In the George Orwell classic 1984, there is a state of perpetual war among the nations of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. The enemy is vague, and the battlefield is located in some elusive, distant land. The enemy could be Eurasia one day, and Eastasia the next, but that is really beside the point. The purpose of perpetual war by these superpowers is to justify psychological and physical control over their populations, to keep their people busy, fearful and hateful towards the enemy. The perpetual war also helps to excuse a nation’s failings and shortcomings. The economy, the labor force and industry are all centered around war rather than consumer goods. People live a miserable existence with poverty and no hope of improving their standard of living.
War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! That is what soul singer Edwin Starr said, but it is also what Major General Smedley D. Butler, a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, believed as well. In fact, he called war a racket. “A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people,” he said. “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 very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.” The answer to ending war, Butler concluded, is not through disarmament conferences or peace talks, but by taking the profit out of war.
And upon his departure from office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a former general, warned of the military-industrial complex and its threat to democracy and liberty. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” he said.
America is in a state of perpetual war. Before it was the Cold War, and now it is the War on Terror. And the boogeyman du jour is Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism rather than Communism. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the government is controlled by Democrats or Republicans. This is the nature of the beast. There were wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush, and these wars have not abated under Obama. Add to that Pakistan, perhaps Yemen, who knows, and any other nation that comes up in the future. Things were supposed to be different under an Obama presidency, as people did not vote for more war when they voted for “change” in November. After all, the huge, costly, senseless and deadly mess called the Iraq war made people yearn for a better way. But in all fairness, Obama had pledged in the presidential campaign to step things up in Afghanistan.
We are told that the real threat to the United States comes from foreign terrorism, with the latest example brought to us in the form of a B-list al Qaeda groupie from Nigeria, with explosive airline undergarments no less. He follows in the footsteps of another misguided soul, a Jamaican-British terrorist wannabe who tried to blow up his shoes on an airplane several years ago. Such incidents have resulted in reactionary security measures by the government that are ostensibly designed to make us safer, such as the ban on liquids on the plane, or pat downs, or taking off your shoes at the airport. In the end, these measures only make us neurotic and fearful, fail to make us safer, and render air travel an impractical and unpleasant prison-like experience. Meanwhile, while it seems impossible to prevent every potential act of terrorism, the systems that should keep such undesirables off the plane in the first place are not working.
My goal is not to make light of terrorism and the threat it may or may not pose. At the same time, there are many domestic threats that seem to pose a greater risk to national security, including the U.S. economic system itself. Consider, for example, the massive loss of wealth precipitated by the housing crisis, disproportionately felt in the black and Latino communities. Or, take a look at the jobless numbers, and the deplorable 20 percent unemployment rate for working-age men. A nation that claims to be a superpower, yet has one out of every four of its children dependent on food stamps, has far larger issues than a Nigerian with combustible drawers.
And should we not concern ourselves with the daily acts or terror committed in this violent society, the proliferation of firearms, the mass shootings and the school shootings? Every year, on average, more than 100,000 people are shot with a gun in America, and over 30,000 of them die. This level of violence and killing is not tolerated in a truly free and democratic society.
If we are to have a perpetual war, it must be a war against injustice and deprivation at home and abroad. We need to get our own house in order, rather than demolish and rebuild other nations that did not invite us there. And as far as the so-called terrorism problem is concerned, maybe we should stay out of other folks’ backyards and it will go away.
This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.