“There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes
and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.”
– Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Smedley Darlington Butler, 1933
Unfortunately, we believe that this is why our military is fighting.
When we thank returning troops for their efforts on our behalf, we’re sincere. We think they’ve been “fighting for freedom.” So do many of them. In no way is this true.
When one enlists or is drafted, civil rights no longer apply. Civilian freedoms are gone and in their place is the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is designed to enforce discipline, obedience and loyalty. One is indentured for their term of service to the United States Department of Defense and the President. Servicemen are incarcerated for disobeying a command, no matter how distasteful or immoral the order1. Financial control by Congress presents another layer of irrationality with powerful congressmen creating boondoggles for their benefactors which have no correlation to necessity or common sense and constrain the military and their options in dysfunctional ways2.
Furthermore, anyone exposed to confidential, secret, or top secret information, isn’t free to divulge that information to anyone who doesn’t have the same or higher clearance and a “need to know.” One can be sent to federal prison for telling the truth even if the rest of us have an actual need to know it. I’ve sometimes suspected, having had a Top Secret Clearance myself, that the purpose of secrecy has more to do with keeping Americans ignorant than in protecting them.
Our military efforts over the past century or two haven’t resulted in a blossoming of democracy and freedom either. Some places established democracies – almost always on their own and with little help from us. In the Philippines, our aggressively supported despot, Ferdinand Marcos, was finally deposed after years of pretending democracy and arbitrarily calling any and all opposition “communist.” In Vietnam, our allies visibly and actively subverted what elections were held. Likewise, Chinese surrogates in adjacent regions had similar, self-serving agendas which benefited a small elite and their foreign backers at the expense of everyone else on both sides of the conflict.
We established Kingdoms in the Middle East after World War I and World War II.
Saudi Arabia ended up with an inordinately wealthy Hashemite royal family in an economic alliance with a consortium of US oil companies, the Arabian American Oil Company. Among other things, the Saudis have had to ignore criminal activity in US enclaves within their own country3.
In Jordan, Hashemite kings, tracing their lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad, still rule with our military and political support. Syria didn’t like our Hashemite king, so we moved him to Iraq where his family ruled until Saddam Hussein took over. The Italians colonized Libya between World War I and World War II, when we and the English also put and kept another descendant of the Prophet Muhammad in power until he was deposed by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who immediately became an enemy. We have supported governments that are dependent and cooperative, not necessarily democratic. We aggressively oppose any government replacing the one we put in power.
All this has absolutely nothing to do with democracy or freedom – theirs or ours.
This pervasive foreign policy dates back at least a century and a half. Our efforts in South America have clearly followed the dictates of profit and power, not those of democracy or freedom. When socialists were elected, we actively subverted the democratic outcome.
The US was once part of the British Empire. As with India, Canada and Australia, we were colonizers of conquered territory. We brutally and systematically displaced the indigenous population, took their land and, if they resisted, killed them without a second thought. Up until recently, this was considered right and proper. At the time, “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.”
Thus, the simple answer to the question “Why fight wars?” is: to steal stuff we want for ourselves. Earlier, it also included enslaving the conquered. More recently, it has been a more subtle version of slavery just as our controlled territories throughout the world constitute a more subtle version of colonialism.
Underneath the layer of self-deception where we think we are doing something noble and useful; underneath the second layer of self-deception where we are doing something dastardly but still somewhat useful (stealing), there is a third layer: the wealthy manipulators of an aggressive country are transferring wealth and power from the population to themselves. Fairly often, their “enemies,” hidden behind a similar veneer of rhetoric, are doing the same thing.
Wars have rarely been benign and I doubt that will change any time soon. While the average American was suffering in the trenches or using ration books during World War I, the war suppliers were taking in profits far beyond those of peacetime. Often, they were supplying things that were unneeded by our troops, aided by an ally in Congress authorizing the expenditure.4
General Butler, in his small book, War is a Racket, chronicles his career fighting for the financial elite of the United States. I don’t agree with him when he says that we should fight for the Bill of Rights. Maybe there could be a time and place for that, but I don’t see rights being won in wars.
We didn’t win rights for Blacks in our Civil War; we won them over a century later in peaceful voter registration marches.
We didn’t win rights for women in war; we won them in nonviolent marches and in logical persuasion.
The Bill of Rights itself wasn’t the result of war, either. It was the result of years of negotiation and patient persistence as well as constant vigilance by the ACLU towards its continued legal enforcement.
Nelson Mandela won civil rights for his constituency, not through war but through including his former enemies in his new government and respecting their rights.
Maybe a few wars stopped someone from taking away freedom, but rights are generally the negotiation of boundaries; the rules by which society is regulated. These boundaries must be self-imposed. This comes about through the use of empathy and compassion, not through force or coercion. The Civil Rights Movement in this country was a clear demonstration of this.
