War’s bottom line

Don’t expect leaders to put patriotism ahead of profit

Jeff Kane is a writer from Nevada City.

The Iraq war exemplifies a disturbing American focus on war itself. Having invaded or bombed at least 12 nations during the past half-century, the United States has become the world’s leading belligerent. We maintain more than 700 military bases in 130 different countries. We spend $100 billion more on armaments than the rest of the world combined.

One reason war so enthralls us is that we’ve learned that the business of war is hugely profitable. David Brooks, the CEO of bulletproof-vest maker DHB Industries, saw his pay increase from $525,000 in 2001 to $70 million in 2004. George David, outgoing CEO of United Technologies, the maker of Black Hawk helicopters, has pocketed $200 million since 9/11. The CEOs of the top 34 military contracting firms enjoy average paychecks that are double the compensation they received before 9/11.

As for the Army privates who daily dodge IEDs, it would take 308 of them to match the income of a single arms-company CEO.

Along with military contractors, many Congress members make killings as well. More than one-third of Congress members collectively had up to $195 million invested in defense contractors in 2006. Congressional investors have made out well; though their annual salary is $169,300, the average member of the House of Representatives is now worth $5 million, while the average senator has $12 million.

If you were a senator with your nest egg in military-contracting firms—often the same firms that help finance your campaigns—how objectively would you regard a war-appropriations bill?

Currently mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, where else are we about to send our armed forces? Iran? North Korea? Venezuela? Permanent war will result not necessarily from fighting terrorism or implanting democracy or even grabbing oil, but from the fact that war makes more money than diplomacy does.

It’s tempting to claim investing in arms is patriotic, but here we’re just talking profit, since if we were truly patriotic, we’d spend—not invest, but spend—enough to care for and honor our veterans. A genuinely patriotic nation would provide veterans first-class health care, not the scandalous conditions discovered at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A patriotic nation would routinely grant veterans the benefits due. A patriotic nation would tolerate neither one-third of our homeless men being veterans nor the suicides in 2005 of 6,256 veterans.

Congress members could express patriotism by sending their children into the armed forces, but only eight of 535 actually have.

Our most prominent ex-general presidents, Washington and Eisenhower, clearly warned us against focus on war. Washington advised us “to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”

Eisenhower cautioned us to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Apparently, the advice of these patriots isn’t a sound investment strategy.