In the political documentary Why We Fight, focusing on the relationship between defense contractors and the U.S. government, one of the most highly-profiled politicians with immense ties to military industries is Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Throughout his congressional career, Senator McCain has made his name defending nearly every military conflict, using his political and rhetorical prowess to justify each invasion as “necessary” to American freedom and democracy. In staunchly defending this brand of military adventurism at home, McCain is also often the first American of political notoriety to fly into theaters of war, demonstrating his support and reiterating the importance of the mission.
The most recent example is the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, a civil war strongly supported by Senator McCain and other congressional leaders as a measure to “ouster” the long-time Libyan ruler. Once NATO bombing campaigns and Western-supported ground assaults by rebels were near conclusion, McCain traveled with a delegation to the rebel-controlled Tripoli, hoping to praise the newly-crowned Libyan Transitional Council.
While this particular visit is not significant in its own right, it does shed light upon the irrational aims of American foreign policy and how much it is influenced by domestic contractors of weapons and military gear, a common trope of the post-WWI era.
This is further demonstrated by a similar meeting in 2009, when Libya was not a sworn enemy of the world, but rather a willing customer of Western arms and bombs. McCain joined several other senators on a grand diplomatic trip to Libya to secure contracts with Colonel Gaddafi, revealed by both Wikileaks and Senator McCain’s own tweet to his followers.
Diplomatic trips to theaters of American intervention, in this context, are not new for McCain, and they reflect his strong hawkish stance of American foreign policy. Examples of his favored interventions include Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Libya, Iran, Somalia, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Yemen, Syria, Georgia, Cuba, Egypt, and much more.
It was to this author’s bafflement, therefore, when Senator McCain recently took to the Senate floor to heed President Eisenhower’s warnings of the “Military-Industrial Complex”, or as coined by McCain, the Military-Industrial Congressional Complex.
Bewildering indeed, McCain expounded for close to 40 minutes on the skewed incentives of congressmen in promoting bloated defense spending, the revolving door of the Pentagon and defense industry, and the vast waste perpetuated by uncountable contracts to build weapon systems. His most poignant remark referenced Eisenhower’s warning directly, conceding that it had, in fact, become all too real:
The fiftieth anniversary of President Eisenhower’s address presents us with a valuable opportunity today to carefully consider, have we heeded President Eisenhower’s admonition? Regrettably and categorically, the answer is, no. In fact, the military-industrial complex has become much worse than President Eisenhower originally envisioned: it’s evolved to capture Congress. So, the phenomenon should now rightly be called, the ‘military-industrial-congressional’ complex.
McCain cited various examples of programs and weapons which have enjoyed profligate support by a bipartisan effort, calling to question the immense size of the defense budget. He decried the “biases” of political and military actors who sign off on “failed” and “costly” projects, while welcoming the new “cultural change” forced by the new condition of fiscal austerity.
The comments (in writing and televised in parts one, two, and three) present the American people with a John McCain that has never before been seen. More explicitly, it is a John McCain seemingly antithetical to any public perception of the Senator in the last 30 years.
How does one who, just months ago, was warning that cuts to the defense budget were a “national security threat” so easily change face, lamenting the rise of the huge military defense machine that has engulfed over a fourth of the budget of the Federal government? What could have inspired such a stark paradigm shift in the man once considered the most hawkish politician in Washington, D.C.?
As perplexing as the speech may be, it is one that is welcomed to those who have denounced the unparalleled rise of the American Empire.
In fact, were John McCain to join the fight against military aggression and blind defense spending, he would most certainly become the most influential and powerful former hawk to take on the defense establishment, adding even more legitimacy to the growing opposition.
While John McCain’s change of heart will not directly end the myopic foreign policy of the American federal government, the tremendous credence enjoyed by the Senator will do its part to instill some skepticism in the minds of other American lawmakers, a welcomed move in the age of costly, expansionary, and deadly preemptive war.
It is an occurrence so common that it is rarely questioned or even pondered. The influence of the United States military in any film which features it. This has been a documented fact for over 50 years, in movies such as Top Gun, Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers, Pearl Harbor, Windtalkers, and much more. For the laymen, this is mostly about ships, planes, helicopters, and explosions, but it means much more for the average tax payer and consumer of such movies. It means that millions–if not billions–of dollars are being used to coerce general attitudes about what the military does, (re: The Military Has Usurped the State).
