War is (Still) a Racket


Over seventy years ago, Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler wrote:

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.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

Sadly, little has changed since Butler penned those words. America continues sending its soldiers into harm’s way, while the likes of Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and General Dynamics (GD) continue raking in the dough. Of course, none of this war profiteering would be possible without politicians, whose job it is to trick the public into believing that war, or at least the current war, really is necessary, that if we don’t keep bombing all those defenseless Cambodians or Iraqis or Afghans, then somehow the world won’t be safe for democracy, somehow the things Americans most value will be jeopardized.

Our politicians don’t actually believe that wars will make the world a better place. They start wars, they send other people’s sons and daughters into harm’s way, because they themselves stand to profit. According to an April 2008 study by the Center for Responsive Politics, members of Congress have between $79 million and $196 million of their own money invested in defense firms. (Because lawmakers are “only required to report their assets in broad ranges,” the exact amount is unknown.) The Congressmen with the most money invested are:

• Sen. John Kerry (D-MA): $28,872,067 to $38,209,020
• Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ): $12,081,050 to $49,140,000
• Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC): $9,232,037 to $37,105,000
• Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI): $5,207,668 to $7,612,653
• Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA): $2,684,050 to $6,260,000
• Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI): $2,469,029 to $8,360,000
• Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV): $2,000,002
• Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI): $1,365,004 to $5,800,000

Not surprisingly, all of the above individuals are warmongers. All of them, for instance, voted for the Iraq War in 2002. (See Senate vote here, House vote here.)

Also not surprisingly, the above individuals receive money—lots and lots of money—from defense firms in the form of campaign contributions. For instance, Frelinghuysen’s top donor is Lockheed Martin, and four of Jane Harman’s top five donors are Northrop Grumman (NOC), Raytheon (RTN), Boeing (BA), and SAIC (SAI). The same is true of other congressional warmongers. If you don’t believe me, just go to OpenSecrets.org and look at all the money that such firms as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics have doled out over the years.

Now unless you’re a real idiot, it’s not tough to connect the dots here. Simply put, more war means more money for defense firms, which in turn means more money for members of Congress.

The answer to all this is, first of all, to get pissed, to get really pissed. I mean, let it all out. The system’s a fraud! You’re being used! Your sons and daughters are being sent out to die so a bunch of sleazy politicians can make a buck!

After you’ve gotten this out of your system, you need to do something about it. Follow Jim Davidson’s lead and divest from the death merchants. If you own stocks in any of these companies, sell them. If you have US Savings Bonds, cash them in. And, of course, do all you can to kick these sleazebags out of office.

And then tell others what’s going on. Blog about it, yell it out your window, whatever.

Look, I’m not exactly an optimist. I’m not saying we’re going to end the wars. But we at least have to try.


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5 Responses to “War is (Still) a Racket”

  1. Jim Davidson Says:

    An excellent post, Don, and I’m very pleased to see it. One thing to mention about Smedley Butler is that he was approached by some business men in the 1930s about overthrowing FDR through a military coup. He didn’t accept the job. I think that speaks to his character as someone who didn’t think the military would do a better job of running things, even with himself in charge.

  2. Don Emmerich Says:

    Thanks for the story, Jim. It does say a lot about his character.

  3. Justen Says:

    The thing that gets me is that it’s all so disingenuous. To say that war is profitable is to imply that there is some kind of net productivity, which is of course laughable. War, inexplicably, is murder, by proxy, as an excuse to steal. The tax money paid to these weapons dealers and their shareholders is not money traded for value, it is money forcibly confiscated from one group and given to another by a third group on threat from a fourth. War is the excuse that pacifies the former group sufficiently to make the confiscation gainful on such a large scale. Without the war, they’d have to go to war with the people they intended to confiscate money from, as those people would resist; in resisting, they’d cost the war-makers more than the war-makers could hope to recoup. So some third party has to be brought into the mix, who, the war-maker hopes, is both less expensive to murder and frightening enough to the first party that the first party will surrender more property than if the third party were excluded.

    “They’re going to kill you unless you give us money so we can kill them, and if you don’t give us money to give to people who make weapons we also intend to kill you and neglect to kill them, so in total you can have two groups trying to kill you, or you can have both groups trying to kill each other while one group tries to kill you as well and someone else takes your property.” That pretty much sums it up. A whirlwind of fast-talk – it’s no surprise that most can’t keep up with it. The grifter’s false dichotomy, presented with urgency so the victim doesn’t have time to consider a third option.

  4. Jim Davidson Says:

    The thing that gets me is all the dead people.

  5. Justen Says:

    That’s the root of the issue – the claim is that there’d be fewer dead people with a war than without, or at least fewer dead people amongst those that the person it’s being “sold” to cares about. All the fast talk and bullshit attempts to get around that falsity.

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