At the beginning of this millenium I was filled with excitement and idealism.
The US had just waged wars – or ´interventions´ – in Afghanistan and Iraq, but opposition to them was widespread. At the same time, Al Gore´s An Inconvenient Truth debuted and we became more aware of the severity of the climate crisis. So there was a sense that while things were bad, we had identified the problems and we still had time to shift the world’s direction.
But a change in the course of history cannot be willed into existence by a teenager. Instead of fighting humankind’s common enemy – climate change – over the past two decades we’ve seen the world accelerate its destruction of both people and the environment with an escalation of militarism.
In hindsight, it was fascism even in the early 2000s – wars on false pretext, indefinite detention of Muslim immigrants by ICE, and the Patriot Act – though we hesitated to call it by its name at the time.
“Protofascism,” my Uncle George would correct me.
What may have been protofascism then most agree is fascism now; an increasing militarization of the police with Black people and now protesters being killed in the street, Trump’s conflation of ´anti-fascism´ with terrorism, and the acceleration of public aid to the private sector with a $6 trillion bailout for Wall St.
My Uncle George helped teach me some of the basics of Marxism. We know from Marx that capitalism tends toward accumulation of wealth, that it needs to grow and find new markets.
What´s particularly frightening about late-stage capitalism is that the American economy is dependent on the ´defense´ industry. For the military, a new enemy is a new ‘market’. Just as capitalists create demand through advertising for prescription drugs or beauty products, in the ‘defense’ industry they create enemies and wars.
Like any company or industry, when markets are saturated it needs new ones. So the defense industry must not only supply conflicts – it must continuously create more demand by actively sowing war and conflict.
The situation has become quite literally Orwellian; perpetual war for profit’s sake, constant government surveillance, and even mind control. The press has become little more than a propaganda arm for the military-industrial-complex – which is in turn creating a hellscape, destroying lives and livelihoods and driving fascism throughout the globe.
This is an industry that´s almost entirely government subsidized. The Department of Defense budget for 2020 is $721 billion, and most of this money goes to private contractors.
In 2019, Lockheed Martin´s outlay was $48 billion, Boeing received $26 billion, General Dynamics $16 billion and Raytheon $15 billion. These are only the largest outlays; hundreds of smaller companies receive contracts in the millions of dollars.
Correspondingly, Lockheed Martin disclosed an expenditure of $13 million on lobbying in 2019, Boeing $13.8 million, General Dynamics $10.3 million, and Raytheon $4 million. A small price to pay, it seems.
These companies do everything from carrying out coups to manufacturing weapons, arming mercenaries, and spying on citizens and activists.
And for what? What great threat are we being protected from with $721 billion a year? Medicare for All would certainly save more lives for less money – but that’s not profitable for the corporations that own the politicians. Profit is the objective – not public health or safety – and of course the ´defense´ industry does not save lives but takes them, and when a reason for war cannot be found, it is invented.
When President Bush invaded Iraq because of ´weapons of mass destruction´ I was surprised that the government could lie to go to war – as if it was the first time. This cycle continues; many people seem to think America´s problems started with Trump. Perhaps this is because we have a short collective memory, or that talking about the government´s role in fabricating evidence for military interventions just isn´t polite conversation.
Norms which deem uncomfortable facts and controversial opinions, and political conversation in general ´impolite´ benefit power in the most insidious way, by making it ´rude´ to even acknowledge its existence. The ´defense´ industry also benefits from a US education system that skips the inconvenient bits of history and neglects geography, while our entertainment system projects the image of America as the good guy, and exports it across the globe.
Lying to go to war is of course an old story. ´Defense´ was also a huge industry during the Cold War with the arms race, and Americans were fed all kinds of lies about the USSR. During this time the defense industry, along with its intelligence arm, the CIA, created false reports to start wars around the globe from Vietnam to the first Gulf War, not to mention all of the coups in South America.
Then came September 11th, which the US used as a pretext to invade Afghanistan on the premise that al-Qaeda and Bin Laden were hiding there – nevermind that they were trained by the US to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. By backing the Mujahideen, the US sowed chaos and gave rise to the Taliban, turning Afghanistan into a third world country in the process. Its invasion in 2001 secured access for US corporations to the country’s mineral wealth, and perhaps more importantly, it gave American interests control over global heroin production. History repeats itself, and if the US military controlled South America in the 80s and sold crack to Black neighborhoods, its not absurd to think they are doing the same today with heroin. Drug sales keep the population docile or in prison while providing a second stream of revenue for covert operations.
In 2003, the government planted information in the media alleging that Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. Both counts were soon proven false, but not before the US military invaded the country, leading to an occupation that lasts to this day and has displaced over 37 million people.