This is a trend already seen in full force, whether it is a NASCAR race or the recruiter’s table at your local high school. The PR machine of the military has been working in full swing in recent years, both by lending battle gear and weapons to even censoring several versions of film scripts in order to present a more “balanced” view of the organization dedicated to aggressive force against foreign powers.
This was a point recently brought up by NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in assessing President Obama’s chances for re-election:
The White House is also counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big-screen version of the killing of Bin Laden to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual. The Sony film by the Oscar-winning pair who made “The Hurt Locker” will no doubt reflect the president’s cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds. Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 — perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher.
The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history from an administration that has tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration.
It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently — to the surprise of some military officers — at a C.I.A. ceremony celebrating the hero Seals.
The documentary examines the direct cooperation between Hollywood and the U.S. Army Motion Picture Liaison Office, always focused on using movies featuring the military as “recruiting tools”. This is a practice grounded in the propaganda days of World War Two, when film stars where routinely used for campaigns to shore up support for the war and general enlistment.
This remains to be an extensive relationship, shaping hearts and minds about what the U.S. military’s role is in broader American society. It is a tool which allows unfettered access to audiences of millions, subconsciously ignorant of Hollywood’s constant positive portrayal of an organization risking thousands of young American lives each day in battlefields across the world.
A similar practice is used in video games, with Pentagon-funded projects such as “America’s Army”. These games aim to increase recruiting and turn the game-savvy generation of today into the soldiers of tomorrow, a practice mirrored recently by the NSA to find the cyber-hackers of tomorrow.
This issue remains important because it targets a specific group of individuals. Statistically, the majority of young military recruits are poorer, uneducated, rural minorities who have no other option. Signing bonuses and promises of healthcare coverage allow droves of young men and women to be shaped and shipped off to war, where their destiny is no longer certain and their lives hang in the balance. While the cost of college continues to soar and youth unemployment reaches a new high, the option of joining the military becomes an all-too-real proposition for many of the disadvantaged in our society.
As the era of endless wars continue, the American people are routinely fed more reasons for why their young men and women must be sacrificed for the benefit of the American Empire and the political establishment. It is the same tireless message. President Barack Obama promised to remove troops from Iraq by 2009. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has recently stated that troops will stay beyond 2012. President Obama has promised to remove troops from Afghanistan. Close to 50,000 troops will stay until 2024.
As families at home deal with the chronic unemployment, rising prices, and stubborn economic growth, one-fourth of their tax money is being funneled to politically-connected manufacturers of weapons, bombs, and planes. Thousands of their sons and daughters are dying in five continuous wars which serve to drastically harm American National Security, rather than help it, and seem to have no end in sight. As the media becomes enmeshed with the same interests which continue to fund the PR of the military, less attention is being put on the effects of war and the rise of anti-war candidates, guaranteeing another election cycle where pressing issues of war and peace are not addressed.
No longer can this problem remain unearthed. It is in the interest of every citizen who claims a love for country and peace.
On April 22,1971, a young Lieutenant named John Kerry came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, being the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress on the subject of ending the war in which he served.
He appeared on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a group of over 20,000 former military servicemen who collectively called for an end to the military operations and atrocities in Vietnam.
Lt. Kerry gave a prepared speech, eloquent and precise, poignant and riveting. He spoke of the crimes of the American soldiers committed in Vietnam, the mystic veil of communism which had justified such killing and destruction, the lies of the American executive which directed these immoral actions, and the convergence of all said injustice to yield the most grave mistake which had just then become realized to the majority of the American public.
That was another war and another era.
However, the hubris of the present cannot overcome the lessons of history, especially as they repeat so easily within one generation. The false events which led to the Vietnam War, beginning in the Tonkin Gulf in 1964, have now become openly accepted as acknowledged government lies in order to fuel war. Upwards of up to 58,000 American servicemen and almost 4,000,000 Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians lost their lives over the span of a few years, caused by deliberate manipulations and deceptions committed by those holding the reigns of American foreign policy at the time.
And now, close to forty years later, where does the policy of the United States of America stand? The answer is quite brazen and beyond belief. Instead of the words Vietnam, jungles, and communists, it has become Afghanistan, deserts, and terrorists. The ever-malicious monolithic force still “threatens” the very core tenants of American freedom and democracy, even as those very ideals are skewed and curtailed in order to combat that same evil.
