War, Wealth, and Waste

I never quite understood the logic of the “laws of war.” The idea of a “just war” is a little more complicated, but also weak. Stanford historian Ian Morris’s recent book* claims war has reduced human violence over the past ten thousand years. Sometimes a really counter-intuitive but brash idea can garner a lot of attention, whether it is valid or not. For now, I’ll retain the belief that war causes waste for the many and creates wealth for the few.

Wasting Humanity
War is destruction. It is hard not to be outraged by military or ‘paramilitary’ aggression in any form. Increasingly, in modern warfare civilians are targeted and die in greater proportions than combatants. Certainly, I can understand the outrage and indignation felt on hearing of or seeing barbaric practices such as, in recent cases, the ISIS/ISIL beheading of journalists attempting to report on the events in a war. I was as offended as the next person on becoming aware of the CIA engaging in “extraordinary rendition” of persons to be tortured at “black sites.” I cannot accept the “collective punishment” of Palestinians in the outdoor prison that is Gaza. But drone attacks on wedding parties in Afghanistan are no less arbitrary and tortuous for the victims. Many more examples from all sides of all wars could be listed as barbaric too. It seems the “laws of war” are never enforced, except by the victor against the vanquished after the fight.

Immoral laws? It’s not about law. Unlike pre-industrial “man to man” battles, acts of war today are usually criminal in a more fundamental sense. Recent so called wars, it seems to me, consist not so much in armies facing each other on a battlefield. Rather, they are pure acts of destruction of mostly civilian population and their livelihood.

What we are left with is the Waste of War, the largely indiscriminate torture and killing of innocent civilians all around the world. The waste of war has a parallel in the relationship of the late stages of the industrial era to the populations whose lives are wasted by capital “investment.” On the one hand, the proportion of civilian deaths and injury to those of combatants in modern wars has steadily risen. Not only has technology made this possible, but the practices of war have increasingly incorporated indiscriminate attacks on civilians. On the other hand, industrial investments have increasingly degraded the lives of workers and produced more and more unemployed poor. The financialized economy is rapidly wasting humanity with its destruction.

Qui bene?”: Profit from Waste
An old sociological rule says that if you want to understand an organized course of action, you must apply the principle of “Qui bene?” – Who benefits? In the case of war, as with other organized actions, we must throw out all the rhetoric of the leadership. The self-righteous indignation directed at “the enemy” may have some footing. Saddam Hussein was a dictator, supported by the U.S. not long before being declared the enemy. Then he became the excuse for massive destruction of the nation he ruled. While there are complex personal and political reasons for that “war of choice” based on official lies, the outcome tells the main story. Instead of looking for explanations in Iraq, simply ask the question: Who benefited? Iraqis now live in destitution.

In Obama’s re-branding of the “war on terror,” the beneficiaries of war continue to be the bankers and “defense” industrialists. This is not because winning a war makes it safe for them to operate and make a profit. No, war is itself is their most profitable enterprise. In the present cases, the more drone attacks in Yemen, the more missiles must be replaced. The more F-14 bombings and missile strikes on houses, hospitals, and UN shelters in Gaza, the more replacements will be purchased from the U.S. “defense industry.” Air strikes destroy ISIS-captured U.S.-built artillery in Iraq. New weapons and equipment must be bought by the military to replace those abandoned by Iraqi troops we pretended to have “trained.” Waste is profit.

It’s all a waste. Vast quantities of “surplus” military hardware and weapons are now given to civilian police departments in the U.S. in the deliberate militarization of police forces and law-enforcement culture. A parallel militarization of mass-media entertainment supports the idea of ‘lower classes’ – the poor – as another enemy. Nearly every “law enforcement” problem on television is solved by the equivalent of war. The implicit model of policing in both media and police culture involves massive force against the civilian population-as-enemy.

Wasting the New Enemy
War is waste. In our Incarceration Nation, law enforcement wastes human lives by both detention/incarceration/stigmatization and by police violence. That’s a strong statement, but not so far from the everyday on-the-ground truth. The increasing proportion of the ‘wasting’ of civilians in war is matched by the growing willingness to shoot and kill citizens at home. Increasingly militarized attempts are made to quell civil disturbances resulting from lives wasted in cities across America due to their worsening isolation from the economy. A new element is emerging in the escalating “class war” waged by extreme wealth against the population.

