What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
Last night I watched the documentary “Why We Fight”. Several thoughts came to my mind as I watched it. The following are a few I thought I’d share.
The film starts with a portion of President Eisenhower’s intriguing farewell speech:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares 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. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States cooperations — corporations.
Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
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. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
This call for restraint reminds me of a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson:
In questions of power then let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.
With more and more power being hoarded by the Executive, the balance of power has become unstable. The American people at large are asleep at the wheel, oblivious to the government’s “acquisition of unwarranted influence”. This is supported in the film with a statement by Gore Vidal:
We live here in the United States of Amnesia. No one remembers anything before Monday morning. Everything is a blank. We have no history. (Gore Vidal)
One of the most emphasized themes in the Book of Mormon is the need to remember. We are slow to remember our history, slow to remember Who has delivered us, and slow to remember the evils of men long since forgotten.
This is also demonstrated at the end of Fahrenheit 451, where Guy Montag’s new friends speak of their desire to remember and rebuild after witnessing the destruction of their society:
And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest *** steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. (Fahreinheit 451, p. 451)
We are slow to remember the atrocities of war. We are quick to forget and prone to ignore and excuse the deceit of leaders. Those of us who profess a belief in the Book of Mormon should know something about politicians with hollow promises, deceitful intent, and evil actions. But we don’t remember. We are living in the United States of Amnesia.
This is not about one President or one party. We fight as a nation because we perceive it is in our interest to fight and we then mention words like “freedom” and nice common values… Who can be against freedom? When in fact much more has been going on privately. (Charles Lewis, Center for Public Integrity)
This quote struck me as interesting. Whether it be oil, globalism, domination, or otherwise, there is always another motive behind “why we fight”. But the proles are told, via the propaganda machine, that it’s all about “spreading democracy”, “freedom”, and “liberty”. War is never that simple. Foreign policy is far more convoluted. But to sell it to the public, “nice common values” are stamped as the fundamental principles behind the war.
Today, we don’t have a broad-based American feeling about why we’re fighting in Iraq. People’s confidence in the United States is not what it was fifty years ago. It’s not what it was during World War II.
You know, it’s interesting. “Why We Fight” was actually the title of a series of World War II films that were done by [Frank Capra]. The Frank Capra films, even back then, were propaganda, to kind of build up a war fever. (Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, U.S. Dept. of Defense (ret.))
Propaganda most certainly exists today, bu top-down editorial restrictions have been somewhat snuffed by the advent of the Internet and the rapid dissemination of data to people the world over. The mass media still holds a tight grip on what the vast majority of people see, hear, and learn about current events, but the grip will continue to soften (so long as net neutrality is assured!). For this reason, people have more independent thought and opportunity for dissent. This trend must continue if we are to reverse the detrimental state we are currently in, as Michael Parenti describes:
The enormous gap between what US leaders do in the world and what Americans think their leaders are doing is one of the great propaganda accomplishments of the dominant political mythology. (Democracy For the Few)
Indeed, as described above, there most certainly are more reasons for “why we fight” than one-word taglines thrown around to make us feel good about so much death. But given the disparity between the government’s intentions and knowledge and that of the American people, some target is needed to be the object of fear, hatred, and contempt by the public. War cannot receive the support of the people unless there is a person whom they can blame, an object they can wrap their minds around, and a name they can scorn—all creating within them a sense of patriotism for opposing “the enemy”. George Orwell said it best:
Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac. (George Orwell)
Think about all the wars you can. Whom was the enemy? Whom was the provided target? Whom was the excuse for the use of pre-emptive war and military offense? To what ends did we allow our government to go in the cause of deposing “the enemy”? Was the world better off before or after?
The point in many ways, for these guys, wasn’t just to topple Saddam—it was to transform the Middle East. They wanted to take in the U.S. military and go in and shore up American interests in the key area of the world. And that’s their vision. They want to spread democracy around the world on the point of our bayonetts. (Joseph Cirincione, Carnegie Endowment for Peace)
Speaking of bayonetts, the film then shows a clip of Eisenhower reciting his “Chance for Peace” address, wherein he said the following:
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.
This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. (http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/chance.htm)
Imagine what the world would be like today if we would all work harder to sue for peace. Imagine what prosperity those in poverty would enjoy, if countless trillions of dollars had not been wasted on armaments. Imagine what the population of the world would be if we didn’t all have the barbaric tendency to kill one another. Just imagine…
Today, the United States spends more on defense than on all other discretionary parts of the federal budget combined. (Movie narration)
Sound outrageous? View the death and taxes chart to see for yourself. Take a few deep breaths to counteract the urge to vomit.
President Eisenhower’s concern about the military-industrial complex.. his words have unfortunately come true. He was worried that priorities are set by what benefits corporations as opposed to what benefits the country. (Senator John McCain)
What? Corporations making a profit from war? Absurd, right?
You know, people sometimes think of a defense budget as “you gotta arm the troops, defend the nation”, but for most people that are involved in it you realize this is business—competition for contracts between very large corporations. (Joseph Cirincione, Carnegie Endowment for Peace)
Industry has to have a bottom line that’s black, otherwise their share holders don’t like that. So they have to find ways to interest the government into continuing to buy the product. (Col. Wally Saeger, Director, U.S. Air Force Munitions)
Just as Senator McCain said, the U.S. war machine now serves the interest of private American shareholders and wealthy corporations rather than the peace and prosperity of the U.S. citizen. I don’t think any enlightened individual would dare disagree. The situation gets worse with the intermingling of public and private interests:
All of the top 10 companies had former U.S. officials who had worked in the Pentagon or other parts of the U.S. government on their boards of directors, or as their top executives. It’s known as the “revolving door” and people cash in all the time. Public officials go to work for companies and they make triple, quadruple, ten times (sometimes) as much money as they used to make in public service.
The number one recipient of contracts was Vice President Cheney’s former company Halliburton, and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, & Root. (Charles Lewis, Center for Public Integrity)
The privatization of the war machine is all the more telling in light of financial aspect:
The defense budget is 3/4 of a trillion dollars. Profits went up last year well over 25%. I guarantee you, when war becomes that profitable, you’re going to see more of it. (Chalmers Johnson, CIA 1967-73)
Or how about a little propaganda?
Between 2002 and 2003, the Pentagon spent $1.2 billion on advertising intended to increase recruitment. (Movie narration)
Well I’m cutting it short here. The second half of the documentary completely enthralled me and I lost all desire to continually pause the film while transcribing the quotes. If you’re at all interested in the history and pretense of war I highly recommend getting a copy of the film. Or come borrow mine. :)