additional human resource costs include the training of engineers who devote their careers to designing weaponry instead of building more energy-efficient schools and office buildings, more fuel-efficient modes of transportation, more affordable homes, along with longer-lasting roads, bridges and levees.
Military expenditures do create some jobs and profits for some businesses and investors, but those jobs and more, along with equally if not more profitable investments, could easily be found elsewhere.
Perhaps more costly have been the compromises, if not corruption, of our fundamental values and identity as a nation. American exceptionalism has taken a wrong turn. The basic pursuit of knowledge, along with the freedom and democracy that knowledge should inspire, is often distorted as teachers, scholars, religious leaders and others are encouraged to support war at the expense of the more humane goals and values we presumably espouse.
Just as wars’ costs and outcomes affect economic conditions and evolution, so too do economic conditions and evolution affect war. Causality runs in both directions.
Veterans Day dishonors living and dead veterans. It ignores longstanding US imperial lawlessness. It airbrushes from history decades of what matters most.
It includes militarism, raw aggression, permanent wars on humanity, mass killing and destruction, exploiting resources and people, seeking unchallenged global dominance, and creating unspeakable human misery.
It’s got nothing to do with national security. It’s not about making the world safe for democracy.
Propaganda glorifies wars in the name of peace.
Nations are destroyed to liberate them. Plunder is called economic development.
Imperial lawlessness is called humanitarian intervention.
Ruthless dominance is called democracy. Monied interests alone benefit.
Veterans Day should condemn wars. It should feature ways to end them. It should prioritize never again.
It should remember Lincoln at Gettysburg, saying:
“(W)e here resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Remembrance should be contrition. It should pledge peace. It should honor anti-war activism.
Clearly, warfare is not a cost-effective form of social and economic welfare.
We like to think of ourselves as an innovation nation, but our government is a warfare/welfare state. To build an economy for the 21st century we need to increase the rate of innovation and to do that we need to put innovation at the center of our national vision.
The long debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka: Obamacare) for example, was almost entirely about welfare and redistribution, about dividing the pie. During this debate how much did we hear about health innovation?
Putting innovation at the center of our national vision is not simply about spending more money. An innovation nation would think about all problems differently.
To all of you out there who have served: Thank you and God bless.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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