On April 4, 1967, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the United States was ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.’ This was in a speech about the Vietnam War; that war killed over 55,000 U.S. soldiers, and at least 2,000,000 Vietnamese men, women and children. Over 7,000,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, more than twice the tonnage dropped on Europe and Asia in all of World War II. This, on an area of land slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts. Forty-eight years later, nothing has changed: the U.S. remains the greatest purveyor of violence and terrorism on the planet.
With the largest military budget in the world, greater than that of the next eight nations combined, one might think that the U.S. would have all it needed to protect itself and its enemies; what more could be required? And it is a fact that the U.S. could, indeed, protect itself, if that is what it actually wanted to do, and if it weren’t forever creating new enemies. Let’s look at these two topics is some detail.
Protection against enemies
It is possible that any nation in the world may have enemies. One country may look at another and see natural resources in abundance that it lacks, and want to procure them. Or, some perceived or real historical injustice may cause one country to consider another its enemy. With the overwhelmingly largest military in the world, with the most technologically-advanced weaponry on the planet, the U.S. can have no reasonable fear from any nation that might threaten it. So why, then, does the military budget, which now represents 55% of discretionary spending, need continual increases? Why is it that $585 billion is needed in 2015? What was lacking in 2014 that must be built or purchased now, to protect U.S. citizens from their ‘enemies’ (see below)?
It must be remembered that munitions and all their associated tools are big business in the U.S., and in that country, the customer, not the voter, is definitely king.
In 2014, just six so-called defense (read: military) contractors spent almost $62 million lobbying Congress to pass bills favorable to their industry. That equates to approximately $10 million per company.
During that same year, over $80 million was spent by education lobbies; however, unlike the six military contractors that spend $62 million, that $80 million was spent by 642 entities. That equates to less than $125,000.00 per educational group. Where, one wonders, is Congress going to pay the most attention? Why talk to 642 people, begging for paltry campaign contributions, when chats with only six can bring so much greater rewards? Congress members are nothing if not pragmatic about their re-election campaign finances.
But with all that military hardware being purchased, won’t the voters be a bit concerned if it’s not being used? Might they not see that public schools that don’t prepare students to participate in a global economy may be a national detriment, and could benefit from a few billion dollars? Couldn’t they recognize that some of that money could be used to rebuild and repair roads and bridges that are deteriorating? But wait, Congress has resolved that problem by initiating what will be discussed next: inventing enemies.
The enemy du jour
When one has a military system that could destroy the world ten times over, and one must also feed an ever-hungry military industry, what can one do to justify that food frenzy? Why, the answer is simple: if there are no enemies, invent them! This worked so successfully for generations, when the big, bad wolf of communism filled the average U.S. citizen’s heart with jingoist fear. There was no threat so huge, a long list of presidents said darkly, with the same sentiment echoed in the hallowed halls of Congress, as a communist, ready to destroy motherhood, apple pie and the U.S. flag. Their goal was nothing short of conquering the U.S. and subjecting all its citizens to poverty and oppression. Therefore, the U.S. must retain the capacity to destroy Russia at least five times over, before Russia can ever have a chance to implement its dastardly intentions.
Well, in the course of time, communism faded from much of the world, as revolutions throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union established some semblance of democracy (how close that is to real democracy is a topic for a different essay). So what was the government to do? Military industries employed lots of people, and creating alternate employment opportunities for them might require some actual work. No, much better to keep those industries humming, with campaign donations and the other perquisites of lobby groups coming their way. So with communism no longer a sufficient bugaboo, a new enemy was needed.
In Afghanistan, Russia was still at war. Well, what if, some genius in the State Department said, we arm the rebels to fight Russia? The U.S. would still need to purchase armaments, thus keeping the military industry happy. As a result, the mujahedeen (fanatical Islamic ‘holy warriors’) fighting the Russian invaders, received the very generous benefit of U.S. military might, and Russia did, eventually, depart from Afghanistan. However, the mujahedeen weren’t quite ready to walk away and let the U.S. select a new puppet-leader for Afghanistan, one whose strings were firmly attached to U.S. governance. So with the arms and guerrilla education proudly provided by the U.S., the mujahedeen became the Taliban. So the U.S., as this is being written, is involved in the longest war in its history, fighting against people it armed and educated in the fine art of war.
Throughout the Middle East one finds many people who follow the Islamic religion. Their style of dress is generally different from what is typically worn in the West, and their houses of worship look far different. There is a great amount of hostility towards the United States by people in many Middle Eastern countries, resulting from the U.S.’s decades-long financing of the brutal Israeli regime, and the bombing and invasion of Iraq, ostensibly to rid that country of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (which it didn’t have), but really to get greedy U.S. hands on oil reserves, and dole out no-bid contracts to rebuild the country, after U.S. bombs destroyed it, to government-associated companies.
At least partly due to these reasons, fanatics, who extract out of context certain phrases from the Qur’an, have committed violent acts against the U.S. and some of its allies. How convenient for the U.S! Just when a new enemy is needed, a small (miniscule, actually) number of criminals pervert the teachings of a religion with which most of the U.S. is unfamiliar, and commit some high-profile crimes. Presto! A new enemy is created! And with 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, the war against them can last a long time, thus justifying, at least in the minds of Congress members and those who believe what they say, the need for ever-increasing military expenditures.
It might be interesting to note that ignorance about religion is nothing new in the U.S. So-called Christian-right ministers and spokespeople never tire of telling the world that the U.S Constitution calls for it to be a Christian nation, despite the fact that it simply doesn’t. They condemn homosexuals, criticize other religions and disparage the poor, not knowing or understanding that Jesus Christ, whom they purport to follow, never did any of those things. Indeed, he embraced society’s outcasts and unceasingly helped the poor and less fortunate. He called on those who followed him to do the same. He told people not to judge others. But, if violating the teachings of Jesus Christ by people claiming to following them plays well on the news, what do facts and reality have to do with anything anyway?
So there you are. The U.S. needs a huge military budget to supply revolutionary groups to fight governments the U.S. doesn’t like, and then, when the former revolutionary group is in power, some other ragtag group will begin to oppose it, and the U.S. will arm and educate that group. Once they are in power, the U.S. will need to fight them.
There are alternatives; but as long as the U.S. has a ‘Department of Defense’, which has nothing to do with defense, and Congress remains in the pocket of the military industry, little will change without voter intervention. The time is now; with more and more Republicans striving to curtail voting rights, the window of opportunity may be closing. Not finding and implementing alternatives to the current military and war industry would be a tragedy for the world that must not be allowed to happen.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press)