Swans Commentary » swans.com Special Issue on Iraq - February 2, 2004  







How Will The Iraq War Affect Americans?

Manuel García, Jr.




(Swans - February 2, 2004)   Imagine a future, eight years hence, based on a continuation of present-day trends. A political commentary of that time might be something like the following:

Working Americans had been robbed of their savings and of any economic future by a wholesale financial swindling and artificially accelerated concentration of wealth and corporate power, all resulting from government policies they had no influence over. Their dignity had been assaulted by political and judicial repression invoked in the name of greater security, their sense of decency had been shocked by the crass mentality behind a pandering mass culture aimed at manipulating them purely for corporate advantage, their civic ideals and sense of community spirit had been insulted by the intolerance foisted on their children through the contraction of the educational system put under the control of religious fundamentalists, and their national feelings as Americans had been revolted by the deceptive rush into an unnecessary and unending war, which left them seeing only one alternative to compensate for having experienced the ruination of their dreams and their ideals of an abundant and just American society -- that alternative being the disappearance of the entire corporate system of "globalization" and "free trade," what is quite simply the American Empire.
--Carlos Marcos, "The Second American Civil War," 2011.

Can we even imagine a second civil war erupting? Could the American people be awakened to such extremes? Perhaps, given sufficiently bad personal economics, and a series of colonial wars that go badly. (1)

The Imperial Consensus

Why do many Americans feel powerless -- and frightened -- while living in the most powerful nation in history? Perhaps because they are now passive "consumers," locked out of effective political power, where once they were independent producers, called "workers."

The United States is a two-party single-ideology state. (2) This has been true at least since the Wilson Administration, (3) when American corporations concentrated their power over labor, the economy and government. This consolidation was presented to the public as the necessary response to a national emergency arising from World War One and the Russian Revolution. (4)

This corporate lock on political power was dramatically illustrated by the arrest and imprisonment of Eugene V. Debs, the great railroad union organizer and Socialist party candidate for US president. Debs was prosecuted for violating the 1917 Espionage Act, convicted of speaking out publicly against the draft and the war, and sentenced to ten years in a federal penitentiary. (5)

The "Palmer Raids" of 1919 and 1920 (named for Wilson's Attorney General) saw thousands arrested and ordered deported, many simply former Russian peasants. (6) Then as now, there was a "war on terrorism," the true meaning behind this Orwellianism being exposed by John Pilger's reversal of it: "The war is terrorism."

After their political victory over labor, corporations opened a psychological offensive. During the 1920s, the war propaganda agency of the Wilson Administration was transformed into a public relations industry. It mounted a campaign to seduce the American people into a gradual and continuing diminution of their rights and freedoms, in favor of an uncritical support for corporate prerogatives and power to determine social priorities. This campaign of social engineering has never ceased. (7) "Workers" -- with properly reconditioned minds -- are now "consumers." (8)

The singular ideology we Americans have been brainwashed to accept can be summarized this way: unlimited corporations equate to unlimited individual fulfillment via the consumption of corporate output. Any state animated by this ideology will inevitably be drawn to imperialism, as corporations seek "efficiency" and "low cost" by increasing scale, expanding markets, and eliminating restrictions.

In America, imperialism is called "opening markets." "Closed markets," such as 19th century Japan and China, and now 21st century "Islamic fundamentalism" and "Islamic radicalism," do not satisfy the root motivator in our singular ideology: "what's in it for me?"

Opening Markets ("War Is A Racket")

Perhaps no explanation of American war as a public expense incurred for private benefit is more immediate than the words of Smedley Butler (Major-General, US Marine Corps), a man who was twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. These excerpts are from a speech Butler gave in 1933 after his retirement, (9)

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. 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.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912... I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

In Butler's day the Marines would be dispatched all over the globe to safeguard American commercial interests involved in "opening markets." Today, our military forces are permanently encamped in a world-wide network of bases whose purpose is to project American power, keeping those markets open. (10)

Our bases include a continuing occupation of a portion of Okinawa, Japan, fifty-eight years after the end of the Pacific War (WWII), a base at Guantánamo, Cuba, one hundred five years after the Spanish-American War, and the state of Israel -- a de-facto extension of the Pentagon. Projecting American power into East Asia, or Latin America, or the Middle East, is a matter of intimidation, and it creates resentments that make backlash -- or "blowback" -- such as the events of September 11, 2001, an inevitability. (11)

Economics Of War

War is expensive. President Bush has already presented the US Congress with a bill for $87 billion in addition to $28 billion for post 9/11 "war on terror" operations by the Pentagon. An unanticipated expense of over $100 billion can wreak havoc on a national budget where the vulnerable portion for social welfare spending is of a comparable amount (the anticipated combined revenue shortfall for state governments in the U.S. in 2003 is $80 billion). (12)

War is inflationary. It creates new economic demands for labor and goods -- to produce the matériel of war -- and can stimulate the economy. Wars initiated in stalled economic times have been popular, or at least tolerated, because they prodded economic growth. (13) However, the Vietnam War, escalated very dramatically in 1965 in a time of rapid economic growth, created new demands in an already "full employment" economy, which resulted in an inflation of wages, consumer demands, and the US currency.

