Personal Reflections on Liberty in the United States

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the Federal Government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”

“In the councils of Government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” (Dwight Eisenhower, January 17, 1961)

I have always heard people say we have such great liberty in this country, but this sentiment usually does not take into account all the ways our liberty is or has been restricted. It also betrays a certain jingoism that because we are thought to be “free,” we should not reflect on the ways we are not free. It has always been right to praise America’s freedoms, but not to understand their history or threats. I intend to do the latter.

The greatest accomplishments of the aim of giving freedom to the people was the Bill of Rights, the system of checks and balances, and later, social welfare programs to prevent massive inequality brought by “unbridled capitalism.” This was balanced with the acceptance of slavery, genocide of the native population, and interventionist wars in countries south of the United States. In times of war, presidents often sought tough, sometimes tyrannical, restrictions on freedom (e.g., John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt). Some of the scariest attacks on the Republic were President Richard Nixon’s 1972 Watergate crimes and the 1933 Business Plot to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt.

Not only did the government restrict freedom, so did corporations and their friends in the armed forces. These were diagnosed as a threat to liberty early on. In the 1930’s, a military officer, Smedley Butler, wrote his book, War is a Racket. Basically, he said this country went to war to gain profit for its large businesses, and to feed its hegemonic desires (e.g., Manifest Destiny Expansion, Spanish-American War, WWI).

Butler was prophetic in his writings on the military-industrial complex. The success in the Second World War would sow the seeds of the modern American militarism. Today, multinational business ventures are still backed by the U.S. military, and vice versa. These corporations have also gained enough power to collectively shape our lives, and our government to their pleasing. The military industries and armed forces have invaded civic life through technology, entertainment, media, and even academia. The complex is increasingly rearing its ugly head in our culture.

More than obvious examples of this are (1) the ownership of news media by these same military-industrial corporations (e.g., General Electric owning NBC studios), and (2) the creation of whole departments of the federal government whose sole purposes are: to be a “corporate cookie jar,” and to be a state-corporatist tool used to undermine civil rights, liberties, and privacy (referring to the Department of Homeland Security and agencies like DARPA and the Office of Information Awareness, which operate under the Department of Defense). These are just the conditions needed to give a citizenry the illusion of liberty: (1) news media controlled by players that have vested interests in keeping the public in the dark about the real and deeper workings between the government, business, and military, and (2) an agency that operates like the Ministries of Truth and Love in George Orwell’s 1984. With this iron triangle between Congressional oversight committees, corporate interests, and the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex has achieved unprecedented power in controlling the information that gets to the voting population — hence the misinformation of the American public; the dismantling of the Bill of Rights with, among other things, domestic warrant-less spying and torture programs; the propagandizing of American corporate-owned media (called “manufacturing consent”); and other social and political ills.

The military-industrial complex has so pervaded our lives, that we do not even recognize its manifestations, many times when they are right “under our noses.” This shows that the complex, at the same time that it is becoming more visible, is becoming more subtly infused into our lives. It will continue its role in our daily lives if we let it. By being ignorant and complacent about it, we let its matrix pervade our lives.

The conditions for its expansion are the increased social isolation among Americans (data show they have fewer close friends than ever and civic life and social capital are on the decline), militarization of the youth (e.g., through video games, Tom Clancy books, toys, recruiters in schools, social networking, etc.), burgeoning consumerism and debt, overgrown DoD budget, sexism and racism, massive corporate welfare legislation, a permanent war economy, and the dumbing down of media and entertainment. These are just some of the factors that contribute to its rising power. Will we guard against the twenty-first century manifestations of the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us of? I see no greater threat to liberty in this country than this burden of global power.

“This is the great peril posed by the military-industrial complex in America: not that it is diverting the United States from its historic path; not that it is both costly and wasteful; not that it stifles democracy and distorts the economy. The great peril is that it points us toward destruction.” (The Military-Industrial Complex, 1969)

“Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes… What we don’t know keeps the contracts alive and moving”
(Bulls on Parade , Rage Against the Machine)

~ by jsacc001 on September 24, 2008.

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