Investing in Violence and Death

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 are 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.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chance for Peace speech (1953)

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.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, Military-Industrial Complex Speech (1961)

It’s not the Americans, what they are doing in this country or that, or the Germans or the French or such. It’s the dominant interests in that country. If anything, the common people in these countries are themselves also the victims. It’s their taxes that are used to raise the armies. It’s their sons and brothers and now daughters and such who go in and pay the price in blood.
~Michael Parenti, Empire vs. Democracy (2005)

US Budgetary Costs of Wars through 2016: $4.79 Trillion and Counting Summary of Costs of the US Wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan and Homeland Security
by Neta C. Crawford, Watson Institute

As of August 2016, the US has already appropriated, spent, or taken on obligations to spend more than $3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq,  Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and on Homeland Security (2001 through fiscal year 2016). To this total should be added the approximately $65 billion in dedicated war spending the Department of Defense and State Department have requested for the next  fiscal year, 2017, along with an additional nearly $32 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, and estimated spending on veterans in  future years. When those are included, the total US budgetary cost of the wars reaches $4.79 trillion.

But of course, a full accounting of any war’s burdens cannot be placed in columns on a ledger. From the civilians harmed or displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the US and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors. Yet, the expenditures noted on government ledgers are necessary to apprehend, even as they are so large as to be almost incomprehensible. […]

In addition, any reasonable estimate of the costs of the wars includes the fact that each war entails essentially signing rather large promissory notes to fulfill the US obligations for medical care and support for wounded veterans. These future obligations will total approximately an additional $1 trillion in medical and disability payments and additional administrative burden through 2053.

What Has Not Been Counted
Economic Costs
Watson Institute

This total omits many other expenses, such as the macroeconomic costs to the US economy; the opportunity costs of not investing war dollars in alternative sectors; future interest on war borrowing; and local government and private war costs. […]

Spending on the wars has involved opportunity costs for the US economy. Although military spending does produce jobs, spending in other areas such as health care could produce more jobs. Additionally, while investment in military infrastructure grew, investment in other, nonmilitary, public infrastructure such as roads and schools did not grow at the same rate.

Finally, federal war costs exclude billions of dollars of state, municipal, and private war costs across the country – dollars spent on services for returned veterans and their families, in addition to local homeland security efforts.

Refugees & Health
Watson Institute

The insecurity that Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis face extends far beyond the guns and blasts of the war. It includes lack of secure access to food, health care, housing, employment, and clean water and sanitation, as well as the loss of community.

For war refugees, these problems are exacerbated in the face of exile. Approximately 10.1 million people in these war zones have been displaced and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.

Post-9/11 Wars Have Cost Nearly $5 Trillion (and Counting)
by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams

However, even if the U.S. stopped spending on war at the end of this fiscal year, the interest costs, such as debt for borrowed funds, would continue to rise. Post-9/11 military spending was financed almost entirely by borrowing, which in turn has driven debt and interest rates, the project has previously noted.

Separate reporting late last month by the U.K.-based watchdog Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) found that the Pentagon could only account for 48 percent of small arms shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11—meaning more than half of the approximately 700,000 guns it sent overseas in the past 15 years are missing.

What’s more, a recent Inspector General audit report found a “jaw-dropping” $6.5 trillion could not be accounted for in Defense spending.

The results of Crawford’s report, released last week, follow previous estimates by prominent economists like Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, whose 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War made similar claims.

Crawford’s report continues: “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023. By 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the U.S. changes the way it pays for the war.

And, Crawford notes, that’s a conservative estimate.

No set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the U.S. and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors,” the report states. “Yet, the expenditures noted on government ledgers are necessary to apprehend, even as they are so large as to be almost incomprehensible.”

War on Terror Could Be Costliest Yet
by Andrew Soergel, U.S. News

$4.79 trillion total exceeds spending on any single war the U.S. has ever fought.

The Congressional Research Service, for example, estimates the U.S. spent $4.4 trillion on World War II, when adjusted for inflation and converted to 2016 dollars. The Vietnam War is estimated to have cost $789.5 billion, while the Korean War cost $364.8 billion.

