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.

Incarceration Nation

The U.S. imprisons a greater portion of its citizens than any other nation in the world. We also incarcerate a larger absolute number of prisoners than any other nation, even China! What does this tell us about our culture and about how “social control” is exercised in America? One thing is certain: more and more ‘infractions’ of proliferating laws, rules, and regulations are treated by jailing the transgressor.

One huge factor, of course, is the infamous “War Against Drugs,” which has been raging on since Richard Nixon was President. A whole industry has proliferated around the ostensible suppression of the illegal drug trade, with huge profits for private corporations involved (and for the drug cartels) and equally large incentives for police around the nation to arrest and charge minor drug offenders, mostly boys and men of color – who use drugs in no greater percentage than white boys safe from police in their college dorm rooms – but with no appreciable effect on the flow of drugs into our cities and towns.

Another factor is the growing militarization of police. Both military culture and military equipment and tactics have invaded our local police departments in small towns as well as in the biggest cities, along with a “war-fighter” mentality. With them flow federal funding from the ‘Drug War’ thus enabling police to support ‘tactical units’ such as SWAT teams as the premier enforcement technique, and the lessening of crisis intervention techniques in police work. High arrest rates are rewarded by donations of “surplus” military hardware. Of course, “stop and frisk” policies and the massively discriminatory pursuit of minority “offenders” in the segregated neighborhoods of poor black and brown populations, all point to the national trend toward suppressing and socially isolating the most vulnerable populations in the nation by incarceration and by excluding them from the economy by virtue of the felony records these policies generate, as well as by the inferior public education they are allowed.

This perverse institutionalized oppression is well documented in Michelle Alexander’s definitive book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color blindness. But the general trend is toward the criminalization of everyday life in an even broader way. White folks are no longer safe either. Children are now arrested for minor altercations in school. Any deviation from some institutional standard is subject to possible criminal prosecution. [see Chase Madar, “The Over Policing Of America: How Your Daily Actions Are Being Incrementally Criminalized” at http://thefreethoughtproject.com/policing-america-daily-actions-incrementally-criminalized/#H6Kh0RZkkOGUZxXT.99 for more examples.]

But the cops are victims too. American culture suffers from a fundamental flaw sociologists call “blaming the victim,” which stems from our excessive individualism and conflation of structural causes with personal consequences. It is encouraged by the corporate media, which diverts attention from corporate and institutional sources of social problems to consequent social pathology. So, authorities fail to properly vet and train police, then we blame the unprepared cops for the excessive use of force that results from inadequate selection, bad leadership and the same insufficient support we give teachers. In a recent three-part series of posts, I discuss these and related problems of police, especially in relation to the case of frequent police shootings in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Incredible Darkness of Being … a Cop.” Read them at: https://thehopefulrealist.com/?s=cop&submit=Search .

Poorly educated and scarcely trained, today’s ‘warrior cops’ know little of the once-valued culture of the “peace officer.” Instead, police are self-selected for violent tendencies, improperly screened, inadequately trained, under-paid, and put out on the street to “enforce” laws they know little about, especially the constitution.

But the most disturbing of all is the gradual transformation of the nation itself into a ‘cultural prison’ of the whole, a society where creativity and compassion, opportunity and achievement, education and self-realization, are all sacrificed to economic domination and social control by the corporate state. Hard to get a grip on, this enveloping phenomenon is both subtle and widespread; its elements can, however, be seen in the pervasive reliance on force in every institutional context from employment to law, from educational testing to wage theft, and to the decline of a culture of civility and disappearance of compassion in every sphere of life.

This is no way to enter the era of the great transformation from the end of the fossil-fuel driven growth economy to a stable ecological economy, which will take the highest level of social cooperation and institutional commitment ever demanded of humanity.