War: Who Profits and Who Pays?

War is a violent competition between two Governments to determine who will make the laws, levy the taxes, and regulate the behavior of individuals within a given geographic area.

War is ugly. It is brutal. It is about killing others until they submit. There is nothing more serious in the world than the taking of another individual’s life.  It is the most grave of businesses. And If you believe in Natural Rights and the Principles of Individualism it should only be conducted as a defensive act against an aggressing Government.

Unfortunately, today like in the past war is looked upon not as a grave business but business as usual for the United States Government.

Today, the United States Government has military personnel on 900 installations around the world and over a trillion dollars of taxpayer money is used to fund the wars overseas and the continued “projection” of military power around the world. This is all done for the production of security for the American people. We are told by the propagandists inside and outside of the United States Government that we are all safer because of the endless war in Afghanistan, the continued military presence in Iraq, and the continued military drone assassinations of individuals deemed “terrorists” across the world. Then are also told that it is  our moral imperative to kill warlords like Kony in Uganda, to help oust dictators like Assad in Syria and help kill dictators like Gaddafi in Libya so rebels could take over the reigns of government and bring about democratic reforms (which is usually code word for socialism). We are told that this is in the big scheme of things being done to protect “American Interests” overseas which in turn benefits all of us at home.  Which in reality is a lie perpetrated by the government and its allies in the media to benefit itself and the few who profit when it goes to war.

Smedley Butler the most decorated Marine at the time of his death wrote a short essay entitled, “War is a Racket,” back in 1935. It is a powerful work written by a man who served all his life in the military, won two medals of honor during combat around the world and saw first hand the horrors of war. He described war as the following:

“WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” He goes on to expose who benefited from the United States entry into WWI.

“In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows. How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?”

Today the big defense contractors are reaping huge profits from the wars overseas. I don’t know how many millionaire have been created since the “War on Terror” and the “War on Dictators” began but I’m sure its more than you think. The trillion dollars a year flowing through the Defense Department definitely doesn’t all end up in the pay checks of the soldier, marines and airmen doing the fighting. Smedley goes on to explain who has paid for these profits of war.

“The general public shoulders the bill. And what is this bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations”

When its put into those terms it really hits home how terrible war is. It should be avoided at all costs and only entered into when it is to defend person and property. The United States Government should be under the “Castle Doctrine” which is a principle which states that deadly force is to be used only to protect person and property from imminent threat. And if the MIlitary were not overseas that would be a purely defensive act against an invading army. But that is not the current policy nor has it been of the United States since 1898. Recently, the Secretary of State of the United States Government told the world that the President of Syria’s “time was up and that he should go” and the discussions of attacking Iran grow in seriousness in  the Chambers of the House and Senate everyday.

Smedley goes on to warn:

“Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends. But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children? What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits? Yes, and what does it profit the nation?”

Admiral Mullen Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2010 answered Smedley’s question,  the Nation doesn’t profit from War nor from the profligate War Spending. In fact every United States citizens is  threatened by it and the other out of control spending by the United States Government.

“The single biggest threat to national security is the national debt, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday, underscoring the importance of good fiscal stewardship and a need to stimulate economic growth.”

He went on to add that:

“American taxpayers are going to pay an estimated $600 billion in interest on the national debt in 2012″.

You would think such a strong warning from the man who is basically in charge of surveying the threats against the citizens of the United States  would prompt a tidal shift in the way in which the United States Government defends us. But Admiral Mullen’s warnings in 2010 as well as Smedley Butler’s warnings in 1935 have not been heeded by the American people or their Representatives. But there is still hope that the war can be averted with Iran and Syria and the policy of violent intervention by the United States Government can be curbed and even ended.

In the Senate recently a bill was being considered which had already passed the House, to increase the sanctions on Iran (sanctions are by the way an act of war) which had wide bipartisan support and was seen to be destined to become law. But one Senator, Senator Rand Paul stopped it by proposing an amendment that reiterated the principles of the Constitution. Senator Rand Paul felt like if the bill was passed it would be used by the White House as a pretext for waging physical war against the Government of Iran. His one sentence amendment that has yet to be voted on or overturned with a 60 vote major to overcome his objection simply reads:

““To clarify  that nothing in the Act shall be construed as a declaration of war or an  authorization of the use of force against Iran or Syria.” That’s it and the United States Senate will not vote on that. Why not? He went on to give an explanation.

