War is a Racket

I was watching the Bill Maher Show this past weekend on HBO. Generally considered a liberal and a free-thinker, Maher argued that U.S. military forces had to stay in Afghanistan to prevent a resurgence of terrorism. He and his guests seem to have forgotten U.S. military testimony that roughly 20 terrorist groups are currently present in Afghanistan; indeed, that the presence of American troops has attracted more terrorist activity, even as the Taliban has increased its control and the drug trade has vastly expanded. How is long-term failure over 17 years an argument for an even longer “enduring presence” by U.S. troops? How long should those troops stay — forever?

General Smedley Butler knew the score. Five years ago, I wrote this post citing his confession about how war is a racket, driven by the profit motive, exploited by the powerful, even as the grunts and the native people of foreign lands pay the price.

As Butler said, if we want to end war, we must get the profit motive out of it. Also, as he implied here, if the rich and privileged want to control foreign lands, it’s they who should be thrusting the bayonet into the enemy (and risking having it thrust in to them).

Bracing Views

The business of wars and weapons sales is booming, with the United States leading the pack as the world’s foremost “merchant of death,” as Michael Klare notes in this article on the global arms trade for TomDispatch.com.

But why should we be surprised?  War has always been a racket.  And if you don’t believe me that forever war is forever profitable – for some, I recommend that you read War Is A Racket (1935), a classic polemic written by U.S. Marine Corps General Smedley D. Butler.  Twice awarded the Medal of Honor, Major General Butler turned against military adventurism in the 1930s as he saw how his efforts and those of his men were exploited by elites to expand corporate wealth and power, even as they exempted themselves from the hardships and dangers of combat.

Plaque in Philly in Honor of Smedley Butler.  Photo by author. Plaque in Philly in Honor of Smedley Butler. Photo by author.

As Butler put…

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9 thoughts on “War is a Racket

  1. Why anyone thinks of Bill Maher as a free-thinker is beyond me. He’s not a thinker at all, in my opinion. He used to be funny – perhaps his only virtue – but now he’s just pathetic.

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    1. I suppose it’s because he’s an atheist and a pothead. Being an atheist in the USA is always risky, though advocating for marijuana legalization is now very popular. He was ahead of the curve on that. Recently, though, Maher has been almost fawning to the US intelligence community, mainly it seems because of its criticism of Trump. Maher also put up $1 million of his own money to support the Democrats (not that he loves them, but he sees them as the only viable alternative to Trump at this time).

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  2. Colonialism! Establishing patterns of wealth extraction that just won’t die already.

    Too bad that the US federal government embraced it after the Second World War. And the zombie system they created is able to churn onward for literally 50% of my life.

    I remember, as a senior in 2001, looking up Afghanistan and thinking ‘the Soviets lost there. They’re next door, and had troops and firepower to spare. Exactly how will the US do any better?’

    Later when I joined the Army, I saw why. Sure, the soldiers are capable (if not trained properly for this kind of war) and the junior officers do their best. But the Pentagon as an institution is more concerned about preserving its own sweet deals stateside, than actually developing the skills, knowledge, and technology needed to do counterinsurgency right (not Petraeus fig-leaf COIN that emphasizes airstrikes, which miss too often).

    The real fun days will come when Pakistan disintegrates, probably sometime in the next decade. I wonder if they’ll just merge the whole theatre together as ‘AfPak’ and keep soldiers in the region for another 17 years?

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    1. You were right in 2001. Some kind of punitive raid was inevitable after 9/11, but trying to build a (sham) democracy in Afghanistan — by allying with warlords! — was always fated to fail. The crazy thing is the U.S. keeps pumping money into Afghanistan — even as we allegedly don’t have billions to fix our roads, bridges, dams, etc. Folly!

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  3. You are right. It has to be money.

    I do not understand the “we don’t want another 9/11” argument for staying in Afghanistan. There is no logic to it, yet I hear it again and again. In Woodward’s book, “Fear”, Lindsey Graham gives it as a reason to stay in Afghanistan forever.

    9/11 could have been planned anywhere, even in someone’s basement in the United States. Learning to fly a plane, packing a box knife, getting on board a plane, etc. are not in themselves acts of terror and it certainly didn’t require being in Afghanistan to come up with them.

    Learning to shoot an automatic weapon or how to build and wear a suicide vest are things that could be accomplished in an almost infinite number of places.

    The followers of Islam who are armed with AK47’s that seem to form the image in the heads of Americans as a threat to the nation are just about the last source from which any terror attack would come when compared with any number of people who don’t fit that image.

    How can any rational person claim the drone executions and special operations in places that are in terrible turmoil are stopping the planning of acts of terror against the U.S.? All I can think of as a reason is it allows a president to say he is doing something about terror.

