Effects Of Iraq War On American Citizens

by Manuel García, Jr.

January 5, 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, a sudden and angry realization by a majority of Americans that the reality of their personal prospects is completely at odds with any optimistic vision? What might be the social impact of an evaporation of any popular sense of future: "bread and circuses," (1) a proletarian awakening signaling a rebirth of socialism, a new, American expression of the familiar historical sequence of: social and political revolution, counter-revolutionary war, reaction and dictatorship, cultural stagnation, and finally a gradual evolution toward international norms, each of these stages being generally longer and less dynamic than the previous one?

For us in the United States of 2003, the beginning of any practical insight into these questions lies in understanding the impact of the Iraq War on the typical American citizen. Basically, what is the most general answer to the person-on-the-street who asks: "How will the Iraq War affect me?"

To answer this, we will try to understand the place of the American citizen within the structure of American ideology, and we will look to history to suggest what might be some of the economic, political, social and psychological consequences of the Iraq War.

The Imperial Consensus

The United States is a two-party single-ideology state. (2), (3) This has been true at least since the Wilson Administration when American corporations concentrated their power over labor, the economy and government. (4) This consolidation was presented to the public as the necessary response to a national emergency arising from World War I and the Russian Revolution. "Woodrow Wilson's Red Scare was the earliest and most extreme resort to state power in twentieth-century America to suppress labor, political dissidence, and independent thought." (5) This corporate lock on political power was dramatically illustrated by the arrest and imprisonment, in 1918, of Eugene V. Debs, the great railroad union organizer and Socialist party candidate for US President. Debs was the personification of the struggle by industrial workers to gain just and secure employment from the monopolistic companies involved in the rapid growth and organization of the American economy after 1877, the year of the great railroad strikes and the Socialist takeover of the city of St. Louis (for one week). (6), (7)

Debs was prosecuted for violating the 1917 Espionage Act, which is an ancestor of today's Patriot Act, and which was used to imprison Americans who spoke out against World War I; it is still on the books. (8) In March 1919, Debs was convicted of speaking out publicly against the draft and the war, and was sentenced to ten years in a federal penitentiary. The Russian Revolution erupted in 1917, and spurred a reaction by American capitalists intent to ensure no such social upheaval would occur here. A 1919 law allowed for the deportation of aliens who opposed organized government or advocated the destruction of property (also an ancestor of today's Patriot Act). The "Palmer Raids" of 1919 and 1920 (named for Wilson's Attorney General) saw thousands arrested and ordered deported, many simply former Russian peasants. (9) 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."

By the time that a sixty-six-year-old Debs was released from prison by President Harding in 1921, the Socialist and Progressive parties and the unions and the mass movements that had given rise to them were sufficiently dissipated, restricted and controlled so they would never pose a revolutionary threat to corporate power (though there was some resurgence of unionism and socialism during the Great Depression of the 1930's). During the 1920's, the pioneering and very successful use of propaganda in favor of the war effort by the Wilson Administration was transformed into a new public relations industry, which was underwritten by corporate interests in a campaign to co-opt 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. (10), (11) "Workers," -- with properly reconditioned minds -- are now "consumers." (12)

The Singular Ideology Of Corporate Social Organization

Let us consider an admittedly cartoonish rendition of the singular ideology we Americans have been brainwashed to accept as the norm. The six linked concepts of this ideology are: 1) individuals are fulfilled by consumption, 2) aggregate consumption requires industrial scale to supply, 3) therefore, individuals "need" corporations, 4) corporate efficiency makes fulfillment accessible and affordable, 5) thus, the individual's "need" for "low price" is an endorsement of corporate optimization, and 6) efficiency is gained by increasing scale, expanding markets, and eliminating restrictions. The ideological conclusion is that unlimited corporations equate to unlimited individual fulfillment. Any state animated by this ideology will inevitably be drawn to imperialism -- increasing scale, expanding markets, and eliminating restrictions.

The primary flaw in this straw-man of an argument is with the initial statement, in fact individuals are not fulfilled by consumption. The other flaw with this argument is that it assumes the world is an infinite reservoir of resources and markets, which will fuel the "open loop" operation of the singular ideology, and that this same world is an infinite absorber of its waste products. Other flaws are the exclusion of the possibility of decentralized industry and agriculture in step 2, of public ownership or nationalized industry (e.g., healthcare) in step 3, denial of monopolistic tendencies in step 4, the assumption of personal greed as the individual's prime motivation in step 5, and the presumption that optimizing profit should take precedence over any other concern in step 6. However, the argument persists in practice because it offers a justification for greed at every level of social organization, from the individual to the corporate.

