On America’s Outrageous War Economy


In a recent column in Market Watch , Dr. Paul B. Farrell asserted that Americans secretly love their war economy. Farrell is the author of The Millionaire Meditation: Stress Management for Wall Street, Corporate America, and Entrepreneurs . In his column titled “America’s Outrageous War Economy!” Farrell offered some startling facts and statistics, mostly about Pentagon waste, and asked three questions: Why do Americans love their outrageous war economy? Where’s the outrage? What will it take to wake America up? According to biographical information published online, Farrell “has four academic degrees, Juris Doctor, Masters in Regional Planning, Bachelors of Architecture, and a Doctorate in Psychology” and has written nine books and more than 1,200 columns. He has served as “Executive Vice President of the Financial News Network; Executive Vice President of Mercury Entertainment Corp; Associate Editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner; an investment banker with Morgan Stanley; [and] head of the Crisis Management Group.” While Farrell’s outrage and concern seem sincere, you might think a man with his resume would have some answers to the questions he poses. Could it be that Farrell is careful to avoid offending his millionaire friends and colleagues on Wall Street and in the board rooms of Corporate America?

Answers to the first two of Farrell’s questions seem obvious enough. Wealthy, powerful corporations and special interest groups regularly and systematically misinform and deceive Americans and manipulate public opinion with massive disinformation campaigns. The wealthy and powerful, and the so-called news and entertainment corporations they own, largely control the flow of information to the American public, vital information that shapes decisions Americans make in almost every area of their lives. Never before in history have so many human beings been so heavily influenced by so few through the power of mass media. As increasingly powerful corporations have usurped speech rights intended for ordinary citizens, and commercialized and commoditized American life, almost everything, even war, has become a product to be marketed to passive, ill-informed consumers. Active, thoughtful, well-informed American citizens have rights and responsibilities; passive consumers exist only to be manipulated. That’s why former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card famously said, “you don’t roll out a new product in August,” to explain why the Bush administration was waiting until the fall of 2002 to announce its plans for Iraq.

War is enormously profitable for some of America’s biggest and most powerful corporations. American capitalism can be a ravenous beast without a soul, a beast that far too often feasts on the pocketbooks of American taxpayers and on the blood and the blasted, broken bodies of innocent and defenseless civilians, subsistence farmers mostly, in poor Third-World countries that represent no threat whatsoever to the legitimate national security interests of the United States of America. Some 60,000 Americans died fighting the Vietnam War a generation ago, along with somewhere between two and four million Asians, many of whom were carpet bombed. In their thousands, others succumbed, and some still suffer and die decades later as a result of birth defects and cancer, to the effects of chemical weapons, herbicides and defoliants including Agents Orange, Purple, Pink, and Green manufactured by Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Diamond-Shamrock, which contained dioxins. Millions died. For what? The USA lost that war, and today the US government negotiates with the Vietnamese government over important matters like the wholesale price of shrimp. That’s right, the price of shrimp. North Vietnam never represented any significant threat to the legitimate national security interests of the USA. More recently, over 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and by some estimates as many as 100,000 Americans have been wounded. Authoritative reports estimate that over 1.25 million Iraqis, ten times the number cited by mainstream U.S. media organizations, have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. For what? To learn that Saddam Hussein did not have the weapons of mass destruction that Bush administration neocons and well-heeled mainstream media stenographers claimed he had? Or to feed the insatiable appetites of the America’s corporate-military-industrial complex?

