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The Business of America Is War
Posted on Oct 20, 2013
By William J. Astore, TomDispatch
Call it a Clausewitzian/Marxian feedback loop or the dialectic of Carl and Karl. It also represents the eternal marriage of combat and commerce. If it doesn’t catch all of what war is about, it should at least remind us of the degree to which war as disaster capitalism is driven by profit and power.
For a synthesis, we need only turn from Carl or Karl to Cal—President Calvin Coolidge, that is. “The business of America is business,” he declared in the Roaring Twenties. Almost a century later, the business of America is war, even if today’s presidents are too polite to mention that the business is booming.
America’s War Heroes as Commodities
Many young people today are, in fact, looking for a release from consumerism. In seeking new identities, quite a few turn to the military. And it provides. Recruits are hailed as warriors and warfighters, as heroes, and not just within the military either, but by society at large.
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Such “heroic” identities, tied so closely to violence in war, often prove poorly suited to peacetime settings. Frustration and demoralization devolve into domestic violence and suicide. In an American society with ever fewer meaningful peacetime jobs, exhibiting greater and greater polarization of wealth and opportunity, the decisions of some veterans to turn to or return to mind-numbing drugs of various sorts and soul-stirring violence is tragically predictable. That it stems from their exploitative commodification as so many heroic inflictors of violence in our name is a reality most Americans are content to forget.
You May Not Be Interested in War, but War Is Interested in You
As Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky pithily observed, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” If war is combat and commerce, calamity and commodity, it cannot be left to our political leaders alone—and certainly not to our generals. When it comes to war, however far from it we may seem to be, we’re all in our own ways customers and consumers. Some pay a high price. Many pay a little. A few gain a lot. Keep an eye on those few and you’ll end up with a keener appreciation of what war is actually all about.
No wonder our leaders tell us not to worry our little heads about our wars—just support those troops, go shopping, and keep waving that flag. If patriotism is famously the last refuge of the scoundrel, it’s also the first recourse of those seeking to mobilize customers for the latest bloodletting exercise in combat as commerce.
Just remember: in the grand bargain that is war, it’s their product and their profit. And that’s no bargain for America, or for that matter for the world.
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Copyright 2013 William J. Astore
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