In the words of the young, sage Lt. John Kerry, who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, we find an eerie parallel to the grievances and realities of today. Wars continue to rage in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Small bands of mercenary contractors, intelligence operatives, and predator drones carry out attacks and drop bombs in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Close to 2,500,000 civilians, 6,000 American soldiers, and 1,000 coalition troops have lost their lives in total since the United States began its vast re-colonization of the Middle East less than ten years ago. American soldiers are left to continue tour after tour of active combat duty, leading to a permanent army of psychologically-damaged young men and women who wear the stars and stripes upon their back, and the memories of death and suffering upon their conscience. All undertaken in order to combat yet another mystical enemy; that of terrorism.
The testimony given by Lt. Kerry not only flawlessly described the atmosphere and circumstances of the 1970s Vietnam struggle, but it so lucidly and perfectly embodies the global imperial struggle which defines the United States of America in the current year 2011.
Listen to the words of future Democratic Senator John Kerry, paying special heed to the mentions of Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos. Replace these states (italicized) which experienced past American intervention and conflict with the plethora available in present times.
Such will illuminate the current struggle which is the Mystical War Against Terrorism.
Mr. Kerry: I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.
As a veteran and one who feels this anger, I would like to talk about it. We are angry because we feel we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country.
In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to use the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.
We are probably much more angry than that and I don’t want to go into the foreign policy aspects because I am outclassed here. I know that all of you talk about every possible alternative of getting out of Vietnam. We understand that. We know you have considered the seriousness of the aspects to the utmost level and I am not going to try to deal on that, but I want to relate to you the feeling that many of the men who have returned to this country express because we are probably angriest about all that we were told about Vietnam and about the mystical war against communism.
We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with which ever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.
We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Vietcong.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.
We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals.
We watched the U.S. falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts. We listened while month after month we were told the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons against “oriental human beings,” with quotation marks around that. We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in the European theater or let us say a non-third-world people theater, and so we watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the high for the reoccupation by the North Vietnamese because we watched pride allow the most unimportant of battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn’t lose, and we couldn’t retreat, and because it didn’t matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point. And so there were Hamburger Hills and Khe Sanhs and Hill 881’s and Fire Base 6’s and so many others.
Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of Vietnamizing the Vietnamese. Each day…(Applause)
Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, “the first President to lose a war.”
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to dies in Vietnam? How do ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? But we are trying to do that, and we are doing it with thousands of rationalizations, and if you read carefully the President’s last speech to the people of this country, you can see that he says, and says clearly: But the issue, gentlemen, the issue is communism, and the question is whether or not we will leave that country to the communists or whether or not we will try to give it hope to be a free people. But the point is they are not a free people now under us. They are not a free people, and we cannot fight communism all over the world, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.
But we are here as veterans to say we think we are in the midst of the greatest disaster of all times now because they are still dying over there, and not just Americans, Vietnamese, and we are rationalizing leaving that country so that those people can go on killing each other for years to come.
Americans seems to have accepted the idea that the war is winding down, at least for Americans, and they have also allowed the bodies which were once used by a President for statistics to prove that we were winning that war, to be used as evidence against a man who followed orders and who interpreted those orders no differently than hundreds of other men in Vietnam.
We veterans can only look with amazement on the fact that this country has been unable to see there is absolutely no difference between ground troops and a helicopter crew, and yet people have accepted a differentiation fed them by the administration.
No ground troops are in Laos, so it is all right to kill Laotians by remote control. But believe me the helicopter crews fill the same body bags and they wreak the same kind of damage on the Vietnamese and Laotian countryside as anybody else, and the President is talking about allowing that to go on for many years to come. One can only ask if we will really be satisfied only when the troops march into Hanoi.
We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which has the power to raise and maintain armies, and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war.
We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of Vietnam now.
We are here in Washington also to say that the problem of this war is not just a question of war and diplomacy. It is part and parcel of everything that we are trying as human beings to communicate to people in this country, the question of racism, which is rampant in the military, and so many other questions also, the use of weapons, the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage in the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war, when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions, in the use of free fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners, the killing of prisoners, accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to say. It is party and parcel of everything.
Finally, this administration has done us the ultimate dishonor. They have attempted to disown us and the sacrifice we made for this country. In their blindness and fear they have tried to deny that we are veterans or that we served in Nam. We do not need their testimony. Our own scars and stumps of limbs are witnesses enough for others and for ourselves.
We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbarous war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more and so when, in 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning. Thank you.