Monday, November 16, 2009

What's Our Line?

America's business was business when Calvin Coolidge first uttered his famous phrase.  Now, however, America's business is war.

Although Barack Obama campaigned on a theme of change, he has done nothing to change that fundamental fact about the United States.

Why, in a nation that can work itself into a frenzy over a celebrity's breast popping out of her costume at halftime of a football game, is there not a tsunami of anger at this fundamental fact? 

Why can a blathering ignoramus on a TV show rally thousands to protest -- protest! -- our government providing health care to its citizens, whereas few voices are raised in alarm, let alone anger, at the squandering of our human and monetary resources on preemptive wars we cannot win?

Born in the violence of armed revolution, ours is a national history steeped in violence. We love it. We love our guns. We love our gory movies and the tough guys  portrayed in them.  We love our war slogans and our flag-waving notions of patriotism.  We love the idea that we are the best, bravest, most powerful nation on the face of the earth -- and if you don't believe that we mean well, we'll drop a few bombs on you and force peace down your throats.

Chris Hedges put it well in a piece entitled, "Quit Begging Obama to Be Obama and Get Mad."

"Violence," he wrote, "is spreading outward from the killing fields in Iraq and Afghanistan to slowly tear apart individuals, families and communities. There is no immunity. The longer the wars continue, the longer the members of our working class are transformed by corporate overlords into serfs, the more violence will dominate the landscape. The slide into chaos and a police state will become inevitable.

"The soldiers and Marines who return from Iraq and Afghanistan are often traumatized and then shipped back a few months later to be traumatized again. This was less frequent in Vietnam. Veterans, when they get out, search for the usual escape routes of alienation, addictions and medication. But there is also the escape route of violence. We risk creating a homegrown Freikorps, the demobilized German soldiers from World War I who violently tore down the edifice of the Weimar Republic and helped open the way to Nazism.

"The Afghanistan and Iraq wars have unloaded hundreds of thousands of combat troops, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, back into society. According to a joint Veterans Affairs Department-University of San Francisco study published in July, 418,000 of the roughly 1.9 million service members who have fought in or supported the wars suffer from PTSD. As of August 2008, the latest data available, about a quarter-million military veterans were imprisoned on any given day-about 9.4 percent of the total daily imprisoned population. . .There are 223,000 veterans in jail or prison cells on an average day, and an unknown number among the 4 million Americans on probation. They don't have much to look forward to upon release. And if any of these incarcerated vets do not have PTSD when they are arrested, our corrections system will probably rectify the deficiency. Throw in the cocktail of unemployment, powerlessness, depression, alienation, anger, alcohol and drugs and you create thousands, if not tens of thousands, who will seek out violence the way an addict seeks out a bag of heroin."

As a people, we choose to ignore such grim truths.  Too many of us live in communities where the local economy is dependent upon the nearby military base or DoD installation.  Too many of our colleges and universities have become part of the Military Industrial Complex, dependent upon government defense contracts for too much of their budgets.  Too many of us believe that the wars we wage -- whether openly in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait or Afghaqnistan -- or clandestinely, virtually all around the world, somehow are necessary to preserve our freedoms.  Yet we willingly forfeit our most basic freedoms in the oxymoronic belief that doing so makes us safer. The president who campaigned for change has done nothing to restore those freedoms, either; has, in fact, fought to continue the very policies of his predecessor that took them away from us.

Hedges again:

"There is a yawning indifference at home about what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hollow language of heroism and glory, used by the war makers and often aped by those in the media, allows the nation to feel good about war, about 'service.' But it is also a way of muzzling the voices that attempt to tell us the truth about war. And when these men and women do find the moral courage to speak, they often find that many fellow Americans turn away in disgust or attack them for shattering the myth. The myth of war is too enjoyable, and too profitable, to be punctured by reality."

It is profitbale only for those who are in the business of war, and whose wealth is so powerful that even those in the highest offices of the land do their bidding.  Never mind that we have exported most of our manufacturing jobs to other countries where workers are paid less; we dare not dismantle our enormous war machine because we'd lose too many jobs. We ignore the studies that demonstrate that a billion dollars invested in health, mass transit, home construction, education or tax cuts for personal consumption produce up to two and one-third times the number of jobs as the same billion spent on defense.

We justify unjustifiable wars by asserting that they will end our dependence on foreign oil, even as our military exponentially increases the petroleum consumption that already is greater than the consumption of the entire Chinese nation.

None of this makes us mad. After all, war is just business as usual.

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