By definition, people that do not participate in the singular ideology are threats. By their aloofness, or abstention, they "prevent" the system from fully "expanding" and thus "optimizing" itself (put this way, it sounds viral). Stated from a different perspective, the members of the ideology are denied the opportunity to profit from an engagement with the non-participants -- who are a "closed market." For eighty-six years closed markets had been known simply as "communism," and their inhabitants as "communists" and "socialists." There is nothing in their existence that satisfies the root motivator in the singular ideology: "what is in it for me?" What may be new is the addition of the terms "Islamic fundamentalism" and "Islamic radicalism" as variant labels for "closed market."

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, a man who rose through the ranks of the US Marine Corps from Second Lieutenant to Major-General, during a thirty-four-year career in which he was twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest award for personal valor. This excerpt, from a speech Butler gave in 1933, also gives a glimpse of the many conflicts sparked around the globe by the advance of the American empire. (13)
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 believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

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.

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

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 (where have I heard that name before?). 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.
It is interesting to compare Smedley Butler with the men of our military elite in recent times, and in particular with presidential aspirants of former decades, like Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower, and those of today, like Colin Powell and Wesley Clark.

It is also interesting to compare Smedley Butler's comments on the operations of American empire in the early twentieth century, with the detailed description of its operation today, given by Chalmers Johnson. (14) In Butler's day the Marines would be dispatched all over the globe as needed 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.

Our bases include a continuing occupation of a portion of Okinawa, Japan, fifty-eight years after the end of the Pacific War (the Japanese-American war during 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, 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 11 September 2001 an inevitability. In making this point, Johnson's book achieved notoriety in late 2001, especially in Europe, because it had been published in 2000. (15)

The Impact Of War

The Iraq War will affect the American citizen through its impact on the economy, the political arrangements made in its pursuit, and the changes in the social environment resulting from these alterations. The Iraq War will have its most devastating personal impact on its direct participants: soldiers, their families, and Iraqi civilians in the path of conflict. Elsewhere in the world, the effect will be experienced as the actions taken by the American government in its pursuit of the Iraq War, and the response to these actions by others. Let us try to project what these effects might be to our economy, politics, society and psychology.

Economics Of War

War is expensive, it has a way of expanding public debt (and budget deficits) very rapidly in an ill-timed fashion. President Bush has already presented the US Congress with a bill for $87B (paid with unseemly alacrity) in addition to $28B for post-9/11 "war on terror" operations by the Pentagon. An unanticipated expense of over $100B can wreck havoc in a national budget where the vulnerable portion for social welfare spending is of a comparable amount (the majority portion for military and corporate subsidies is sacrosanct). (16)

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 (e.g., the Spanish-American and Philippines Wars, WWI, WWII, Korea) have been popular, or at least tolerated, because they propelled renewed economic growth. (17) 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.

It is the interplay of debt (and deficits) and inflation, against the background economic state, that determines the sustainability of the war and will constrain the economic and tax policies of the nation. The American citizen will most likely experience the impact of war through deficits, inflation, taxes (if raised) and social services (if cut).

If the war is sufficiently large to accelerate the economy to the point of inflation, then the consumer demands of a well-paid fully-employed workforce would create a balance-of-payments problem: the importation of relatively inexpensive foreign goods overwhelming the export of relatively expensive American goods. (18) 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 printing of money (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.

American debt is spread across the world by the sale of bonds, so an inflationary wartime economy with deficit financing would have its investors (including foreign governments) see their assets shrink. In addition, if the size of the American deficit is exceptionally large, then it will monopolize the available investor funds, and this will increase the costs to other nations seeking to underwrite debts of their own, e.g., bonds to finance public works in smaller nations. (19) 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 $2.5B in social welfare spending and to seek a tax increase to pay Vietnam War costs. (20)

In selling bonds, the government vacuums investor funds that could have gone into the private economy, say in funding new home construction or new business ventures. 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 move out of rental housing by purchasing a home, or of starting a small business, or of financing home improvements. Obviously, at the lowest stratum of our economy, people might see a withdrawal of both social services and financial opportunities (e.g., fewer jobs), which could have life and death consequences.

