Thursday, February 7, 2008

Armed and Lucrative!

Everything must change.

As I drove to work this morning I reluctantly reached for the volume knob on my stereo and turned up NPR. I hate listening to NPR but I feel obligated to do so every morning during my commute just because it's a quick way to hear recent news. It's probably the low point of my day. Hearing news about elections in Pakistan, campaigning here at home, violence in Iraq, and spending in Washington: it all significantly boosts my optimism before going to school to educate the minds of middle-schoolers about "things that matter."

This particular morning I heard news of our Senates inability to pass the new Stimulus spending package. The goal of this bill is to put money immediately back into the economy in hopes of slowing a recession. This, of course, was viewed as too expensive and was haulted by members of Senate; namely, Republicans who argued against wasteful spending.

The bill would cost $204 billion over two years and would contribute to an extension of unemployment benefits, tax credits for the coal industry and increased subsidies for home energy costs.

Following this update on the stimulus package NPR moved to the release of the 2009 Pentagon budget. The new budget is the highest it has been in history: $515.4 billion. This budget does not include costs for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Shocking.

I continued my commute and learned that the Pentagon is richer than the entire country of Australia and the United States spends more on defense than all the other countries of the world - combined.

As I was driving down the slushy roads and bombarding myself with hot air from the vent panels, I found myself asking aloud, What the hell is wrong with us!!? Why can we spend billions of dollars on defense but not on domestic aide? Why can't we help the poor with their heating bills instead of buying F2 attack fighters that the US doesn't use anymore and cost $300million?

The answers to these questions are quite clear when one comes to see the business of war/defense and the immense profit to be gained through war. However, in addition to the mere acknowledgment of this, one must also take a look at the United States' ingenious role in recent Middle East history.

I'm no historian nor a political science guru, so forgive me for my lack of knowledge. Here some specific examples of the brilliant, military involvement in other countries by the US.

In 1979 Iranians overthrew the tyrant that the U.S. was backing and took some hostages for over a year. This may be one of the strong reasons for bad relations with Iran, but it goes much deeper that this.*

The relations between the US and Iran have a history over 50 years. In 1953 the U.S. overthrew the parliamentary government and installed a brutal tyrant, the Shah, and kept supporting him while he compiled one of the worst human rights records in the world—torture, assassination, anything you like.*

Of course, Iranians have this odd way of remembering what happened to them and who was behind it. When the Shah was overthrown, the Carter administration immediately tried to instigate a military coup by sending arms to Iran through Israel to try to support military force to overthrow the government.*

Then, we immediately turned to supporting Iraq, that is, Saddam Hussein, and his invasion of Iran. Saddam was recently executed for crimes he committed in 1982, by his standards not very serious crimes—complicity in killing 150 people.*

Moving on. 1982 is a very important year in U.S./Iraqi relations. That is the year in which Ronald Reagan removed Iraq from the list of states supporting terrorism so that the U.S. could start supplying Iraq with weapons for its invasion of Iran, including the means to develop weapons of mass destruction, chemical and nuclear weapons. A year later Donald Rumsfeld was sent to firm up the deal.* Backing Iraq not only secured business for defense contractors, but also put more pressure on Iran. This is a classic example of the philosophy: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Well, Iranians may very well remember that this led to a war in which hundreds of thousands of them were slaughtered with U.S. aid going to Iraq. They may well remember that the year after the war was over, in 1989, the U.S. government invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to come to the United States for advanced training in developing nuclear weapons.*

What is interesting about all this Mid-East history is the United States' brilliant playing of all angles and all sides. By demonizing certain figures or people groups, the USA can disguise itself as the "good guy" and pursue the "bad guys" in the style of an old western film.

We are led to believe that the United States is a leader for peace and freedom in our world, but in reality our government has no use for it. As far as the economy goes, peace would simply be bad for business. What I am arguing is that the United States actually desires military conflict in the world so that certain people may profit from it. That does not necessarily mean that the US wants to be directly involved, but as long as their is conflict, our companies will be selling the weapons!

What is the business? It is the sales of military weaponry and the contracting of big time construction projects.

Who are the sellers? Lockheed Martin. Boeing. Northrop Grumman. Halliburton. Bechtel.

Who are the buyers? Saudi Arabia. Israel. Pakistan. China. Egypt. India.

Who profits? The CEO's and politicians with deals tied to these companies. And ultimately, yes, the 10's of thousands of employees of these companies do profit as well. Lockheed Martin employs some 10,000 people in the US. The loss of this company would surely hurt them all.

But, we cannot go on this way. This business is ultimately bound for destruction and failure. It is suicidal to think our economy can sustain itself depending on violent conflict. I fear that we are heading toward mass destruction.

Everything must change.

Instead of turning war into a business, could the United States turn peace into a business? Could these Arms companies instead build new and creative airplanes for the commercial airline industry? Or perhaps special planes designed for humanitarian aide? Could the Federal government fund the restoration of the commercial airline industry so more Americans could afford to fly? Could engineers of Arms companies create new modes of transportation? Could the Federal government invest in public transportation and buy back the national rail system from automotive companies?

Could companies like Halliburton and Bechtel employ US citizens to rebuild cities like New Orleans, Camden, Detroit, and Buffalo? Or perhaps re-engineer parts of America that FEMA defines hazardous? Or design new precautions to natural disasters? Or perhaps be hired by developing nations to assist in big time construction projects for hospitals, schools, office buildings, etc.? Instead of selling them weapons, could we sell them our services?

These are just a few off the top of my head. I'm sure the intelligent minds in DC could create a thousand ways!

So as I'm listening to NPR broadcast on about our spending, and I learn more about this business of war, I find myself asking another question aloud to myself: Is this all our incredibly brilliant minds can come up with? Making money off of war? Selling guns and missiles? Bombing, destroying and then rebuilding? Is this the limit to our economic savvy?

I hope not.

For more information see:

* Taken from Noam Chomsky article found here:

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