If the war (or series of wars) is large enough to accelerate the economy to the point of inflation, then consumer demands could create a balance-of-payments problem: the importation of relatively inexpensive foreign goods overwhelming the export of relatively expensive American goods. Foreigners would be accumulating dollars of diluted value.

If the war is financed by deficit spending, because there is no will to increase taxes, cut social spending, and eliminate subsidies, then government debt would be accommodated by selling bonds and printing more money. The expansion of the money supply is inflationary, so it is unlikely to be tolerated by the lending class, who resent the implicit taxation of having lent out "strong" dollars to be repaid with "diluted" ones.

If the size of the American deficit is exceptionally large, then it will monopolize the available funds of international bond investors, and this will increase the costs to other nations seeking to underwrite debts of their own (requiring smaller nations to offer higher rates-of-return to attract investors).

So, bond investors pressure the US government to curb inflation, and other governments pressure the U.S. to rein in its deficits. This occurred in 1967-1968, when European economic pressure forced the Johnson Administration to cut $2.5 billion in social welfare spending and to seek a tax increase to pay Vietnam War costs. (14)

Increased public debt without an increase of the money supply or a job-creating economic expansion (today's trend) will cause a rise of interest rates for private investment and consumer credit. While a good situation for those wealthy enough to lend money, it dashes the hopes of those wishing to purchase homes or start small businesses. Obviously, at the lowest stratum of our economy, people might see a withdrawal of both social services and financial opportunities (e.g., fewer jobs); for some this could be life-threatening.

The Price Of Victory

The best strategy for a weaker opponent at war with America is to prolong the bloodshed indefinitely -- a horribly repulsive thought, though logical. "The basic American dilemma from the Vietnam War onward was that it was unable to fight a cheap war or to afford a long, expensive one." (15)

Such cost considerations will drive future policy. Should America accept fiscal hemorrhage to devise capital-intensive technological shields to prevent the flow of blood from its troops, in for a long haul in Iraq (sacrificing the domestic economy)? Should America develop a Roman-like resolve to field armies of greater grit and stoicism than its adversaries, and require the civilian population to accept an increased number of random terrorist blows (this would be the end of our democracy)? Should America abandon Iraq to stabilize the existing empire (leaving Iraqis to their fate, and failing to consolidate control over Middle East oil)? Should America reconsider its imperialist presumptions (opening the door to a social revolution)? The longer and bigger the war (or combination of wars) the more likely we will be pushed toward these considerations.

Politics Of War

The political consequences of the Iraq War are evidently similar to those of World War I, a political repression (of varying degree) aimed at elements of the society seen as threats to the corporate-imperial interests: "foreigners," generally from the Southern countries of the world and in particular Muslims, anti-corporate dissidents, civil libertarians, and any advocates of socialistic causes (e.g., unionism, environmentalism, social welfare).

Besides the diminished rights and increased policing typified by the Patriot Act, our politics is likely to narrow in scope, receding from public aspirations (national healthcare, national daycare, national education through university, a ten-month work year with four-day work weeks) to hew to corporate concerns (pharmaceutical profits, insurance industry protection, military-industrial subsidies, agribusiness subsidies, polluter protections, labor control, relief from financial regulations, corporate access to public trust funds).

The typical American is most likely to feel the political effect of the Iraq War as a diminishing of any public discussion of social welfare issues, because "the war" and "diminished resources" have made the passage of such social legislation more remote.

Society At War

To the inquisitive person, naturally drawn to activism (inspired by religion or politics) and sympathetic to an anti-war attitude, the Iraq War will present a new challenge of exposing the propaganda promoted by American imperialists, and in building an opposition. An inquisitive individual motivated by personal gain instead of morality would find the careerist opportunities presented by the new circumstances.

To the evasive person, which is to say most of us, the social impact of the war will be experienced as often-unnoticed absences, such as diminished public educational, cultural and artistic activity, with reduced diversity in what remains, because of funding losses to the war effort.

The war climate will also produce increased xenophobia, especially toward Muslims, a greater tolerance of violence in our entertainment and expressions, a coarsening of our attitudes towards suffering (being subtly shaped by corporate media to tolerate the war with its accompanying repression and deprivation), a distancing from people and activities that seem radically anti-war, in fear of being identified as an "enemy" by unseen government surveillance, a reluctance to "speak out," or "volunteer," or "expose" opinions in public, a submersion of personal attention into work, consumerism, sport and popular entertainment, and in general an evasion of discussion or reflection on the issue of personal responsibility in the state of society.