It was the accumulating costs of the Vietnam War that reversed the historic expansion of the US economy and standard-of-living between 1945 and 1971. This was the time of abundance and expanding opportunity that gave meaning to the phrase "the American way of life." War kills that kind of dream from the bottom up. It increases the gap between rich and poor, and it opens the nation to policy vulnerabilities created by the threat of fiscal manipulation by owners of our government debt, owners including foreign governments and unsympathetic financial interests (e.g., Saudi oil wealth and Asian capital invested in US debt).

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, but logically correct. (21) This is how the Vietnamese Communists won their "American War," which ended in 1975. "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." (22) The American way of making war is the most expensive, the highly technological air war, its singular advantage being few casualties. Quick victory is required with this method in order to contain its economic consequences. The cheapest way of making war is to rely on armies of foot soldiers employing elusive guerrilla tactics. This method produces the highest casualty rates, but has the advantage of being sustainable indefinitely. The major loss is people, a large fraction of troops eventually being killed or wounded; however, the cost is low because the forces are small, their equipment is basic, and the cash investment is minimal.

If America wishes to be the Rome of the twenty-first century, it may have to develop a Roman-like resolve to place its Legions on conquered ground, and to accept the price in blood to retain its holdings; a bloodless, remote-controlled empire not being possible.

The invasion and conquest of Iraq took two months and cost one hundred thirty-nine US military fatalities. The seven months of occupation since then have cost three hundred US military fatalities -- the beginnings of the Vietnam model, or "quagmire." The magnitude of the suffering is greater when one considers the fatalities among allied troops (e.g., British, Italian, Spanish), diplomats (UN personnel), aid workers (e.g., Red Cross), and, most numerous, Iraqis. However, these others don't count in the most selfish estimates of "cost." (23)

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 (an unlikely outcome that requires sacrificing the possibility of compassion and generosity in 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 this particular project, to stabilize the existing empire (abandoning the 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 are to be pushed toward these considerations.

Politics Of War

The political consequences of the Iraq War are evidently similar to those of WWI, a political repression of varying degree aimed at elements of the society seen as threats to the corporate-imperial interests prosecuting the war: "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 the 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).

Also, our politics is likely to become more divisive (a painful thought), as pro-war and anti-war sentiments harden in a climate already poisoned by an expanding gap between rich and poor. The typical American, not specifically targeted by the new security procedures (beyond removing shoes for inspection at airports), 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. In the simplest terms, the Iraq War is just one more step in which the national government recedes in its concern for the typical citizen. "As the Russian dissident economist Boris Kagarlitsky points out, 'Globalisation does not mean the impotence of the state, but the rejection by the state of its social functions, in favor of repressive ones, and the ending of democratic freedoms.'" (24)

Society At War

The social impact of the Iraq War will reflect the degradation of the supporting economy and the political environment in which it operates. It will be experienced differently as individuals are either inquisitive or evasive in their attitudes towards choices presented by the society at war. Here we are considering civilians, far removed from the circles of power, or military operations.

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. Wars are always accompanied by war profiteering and financial swindles.

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 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 deprivations), a distancing from people and activities that seem radically anti-war, in fear of being identified as an "enemy" by unseen government surveillance (sometimes you really are not paranoid, and they really are out to get you), a reluctance to "speak out," or "volunteer," or "expose" your 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.

I have not read anything that surpasses The History Of The Peloponnesian War for insight on society during a time of war. In it, Thucydides writes, (25)
The great wish of some is to avenge themselves on some particular enemy, the great wish of others is to save their own pocket. Slow in assembling, they devote a very small fraction of the time to the consideration of any public object, most of it to the prosecution of their own objects. Meanwhile each fancies that no harm will come of his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look after this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays.
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 1870, France went to war with Prussia, out of imperialist rivalry. Prussia won decisively and demanded that France give it the eastern provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, a 2 billion francs ($1B) indemnity, and a victory parade by the Prussian army through Paris. The French government agreed.

