By Al Markowitz
Recently, a letter by Shari Harter of Portsmouth, published as a guest column in the Virginian Pilot caught my attention. It called for defeating “globalism,” referring specifically to NATO and to policies of interference in the affairs of other countries. This interference ranges from backing leaders we find useful, to the destabilizing of economies and “regime change.” Examples of this include our backing of a military coup in Honduras which overthrew a democratically elected government. It includes the installation and backing of an overtly fascist junta in Ukraine as well as the killing of Qaddafi and the destabilization of Libya. It also must include the unjustified invasion of Iraq, a horrific disaster which continues to expand. The letter makes it clear that Hillary Clinton approved of all of these and would likely continue disastrous interventionist policies. That is true. As with the Brexit voters, Ms Harter sees this election as “a referendum on globalist policies” presenting the mistaken notion that Trump would somehow be better. In truth, both candidates would pursue war – though maybe not against the same people.
What concerns me here beyond an election cycle where everyone stands to lose, is what we mean by globalism, what should and shouldn’t be global. At the root of this is economics, climate reality and the related costs of perpetual war.
War is unnecessary and destructive with costs that continue for decades. The war we waged on Vietnam for daring to seek independence from French colonialism still haunts us. Americans and Vietnamese continue to suffer physically and mentally from that experience. Beyond the brain damage of physical and psychological trauma there are the continuing health effects from our poisoning of that country as well as our own soldiers.
The misbegotten Iraq invasion resulted not only in the collapse of that country with over half a million people killed. It created a massive refugee migration into Syria which, along with a heavy drought and food shortages, destabilized that country. This lead to the ongoing brutality in Syria as well as to the creation of ISIL. We and other powers continue to train and arm brutal factions adding to and spreading the nightmare. This is a regional proxy war with most people caught in the middle resulting in an even greater refugee exodus spreading destabilization throughout the region and into Europe.
Our government through NATO is massing weapons along the border with Russia and increasingly demonizing Vladimir Putin. The reducing of another country to one individual we can dehumanize is often a justification leading to war. We didn’t attack Libya, we attacked Qaddafi. We didn’t attack Iraq, we attacked Saddam Hussein. There are many other examples.
The barbarism of war, its ongoing agonies and lasting scars aside, war is a climate disaster we can no longer afford. We never get a climate impact assessment before we start dropping bombs. This is the hottest year on record so far with massive wildfires, floods and record temperatures. Climate destabilization adds to regional volatility, the spread of war and the mass migration we are already seeing. It triggers a domino effect that threatens to engulf us all.
Another effect of continuous war is social. Decades ago I stated that the things we were doing in places like Central America would come home. We can not export brutality and be immune from it at home. Our country trains soldiers from around the world in how to torture, suppress and kill their own citizens. We train the death squads, armies and police of repressive governments and dictatorships at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, and have been doing so for many decades. Sometimes, due to changes in their own countries those abusers have to leave. Many settle in the US.
Our own police force has become more militarized, not only in equipment but in attitude. Many officers are traumatized veterans of our wars, bringing them home to us. We have many war-damaged veterans in the general population as well. Their continuing struggles also bring our foreign wars home. Easy access to military grade weapons makes this all the more dangerous. Gavin Long, the man who shot and killed police officers in Baton Rouge, LA is an example, as is Micah Xavier Johnson who shot at police officers in Dallas, TX. We recently saw a damaged veteran barricade himself in his house in a four day confrontation with police here in Norfolk. Fortunately this ended without incident. Most veterans of war are not a public danger but many are traumatized physically and mentally. They deserve the best care possible for the sacrifice they have made.
A culture shaped by and for war is one of anger, vengeance and hyper-nationalist xenophobia. It is a culture that worships guns, might and masculinity. It is the culture that has been consciously promoted in this country since the 1980s and its deadly effects continue with violence and mass shootings becoming the norm. It is the culture that justifies the National Security State and the drone assassinations, often of innocents, perpetrated by Obama which will continue under Clinton or Trump. It is the mentality that makes a Donald Trump candidacy even possible.