People think these things went away during the Obama Administration, but the same policies continued behind the illusion of progress afforded by the first Black president. Americans and the international community alike were lulled to sleep by Obama’s charm even as he bailed out Wall St, and did nothing to address climate change or mitigate the foreclosure crisis. ICE terrorized immigrant communities and children were put in cages, mass surveillance on US citizens continued unabated, and the Arab Spring was used to justify new interventions in Libya and Syria.
It’s true that Libya, Syria, and Venezuela have been targeted for their petroleum. Having state-owned oil companies is one way to become an enemy of Washington and its corporate overlords.
In some kind of destructive death spiral, the US military invades countries for oil, and is also the world´s biggest polluter. Yet by its nature and its size, it is also the most dangerous force in the world, making it almost impossible to challenge its power.
The point is that the US doesn´t need a reason to go to war; war has become an end in itself, and that´s what´s so terrifying. While the military-industrial-complex has always been gigantic, now that other American industry is gone, purchasing power is down and consumer markets are saturated, aside from finance, ´defense´ is the only industry the US has left.
Of course, any country that does not bow down to the neoliberal model, opening their natural resources to exploitation by US companies and their public services to privatization, becomes a target. Just this year the US carried out a coup d´etat against Evo Morales in Bolivia to gain access to the country´s massive, state-owned lithium reserves. Morales had made deals to sell the lithium to Russia and China. How dare he! Elon Musk threw a sissy fit; the billionaires must be appeased.
Even countries that are allies of the US are subject to manipulation. Of course, US companies sell arms to its allies, like they are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia to kill Yemenis. But they´ll also pursue regime change and engage in ´election meddling´ when it suits their interest. For instance, in the UK the intelligence community (an extension of the US ‘defense’ industry) worked with the right-wing press to paint Jeremy Corbyn as a threat. US interests – notably Cambridge Analytica, which was funded by right-wing interests including the billionaire Robert Mercer – also manipulated the Brexit referendum in the UK, using xenophobia to convince voters to leave the EU with the end goal of UK-US trade deal which will see privatization of the UK´s National Health Service. Steve Bannon, a former chief strategist for Donald Trump, has astroturfed other countries in Europe to support far-right, nationalist parties through his organization, ´The Movement´, with similar objectives.
Instead of shifting to a socialist society and switching to alternative energy, over the past 20 years I’ve seen the US plunge deeper into fascism, taking the rest of the world down with it, with swaths of the Middle East turned to rubble while the Amazon burns and Bangladesh is submerged. Next on the list of US enemies are China and Russia, and so the mainstream media is now publishing accusation after accusation to convince the American public that they’re the bad guys.
The West coast is in flames, police are shooting innocent civilians, the government and private companies are spying on citizens and harvesting our data, 30 million people are unemployed and twice that without healthcare, and millions are facing eviction.
But don’t worry, when you open the New York Times you’ll see that the real enemies are Russia and China. Hillary Clinton lost the election? Russia must’ve done it. Meanwhile, everything China does is authoritarian. Lockdown in Wuhan? Authoritarian. Opening schools? Authoritarian. See? The real enemies are Eurasia and Eastasia, and for these reasons we must be prepared to go to war with them. The parellels are almost comical – its as if they used 1984 as a playbook. We even have cameras in our TVs and we carry trackers with us everywhere.
So what can we do? I hate to write on such a heavy subject and end on a dark note. That would imply that we’re beyond hope and I don’t believe that’s the case, but time to address climate change is running out.
Mao Tse-Tung said that revolutionary change is like digging up a mountain: you chip away at reactionaries and capitalism bit by bit over time. He likened it to something that might take place over generations, but many hands lighten the load, and that’s why political education and organization remain our number one job. The more people we can reach and empower, the faster our work will be done. Sometimes it feels like we have to do everything at once, but Mao reminded us that wars are won battle by battle, struggle by struggle.
The enemies of fascism and the military-industrial-complex are truth, peace, and socialism, so speak them and sow them wherever you can. Some genius also said that its better to create something different than to fight what exists, so don’t be afraid to experiment with new forms of local government, independent media, and workplace democracy. People are creating new organizations, maybe join them, meet like-minded people and educate yourself. Fascists have historically been overcome by force, but the size of the military and police state means the odds of such an effort succeeding are slim, so while its not a bad idea to arm yourself just in case, any ‘revolution’ will likely be different in character than any historical revolution. When opportunities for taking power present themselves we should take them, and in the meantime we can prepare ourselves by offering mutual aid and creating dual structures. This is also practical; as the US is hollowed out, people will need food, so urban gardens are always a good idea. Contrary to the individualist logic of capitalism, people survive better when they work together in communities, so we need to band together where we can and try new things, experiment, get creative, and be fearless. Educate your friends and family about capitalism and its alternatives, before its too late. Alright, fat, I’m out.