Wars Without End

Wars Without End            Published in CounterPunch December 22, 2011

In “The Absence of a Draft Makes Americans Feel Immune to War” (December 7, 2011), Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report makes the argument that an all-volunteer military has ushered in the “most militaristic period in American history.” While I agree with Ford that this is indeed a grotesquely militaristic environment in which we now live, I cannot agree that the existence of an all-volunteer military has caused the latter to take place.

As a war resister from the Vietnam era, I can testify to the fact that the military was at least as vicious in its conduct of the war in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and early 1970s as it is conducting wars today. I make the point in my memoir Notes of a Military Resister that not a single division within the Army during that war was without a war crime attributed to it. Untold millions were killed, and the effects of that era are still being felt in the daily reality of abandoned land mines and the effects of Agent Orange. So much for an egalitarian military following the dictates of the rules of war!

The problem with militarism in the US is not the presence or absence of a military draft, but rather the hold that militarism and its trappings have on this society. Whether it’s for the purpose of nation building or the “protection” of big business interests (including military contractors) abroad, the military is the tool of choice for this nation. If the military existed for the defense of the nation, as it should have on September 11, 2001, then an argument could be make for the maintenance of a standing military force. But both the military and “intelligence” failed miserably in the months leading up to that tragedy, and the decade that followed has seen the emergence of a nation dedicated to constant warfare and an “intelligence” apparatus that uses technology to spy on anyone. The Patriot Act is but the most obvious expression of a government at war with its own people. In fact, the passage of the most recent Defense Authorization Act (signed by Barack Obama), allows the military to hold any citizen that the government deems a terrorist without that person’s access to the Bill of Rights. Chilling!

The question that begs asking is: how did this dreadful and dangerous scenario ever come to happen in the US? Readers have to go back to the administration of Ronald Reagan, The Great Communicator (actually, the Great Nincompoop), to find the seeds of this contemporary expression of endless war and militarism. Reagan made war acceptable to masses of those in the US through his conduct of the policy of low-intensity warfare. Since this policy was directed, for the most part, against Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, most in the US felt no  impact of these theaters of battle. Iraq, during the administration of George H.W. Bush, was next to lineup in the crosshairs of US policy. Oil and the projection of US power were the twin objectives of that war waged against our former ally Saddam Hussein. One day a dictator can be photographed shaking hands with US officials, and the next day he can be the target of our military might.

Following Bush, there was a bit of a hiatus in massive war making on the part of this nation. Then came George W. Bush and the hijacked general election. Osama bin Laden did the rest, allowing the opening up of the door of preemptive warfare that continues to this day in places as disparate as Somalia, Pakistan, Columbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to name a few. In the case of Iraq, as the last US troops leave, violence continues in the wake of the trashing of one of the “nurseries” of civilization.

Barack Obama carried on the policies of Bush without missing a step militarily. As the longest war in US history continues to drag on, Afghanistan, by most accounts, is in no better position as a society than it was at the onset of the war in October 2001. Women still suffer the consequences of right wing religious intolerance there. Since so little of actual democracy exists in the US today that hasn’t been bought off or privatized by massive business and military conglomerates, we’re not exactly the shining example to export our ideas of democracy anywhere else on the globe. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street protesters around the nation being bashed by the police are not the kinds of poster children for photo opts that the government wishes to use to portray democracy.

Largely absent from the Occupy movement, however, are the staggering costs of the US empire. In 2010, $680 billion of the federal budget went to the military, with an additional $37 billion going to the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan alone.  A pie chart showing the slice the military takes out the US federal budget indicates that military expenditures made up 54 percent of the budget for the fiscal year 2009. Compare the latter to 30 percent of the federal budget that went to human resources in the same year.

As I’ve fought militarism over the decades from a personal and activist perspective, I’ve seen firsthand how the nation uses the symbols of freedom and democracy to negate those same principles whenever they emerge on distant shores or right here at home. The military dictatorship in Egypt is allowed to consume its own people in the face of a democracy movement while stocks of US-made tear gas are used to subdue democracy fighters. Candidates for political office who espouse peace and an egalitarian social-economic structure at home are relegated to the status of non persons through the stranglehold that both the Democratic and the Republican Parties have on the election process! Without the support of the 1 percent that holds over 40 percent of the wealth in the US, a candidate remains an unknown and unelectable.