“Our Founding Fathers were quite concerned about  giving the power declare war to the Executive,” Paul said on the Senate floor.  “They were quite concerned that the Executive could become like a king.”

“Before sending our young men and women into  combat, we should have a mature and thoughtful debate over the ramifications of  and over the authorization of war and over the motives of the war,” he  added

“Many in this body cannot get boots on ground fast  enough in a variety of places, from Syria to Libya to Iran,” said Paul. “[I]  urge that we not begin a new war without a full debate, without a vote, without  careful consideration of the ramifications of a third or even a fourth war in  this past decade”

I like how he mentioned the motives of war. It seems that the White House and those in Government do not want an open debate when it chooses to go to war, like it did against Libya.

Well this trend of waging wars overseas did not just happen with the “War on Terror” or the current “War on Dictators” or the huge additions to the National Debt needed to the territory over which the United States Government exerts its control. In fact it goes way back in the Untied States Government’s history.

Smedley Butler addresses the extension of government power overseas with the huge increases in government debt and where in his opinion it all started.

“Until 1898 we (United States Government) didn’t own a bit of territory outside the mainland of North America. At that time our national debt was a little more than $1,000,000,000. Then we became “internationally minded.” We forgot, or shunted aside, the advice of the Father of our country. We forgot George Washington’s warning about “entangling alliances.” We went to war. We acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt had jumped to over $25,000,000,000.”

Smedley Butler as well as George Washington would turn over in their graves if they could see the 16 trillion-dollar National Debt.

It’s easier to reckon the dollar cost of war than the cost in terms of human life. We should not forget that when you hear of politicians talk of boots on the ground they are talking about live human individuals who think and feel and have families and hopes and dreams. There are  almost 5,000 dead and over  42,000 wounded soldiers, marines and airmen from the current “War on Terror” and “War on Dictators”. These men and women who’ve died have left behind broken hearts and homes and those wounded bring home shattered minds and mangled bodies. And I would be remiss not to point out that hundreds of thousands of civillians have also died in these wars overseas, been maimed and suffered horrible mental and physical wounds as well as had their homes and businesses destroyed. Individuals are paying a huge cost for the hubris of politicians and the profits of the war contractors, bankers and others who profit when men are sent to kill other men by their government.

Smedley Butler wrote about the horrors of the maimed men who returned from WWI. Today the numbers aren’t as great but still the impact is huge.

“So much for the dead — they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded — they are paying now their share of the war profits. But the others paid, too — they paid with heart breaks when they tore themselves away from their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam — on which a profit had been made. They paid another part in the training camps where they were regimented and drilled while others took their jobs and their places in the lives of their communities. The paid for it in the trenches where they shot and were shot; where they slept in the cold and the rain with the moans and shrieks of the dying for a horrible lullaby”

Smedley Butler saw first hand the horrors of war and was disgusted by how the few profited safely at home while men died in horrible conditions overseas. These war profiteers included bankers, arms manufacturers, meat packers, big agriculture, oil companies, steel companies, and the others who sell to the United States Government during war-time or have their interests protected by the U.S. military overseas.  Today, the same types of industires are using the force of government to accomplish the same things today. War profiteering and using the force of Government to secure profits overseas is another form of Crony Capitalism and we’ve seen that grow exponetially in the last decade along with the wars overseas.

Where I think Smedley misses the bigger picutre when doesn’t  fully indicts the United States Government or the ideas of collectivism on which big government is founded upon, for the waging of wars overseas. Smedley forgets that “War is the Health of the State”.  He instead focuses on the profits made by “private” companies during wartime. I can appreciate his view of profits from blood. That is a horrible concept and one that Eisenhower warned about in his farewell speech when he briefly spoke of the Military Industrial Complex growing in America back in 1961. But the profits of war wouldn’t exist if the ideas of collectivism  which lead to the growth and power of the federal government didn’t exist in the minds of most Americans.