The workers of Paris were enraged by the triumphal Prussian entry of 1 March 1871, and saw their government as having no shred of national sentiment whatever in allowing this parade. Bad enough that it was a dictatorship by wealth and aristocracy, playing at its imperialist adventures at the expense of the people. (26) They had thought, at least we are all Frenchmen with a shared culture and pride. But this last tenuous bond was now seen to be illusory. The aristocratic ruling class was accustomed to class bonds across European national boundaries by links of marriage -- "multi-nationals." In contrast, the workers lives, families and experiences were purely French -- "nationalistic."

What the concession against French pride meant was that only class and property mattered. On 18 March, the workers of Paris revolted, setting up barricades in the streets, and drawing in greater participation from French troops, who having been sent out to quell the revolt, mutinied instead of firing upon fellow Frenchmen. The Commune of Paris was declared, the government fled to Versailles, and until 28 May 1871 this spontaneous and democratic Commune ran the city, implementing the ideas of Proudhon ("property is theft"), Bakunin, Marx, and other socialists; ideas that had grown out of the expansion of industrialization and its exploitation of the working class, especially after 1848. (27)

The Versailles government reorganized its forces and sent the French army to besiege Paris and liquidate the Commune, "drowning it in blood," washing away up to thirty thousand lives by firing squad mass executions, men and women. Afterwards, about fifty thousand were arrested, and forty-five hundred sent to exile in a South Pacific penal colony.

The historical lesson drawn from the Commune of 1871 is the nature of the motivation for people to spontaneously revolt against an imperialist government and capitalist society. Karl Marx, in his work The Civil War In France, summarized it this way. (28)
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 fréres 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." (29)

Synopsis For Adults

An ill-considered and impatient lunge for control of Iraqi oil has embroiled America in a chaotic military entanglement. This adventure is an expression of a long-standing US policy of gaining control of the world's oil reserves, on which American power, industry and consumerism rely. Control of oil is one aspect of achieving global economic domination.

The Iraq War is a colonial war. It is opposed by most of the world because they have experienced the heavy burdens of imperialism, whether as conquerors or colonials. Imperialism is the drive by a ruling elite to employ the resources, labor and military of a nation to acquire greater wealth from the wider world. Empire is a privation to the colonies, and an expense to the working class of the imperial nation. Imperialism is fundamentally an attitude of seeking an extreme stratification of wealth -- it is greed.

The domestic impact of any US war will be inequitably distributed, the workers and lowest economic classes carrying the burden of the social costs, while the upper strata benefit. Eliminating US imperialism requires a social revolution. A war gone badly might alter public thinking enough to make such fundamental social change an increasing possibility.

Synopsis For A Five-Year-Old

Many people are greedy. They take things from others, and keep them without sharing. People like that can be bullies, who push you and hurt you to take your things away. Or, they can be sneaky and take your things when you are not looking, and they will tell you a lie if you ask them about it.

Taking things that do not belong to you is called stealing, and a person who steals is called a thief. Many big people are sad, or hurt, or poor, because thieves have stolen from them. Because of this, many big people may not trust someone new; they are afraid a stranger might be another thief, and so they do not want to be friends or play games.

This has been happening in our country for a long time, so it is very hard for the big people to do things together, like making games which are fair and fun and happy for everybody, where everyone has a turn, and where everyone who needs help or kindness can get it.

If we can help the people in our country to see that sharing is much better than greed, then maybe we can help everyone to become a happier person and a good friend. And, you know that there is nothing better than to play happy games with good friends.

Unending War And Stagnated Evolution

It may well be that greed has been the greatest social burden throughout human existence. Certainly, greed is behind our wars, however they are justified, and any American can expect that any war will be pursued for the benefit of its proponents. It is most likely that the typical American will share in the risk and cost of the war, from personal to economic and social, and much less likely that they will be benefit, whether through gains in wealth or of a general elevation in the social conditions in which their lives are enmeshed. Given the stratified nature of American society, costs sink to the bottom, and benefits rise to the top. A social revolution would mean that a majority of Americans are willing to sacrifice to change this. The shock of war, if sufficiently intense, might precipitate such an awakening.

