15 September 2011

The Gods of War

You want a 9/11 post on or about the 10th Anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers? You want a frame? Okay, how's this? After 9/11, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld junta unleashed the gods of war and destruction on the peoples of the planet (that includes us Americans, too, by the way), and we are now beginning to reap the consequences. Paying the piper, if you will, at the expense of a creative and productive society which looks after its own and is capable of human charity.

Founding Father James Madison had a few words for the current situation:
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

"Political Observations" (1795-04-20); also in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. IV, p. 491
The U.S. Department of Defense currently employs 3.2 million people, that's 1% of all Americans. It is the world's biggest employer. Want to know who's second? The Chinese People's Liberation Army at 2.3 million. The FY 2012 budget requests a total of $676 billion for DoD.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, professor of economics at Columbia University, estimates the total costs of 9/11 to be somewhere between $3-5 trillion. And that, he believes, may be on the conservative side
"Even if Bush could be forgiven for taking America, and much of the rest of the world, to war on false pretenses, and for misrepresenting the cost of the venture, there is no excuse for how he chose to finance it. His was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit. As America went into battle, with deficits already soaring from his 2001 tax cut, Bush decided to plunge ahead with yet another round of tax “relief” for the wealthy.

Today, America is focused on unemployment and the deficit. Both threats to America’s future can, in no small measure, be traced to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increased defense spending, together with the Bush tax cuts, is a key reason why America went from a fiscal surplus of 2% of GDP when Bush was elected to its parlous deficit and debt position today. Direct government spending on those wars so far amounts to roughly $2 trillion – $17,000 for every US household – with bills yet to be received increasing this amount by more than 50%.

Moreover, as Bilmes and I argued in our book The Three Trillion Dollar War, the wars contributed to America’s macroeconomic weaknesses, which exacerbated its deficits and debt burden. Then, as now, disruption in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, forcing Americans to spend money on oil imports that they otherwise could have spent buying goods produced in the US.

But then the US Federal Reserve hid these weaknesses by engineering a housing bubble that led to a consumption boom. It will take years to overcome the excessive indebtedness and real-estate overhang that resulted."
Another aspect of these costs is to consider what the money spent on these wars would have purchased if put, instead, to societally productive/creative or socially beneficial uses. These costs, often called "opportunity costs" or "lost opportunity costs", and the return of their investment seem incalculable. Forgone investments in infrastructure and education, interest payments on debt, the development of alternative sources of energy, new industry, tax breaks, all must be factored into the cost of these ruinous foreign adventures. Not to mention the non-financial costs of the loss of freedoms—e.g., having to take your shoes off every time you fly and then having your junk x-rayed, blanket e-surveillance, paranoia and suspicion, xenophobia, mistrust of "the commons" and government. Stuff like that. Oh yeah, and the corruption that took place in government no-bid cost-plus contracting with oil patch industries like Dick Cheney's Haliburton, along with the rise of private mercenary outsourced security armies like BlackWater (aka Xe).

And let's not forget that prior to bankrupting the government, President George W. Bush reorganized it. He centralized "homeland security" functions (an Orwellian concept if ever there was one) into a vast Department of Homeland Security—something incongruously distinguished from the Department of Defense which itself should probably be re-termed the Department of War. The costs associated with this reorganization and its re-tooling to fight the (Orwellian, again) "War on Terror" need also to be included.

The question then rises: is this period of war and destruction the prelude to a period of creation/production and enhanced social welfare? Both Marx and Schumpeter wrote about capitalism's tendency to run in these sorts of self-destructive cycles of self-(re-)creation.

For Nietzsche, "Creation is … inseparable from destruction. This relationship exists only in one direction and does not function when reversed. Denial does not imply affirmation, destruction itself does not lead to creation; this to Nietzsche is the case of the anarchist or the nihilist."

Nihilism is destroying without creating, according to Nietzsche. This seems to me to be the ethos of the the post-9/11 era.

The nihilist blood lust we're seeing among the Tea Party Republicans (see my previous video post: The Party of Death) is the product of this rise of the gods of war.

Life, not Death, should be our organizing principle. Yet, unleashing the gods (dogs) of war cannot be easily undone. They are gods. An era does not end in a day. Creation is hard, risky work. Social security and universal health care are costly. And neither can be achieved while the destructive urges of anarchy and nihilism prevail.

This is the frame, and one in terms of which discourse can be guided.

1 comment:

Randal Graves said...

If we don't organize around Death, control Death, then Life will be blown up by the Al-Qaeda under the bed. Or Frankenstein, which would be cooler 'cause, you know, Boris.