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The Enemy-Industrial Complex

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Posted on Apr 16, 2013
milos milosevic (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

To put this in perspective, consider two obvious major dangers in U.S. life: suicide by gun and death by car.  In 2010, more than 19,000 Americans killed themselves using guns.  (In the same year, there were “only” 11,000 homicides nationwide.)  In 2011, 32,000 Americans died in traffic accidents (the lowest figure in 60 years, though it was again on the rise in the first six months of 2012).  In other words, Americans accept without blinking the equivalent yearly of more than six 9/11s in suicides-by-gun and more than 10 when it comes to vehicular deaths.  Similarly, had the underwear bomber, to take one post-9/11 example of terrorism, succeeded in downing Flight 253 and murdering its 290 passengers, it would have been a horrific act of terror; but he and his compatriots would have had to bring down 65 planes to reach the annual level of weaponized suicides and more than 110 planes for vehicular deaths.

And yet no one has declared war on either the car or the gun (or the companies that make them or the people who sell them).  No one has built a massive, nearly trillion-dollar car-and-gun-security-complex to deal with them.  In the case of guns, quite the opposite is true, as the post-Newtown debate over gun control has made all too clear.  On both scores, Americans have decided to live with perfectly real dangers and the staggering carnage that accompanies them, constraining them on occasion or sometimes not at all. 

Despite the carnage of 9/11, terrorism has been a small-scale American danger in the years since, worse than shark attacks, but not much else.  Like a wizard, however, what Osama bin Laden and his suicide bombers did that day was create an instant sense of an enemy so big, so powerful, that Americans found “war” a reasonable response; big enough for those who wanted an international police action against al-Qaeda to be laughed out of the room; big enough to launch an invasion of revenge against Iraq, a country unrelated to al-Qaeda; big enough, in fact, to essentially declare war on the world.  It took next to no time for top administration officials to begin talking about targeting 60 countries, and as journalist Ron Suskind has reported, within six days of the attack, the CIA had topped that figure, presenting President Bush with a “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” a plan that targeted terrorists in 80 countries.

What’s remarkable is how little the disjuncture between the scope and scale of the global war that was almost instantly launched and the actual enemy at hand was ever noted here.  You could certainly make a reasonable argument that, in these years, Washington has largely fought no one—and lost.  Everywhere it went, it created enemies who had, previously, hardly existed and the process is ongoing.  Had you been able to time-travel back to the Cold War era to inform Americans that, in the future, our major enemies would be in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Libya, and so on, they would surely have thought you mad (or lucky indeed).

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Creating an Enemy-Industrial Complex

Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat, so much that was done in Washington in these years might have been unattainable.  The vast national security building and spending spree—stretching from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency erected its new $1.8 billion headquarters, to Bluffdale, Utah, where the National Security Agency is still constructing a $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center for storing the world’s intercepted communications—would have been unlikely.

Without the fear of an enemy capable of doing anything, money at ever escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security, or the Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our weaponized safety.  The exponential growth of the national security complex, as well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes to national security matters, would have far been less likely.

Without 9/11 and the perpetual “wartime” that followed, along with the heavily promoted threat of terrorists ready to strike and potentially capable of wielding biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons, we would have no Department of Homeland Security nor the lucrative mini-homeland-security complex that surrounds it; the 17-outfit U.S. Intelligence Community with its massive $75 billion official budget would have been far less impressive; our endless drone wars and the “drone lobby” that goes with them might never have developed; and the U.S. military would not have an ever growing secret military, the Joint Special Operations Command, gestating inside it—effectively the president’s private army, air force, and navy—and already conducting largely secret operations across much of the planet.


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