It is possible that a conversion in thinking from a reliance on greed to an embracing of the sense of sharing -- called by whatever name, but being a generous, democratic socialism and environmentalism -- is actually the next step to be attained in human evolution. We are as far from that step as we were in 1754, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote his Discourse On Inequality, and probably as far as we were when the glaciers receded and agriculture began. With it came war. (30)
Hence, as the strongest regarded their might, and the most wretched regarded their need as giving them a kind of right to the possessions of others, equivalent, according to them, to the right of property, the elimination of equality was followed by the most terrible disorder. The usurpations of the rich, the brigandage of the poor and the unbridled passions of everyone, stifling natural pity and the as yet feeble voice of justice, made men greedy, ambitious and bad. There arose between the right of the stronger and the right of the first occupant a perpetual conflict which ended only in fights and murders. Nascent society gave place to the most horrible state of war; the human race, debased and desolate, could not now retrace its path, nor renounce the unfortunate acquisitions it had made, but labouring only towards its shame by misusing those faculties which should be its honour, brought itself to the brink of ruin.

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To Angie Hennig, for helping me realize who it is that I am speaking to.


Iraq on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Manuel García, Jr. is a graduate aerospace engineer, working as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He did underground nuclear testing between 1978 and 1992. He is concerned with employee rights and unionization at the nuclear weapons labs, and the larger issue of their social costs. Otherwise, he is an amateur poet who is fascinated by the physics of fluids, zen sensibility, and the impact of truth.

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References And Notes

1.  Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenalis), c. 50 - c. 130, a Roman satirical poet, commenting on what the people of Rome wanted from the state,
The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now concerns itself no more, and longs eagerly for just two things -- bread and circuses!
In Juvenal's satirical comment, the populace of Rome is reduced from active participation in the government, once a republic, to a state of complete dependency on that government, now an empire, for its food and the maintenance of an addiction to the distractions of bloody, pornographic entertainment. This quotation is taken from: Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Fifteenth & 125th Anniversary Edition, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1980, ISBN 0-316-08275-9.  (back)

2.  John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World, London: Verso, 2002, ISBN 1-85984-412-X, pages 1-2,
The attacks of September 11, 2001 did not 'change everything', but accelerated the continuity of events, providing an extraordinary pretext for destroying social democracy. The undermining of the Bill of Rights in the United States and the further dismantling of trial by jury in Britain and a plethora of related civil liberties are part of the reduction of democracy to electoral ritual: that is competition between indistinguishable parties for the management of a single-ideology state.
This is an incredible book. Pilger's laser-sharp descriptions of the "free market" financial bleeding of Indonesia (part of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997), and the practically genocidal embargo of Iraq, are essential reading.  (back)

3.  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, pages 7 and 9-10,
Neoliberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time -- it refers to the politics and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit.

[This] is neoliberal democracy in a nutshell: trivial debate over minor issues by parties that basically pursue the same pro-business policies regardless of formal differences and campaign debate. Democracy is permissible so long as the control of business is off-limits to popular deliberation or change; i.e., so long as it isn't democracy.  (back)
4.  Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States 1492-Present, New York: HarperCollins, 1995, ISBN 0-06-092643-0. On page 337 Zinn quotes Helen Keller, writing in 1911,
Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.  (back)
5.  Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1989, ISBN 0-89608-366-7, page 185.  (back)

6.  Zinn, pages 240-247.  (back)

7.  Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story, Third Edition, Pittsburgh: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), 1955 (22nd printing, 1994), ISBN 0-916180-01-8. Boyer and Morais describe how Southern planters and Northern industrialists ended their rivalry for control of the American economy, which had propelled the Civil War of 1860-1865, and then resulted in a Northern (Union) military occupation of the Southern states of the former Confederacy, needed to ensure that the emancipation of the blacks from slavery, and the exercise of their new voting and economic rights, were actualities. The mutual interest recognized by Southern and Northern capital in 1877 was the control of agrarian and industrial labor. This took precedence over civil rights. Boyer and Morais write, on pages 58-59,
...in the election of 1876...Samuel J. Tilden, Democrat, had 184 electoral votes and Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican, had 165. With twenty electoral votes in dispute and both sides claiming them, the contest was thrown into Congress to be decided there. Hayes became President after Scott [head of the Pennsylvania Railroad], and others, contrived to win enough votes in Congress to award the Republican candidate all of the disputed electoral votes...Scott was hard pressed by the panic of 1873. Heavily involved in his Texas and Pacific Railroad, still a project rather than an actuality, he decided that the only way he could avoid ruin was by having the United States government subsidize the Texas and Pacific through advancing him some $312,000,000 in government bonds, including interest over a fifty-year period. Scott promised Hayes the Presidency if Hayes would promise him the subsidy after becoming President...Scott was able to deliver and make Hayes President through his control of the votes of Southern Congressmen. They wanted the Texas and Pacific as well as other internal improvements [subsidies], almost as badly as Scott and upon being assured that Hayes would back such a program they double-crossed their own candidate, Tilden, and threw the election to Hayes [who, later as President, refused to back the proposed Texas and Pacific Railroad subsidy!]. This was one part of the complicated maneuvering in which the Republicans abandoned the Negro people in the South as another inducement for Southern Democratic votes in the Hayes-Tilden contest. Thus the alliance between Northern industrialists and Southern planters was formalized in 1877. Reaction had established a united front at the expense of the Negro people in particular and the American people in general.
The railroad strikes erupted later that year.  (back)

