8 September 2020   Leave a comment

In the wake of the reports that he disparaged members of the military as “suckers” and “losers”, President Trump used a left-wing argument to defend himself: “I’m not saying the military’s in love with me — the soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy”. The argument, commonly referred to as the “military-industrial complex”, a phrase coined by President Eisenhower in his last message to the American people as President.

The argument is difficult to prove and the Harvard economist, Joseph Schumpeter, made the first systematic case for it. Schumpeter, in his short essay, “Imperialism and Social Classes“, reviews a number of cases in which military action is taken by states not for any specific reasons but in order to satisfy the interests of the military and corporations that produce instruments of war. His argument is complex:

“This new social and political organization was essentially a war machine. It was motivated by warlike instincts and interests. Only in war could it find an outlet and maintain its domestic position. Without continual passages at arms it would necessarily have collapsed. Its external orientation was war, and war alone. Thus war became the normal condition, alone conducive to the well-being o£ the organs of the body social that now existed. To take the field was a matter of course, the reasons for doing so were of subordinate importance. Created by wars that required it, the machine now created the wars it required. (emphasis in original)

The argument received strong empirical support after World War I when the Nye Committee of the US Senate conducted hearings entitled “Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry” in 1936. It found that:

“The Committee finds, under the head of sales methods of the munitions companies, that almost without exception, the American munitions companies investigated have at times resorted to such unusual approaches, questionable favors and commissions, and methods of ‘doing the needful’ as to constitute, in effect, a form of bribery of foreign governmental officials or of their close friends in order to secure business.

“The committee realizes that these were field practices by the agents of the companies, and were apparently in many cases part of a level of competition set by foreign companies, and that the heads of the American companies were, in cases, apparently unaware of their continued existence and shared the committee’s distaste and disapprobation of such practices.

“The committee accepts the evidence that the same practices are resorted to by European munitions companies, and that the whole process of selling arms abroad thus, in the words of a Colt agent, has ‘brought into play the most despicable side of human nature; lies, deceit, hypocrisy, greed, and graft occupying a most prominent part in the transactions.’

“The committee finds such practices on the part of any munitions company, domestic or foreign, to be highly unethical, a discredit to American business, and an unavoidable reflection upon those American governmental agencies which have unwittingly aided in the transactions so contaminated.

“The committee finds, further, that not only are such transactions highly unethical, but that they carry within themselves the seeds of disturbance to the peace and stability of those nations in which they take place. In some nations, violent changes of administration might take place immediately upon the revelation of all details of such transactions. Mr. Lammot du Pont stated that the publication of certain du Pont telegrams (not entered in the record) might cause a political repercussion in a certain South American country. At its February 1936 hearings, the committee also suppressed a number of names of agents and the country in which they were operating, in order to avoid such repercussions.

“The committee finds, further, that the intense competition among European and American munitions companies with the attendant bribery of governmental officials tends to create a corrupt officialdom, and thereby weaken the remaining democracies of the world at their head.

“The committee finds, further, that the constant availability of munitions companies with competitive bribes ready in outstretched hands does not create a situation where the officials involved can, in the nature of things, be as much interested in peace and measures to secure peace as they are in increased armaments.

“The committee finds also that there is a very considerable threat to the peace and civic progress of other nations in the success of the munitions makers and of their agents in corrupting the officials of any one nation and thereby selling to that one nation an armament out of proportion to its previous armaments. Whether such extraordinary sales are procured through bribery or through other forms of salesmanship, the effect of such sales is to produce fear, hostility, and greater munitions orders on the p art of neighboring countries, culminating in economic strain and collapse or war.

“The committee elsewhere takes note of the contempt of some of the munitions companies for those governmental departments and officials interested in securing peace, and finds here that continual or even occasional corruption of other governments naturally leads to a belief that all governments, including our own, must be controlled by economic forces entirely.”

Senator Nye (R-ND) was not a left-winger. He was an arch isolationist who would have found great comfort in the slogan “America First”. The Nye Committee was the last time the US Congress ever investigated the links between corporations who supply military equipment and foreign policy. The omission is curious since there are plenty of examples which raise serious questions about the military-industrial complex and decision-making in the US. During the Iraq War of 2003, the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, had been a chief executive of the Halliburton Corporation which provided military services to the US. The current Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, had previously served as Vice President for Government Relations at the Raytheon Company.

It is also curious that President Trump would make such an accusation, given his very strong defense of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In October 2018, after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, New York Magazine ran an article which described Trump’s defense of those sales:

“Last week, Saudi Arabia almost certainly murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Asked about the apparent murder last night on Fox News, President Trump expressed the requisite disapproval he musters for events that do not anger him in any visceral way but which he is expected to condemn (‘It would not be a positive. I would not be happy at all’). But when asked if the United States should retaliate by withholding future arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Trump immediately pumped the brakes.

“’Well, I think that would be hurting us,’ he said. ‘We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country. We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before. Part of that is what we’re doing with our defense systems, and everybody’s wanting ’em, and frankly I think that that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.’”

Additionally, Mr. Trump has made his defense budgets a point of pride. In a speech to the graduating cadets at West Point, Mr. Trump made this statement:

“To ensure you have the very best equipment and technology available, my administration has embarked on a colossal rebuilding of the American Armed Forces, a record like no other.  After years of devastating budget cuts and a military that was totally depleted from these endless wars, we have invested over 2 trillion — trillion; that’s with a “T” — dollars in the most powerful fighting force, by far, on the planet Earth.  We are building new ships, bombers, jet fighters, and helicopters by the hundreds; new tanks, military satellites, rockets, and missiles; even a hypersonic missile that goes 17 times faster than the fastest missile currently available in the world and can hit a target 1,000 miles away within 14 inches from center point.”

I, for one, believe the reports about Mr. Trump’s comments about the military. It is certainly possible for the US to be spending almost $800 billion a year to enrich corporations, not to support soldiers in the field.

Posted September 8, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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