Why do we do this? Why do we continue to foment continuous war? We do it because war has become our economic base. President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of this in his farewell address in January of 1961 stating, “ . . .we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. 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. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”
Since that time, Eisenhower’s fears have been realized. Our economy has become war-based with military contractors reaping tens of billions of dollars in profits. The “black budget” of secret intelligence programs was estimated at $52.6 billion in 2013, including 16 spy agencies that employ 107,035 people. The National Priorities Project, an organization that analyzes the US budget, projects reports that in fiscal year 2015, military spending was projected to account for 54% of all federal discretionary spending, a total of $598.5 billion. Companies like Lockheed Martin raked in over $5 billion in profit in 2014 with 70% or $32 billion coming directly from the government. They produce fighter jets like the problem-plagued F-35 at $337 million each as well as drones, missiles and bombs and they are not the only weapons and military supplier. Think Halliburton and G.E. These giant corporations depend on continuous conflict and they employ a lot of people. When a Congressional representative wants to bring home jobs, military related industries are a prime source. Those Congressional reps later become paid lobbyists for the same industries in a revolving door of corruption that blurs the line between military industries and government.
Big military suppliers, like Lockheed Martin and GE rely on government subsidies but pay little or no taxes. They hold trillions in off shore accounts that could provide needed revenue for health care, education, jobs to rebuild our infrastructure and for the development of renewable energy. As Eisenhower stated to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Wounded veterans, increased violence, decimated countries, massive refugee crises, ecological disaster and a starved domestic budget for things like health care and education – the things we “can’t afford” are all collateral costs of a war-based economy. Even in this election, in avoiding issues which might impact corporate profits the Democrats have chosen to link Trump with Putin and to run against Russia. It’s a bad choice reflecting the hawkishglobalism that many oppose and an indication of things to come. Russia is not our enemy and is far less aggressive or a threat to anyone than we are. Neither candidate is against war or our continued public support of the military-industrial complex. Neither wants to break up the National Security State. Trump is right to question the basis for NATO and our support for it though he is far from a peace candidate and has no policy beside self aggrandizement.
When we speak about globalism or globalization we too often mean the globalization of war and of finance. These wreak havoc on regular folks, killing opportunity and impoverishing us for the incredible wealth of a few. We are right to reject them but we shouldn’t do it by electing a dangerous buffoon or by short-sighted isolationism. Neither will address the issues and both would cause us additional harm. We need to work for a shift in our economic base and for policies that put people before corporate agendas. We need an economy based on renewable resources and sufficiency as opposed to unrealistic growth and brutal competition that pits us against each other for the lowest wages.
Addressing the damage done by our military-based and corporate run economy and the wars we have waged requires a different kind of globalization. We are all interdependent on this small and fragile planet. As our climate continues to change, the impacts on agriculture, food supplies and the necessities of life will foster new conflicts over dwindling resources. If we are to curb mass migration and avoid conflict we need to globalize cooperation and assistance. We need to be able to get food and water to where they are most needed and we need to address economic issues in ways that promote mutual security. We have the ability to do this but it requires political will which can only happen when we separate public governance from private interests. That requires real electoral reform as well as organized citizen pressure.
What we do not need is war, hot or cold, with Russia, an escalation in the middle east or endless and expanding war around the globe. Our economy is too tied to the corporate welfare that feeds our barbarous and destructive military industries in order to maintain cheap labor and access to raw materials for powerful corporations. The collateral cost in blow-back outweighs any benefit.
Trump and informed citizens will continue to be a force that works against the
From refugees to climate destruction to the effects on our own increasingly violent society we continue to pay a high price for war. Trump, like Clinton, is likely to promote war, raining death and terror on people around the globe. He is a thin-skinned know-nothing and would be far worse for America in every conceivable way. Trump and the ignorant hateful ugliness he represents and brings with him must be defeated.
If that is to happen, we need to let Clinton and the DNC know that running against Russia, and for more global military intervention won’t do. We need to hear specifics on climate action. It’s time to stop embracing symbolism over material reality with inspiring rhetoric that too often contradicts actual practice. We need specifics on economic policy which break from the devastating reality of our addiction to war and the corrupt corporate neo-liberalism that hurts working people, feeding economic disparity, desperation and anger; anger that threatens a destructive backlash much like Brexit. We need to hear about international cooperation, instead of accusations and threats.
What we’ve seen in this election is the enormous popular support across the spectrum for a break from the monstrous and corrupt status-quo. We must continue to work together in citizen action groups like Virginia Organizing and in national citizen alliances emerging from this election in order to be heard and to bring about real change beyond the circus of election year posturing. As Sanders noted during the campaign, “Change happens from the bottom up.”