The movers and shakers in American capitalism are its corporations. Take, for example, one of America’s oldest and most widely-recognized corporations and brand names, General Electric (GE). Founded in 1878 by Thomas Edison, one of America’s most industrious and productive inventors, GE is now the sixth-largest company in the world. GE purchased the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1986, primarily to obtain control of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), America’s oldest broadcasting network. NBC has access to approximately 98 percent of American households. During the run-up to the war in Iraq, NBC programming uncritically promoted the Bush administration’s talking points for war, virtually all of which proved to be contrived and substantially false, while actively excluding opposing views and marginalizing dissenting voices. Why? Because NBC is owned by one of the world’s largest, most powerful, and most influential defense contractors, GE–though it must be said that as war itself has become a product, the terms “defense contractor” and “defense industry” have become euphemisms the primary purpose of which is to disguise the true nature and objectives of America’s corporate-military-industrial complex.

The jet aircraft engines that GE manufactures for the U.S. military are a major element of the phenomenally successful multinational conglomerate’s military contract portfolio. GE boasts quite accurately that, “From fighters, helicopters and transports to the next generation of unmanned aircraft, GE’s military engines provide the necessary power and reliability for any military application. GE’s engines are proven in service and continue to operate in critical missions around the world.” GE also manufactures engines with marine applications. “The missions may be different but the principles that matter are not. Powerful, highly efficient and reliable marine engines that are environmentally friendly are required for today’s military ships and commercial vessels,” says GE. The company’s LM2500 engine, “is the world’s most widely used marine gas turbine. It powers more than 400 ships in 30 world navies. 1200 engines have more than 11 million hours in naval service.”

GE is also a huge player in the oil and gas industry, providing an astonishing array of products and services including turbine power generation plants, compressors, pumps, heat exchanges, and control and safety values, not to mention product installation and maintenance services, contractual service agreements, and technical training. And that’s just in one area, offshore drilling platforms. GE also provides products and services for oil and gas fields, refineries, petro-chemical plants, oil sands operations, LNG production plants, pipelines, LNG receiving terminals, gas storage facilities, and land drilling and production. This list, which is long but far from comprehensive, substantially undercuts GE’s public relations efforts to present itself as sensitive to the concerns of growing numbers of Americans who are worried about global warming and the well-documented increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, resulting from the use of hydrocarbon fuels.

GE has moved into the security field as well, with products and services for commercial, government, and military entities. “Whether you’re with a federal, state or local government agency, GE offers innovative technologies to help make your world safer. GE can integrate the latest advancements with your existing equipment and IT systems so you can increase security at embassies, borders, military installations, water treatment plants and other critical public infrastructure. Plus these integrated systems capture valuable data you can use to improve procedures, investigate events and prevent others from happening at all.” GE is particularly proud of its video surveillance products and services: “In 2008 GE Security was named the North American Video Surveillance Solutions Company of the Year by Frost & Sullivan. The award is given annually to the company that demonstrates unparalleled excellence within its industry through leadership, management, products and service.”

The emphasis on increased security is made necessary by the growing disappointment and disaffection of many millions of citizens of many nations, and the violent acts of a very few. It is what the many millions and the very few have in common that strikes fear in the hearts of the small and very wealthy ruling class. Only a few are violent now, but millions experience injustice and grinding poverty daily, while millions more who are significantly better off see everywhere about them evidence of corruption, cronyism, and criminality; betrayals of the public trust that go unpunished; an appalling lack of competence, integrity, and imagination in government coupled with a callous disregard for civil and human rights; systematic violations of international law that go unchallenged decade after decade; preferential treatment for certain groups; and insupportable disparities between haves and have-nots. The conviction that corporations, unrestrained capitalism, and nation-state governments can solve this world’s problems with more sophisticated and more destructive weapons systems, cleverer psy-ops and disinformation campaigns, wars, and repressive police state tactics bolstered by high-tech surveillance devices is irrefutable evidence of spiritual blindness and depraved indifference to human suffering.

