Monday, June 8, 2009

Permanent War and Empire

Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges published an essay recently titled, “The Disease of Permanent War.” The subject has been on my mind for several weeks as I have been re-reading Chalmers Johnson’s book, The Sorrows of Empire and Joel Kovel’s, Red Hunting in the Promised Land.

While it seemed that the United States had been in a continual state of war throughout the 20th century, it was not until 1948 that U.S. foreign policy elites devised a rationale for permanent war. George Kennan, head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff penned two of the most crucial Cold War documents outlining permanent war. “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth,” Kennan wrote in a 1948 memo, “but only 6.3 percent of its population. . . . Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; . . . We should cease to talk about vague and - - for the Far East - - unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. . . . The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.” Kennan’s memo is a recipe for empire and that is exactly what the United States created. The sentimentality and unreal objectives, the Puritan ideals, were brought out of the closet as needed over the next six decades - - most notably as alternative reasons for invading Iraq after no WMD were found - - but only to mask the naked economic interests inherent in U.S. war-making. “ . . . Since the end of the Second World War, the federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current and future military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government. It is gilded corporate welfare.

As a society focused on permanent war, with massive war spending, nearly a trillion dollars this year, what have we won? “Bridges and levees collapse,” Hedges wrote in his essay. “Schools decay. Domestic manufacturing declines. Trillions in debts threaten the viability of the currency and the economy. The poor, the mentally ill, the sick and the unemployed are abandoned. Human suffering, including our own, is the price for victory.”

After the attacks on 11 September 2001, many people asked the question, “Why do they hate us?” Not knowing our own history and seemingly oblivious to the permanent state of war already controlling our country, the questioners did not know that we taught state terrorism to thousands of Latin American military and police officials at the School of the Americas. That presidents used their own private army, the CIA, to bring about “regime changes” around the world through coups, assassinations, or economic destabilizations. The we have bombed or invaded countries that have openly broken with or opposed our hegemony. Just ask the people in Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Iraq Afghanistan or Pakistan to name a few. We have made ourselves the most belligerent people on earth who, as President Kennedy presciently noted, have made peaceful revolution impossible and violent revolution inevitable.

One wonders what the founders, who knew full well that no republic in history had lasted more than 300 years, would make of the country we have become. Would they be “dismayed by a society that that no longer had the moral fortitude to confront the fools,” these fools who are leading us over the precipice?

What kind of government do we have, a citizen asked Benjamin Franklin as the Constitutional Convention ended? A republic, Franklin replied - - if you can keep it.

1 comment:

The Rambling Taoist said...

I'm not so certain that our founding fathers would be dismayed at all. They were the moneyed interests of their own day and they created a nation to serve their specific interests. Who knows? They might just give high fives all around to the architects of our impending destruction.