I don’t agree with everything Smedley Butler writes about in “War is a Racket” but he gets most of it right. Another place he does fall a little short on is with illuminating the Federal Reserve’s role in war making. The Federal Reserve has been instrumental in facilitating the ability of the United States Government to wage war since its inception. That is because the American people would never stand for the amount of taxation required to pay for wars of aggression upfront and thus there would be no support for the wars the politicians and bankers desired to prosecute.  The people do support the wars because the central bank can facilitate the borrowing of trillions that will be someone elses’ problem in the future, and most Americans at least up until now have been okay with gaining perceived security in the present while passing the cost onto taxpayers in the future. But what most Americans don’t realize is that they are impoverishing themselves now and enriching a few now because they are supporting the Federal Reserve’s devaluing of the dollar which is causing the inflation that we are all feeling today.

The average citizen doesn’t profit from war. It impoverishes us. It doesn’t make us safer it actually makes us less safe. The greatest defense against aggression is a prosperous and free economy in which individuals are free to innovate, save, invest and create new product and services that enrich all our lives. It was the tremendous free market and division of labor that “won” WWII. American production lines were not created when war broke out with Japan and Germany but were already in place because they were manufacturing an ever-increasing quanity and variety of goods that consumers demanded. If the arms industry had existed in America like it did in Japan and Germany in the preceding decade before WWII the outcome of the war may have been quite different. Today, we have a huge military industrial complex and a voracious appetite for war in the government. As that grows the free market shrinks and consequently our ability to actually defend ourselves in the future from the real threats diminishes as well. A bankrupt nation can’t feed itself let alone field an army.

If the collectivist ideas that has gripped the minds of most Americans is not proven to them to be wrong and impovershing,  the United States Government will continue on its current path. It will continue to print and borrow more and more money, continue to expand its dominion over more and more territory by waging more and more wars overseas, which in the end will lead to the collapse of the dollar  and at the same time destroy what’s left of the free market at home.

This can be avoided if more and more people understand embrace the ideas of Individualism, Liberty and Peace and see that there are other options besides what we currently have.

The first option is a limited government non-intervetionist idea and it’s from Smedley Butler. He proposes the following limits on the United States Military: The Navy can’t go beyond 200 miles off the coast, the Air Force can’t go over 500 miles byeond the coast and no armed troops of the military can ever leave the territory of the United States of America.

What he was proposing  is a purely defensive force. This is a radical idea today. I think its brilliant. The defense budget would be a fraction of what it is today, the National Debt would shrink, less taxes would be taken by the Feds and instead would be spent by the productive individuals who earned that income, and the Federal Reserve would stop devaluing our currency. That is a win-win for everyone except for the politicians, bankers, bureaucrats, war contractors, and others who profit from war. This is a constitutional, limited government position or a non-interventionist position not too far off from the foreign policy of the founders. I think that if more people hear it the more traction it will get. People are tired of the “new normal” of the stangnate growth of their own personal economy and the ever expadning “economy” of the federal government.

The third option is what I prefer and that is the allowing of competition of the production of security by privately owned companies. This would mean the elimination of the government’s monopoly of the production of security. That would at least end the aggressive wars that are currently caused by The United States Government.  In Gustave Molinari’s book, Production of Security (published in 1850), he argues that if freedom of exchange and division of labor are superior to monopolies and collectivism in every other aspect of production why is it not in the case for the “production of security” as well. He stresses that Freedom of Exchange and division of labor are like Natural Laws no different than gravity and they either apply everywhere or not at all.

You and I don’t profit from war. If you want to know who does, follow my dad’s advice and “follow the money”. The United States Military budget is over a trillion dollars a year. That is insane. What is more insane is that the Department of Defense has had its financial statements deemed  “unauditable” by the Government Accountability Office (which is an oxymoron). That means that the Department of your Federal Government that is responsible for you and your family’s security can not even keep a set of books like every other business in America has to. And people think its a radical idea not to want these same people who can’t account for the trillion dollars they spend each year to fight wars thousands of miles overseas. The Dept of Defense has not been auditable since 1998. Congress in all it’s wisdom has given it a deadline of 2017 to be “audit ready”. I’m sure that makes you feel better about the Trillion Dollars that’s running through it every year.

People in the military pay a terrible price for the wars they are ordered to fight around the world and we pay a horrible price at home as well. It is only the few who profit . They use lies,  propaganda, patriotism, scare tactics, and every other trick in the propagandist playbook to gin up public support to support the wars overseas so the few can profit at the expense of the many.

“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” Herman Goering

I am an advocate of liberty and a free market society in which Peace is the goal and war is only used as defense against aggression.

“Don’t mistake a man’s desire for peace as weakness or a man’s desire for war as strength”

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