Psyche Of War

A society at war is one where many people have a sense of dread, because they feel helpless to influence events, which could turn unexpectedly with devastating consequences to them personally. "Will I find myself in a hijacked plane, blown up by a suicide bomber?" "Will the FBI come to speak with me, because I have a security clearance and work for a defense contractor while my brother is a radical anti-war Muslim?" "Will I be able to start college, because I can't find any scholarships and can't afford loans?" "Will they find out I crossed the border eighteen years ago?" "How do I get a job now?" "Can I trust him?" "Will I see him again?" "Will they find out?" War is depressing, it drives one inward, towards inertia, in search of anonymity.

Commune Or Empire?

In his work The Civil War In France, Karl Marx reflected on the Commune of 1871, the popular revolt against the French government after the disasters of its attempted take-over of Mexico during 1863-1867, and the French loss in the war it initiated with Prussia in 1870. He summarized the motivation for the revolt it this way, (16)

The empire had ruined them economically by the havoc it made of public wealth, by the wholesale financial swindling it fostered, by the props it lent to the artificially accelerated centralization of capital, and the concomitant expropriation of their own ranks. It had suppressed them politically, it had shocked them morally by its orgies, it had insulted their Voltarianism by handing over the education of their children to the frères Ignorantins, it had revolted their national feeling as Frenchmen by precipitating them headlong into a war which left only one equivalent for the ruins it made -- the disappearance of the empire.

In comparing current American civil affairs with those of France one hundred thirty-two years ago, it would be well to remember that historical parallels can be fraught with subjectivity and imprecision. Nevertheless, it is also worth remembering Santayana's aphorism: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (17)

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© Manuel García, Jr. 2004. All rights reserved. Please DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web. See our reprint policy.

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Other Essays in this Special Issue

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Or jump to any one author (in alphabetical order): Tanweer Akram || Justin Alexander || Anthony Arnove || Naseer Aruri || Jan Baughman || George Capaccio || Milo Clark || Gregory Elich || Sara Flounders & John Catalinotto || Manuel García || Denis J. Halliday || Edward S. Herman || Rania Masri || Thomas J. Nagy, et al. || Michael Parenti || Louis Proyect || John Sloboda || Gerard Donnelly Smith || Michael W. Stowell



Iraq on Swans (all articles regarding Iraq published on Swans)

Outside Resources on Iraq (Web sites of interest)

Additional Resources (compiled by Tanweer Akram)

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1.  This article is a shortened version of "Effects Of Iraq War On American Citizens," in Swans, January 5, 2004.  (back)

2.  John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World, London: Verso, 2002, ISBN 1-85984-412-X.

See also, Robert W. McChesney, "Introduction," in Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People: Neoliberalism And Global Order, New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999, ISBN 1-888363-82-7.  (back)

3.  Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States 1492-Present, New York: HarperCollins, 1995, ISBN 0-06-092643-0.  (back)

4.  Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1989, ISBN 0-89608-366-7.  (back)

5.  Zinn.  (back)

6.  Zinn.  (back)

7.  Alex Carey, Taking The Risk Out Of Democracy, University of New South Wales Press, 1995, and University of Illinois Press, 1997. An audiotape of an earlier, independent radio production called Alex Carey: Corporations And Propaganda, Managing Public Opinion, is available from TUC Radio at http://www.tucradio.org., http://www.tucradio.org/speakers.html (as of 2 December 2003).

See also, Chomsky, Necessary Illusions.  (back)

8.  Note the change from "worker" to "consumer," producer to receiver, active to passive, independent to dependent, and at its logical limit, freedom to slavery.  (back)

9.  Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/man/smedley.htm (as of 2 December 2003).  (back)

10.  Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs And Consequences Of American Empire, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2000, ISBN 0-8050-6239-4.  (back)

11.  Johnson.  (back)

12.  Friends Committee On National Legislation, http://www.fcnl.org, http://www.fcnl.org/issues/int/sup/iraq_war-costs_table227-03.htm#fou, (as of December 1, 2003).  (back)

13.  Gabriel Kolko, Anatomy Of A War: Vietnam, The United States, And The Modern Historical Experience, New York: The New Press, 1985 & 1994, ISBN 1-56584-218-9.  (back)

14.  Kolko.  (back)

15.  Kolko.  (back)

16.  Karl Marx, The Civil War In France, 1871, (New York,1940). This quotation was selected by Noam Chomsky for his "Introduction," to Daniel Guérin, Anarchism, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970, ISBN 0-85345-175-3, and an expanded version of this essay, as "Notes On Anarchism," in Noam Chomsky, For Reasons Of State, New York: The New Press, 1972 & 2003, ISBN 1-56584-794-6.  (back)

17.  George Santayana (1863-1952), The Life Of Reason [1905-1906], vol. I, Reason In Common Sense.  (back)

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Published February 2, 2004