8.  Zinn, Ch. 14, "War is the Health of the State," page 357.  (back)

9.  Ibid., page 358,
In January 1920, four thousand persons were rounded up all over the country, held in seclusion for long periods of time, brought into secret hearings, and ordered deported.  (back)
10.  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.
The 20th century is marked by three developments: the growth of democracy via expansion of the franchise, the growth of corporations, and the growth of propaganda to protect corporations from democracy.
Carey's unique view of US history goes back to WWI and ends with the Reagan era. See http://www.tucradio.org/speakers.html (as of 2 December 2003).  (back)

11.  Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, pages 29-31,
As early as 1947 a State Department public relations officer remarked that "smart public relations [has] paid off as it has before and will again." Public opinion "is not moving to the right, it has been moved -- cleverly -- to the right." "While the rest of the world has moved to the left, has admitted labor into government, has passed liberalized legislation, the United States has become anti-social change, anti-economic change, anti-labor."
Chomsky cites Alex Carey's essay "Managing Public Opinion," for this quote, see reference (10). Chomsky also summarizes this campaign in more recent times as follows,
In the postwar [WWII] period the public relations campaign intensified, employing the media and other devices to identify so-called free-market enterprise -- meaning state-subsidized private profit with no infringement on managerial prerogatives -- as "the American way," threatened by dangerous subversives. In 1954, Daniel Bell, then an editor of Fortune magazine wrote that "It has been industry's prime concern, in the post war years, to change the climate of opinion ushered in by... the depression. This 'free enterprise' campaign has two essential aims: to rewin the loyalty of the worker which now goes to the union and to halt creeping socialism,..." that is, the mildly reformist capitalism of the New Deal.  (back)
12.  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)

13.  Smedley Butler joined the Marine Corps when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, was brevetted to Captain during the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900), saw action in Central America, and in France during World War 1 was promoted to Major-General. Butler was nominated for numerous decorations, even by another nation, all for personal bravery under fire. His promotion to Captain was compensation for being barred from receiving the Medal of Honor by regulations of that time excluding officers. These were changed and he received Medals of Honor for his actions in Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1914, and in Haiti in 1915. The life, exploits and words of Smedley Butler are described on several Internet web sites: Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/man/smedley.htm, (source of the Butler quotation used here), US Marine Corps: http://www.grunts.net/legends/butler.html, (describes Butler's earlier military actions, and decorations), Veterans For Peace: http://www.veteransforpeace.org/war_is_a_racket_033103.htm, (presents an online version of Butler's article "War Is A Racket"), Veterans Against The Iraq War:
http://www.vaiw.org/vet/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&si d=88&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0, (Butler is quoted by Charlie Liteky, Vietnam Veteran who renounced his own Medal of Honor "in opposition to US foreign policy" in 1986, and writes in a 7 May 2003 open letter, "I submit that protecting US business interests, sometimes referred to as 'national interests,' is still the primary mission of the US military"). (sites active as of 2 December 2003).  (back)