Spend a leisurely hour on GE’s web site and soon you will begin to understand precisely which interests drive what Paul Farrell disingenuously refers to as Americans’ secret love for America’s outrageous war economy. A vast interconnected web of America’s and the world’s biggest and most powerful corporations are up to their necks in weapons manufacture and arms sales, the oil and energy industries, so-called national security technologies, and massive disinformation and psy-ops campaigns dressed up as news and entertainment programming. That’s where their profits are, and profit is their exclusive interest. The profit motive drives corporate actions, and far too often CEOs’ perspectives, narrow and short-sighted indeed, are devoid of critical, meaningful ethical and moral consideration. Along with a few enormously powerful special interest groups, these corporations, which thrive by promoting war and no-longer-sustainable lifestyles at any cost while obscuring their consequences, provide and control or heavily influence the flow and editorial content of the information streams that shape most Americans’ views of the world in which they live, the information upon which Americans base critically important personal, political, economic decisions.

The wealthy and powerful captains of America’s corporate-military-industrial complex have sailed into a storm of unprecedented magnitude. Their embrace of science without idealism, politics without principles, wealth without work, knowledge without character, power without conscience, and industry without morality has brought them at long last, and, because their actions often have such dire and far-reaching consequences, all the rest of humanity along with them, to circumstances perhaps best described by this unequivocal statement of fact: “A lasting social system without a morality predicated on spiritual realities can no more be maintained than could the solar system without gravity.”

A morality predicated upon spiritual realities has at its center the ethic of reciprocity, perhaps most helpfully articulated for Western audiences by Jesus himself who said, according to some records, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and according to others, “You must not forget the great law of human fairness which I have taught you in positive form: Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do even so to them.”

If Jesus seems too remote a figure, if such truth seems irrelevant to those who are eager to profit from, or who can be persuaded to turn a blind eye to, torture, preventive war, and the mass slaughter of innocents, perhaps they might benefit from reflection on some observations by none other than the wizard of Menlo Park, GE’s founder, Thomas Edison. “I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill,” said Edison. “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” Said a man who really did bring some good things to life, “Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.” Edison’s words serve as evidence that even the most entrepreneurial of men can aspire to high ethical, moral, and spiritual principles, though few today seem to find either the motivation or the will to do so, or the courage to risk much in the doing of it.

One classic text holds that, “The greatest affliction of the cosmos is never to have been afflicted. Mortals only learn wisdom by experiencing tribulation.” What, Farrell asks, will it take to wake America up? Well, great misfortune, probably. Catastrophes and more catastrophes brought on by the instability, corruption, and deterioration of America’s industrial, economic, financial, and political systems, most likely. For, “if the blind lead the blind, they both shall fall into a pit.”

America and Americans could do better, so much better. You don’t need an advanced degree or a millionaire’s bank account to understand that, but it would help if more Americans would turn off turn off their television sets and devote more time to productive self- and community-maintenance activities such as reading, meditation, regular exercise, working in the garden, getting to know their neighbors, interacting with children, finding ways to help people who are less fortunate, actively promoting a more vital interfaith conversation, and working for peace and international cooperation. Come to think of it, you don’t need a degree or a million dollars to do any of those things either.

Well-informed compassion, common sense, and gumption go a long way when people of good will reason together and work together for the common good. Given free expression and half a chance, the urge to be fair and to do good is infectious and invariably calls forth the best in mankind. Given free expression and half a chance, the desire for peace and universal brotherhood is more powerful than greed, fear, and hatred.

Scene I of Act I of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest opens on a storm-tossed ship. As the vessel begins to founder, the King of Naples and the Prince pray. The despairing mariners talk of giving up their struggle against the storm and joining the King and the Prince in prayer. Gonzalo, the honest old counselor, encourages those who would join the King and the Prince in prayer. But the King’s brother, Sebastian, and Antonio, the usurping Duke of Milan, curse the crew bitterly, the latter claiming that he is less afraid to drown than they.

“We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards,” cries Antonio. And as the ship sinks, Antonio shouts, “Let’s all drown wi’ th’ King.”

“Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, anything,” laments Gonzalo. “The wills above be done! But I would fain die a dry death.”

It’s then that the miracles begin.