And the symbols that militarism uses have a great hold on the ordinary people who labor and live within the system. The flag, patriotic songs, and the glamor of military service are drummed into the psyches of children from the time they reach kindergarten age until they become adults. The cold war so easily morphed into the war on terrorism! And the consumerist ethos brings the rest of the population into the fold. Myths about the beauty of democracy at home go unquestioned even as protestors are driven from encampments in places as far flung as New York City, Philadelphia, and Oakland, California. Myths about the goodness of the nation, dubbed American Exceptionalism, fly in the face of Nicaraguan deaths during the 1980’s contra war, the hundreds of thousands lost during the twenty years of the war in Iraq with its economic sanctions (not to mention the millions of Iraqis displaced by the war), and the millions of Southeast Asians and Americans who died as a result of US intervention in the 1960s and early 1970s. Smaller military operations are not counted here.

When George Orwell wrote the classic Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, he focused his sharp criticism on totalitarian regimes that called themselves socialist. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that his main character Winston Smith could find himself equally at home here in the US in 2011 as he was in the mythical land of Oceania. There was constant and unbridled government surveillance of the citizens in Oceania. There was constant warfare. And finally, there was total subservience to the state.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.


Who’s Worthy of Rescue?

Who’s Worthy of Rescue?

If you’re old enough, the image of the 50’s and 60’s pop singer Chubby Checker encouraging dancers to scurry under the limbo stick is a picture that stuck in the mind, with Chubby singing the lyrics “How low can you go?”*  When I think of the housing debacle that has gripped this nation since 2006, that is the image I have. How low will the equity and prices that sellers get for their homes go? How low will we all go?


It seems that with each economic report on the housing market (read housing debacle) new and lower home values emerge. Officially, $6.1 trillion were lost as of February 2009. That figure is much higher now as foreclosures increase. The Occupy movement has focused on the fact that 1 percent of the population in the US owns over 40 percent of that wealth. The remaining 99 percent (most of us) have seen our assets shrinking since the beginning of the Great Recession of   2007-2008.


While the middle class shrinks, and the working class suffers, middle class and working class households take on more debt. Average household debt is in the neighborhood of $113,000.00, which  includes mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and auto loans. People also have been working longer hours since the beginning of the fall in wages with the actual beginning of economic malaise dating back to 1975. While wages have increased by 23 percent since 1975, people have worked an average of 26 percent longer each week. And, those increased dollars in the pockets of workers have been subjected to the strong, buffeting winds of inflation and the loss of home equity, the latter being the number  one way in which working class and middle class folks have attempted to gain a steady foothold in an economy that has morphed beyond comprehension under globalization and the resulting massive loss of jobs in the US economy.


Given all of the above, the appearance of “A Lasting Shadow: Three Years After His Arrest, Bernie Madoff Still Haunts His Victims, His Family and Himself,” (The New York Times, December 11,2011) is an interesting read when compared to the earlier facts presented here. The article is essentially an account of who may win and lose of those among Madoff’s investors (both direct and indirect investors are treated in the piece). So far, about $11 billion out of the $18 billion that vanished in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme has been recovered. Madoff promised extravagant returns on his nonexistent investment ventures, and big and small people were drawn into this great investment fable of our era, most of whom wanted to cash in on the ethos of greed that is so endemic to this economic system.


What struck this writer, however, was not the level of greed that most of Madoff’s investors rose to, but rather the fact that they now wanted something in return for their illusory investment bets. When looked at objectively, the $7 billion difference in what was invested and what will be actually lost, pales in comparison to what ordinary folks have lost and will lose by simply buying and maintaining a home. If my math is correct, then Madoff’s theft of investors’ funds is small potatoes compared to the trillions of dollars that ordinary citizens have lost in the equity of their homes! Indeed, some of his jilted investors have argued that they want a return on their investments equal to what they would have received if their final accounting “receipts” from Madoff were in fact not a sham and fiction. It seems that Madoff”s “victims” were “too big to fail!” Talk about Chutzpah!


Meanwhile, those of us who bought homes and made payments and expected that those homes would maintain their steady rise in value (or even keep their value from the time of purchase), as had been the case since World War II, were in for the rudest of awakenings. George W. Bush and his Fed chief Alan Greenspan created the conditions for millions upon millions of unqualified buyers to enter the housing market, thereby driving up home prices in a so-called housing bubble, only to come crashing down like some modern Icarus. Unemployment did the rest!


Now, with a President who is not willing to assist the mass of those who have lost those trillions of housing equity dollars, there will be no Madoff-like trustees waiting in the wings to assist average home owners!


Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He blogs at howielisnoff.wordpress.com. *Lyrics from the “Limbo Rock.”