Even in terms of noncombat government expenditures, Crawford’s multitrillion-dollar price tag is daunting. The Interstate Highway System is believed to have cost $500 billion to construct, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Project Apollo missions that first sent men to the moon cost more than $135 billion in 2016 dollars. Digging the original Panama Canal is believed to have cost a little more than $9 billion. […]

But even if the U.S. stopped spending on war at the end of this fiscal year, interest costs alone on borrowing to pay for the wars will continue to grow apace,” she said. “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023.”

Losing Hearts and Minds and Money

The supposed reconstruction of Iraq sounds like a key example of bureaucracy taking on a life of its own, where having the results looking good on paper became more important than ensuring actual results. Massive amounts of money were thrown around to make it look like something was being accomplished, with large numbers of troops there for almost a decade to help in the process.

On Not Caring About Lives Sacrificed

Did you know that about the same number of people died because of the Vietnam War as have died because of the Iraq War? That death count is a bit over a million for each war.

Endless Outrage

The illegal and unconstitutional, immoral and unjustified Iraq War has already led to the death of probably at least a half million Iraqis and possibly over a million, most of those being civilians, many of whom were women and children, and surely way more than fifty gay people died in the process—not only that, it turned a stable secular society with a thriving economy and a strong middle class into a permanent war zone where Islamic extremists have taken over, creating yet one more stronghold for terrorists.

If you take the total death toll of the War On Terror, it is in the millions. Looking at one country alone, “total avoidable Afghan deaths since 2001 under ongoing war and occupation-imposed deprivation amount to around 3 million people, about 900,000 of whom are infants under five” and “Altogether, this suggests that the total Afghan death toll due to the direct and indirect impacts of US-led intervention since the early nineties until now could be as high 3-5 million.” More broadly: “According to the figures explored here, total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation – likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.”

That is a small sampling of the kinds of things the United States and its allies have done and continue to do in the Middle East along with many other areas of the world (e.g., Latin America). In some cases, it might be a severe undercount of deaths. That doesn’t even include the crippled, traumatized, orphaned, dislocated, etc. Much of the refugee crisis right now is the result of Western actions in non-Western countries.

Cost of War

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.

Those truths are well established. They are read in every page which records the progression from a less arbitrary to a more arbitrary government, or the transition from a popular government to an aristocracy or a monarchy.
~James Madison, Political Observations (1795)

“Where were they?”

Maybe Trump is a fascist who will destroy America. But where were these people when Obama was bombing wedding parties in Kandahar, or training jihadist militants to fight in Syria, or abetting NATO’s destructive onslaught on Libya, or plunging Ukraine into fratricidal warfare, or collecting the phone records of innocent Americans, or deporting hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers, or force-feeding prisoners at Gitmo, or providing bombs and aircraft to the Saudis to continue their genocidal war against Yemen?

Where were they?

That question was asked by Mike Whitney over at CounterPunch. And it’s a good question, directed at liberals. Where were they? It’s a question I take seriously, as I’m sympathetic to the liberal cause, even as I’m frustrated by liberal failure. Whitney states, “Can we agree that there is at least the appearance of hypocrisy here?” After a lifetime of observing liberals up close, I’m strongly inclined to argue that it is far more than mere appearance. It easily could be taken as straight hypocrisy. And I have no doubt that hypocrisy was involved for many.

But to be fair, there was much else going on. From a personal perspective, I have to admit that I never protested in the streets about Obama’s wars, although for damn sure I made my voice heard as best as I was able. I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 and so it wasn’t as if I felt he was my responsibility. I was openly and vocally complaining of Obama even before he was elected, often arguing with partisan Democrats about him. And I didn’t stop my criticisms in the following 8 years.

The thing is I did protest against the Iraq War during the Bush administration. It was the largest protest movement in world history, at least at that time. And it happened before the war even began. Even the Vietnam War protests only happened after many years of fighting and many soldiers dead. The anti-war protests under Bush were impressive and they included people across the spectrum. Most Americans initially did not support that war and it required a lot of beating of the war drums along with deceitful propaganda to change that.

Yet public opinion and public outrage meant nothing. Not even the largest protest movement in world history could stop the oligarchs from doing what they wanted. When Obama came along, he was simply repeating the policies of Bush. Sure, new countries were involved, but it was the same old shit. It was a continuation of the War on Terror, which plenty of Democrats supported even under Bush. It’s not like Obama’s wars were shocking and came out of nowhere.

