I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China, in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents. — Smedley D. Butler, War Is a Racket
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, wars fought by the United States between 1775 and 1991 claimed some 650,000 American lives. More recent conflicts, especially with the ever-expanding, never-ending War on Terror, appear to be more ambiguous when it comes to military deaths in battle. The United States spends, as of 2019, some data suggest that military spending exceeds $1 trillion every year, despite official numbers hovering in the hundreds of billions of dollars. $1 trillion dollars support a military-industry complex unlike anything seen in human history, and a war machine that has seen little winding down, despite numerous setbacks overseas (think: Iraq and Afghanistan, generally speaking), plunging morale among the public and military servicemembers, and misappropriation of funds. The total military spending by the United States is purposely ambiguous, as are its military actions overseas. America’s total and ceaseless war machine is starting to erode American democratic-republican ideals, its national treasure, and the very organizations that are supposed to be committed to fighting endless warfare across the globe.
The Beginnings of Never-Ending War.
The beginnings of the American military machine can be traced back to the early period of the republic, when American presidents committed U.S. troops (and sailors) to pacify underdeveloped countries for American business interests or to ensure the safety of sea lanes for American trade. One of the earliest foreign military conflicts fought by the United States was against piracy, particularly against the Barbary Pirates, who had managed to defeat or cow many European military powers. The American military forces at the time were laughable, at best. However, they managed to secure American shipping interests in the Mediterranean through the Barbary Wars, one of the earliest foreign conflicts fought by the early republic.
Interesting aside: Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, which helped officially end the Barbary Wars, states the following: “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, — as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, — and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
American military forces were used to secure American interests against piracy, uprisings, coups, and so much more. The United States, during the 1890s up until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, meddled in the internal affairs of numerous countries that found themselves freed of European colonial yokes. However, American foreign policy, backed up with the help of the British (and later the American) navy, produced conditions of possibility for American hegemony within the Western Hemisphere, which was originally formulated under the Monroe Doctrine and later given teeth with the [Theodore] Roosevelt Corollary.
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. — Smedley D. Butler, War Is a Racket
According to the data we have available to us, via the Congressional Research Service’s report entitled “Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798–2019,” the United States has deployed military personnel to dozens of countries across the globe, starting out within those spheres of influence closest to the republic (or to the republic’s trade interests). As the United States developed as an industrial, and, then, as a military power, it became a dominant force, looking to secure its interests, or at least the interests of the nation’s politico-economic elite.
Franklin D. Roosevelt would end the tumultuous relationships the United States held with those countries within the Western Hemisphere. This change in foreign policy comes down to us in history as FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy. Although short-lived, it proved to be an interesting model of friendship and cooperation between the United States and its southernly neighbors. The reasons for FDR to develop a more peace-oriented approach to the nation’s southernly neighbors in Latin America might be linked to several things. These policies ensured a secure southern front at a time when international politics were slowly devolving into chaos. The Good Neighbor Policy allowed Roosevelt to focus on important international and domestic events. And, finally, FDR was a pragmatist and realized that committing American troops to pacification missions was problematic (and costly).
The consequences of American interventionism would rear their ugly heads during the Cold War. The Cold War would see the official end of Roosevelt’s idealistic, if not, hardly realized, Good Neighbor Policy. With his death, Roosevelt’s short-lived legacy of friendship and non-meddling would come to an end. In turn, the Western Hemisphere saw numerous socio-political and economic upheavals, which challenged the United States fundamentally.
The Not-So-Cold War.
The Cold War, ushered into the world following the Second World War, has been blamed for the rise of the American military-industry complex. In fact, the United States would, with the help of a better credit card, so to speak, develop the largest military industry and military machine the world has ever seen. Much of this can be linked to fearmongering amongst U.S. military officials and politicians. Moreover, the development of the U.S. Department of Defense, in 1947, probably played a significant role in the development of a rather burdensome military-industrial complex we are familiar with today. To add to this, we have the post-war hysteria concerning the communist threat against the United States and its allies. The communist threat was (likely) overblown. Many of Stalin’s moves following the Second World War, such as the development of buffer states between the West and the USSR, were more realpolitik than an attempt to spread communism throughout Europe (and beyond).
