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Our nation now supports two overlapping military-industrial complexes. There’s the traditional one that worried President Dwight Eisenhower (large corporations and their profitable production of planes, ships, missiles, nuclear weapons, etc.). And now we have private contractors who make money by providing field services and security — functions formerly provided by the armed services.
The large private manufacturers of U.S. military hardware don’t need nonstop war to maintain their profits, since there’s always a reason, even in peacetime, to upgrade weapons technologies. But the private army of contractors must have wars, occupations and incursions to grow and survive.
It certainly seems that the private contractors are getting their profit needs met. We have been at war since shortly after 9/11. They’ve been sent to Iraq, and Afghanistan, and now ISIS is sending us back into Iraq and perhaps into Syria as well. And then there’s Yemen, and Ukraine, which may require more military support and even troops. Almost every day you can hear political pundits and politicians calling for “boots on the ground” somewhere around the world, all in the name of “winning” the endless “War on Terror.”
Of course no one has any idea what “winning” looks like. It’s hard to see how a war against small, violent bands of true believers can end. But it’s easy to see how private contractors can profit mightily from unending conflict.
What and who is responsible for this permanent war? The idea probably didn’t originate with the private contractors. It probably came from our national security state — groups inside and outside government including the National Security Agency (which spies on communications), the CIA, the Defense Department, the State Department and the many think tanks and university centers that focus on foreign policy.
Although these agencies and their personnel have many disagreements, they did coalesce with very little dissent around the Bush administration’s plan to turn 9/11 into the Iraq War. Collectively they wrongly claimed that 1) Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; and 2) Iraq supported Al-Qaeda and therefore was involved in the 9/11 attacks. In this, the leaders of the national security state blatantly lied to the American people and led us to wars in the Middle East that have proceeded for well over a decade.
The privatization of the military is part of this sleight of hand. Privatization allows our hawkish political and military leaders to hide how costly these wars really are. And if contractors are doing the fighting, we don’t need a draft, which fueled mass upheaval during the Vietnam War.
If we want to halt runaway inequality, we need to capture the huge percentage of the U.S. budget now devoted to war and redirect it to address useful goals. This won’t be easy, of course, since so many businesses are financially invested in our privatized war without end.
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“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.”
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—Dwight David Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” April 16, 1953