I didn’t protest because protest was proven impotent. I realized that, unless the public was well informed and unless a new narrative could take hold in the public mind and unless we the public could force politicians to comply by threat of force if necessary, outward forms of political activism could accomplish nothing. The Bush years left me demoralized. And I never believed Obama’s bullshit. It was obvious to me that Obama would do little if anything good while in office and I was proven right.

So, what were we supposed to protest? That the same old shit continues no matter what we the public do. What concerns me is that the next time I care enough to protest it will mean we are on the verge of revolution. And that might come quicker than some expect. The coming years likely will radicalize many Americans.

Osama Wins! Americans Lose!

We played by Osama bin Laden’s rules. Even in killing Osama, we lose. Osama knew that, but Americans were stupid enough to play right into Osama’s agenda. We Americans (as a country and as citizens) have lost money, lives and our moral highground. Like Osama planned, we are going the way of the USSR.

The more I think about this, I don’t think it was an accident. I know the average American isn’t as well informed and thoughtful as they should be. But I was wondering how the political elite were also so clueless as to not understand Osama’s agenda when he spelled it out very clearly and in great detail.

I just now realized that the political ruling elite (i.e., corporatists, plutocrats, and the military-industrial complex) share the same basic agenda with Osama bin Laden. They both don’t like nor trust the populist ethos of American democracy. The reason is because only a functioning democracy (that actually represents the public and where the population isn’t disenfranchised) can challenge the authoritarian power structures represented by corporatism and by fundamentalism.

Because of corporate media, most Americans don’t comprehend that the corporatists are at least as dangerous if not more than the terrorists. Now that Osama is gone, will Americans see the enemy in their midst?

Fear Of Terrorists Influences Parents – Study

Here is further evidence of how people become socially conservative when in a social situation that causes fear and stress. I’ve brought this up before because it explains why social conservatives have motivation to fear-monger.

http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/bad-parenting-blame-bin-laden-24985/

As the researchers concede, these experiments aren’t proof that thoughts of terrorism have a uniquely negative effect on parenting. Exposure to images of an attack might simply have increased the parents’ stress level, “which could then translate into harsher and more controlling social interactions with their children.”

But they note previous research has found a link between terror threats and authoritarian political beliefs. The notion that this mindset could slop over into domestic decision-making seems entirely plausible.

Either way, it’s one more example of how fear can inspire behavior one may later regret. So in turbulent times, perhaps it’s wise to avoid reading the newspaper before heading to the nursery. It’s never a beautiful day in Mr. bin Laden’s Neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean you and your children need to live there.

Just Punish; Don’t Try to Help or Understand

Here are two videos that show the problem with extreme rightwing thinking. When the world is seen through absolutist morality, everything becomes black and white and every person becomes either good or evil. Taken to the furthest extreme of fundamentalism, this attitude becomes a Manichaean vision of Cosmic War.

It’s what led someone like Bush to think he was on a mission from God and that fighting the terrorists was a crusade. It’s an attitude that doesn’t allow for compromise and makes bipartisanship impossible. If you think Obama is a Commie, a Nazi and/or the Anti-Christ, you don’t seek agreement with the person who you believe is destroying all that is good in America and in the world. This attitude goes back to the beginning of modern movement conservatism. Barry Goldwater, who believed in an unchanging Law of God, said:

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
(source: “Goldwater and Pseudo-Conservative Politics”, Richard Hofstadter)

What is interesting about this kind of statement is that it resonates with what Muslim terrorists preach.

I was impressed that the guy at the 5:00 mark made a very intelligent and insightful point while everyone else was just trying to turn it into yet another partisan story. I’m always shocked when someone who is actually fair and balanced gets on Fox News.

Is O’Reilly clueless? If addicts are successfully treated, drug demand decreases. If drug demand decreases, the drug black market decreases. If the drug black market decreases, drug trafficking across the border decreases. If drug trafficking decreases, violence against Americans decreases. Conservatives need to look at real data. Dealing with drug addicts directly is more successful & cheaper than dealing with the results afterwards. Like abstinence only education, the Drug war is a failure.

Conservatives need to think of this the way they think about guns. Not all countries with high gun ownership rates have high gun violence rates. A large percentage of gun violence is from illegal guns and so illegalizing or more tightly controlling gun ownership doesn’t by itself solve the problem of gun violence. Similarly, in countries where drugs are legal and where there are easily available drug addiction programs, drug use and addiction are lower than in the US.