The other reason Butler gives for war, “the defense of our homes,” must also be carefully scrutinized. It is all too easy to see threat where none really exists. The entire Cold War was such a mistake. Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States was seriously threatening the other – nor was China when she joined our three-way jockeying for colonial supremacy in the Third World. Our invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake with just about every “threat” which persuaded Congress to authorize it being fictional. I think any threat must be at or inside our borders for it to be legitimate–and, even then, it might still be contrived as the “rapists” clamoring to cross our southern border might exemplify. Otherwise, lots of threats have been conjured up out of nothing to make us fearful and thus amenable to violent “solutions” to “problems” which never really existed but are somehow brought into being after the fact.
Kuwait, Bahrain, and Palestine were all taken as colonies by England at the end of World War I. Kuwait and Bahrain were exploited for their oil and their control of the exportation of oil. Palestine was given to Zionists in partial payment of a massive war debt to Baron Walter Rothschild, leader of the British Jewish Zionists. This was a betrayal of our Arab allies in World War I and an act that only makes sense in a religious context. At the time of the British decision to send a Zionist governor to Palestine, about 11% of the population was Jewish, 9% Christian, and 80% Muslim, all living harmoniously. There were strong protests from the Palestinian Arab community almost immediately. This choice permanently destabilized the entire Middle East. It was undemocratic. It was racist. It was religious. It was destructive. And it violated the human rights of people who had been our allies. Like elsewhere, it was just a part of British foreign policy: divide and conquer.
Kuwait was created from land traditionally a part of Iraq that contained massive oil reserves and a natural deep-water port on the Persian Gulf. Over the next few decades, it changed into a US client state along with England itself and the rest of the British Commonwealth. Later, in the few years leading up to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, hundreds of oil wells were slant-drilled under Iraq; stealing their neighbor’s oil. When our ambassador, April Glaspie, met with Saddam Hussein a week before he invaded this small country, we lied to him, telling him we were neutral in the conflict. Once he had taken the bait, we painted him as “evil” and without common sense. I have no doubt Saddam Hussein was a brutal man, but he was an effective leader with his country prospering under him despite the wars with Iran and the trouble with his northern population, the Kurds. Iraq, prior to our invasion, was one of the more progressive and prosperous Arab countries.
We didn’t try to stop this war. We lied to Hussein about our intentions. We didn’t cap the oil wells that provoked this. We didn’t even acknowledge them. After Iraq had invaded, we didn’t negotiate to find a reasonable accommodation. Then we spent taxpayers’ money to send half a million US troops to northern Saudi Arabia and keep them there for thirteen years; another Christian provocation of booze and Bibles like the ARAMCO enclaves begging for an Islamic retaliation. After we soundly routed the Iraqi forces from Kuwait, we again didn’t acknowledge or fix the slant-drilling problem. We didn’t try to work with Iraq. Instead, we embargoed Iraq, punishing the Iraqi people for allowing Saddam Hussein to be their leader as if it was all his fault, and violating their airspace, shooting down military aircraft even within their borders. It was brutal and constant harassment – just like in Libya and Cuba – because our colonial aspirations were somehow thwarted. Of course, this was quite profitable to certain people as we went further into debt financing destruction and destabilization.
When ten years of embargo didn’t work to remove Saddam Hussein from power, we invaded anyway. We did it unilaterally and without UN sanctions and, it turns out, without just cause. This led to, among other things, a succession of unrepresentative Iraqi warlords in power sponsored by the US, a loss of stability, infrastructure and freedom, a lawless state ruled by local thugs and greedy gangsters, and the dislocation of over a million middle-class Arab refugees sprinkled throughout the rest of the Middle East without jobs to sustain them. After our invasion and occupation, the average Iraqi (and, in particular, the average Iraqi woman) had far less freedom than before.
Inevitably, this United States brutality, intervention, and destruction in the Middle East led to the rise of ISIS and civil war throughout the Arab world; a windfall for our arms manufacturers … and suffering for Arabs, our military, and our taxpayers! The rise in terrorism was a direct and predictable result of our troops overseas. The world is not better off. Our troops did not win freedom for anyone!
This kind of thing happens because we are passionately loyal to both our religion and our nation. Almost every day, we say the Pledge of Allegiance, reaffirming our faith in both. This puts faith above logic, truth, ethics or honor. It causes us to inadvertently serve a ruthless master, greed, in a ghastly enterprise, war.
1An example is the systematic murder of civilians by American troops in “Free Fire Zones” during the Vietnam War.
2Obsolete and unneeded sites cannot be closed, for instance, because they are within a powerful Congressman’s district.
3ARAMCO created zones where American booze and Bibles are tolerated while elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, possession of either is a serious felony. Because their law is the Quran, this offends most Saudis.
4See Chapter 5: War is a Racket. War surplus stores still sold WW I overproduction long after the end of WW II.
©David N. Dodson, July-December, 2015, Phoenix, AZ