I am a keen follower of the smaller wars, the “controlled burns,” that broke out post-WWII, because I have been trying to understand what went wrong with our collective declaration of “Never Again” that echoed in the wake of revelations like the Holocaust and the A-bomb, and after we finished counting the 85 million-plus dead bodies consumed by that last global conflagration.
One Big Bad Hairy Guy emerged as the culprit behind these controlled burns, these regional wars that took place far away from that old theatre of war, Europe. And that is the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) that President Eisenhower, himself a former soldier, warned us about in his outgoing presidential message in 1961. “A threat to our democracy and way of life,” he said. But the world ignored him because the MIC was practising the strategy of NIMBY (not-in- my-back-yard) at the time – Vietnam, Korea, Central America (Nicaragua and El Salvador), the Middle East – controlled burns far away from home turf to ensure consumption, production, and profit for a cozy cabal of players from government, military, and private corporations, all who were located far away from the areas of conflict. And we have to look at the MIC globally and not just US-centrically – so let’s include the NATO countries and the BRICS group – because profit crosses national boundaries and greed is hard coded into everyone’s DNA.
But there is a glaring weakness in having corporate ownership of a vital societal industry, especially one intended for defensive and not revenue-generating purposes, and that is the need for growth. You soon need more wars, just like privately owned prisons need more prisoners, and privately owned Medicare needs more sick people. Soon we began to see larger scale events: Iran-Iraq, Yugoslavia, Gulf Wars I and II, Afghanistan, the Great War of Africa (Congo Wars I and II), Yemen, and Syria. However, this ramp-up in scale was only making the beast hungrier. It was time to bring the war back onto home turf to really hit the jackpot, it was time for a war on European soil again. And this time it wasn’t going to be a controlled national conflict within the borders of a country, like Yugoslavia. This time it was going to be a big-ass invader dumping on a smaller nation. Enter Putin’s special military operation in the Ukraine.
Ukraine has indeed been a bonanza for MIC. Not only has it afforded an opportunity for all shareholders to contribute self-righteously to the bonfire (NATO countries, BRICS, and even Chechens and jailbirds), it has allowed nuclear sabre rattling to “up” the game, slide in previously banned cluster bombs, and even stage mutinies to provide spice, making media organizations go wild to boost their flagging profits. And yet, this war is controlled. No nuclear reactors have blown up even though mayhem laps at the gates of these facilities, Kiev is still standing, and so is Moscow though the barbarians came right up to the gates of the latter and miraculously turned back, and a few drones provide fireworks at night. Pressing the nuclear button would be a spoiler because that would lead to similar buttons being pressed elsewhere and the end would be a zero-sum game. No, the controlled burn is the best. Therefore, Ukraine looks like a choreographed dance that is set to last for a long time and generate profits into the gazillions, unless one of the key players gets old, is deposed, or dies – here’s looking at you Vlad! Since the profit-making strategy of a Goliath vs. David slug-match has proven to be successful between Russia and Ukraine, might the greedy beast get hungrier and start another lopsided contest elsewhere? Israel vs. Hamas, China vs. Taiwan? I shudder to think.
What can we as individuals do other than fly blue and yellow flags out of cars, take in a refugee or two, and poke fun of Putin on social media? Not much – this beast has become too big and faceless. And it’s not Putin on his own who’s the bad guy; he is a mere shareholder of the MIC, this beast created out of fear during the world wars of the last century, when governments sought private enterprise to boost their depleting self-funded armories. It is now a fearful beast in its own right, our very own Frankenstein monster.
I tried writing parodying short stories about the MIC, to call attention to the beast, but no one will publish them. I submit the stories and they go into black holes. What are publishers scared about? Being taken out by a drone? I ended up with this puny essay instead. No, writing will not solve the problem.
However, I see a glimmer of hope in the moves by governments in recent times to sock it to another immoral corporatist, Big Tech, by getting it to follow some basic tenets of decency and social responsibility. Bill C-18 in Canada is one of those government salvos aimed at Big Tech which seems to have given that behemoth pause. Buoyed by this success, might we hope that governments around the world would wake up to the runaway MIC and rein it in with similar legislation, making it conform to its original mission of being a deterrent to war and not an inciter of and profiteer from it? One could but hope…