Military-Industrial Complex: Cycle of Violence, Manipulated Public

During the Cold War era around the world, the US government committed immoral actions or participated in the immoral actions of others. These included the School of Americas, death squads, assassination attempts, coups, puppet governments, and on and on. The two most relevant incidents was our financial and political support of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. This support, of course, included buying weapons for these people (such as the chemicals Hussein used to kill his own population).

So, why is anyone surprised that this led to negative repercussions? People like Bin Laden and Hussein were tired of being manipulated by the US government and didn’t want to be told what to do. They were evil when we aligned ourselves with them and they continued to be evil when they no longer served our purpose, but the US government is far more evil in that it helped put them in power where they could commit great acts of evil. Do you want to fight the greatest evil in the world? If so, you’d have to start with Washington, DC.

What is the US government’s response to the evil they created? They wage massive wars against Bin Laden and Hussein, and in the process go back to the Cold War era methods of nation-building. Before the US attacked Iraq, the country wasn’t a threat nor were there any international terrorist organizations located there. Now, the country is filled with terrorist organizations plotting against the US. We’ve lost numerous American lives and we’ve lost our moral standing in the world. In seeking revenge for those who died in the 9/11 attack, we killed more innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq than innocent Americans have been killed by terrorists.

We are fighting wars that can’t be won and we’ve polarized a whole generation who will grow up to be a largescale organized force of terrorism that will be a threat to the US for decades. Just like during the Cold War, we’re just creating a new generation of enemies to fight.

Why do we or rather why do politicians do this? There are only two possibilities I can think of. You could just consider politicians to be stupid and ignorant, but that seems naive to me. Or you could take the cynical route and consider that it probably is an intentional plan. Even as American soldiers die, corporations with government contracts are making money hand over fist. Eisenhower warned about the Military-Industrial Complex and he apparently was correct. Corporations who make money off of war don’t want war to end because then their profits end. Military spending is the biggest chunk of the budget. In fact, it’s the biggest chunk of the economy in the entire world as the US spends massively more money on our military than all other governments combined.

Right now, some child in Afghanistan or Iraq is watching his mother or some other loved one die during an attack by US soldiers. That child will grow up with hatred towards the US and will join others whose lives were also destroyed by our military. One day, that child will commit some atrocious act against Americans. Right now, some politician or leader is being supported by our military and yet feels resentful at being manipulated. One day, that person will see an opportunity to use his power to do harm to the US. When that day comes, the American public will respond with its usual ignorant fear and the government will start the whole cycle over again… and the corporations will once again make huge profits.

Iraq War: righteous cause?

I was thinking about righteousness as it relates to righteous causes.  Righteousness often plays out in politics in terms of patriotrism, and patriotistm often plays out in terms of war. 

As an example, the peace protests that were against the invasion of Iraq were the largest and fastest growing of any anti-war movement in American history, and the most widespread and most well organized in world history.  It had become well organized before the war even started which is very unusual.  It took years for the Vietnam war protests to even begin to gather popular support. 

The anti-war movement gained much support even internationally.  Many political and religious leaders (including heads of states and even the Vatican) around the world have officially opposed the war and occupation of Iraq.  Around 90% of non-Americans in the world are against unilateral action by the US without UN sanction.  Around 3 million people were caculated to be in Rome protesting the war which Guinness Book of Records claims is the largest ever anti-war rally.  In a 3 month period in 2003, it was calculated that 36 million people worldwide participated in 3,000 protests.

In America, since 2005, opponents of the war have outnumbered supporters.  But even before the war started the vast majority (around 70%) of Americans opposed going to war without allowing the UN inspections to finish.  Also, at least 64 US city councils have passed anti-war resolutions (which includes major cities of middle America such as Chicago and Detroit) and some major US religious organizations have passed anti-war resolutions (such as the National Council of Churches and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops).

What did the government do in response?  Initially, the government’s righteous rhetoric just became more loud.  The Bush administration ignored the opposition and went to war anyways.  Bush saw that his base supported it, and ignored the fact that for instance most blacks and hispanics didn’t.  Bush also ignored the UN and ignored popular opinion in the world at large.  Bush hoped the dissent would disappear if he just ignored it long enough, but it only kept growing.  And the Democrats in Washington were afraid to represent many of of those in their own base who were in opposition to Bush’s patriotic call to arms.  So, no one in power supported this large and ever growing larger anti-war movement.  Furthermore, many US news sources (Fox News in particular) tried their best to ignore and downplay the anti-war protests (even though they’ve given plenty of attention to much smaller protest movements that support the Republican party).