The Cold War, one could argue, was a war of threat-inflation. Using slippery slope arguments, poor data (think: Missile gaps reported by the CIA), and the right ideological conditioning, the United States developed a formidable military-industrial complex that outcompeted the Soviet threat by leaps and bounds.
I recently discussed the nature of the Cold War with at least one U.S. Air Force veteran, who served in the nuclear forces during the late-80s. He stated that when looking back he felt that he’d been on the wrong side of history. In other words, he felt that he’d belonged not to the league of good guys, the keepers of the flame, the keepers of peace and security, but, rather, to the dominant aggressor during the Cold War. In fact, a rather extensive (and thoroughly engrossing) article by Air & Space Magazine argues that some two-hundred American airmen were shot down over Soviet skies during the Cold War.
It was American military policy that made the Cold War hot. In fact, American interventionism under the Containment Policy, fueled by the slippery slope argument known in U.S. history as the Domino Theory, led to U.S. military conflicts across the globe. These conflicts racked up a considerable body count and drained U.S. treasure away from domestic programs for infrastructure, poverty relief, and even education.
The Global War on Terror.
The Global War on Terror, shortened to War on Terror, is another one of those historical paradoxes in American history. It is a war built on fearmongering, and it is a conflict masquerading itself as a war against terror, chaos, and evil. However, in reality, the War on Terror has used ubiquitous drone warfare to bring terror to millions of people worldwide. To paraphrase an observation relayed to me by a veteran, only Americans would make people fear clear blue skies.
The Global War on Terror has other consequences as well. The United States is said to have spent trillions of dollars on international conflicts — for what? If we look at the reasons given for the continued wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, northern Africa, and elsewhere, policymakers assure the American public that these conflicts are to ensure national security interests. Moreover, they are conflicts worth fighting, because they are ensuring a safe world for democracy and freedom. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. American interventionism has a considerable body count across the globe, and this body count is unlikely to lead to results such as democracy, freedom, and peace. To quote a shirt from the 1960s antiwar movement: Fighting a war for peace is like fucking for chastity.
The American war machine and the military-industrial complex have become bankrupt — both in their morality and their ability to protect the interests of the so-called Free World. The Global War on Terror shows that the Pax Americana is nothing more than a façade, something that, on the surface, seems nice, but underneath it is rotting and sticking like death has taken hold.
If history is any indicator, those who named the current period of peace are sadly falling victim to a sort of Orwellian language. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. I could go on ad nauseum, but I won’t.
Tales from the Homefront, and the Unintended Consequences of Ceaseless Warfare.
I am a child of the late-90s and early-2000s.
I remember when the Towers fell. I remember watching the twenty-four-hour news feeds, as people talked about what the United States was going to do next. I remember when we invaded Afghanistan. I remember when the war in Afghanistan became the forgotten war, as the United States shifted resources to its invasion of Iraq.
I also remember when the impact of ceaseless war hit me the most. I was in college, about twenty or so at the time. My youngest brother, who was about the turn nineteen, was deployed to Afghanistan. This wouldn’t be an extraordinary story if I hadn’t put two and two together: My brother was in the fourth-grade when the 9/11 terror attacks happened. He was quite young when we invaded Iraq, some two years later.
My brother served in Afghanistan as a young soldier, who turned nineteen over there. He fought a war that was about a decade old when he arrived. This got me thinking, what are the costs of ceaseless warfare. I’ve listed a few thoughts below, but I am sure I haven’t covered everything. Consider this a sort of conclusion with some food for thought.
— Rampant mental health issues among returning veterans.
— An inadequate support and care system for veterans and their families.
— Trillions in accumulated debts.
— An unsafe world for democracy and freedom.
— America has become synonymous with war, death, and destruction.
— Crumbling infrastructure nationwide.
— Rampant economic and political disparities at home.
— The decline of American prestige.
— A rotting educational system that turns out undereducated citizens.