Civilian police forces are becoming the destructive agents of wealth against the growing numbers of poor that extreme wealth creates. Whenever the injustices of the economy that serves only the interests of wealth are raised, some apologist pundit objects that “class war” is being incited. Quite the contrary. The war of the wealthy class against the rest of us has been going on since the reforms following the Great Depression. Abandonment of those reforms allowed them near total control of all significant income and wealth. They have nearly won their class war. But in doing so they are destroying the very economy that sustains their extreme power. It can’t last.
_____________
* Ian Morris, War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

What Middle Class?

In recent memory at least, Americans have been uncomfortable with the idea of class.  That somehow has caused a retreat to the middle.  In the context of the myth of universal opportunity for mobility through achievement, it’s almost like Garrison Keeler’s Lake Woebegone, where “all the children are above average.”  The “lower class” is not seen as an economic stratum as much as an admonition of individual personal failure or an attribution of questionable personal character applied to a “lower class of people.” In the individualistic consumer society, one just does not talk about “class structure.”

The very idea of class is a taboo subject in the American political discourse – which is so stilted anyway – with the exception that the wealthy immediately invoke “class warfare” if publicly called upon to accept a rate of taxation as high as that of their clerical staff.  Any other time, the denial of class in America is great cover for upper-class privilege.  That seems to make the rest of us “middle class,” by fiat – except for the “undeserving poor” – despite the vast economic disparities manifestly apparent to any casual observer.

The problem now is that the American class structure is changing radically and it is hard to ignore.  It is clear that on any objective measure the middle class is disappearing as the rich get obscenely rich and the poor are joined by so many formerly middle class.  What is most interesting and most disturbing about all this is that the pattern of change in the class structure is so similar to that which preceded the Great Depression.  That too escapes entry into the political discourse as the same old arguments against economic reform mimic those which opposed FDR’s New Deal.

Politicians routinely invoke “the middle class” when they are trying to show how empathetic they are to the plight of the American people – at least the American people who are not “low class.”  But as livable employment escapes more and more Americans, the politicians’ actions continue to reflect only the short-term interests of the corporations whose lobbyists dole out those “contributions” that somehow are not defined as bribery.

What about the Upper Class?  What about the Lower Class?  What about, well, the American people?  Well, that concept is increasingly as moot as it is continually invoked as an icon of political purity by those who exploit it – that cartel of corporate and governmental power elites Mike Lofgren calls the “deep state,” which is so entrenched that its decisions stand regardless of who gets elected. [1]   Remember the revolving door?

The term, middle class, has become increasingly meaningless as large numbers of people who were not long ago earning middle range salaries have fallen on hard times because of the malfeasance of upper class financial and corporate decision makers.  But there is much more to it.  The entire trajectory of the endless-growth economy has been predicated on reducing the need for labor by capital investment in technology to expand growth.  In its final stage, as menial jobs are outsourced – except for direct service work such as fast food and manual cleaning jobs – the technical and intellectual jobs with middle level salaries are fast being automated or outsourced too.  Combined with the exploding kleptocracy at the very top levels of the financial and political sectors, enabled by the Deep State of which they are members, the impact of this trend is to decimate what one might have described as the economic middle class.

So, the ranks of the lower class have been swelled by former middle-class folks and most lower-class folks, working or unemployed, are already at the bottom with no prospects of upward mobility.  The irony, it seems, resides in the fact that the very elites who do everything they can to eliminate labor costs just love to call themselves the “job creators.”

So, again, what’s with all this talk about taking care of the middle class?  What I suspect most politicians are doing when they appeal to that term is that they are referring to those “regular Americans” who fit their stereotype of culturally and behaviorally acceptable or legitimate “Americans,” that is, the most likely voters.  It’s pure demagoguery.  This, of course, flies in the fact of the growing populism among a wide swath of Americans who are gradually realizing that the “middle class,” just like the “American Dream,” is an illusion glossing over a system that is rigged against them, but increasingly cannot be sustained.

_____________
[1]  Lofgren, a former congressional staffer, was interviewed by Bill Moyers on his PBS show, and posted an essay describing the ruling political-economic cartel, “Anatomy of the Deep State.” Read it at: http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/.  His book, The Party’s over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, is about how congress really operates.