The Iraq war was justified for two reasons (a claim of connections to 9/11 terrorists and a claim of weapons of mass destruction) both of which turned out to be either lies or unforgivable ignorance.  We’ve torn a country a part out of a sense of vengeance at having a couple of buildings knocked down.  Millions of innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed, injured, and orphaned so as to free them from Saddam who was supposed to be somehow connected the 9/11 attacks that killed less than 3,000.  But it doesn’t matter because Iraqis are elsewhere.  Iraqis hold no great power in the world, and if it weren’t for oil no one would care about them.

Anyways, it was the American government who in the first place helped Saddam and Bin Laden gain power.  Where is America’s righteousness when morality only applies when the situation is convenient?  It’s not just Iraqis who have suffered because of the US invasion and occupation.  From this site, here are the recent statistcs for deaths in Iraq:

Iraqi troops killed [13] 30,000 Iraqi troops seriously injured [14] 90,000 Iraqi civilians killed [15] 697,523 Iraqi civilians seriously injured [16] 1,255,541 U.S. troops killed [17] 4,343 U.S. troops seriously injured [18] 31,156 Other coalition troops killed [19] 318 Other coalition troops seriously injured [20] 10,821 Contractors killed [21] 933 Contractors seriously injured [22] 10,569 Journalists killed [23] 163 Journalists seriously injured [24] unknown Total killed in Iraq: 733,280 Total injured in Iraq: 1,398,087

Although, a Reuters article argues that the contractor deaths are being undercounted and that this is important as the military is increasingly relying on contractors.

In a Wahington Post article, it was pointed out that certain improvements in the military have had unforeseen consequences.  Better armor and better medical care have saved many lives, but this means that there has been a massive increase of soldiers surviving horrific injuries.  This has led to many more veterans coming home with severe physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  A related issue is that 52% of injured soldiers have traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  Beyond the more publicized injuries, there is an even greater subtle menace.  The US troops have used massive amounts of depleted uranium in the Iraq war.  This depleted uranium is in many populated areas which leads to deaths and birth defects for Iraqis, but it also means many US veterans will end up dying from cancer later on.

Furthermore, there are some more results that I find even more depressing.  There are extremely high numbers of soldiers and veterans committing suicide, and many veterans end up unemployed or even homeless.  Among the homeless, one out of every 3 is a veteran even though veterans are only around 10% of the US population.  Most of these veterans are from Vietnam, but homeless younger veterans are increasing in numbers and no one knows how many there are.  All of this relates to high rates of crime (with the highest rates being violence and sexual assault), alcoholism, and drug addiction.  Interestingly, I was reading about how the military has made a practice of giving prescription drugs to soldiers in the field to help them deal with the stress and trauma.  Vietnam veterans used to self-medicate, but now the military keeps our soldiers drugged up so that they’ll be more properly (or at least temporarily) numbed to the horrors of war.

The Iraq war has been a very damaging war.  Despite the majority being critical of the war, it often seems like there is very little outrage (or very little heard in the media) about the tragic results.  It’s largely because the government has been very controlling of the information it releases and very controlling of the media.  The media has allowed itself to be controlled (such as embedded journalists), has allowed itself to be used for purposes of propaganda (partly by self-censoring).  We don’t see the visceral images of death and destruction which were seen during the Vietnam war and which changed public opinion at that time.  Without pictures, it doesn’t entirely feel real.  Abstract data doesn’t incite the moral indignation of the public.

The War on Terror continues, the anti-war movement has lost its momentum, and the American public have become resigned.  The Iraq War is just about to overtake the American Revolutionary War as the third longest war and the War in Afghanistan is getting closer to being the longest war in US history.  Right now Obama is trying to decide what to do next with a war he inherited, a war that is impossible to win.

So, this is where political faux righteousness leads.  My point for bringing all of that up is to show how the anti-war movement is an example of how a genuinely righteous populist movement can be suppressed.  And it’s just one of endless examples.