    As we know from mass shootings, there are a number of normal appearing American citizens who are capable of horrendous acts of terror even against our own school children, but somehow that is not called terror though it is an ongoing threat to the security of Americans with no signs of letting up. Is Homeland Security even tasked with considering mass shootings?

    There is a complete disconnect between our military operations and logical thinking about protecting the U.S. from terror. The dismaying fact is that absurd arguments like Graham’s can be voiced without meeting uproarious laughter. It can only be explained as you explain it, by following the money.

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    1. Yes. Money and fear. Politicians like Graham like to grandstand about how they’re protecting us from terrorism by being tough-minded (chicken)hawks. They also fear “losing” Afghanistan even though it was never ours to begin with.

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  4. I did come across an amusing picture on the Internet – It was titled Trump’s pick to be the Commander in Afghanistan, with picture of George Custer. I suppose you could say Custer’s poor decision led to the annihilation of his force, but he was also killed. Custer paid a personal price for his leadership or lack thereof.

    Back during my 13 month stay in Vietnam we had the “Trailer Generals” who stayed in Air Conditioned comfort for a year. The Trailer Generals have given way to “Bunker Generals”.

    Are the Bunker Generals so deluded they actually believe we can Win in Afghanistan? My second thought is the Bunker Generals know we cannot win, but the idea of another “Star” a book, and and a job with a defense contractor after retirement is just irresistible. If they are photogenic they could even get a gig on cable news.

    The Bunker Generals have more in common with a CEO of some Mega-Corp. Screw-up Mega-Corp – who cares about the Proles who work for you as long as you have a personal Golden Parachute, and the Bunker Generals lived happily ever after.

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    1. Hard not to see the George Armstrong Custer metaphor haunting America’s many Little Big Horn disasters since 1945. Soon after my wife and I sold our home in California and moved back to Taiwan in 2004, a young Taiwanese school teacher and relative through marriage said to me — in regard to the U.S. military’s take-the-low-ground charge down into several Middle Eastern valleys: “It’s easy to rush into a trap, but not so easy to get out.” The whole world, and even a few of us Americans, could see this.

      Based on my own experiences in the Mekong Delta back in 1970-72, I knew things would turn out badly when I read about U.S. Army General David Petraeus charging into Iraq in 2003, riding on a tank and asking an embedded reporter next to him: “Tell me how this ends.” When the reporter failed to reply with the obvious — and astonished — follow up question: “You mean, you don’t know?” I realized that the Bungle in the Jungle had morphed into the Debacle in the Desert and would not likely end during my lifetime. Fifteen years later in 2018, it still hasn’t. And now the military career ticket-punchers don’t even pretend to want the fuck-up-and-move-up gravy train to ever stop.

      So, to keep from going crazy from Vietnam-Redux-All-Over-Again-One-More-Time-Only-This-Time-For-Sure-Until-The-Next-Time Syndrome, I occasionally compose little verse essays like:

      Custer’s Next Stand

      Fort Apache, Baghdad
      Custer “going in”
      Whack-a-Mole on steroids
      Virtue cured by sin

      Doin’ dumb to dawdle
      Stupid acting smart
      In the trap for good now
      Military art

      Mini-skirted booty
      Cheerleaders in thrall
      “Block that kick!” the girls yell
      When we’ve got the ball

      Burger King on bases
      Pizza Hut in tow
      Mercenary merchants’
      Dog-and-pony show

      One-trick gag a let-down
      Victory not near
      Running out the clock now
      Marching to the rear

      Let’s “fan out” and “get ’em”
      Let’s “go long” on fourth
      Strategy by jargon
      Going South through North

      Making sense to no one
      Maybe that’s the point
      Mystifying madmen
      Let us now anoint

      Custer’s got a plan, though
      Always letter “A”
      Alphabet so simple
      Any one can play

      Next time we’ll do better
      What we’ve botched before
      Southeast Asia, redux
      Vietnam once more

      Colonize the Muslims!
      Crusade in Levant!
      Rounding up “dead-enders”
      Taking what we want

      Israel and us now
      Just the two in chains
      One the other’s patron
      One the patron’s pains

      As in any marriage
      Two have plighted troth
      Master, slave, and inmates
      Adding up to both

      Others see a shack-up
      Lust outside the law
      Married man and mistress
      Fighting to a draw

      Custer says he “can do”
      What he’s never done:
      Occupy the Muslims
      Armed with but a gun

      Inconclusive carnage
      Wages paid to greed
      Custer’s followed order
      Troops from life has freed

      Custer doesn’t like it
      Now that “it” means death
      Still, he says he’ll “win” soon
      With his dying breath

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2007

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