By Miguel De La Torre
During the recent Memorial Day weekend, we heard a lot of patriot rhetoric about those who gave their lives protecting our freedom. While I respect those who join the armed services out of a sense of duty to their country, of which some pay the ultimate price, I fear we do them a disservice when we fail to truly consider why we fight in these wars.
No question, the premature death of young women and men in a far-off land fighting on the behalf of the United States is tragic. I can neither imagine nor comprehend the pain of those who have lost loved ones. Still, to truly honor the fallen, we must ask: Why are we engaged in these military conflicts?
Clearly, it is not to protect our freedoms or liberty. There was no way that a Saddam Hussein, or a Ho Chi Minh for my generation, ever came close to threatening our collective freedoms or liberties.
Brave men and women — mostly teenagers and young adults — died in those particular wars because our leaders were less than truthful. Republican President Bush said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was involved in the 9/11 plot. Neither was true. Democratic President Johnson escalated the conflict in Vietnam when he claimed that the naval ships USS Maddox and Turner Joy were attacked at the Gulf of Tonkin. Neither of the ships was attacked.
The same can be said for the vast majority of the military conflicts fought during this past century. Regardless of how we try to spin the premature death of these valiant and courageous soldiers, if they died believing they were defending our freedoms and liberties, they died in vain.
So why do we fight? I am mindful of the words of Major Gen. Smedley D. Butler, USMC; the most decorated Marine in U.S. history at the time of his death in 1940. He fought for the United States in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean and in France during World War I. He was also a critic of U.S. military adventurism, what today we would call empire building.
“War is just a racket,” he wrote in the anti-war classic that goes by that title. “A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses…. [Basically] the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag…. I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism…. I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested…. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints.”
According to Gen. Butler, the most powerful military force the world has ever known exists for one reason: to make sure that the majority of the world’s resources flow to our shores. If the United States were to be invaded, then yes, we should defend ourselves. But if we look at all the military conflicts since the Second World War, we were the ones doing the invading. We enter into someone else’s country to protect and secure neoliberalism.
No question about it, our troops require our support, but support does not mean sending them to fight wars that enrich the few. We support the troops by protesting their being placed in harm’s way for the purpose of empire building. We support the troops by protesting the arrogance of our nation to believe it is the standard for other countries. We support the troops by protesting a lost generation of Americans who will lack basic education skills because our tax dollars are going for guns and not butter.
We support our troops by unmasking what General Butler called a racket.