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

15.  Ibid., page 223,
'Blowback' is shorthand for saying that a nation reaps what it sows, even if it does not fully know or understand what it has sown. Given its wealth and power, the United States will be a prime recipient in the foreseeable future of all of the more expectable forms of blowback, particularly terrorist attacks against Americans in or out of the armed forces anywhere on earth, including within the United States. But it is blowback in its larger aspect -- the tangible costs of empire -- that truly threatens it. Empires are costly operations, and they become more costly by the year. The hollowing out of American industry, for instance, is a form of blowback -- an unintended negative consequence of American policy -- even though it is seldom recognized as such. The growth of militarism in a once democratic society is another example of blowback. Empire is the problem. Even though the United States has a strong sense of invulnerability and substantial military and economic tools to make such a feeling credible, the fact of its imperial pretensions means that a crisis is inevitable. More imperialist projects simply generate more blowback. If we do not begin to solve problems in more prudent and modest ways, blowback will only become more intense.  (back)
16.  According to the Friends Committee On National Legislation, http://www.fcnl.org, the $87B appropriated for the Iraq War is comparable to the anticipated combined revenue shortfall for state governments in the U.S. in 2003 ($80B), and the $28B spent by the Pentagon on the "war on terror" is comparable to providing childcare for 1.2 million children of working families in the U.S. for almost four years ($7.2B/year); for more data and references to the original sources, see http://www.fcnl.org/issues/int/sup/iraq_war-costs_table227-03.htm#fou (sites active as of 1 December 2003)  (back)

17.  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, page 284,
American involvement in four earlier wars since 1898 had begun at times when the economy was in a recession or emerging from a period of idle productive capacity; in addition to attaining the nation's military or political goals, these wars also created higher prosperity and few, if any structural challenges to the economy. Such timing reinforced the momentum behind its global role, so that the pattern of U.S. imperialism was established with a minimum of internal political opposition from crucial factions in the economic elite or in society, nearly all of whom gained.  (back)
18.  The increase in consumer demand driving up domestic prices.  (back)

19.  Requiring they offer higher rates-of-return to attract investors.  (back)

20.  Kolko, pages 287 and 290.  (back)

21.  I am thinking of wars with American troops stationed in the territory of the opponent.  (back)

22.  Kolko, page 291.  (back)

23.  Friends Committee On National Legislation, Iraq War casualty figures as of 1 December 2003: 439 US fatalities since the war began (total), 300 US fatalities since 1 May 2003, 2444 US wounded since the war began (total), 85 coalition troop fatalities since the war began (total), no official US report on Iraqi casualties. See reference 16 for website information. The Iraq Body Count Project reports the number of Iraqi civilian deaths at between 7927 and 9758, between 1 January and 22 November 2003, based on a survey of online media reports and eyewitness accounts, see http://www.iraqbodycount.net/, http://www.iraqbodycount.net/bodycount.htm, (as of 3 December 2003).  (back)

24.  Boris Kagarlitsky, "Facing The Crisis," Links, No. 19, September-December 2001, as quoted by Pilger (see reference 2), page 5.  (back)

25.  Thucydides, The History Of The Peloponnesian War, [431-413 B.C.], the quotation (and translation) given here is taken from Bartlett's, See reference 1.  (back)

26.  Emperor Louis Napoleon sent a French armada to invade and recolonize Mexico in 1863, while the United States was preoccupied with its War of the Rebellion, as the Civil War was known at the time. Mexico, led by its extraordinary president Benito Juarez, finally expelled the French in 1867. This fiasco was shortly followed by the Franco-Prussian War.  (back)

27.  A revolution erupting in Paris in February 1848 sparked a series of revolts throughout continental Europe during that extraordinary year. A depression during 1846-1847, famous in America for depopulating Ireland by half due to famine and emigration, added to the strains on the working class during these early years of European industrialization. Many of the basic ideas of socialism were already widely known in 1848, when Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published their Communist Manifesto.  (back)

28.  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)

29.  George Santayana (1863-1952), The Life Of Reason [1905-1906], vol. I, Reason In Common Sense. Similar quotations are (from Bartlett's, see reference 1):
Whoso neglects learning in his youth, loses the past and is dead for the future.
-- Euripedes, (c. 485-406 B.C.),

I shall be content if it [The History Of The Peloponnesian War] is judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it.
-- Thucydides, (c. 460-400 B.C.).  (back)
30.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours sur l'origine de l'inégalité, the translation used here being that of Maurice Cranston, A Discourse On Inequality, London: Penguin Books, 1984. Excerpt is from page 120.  (back)

· · · · · ·

This Week's Internal Links

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Alan Furst's Red Gold - Book Review by Louis Proyect

Strengthened By - Poem by Vanessa Raney

Letters to the Editor


Published January 5, 2004
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