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The Devil's Dynamo

By John Scales Avery

17 June, 2014

Why is the military-industrial complex sometimes called “The Devil's Dynamo”?

The military-industrial complex involves a circular flow of money. The money flows like the electrical current in a dynamo, driving a diabolical machine. Money from immensely rich corporate oligarchs buys the votes of politicians and the propaganda of the mainstream media. Numbed by the propaganda, citizens allow the politicians to vote for obscenely bloated military budgets, which further enrich the corporate oligarchs, and the circular flow continues.

The Industrial Revolution and Colonialism

The devil's dynamo of today has lead to a modern version of colonialism and empire. It is therefore interesting to look at the first global era of colonialism: In the 18th and 19th centuries, the continually accelerating development of science and science-based industry began to affect the whole world. As the factories of Europe poured out cheap manufactured goods, a change took place in the patterns of world trade: Before the Industrial Revolution, trade routes to Asia had brought Asian spices, textiles and luxury goods to Europe. For example, cotton cloth and fine textiles, woven in India, were imported to England. With the invention of spinning and weaving machines, the trade was reversed. Cheap cotton cloth, manufactured in England, began to be sold in India, and the Indian textile industry withered, just as the hand-loom industry in England itself had done a century before.

The rapid development of technology in the west also opened an enormous gap in military strength between the industrialized nations and the rest of the world. Taking advantage of their superior weaponry, the advanced industrial nations rapidly carved the remainder of the world into colonies, which acted as sources of raw materials and food, and as markets for manufactured goods. Throughout the American continent, the native Indian population had proved vulnerable to European diseases, such as smallpox, and large numbers of them had died. The remaining Indians were driven westward by streams of immigrants arriving from Europe.

The sometimes genocidal wars waged by industrial nations against the inhabitants of Asia, Africa and the Western Hemisphere often involved almost unimaginable cruelty. We can think, for example of the atrocities committed by the army of Leopold II in Belgian Congo, where more than ten million people were killed out of a total population of 20 million. (In Leopold's Congo human hands became a sort of currency. This was because the men in Leopold's army were ordered to cut off the hands of their victims to prove that they had not wasted bullets.) We can also think of distribution of smallpox-infected blankets to the Amerinds, or the unbelievable treachery and cruelty of Conquistadors in Central America and South South America.

Often the industrialized nations made their will felt by means of naval bombardments: In 1854, Commodore Perry forced Japan to accept foreign traders by threatening to bombard Tokyo. In 1856, British warships bombarded Canton in China to punish acts of violence against Europeans living in the city. In 1864, a force of European and American warships bombarded Choshu in Japan, causing a revolution. In 1882, Alexandria was bombarded, and in 1896, Zanzibar.

Much that was beautiful and valuable was lost, as mature traditional cultures collapsed, overcome bythe power and temptations of modern industrial civilization. For the Europeans and Americans of the late 19th century and early 20th century, progress was a religion, and imperialism was its crusade.

Between 1800 and 1875, the percentage of the earth’s surface under European rule increased from 35percent to 67 percent. In the period between 1875 and 1914, there was a new wave of colonial expansion, and the fraction of the earth’s surface under the domination of colonial powers (Europe, the United States and Japan) increased to 85 percent, if former colonies are included.

The unequal (and unfair) contest between the industrialized countries, armed with modern weapons, and the traditional cultures with their much more primitive arms, was summarized by the English poet Hilaire Belloc in a sardonic couplet: “Whatever happens, we have got The Maxim gun, and they have not.”

The Maxim gun was one of the world’s first automatic machine guns. It was invented in the United States in 1884 by Hiram S. Maxim. The explorer and colonialist Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) was extremely enthusiastic about Maxim’s machine gun, and during a visit to the inventor he tried firing it, demonstrating that it really could fire 600 rounds per minute. Stanley commented that the machine gun would be “a valuable tool in helping civilization to overcome barbarism”.

During the period between 1880 and 1914, British industrial and colonial dominance began to be challenged. Industrialism had spread from Britain to Belgium, Germany and the United States, and, to a lesser extent, to France, Italy, Russia and Japan. By 1914, Germany was producing twice as much steel as Britain, and the United States was producing four times as much. . New techniques in weaponry were introduced, and a naval armaments race began among the major industrial powers. The English found that their old navy was obsolete, and they had to rebuild. Thus, the period of colonial expansion between 1880 and 1914 was filled with tensions, as the industrial powers raced to arm themselves in competition with each other, and raced to seize as much as possible of the rest of the world.

The English economist and Fabian, John Atkinson Hobson (1858-1940), offered a famous explanation of the colonial era in his book “Imperialism: A Study” (1902). According to Hobson, the basic problem that led to colonial expansion was an excessively unequal distribution of incomes in the industrialized countries. The result of this unequal distribution was that neither the rich nor the poor could buy back the total output of their society. The incomes of the poor were insufficient, and rich were too few in number. The rich had finite needs, and tended to reinvest their money. As Hobson pointed out, reinvestment in new factories only made the situation worse by increasing output.

Hobson had been sent as a reporter by the Manchester Guardian to cover the Second Boer War. His experiences had convinced him that colonial wars have an economic motive. Such wars are fought, he believed, to facilitate investment of the excess money of the rich in African or Asian plantations and mines, and to make possible the overseas sale of excess manufactured goods. Hobson believed imperialism to be immoral, since it entails suffering both among colonial peoples and among the poor of the industrial nations. The cure that he recommended was a more equal distribution of incomes in the manufacturing countries.

Outlawing war

Industrial and colonial rivalry contributed to the outbreak of the First World War, to which the Second World War can be seen as a sequel. The Second World War was terrible enough to make world leaders resolve to end the institution of war once and for all, and the United Nations was set up for this purpose. Article 2 of the UN Charter requires that “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

The Nuremberg principles, which were used in the trial of Nazi leaders after World War II, explicitly outlawed “Crimes against peace: (i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).”

With the founding of the United Nations at the end of the Second World War, a system of international law was set up to replace the rule of military force. Law is a mechanism for equality. Under law, the weak and the powerful are in principle equal. The basic purpose of the United Nations is to make war illegal, and if war is illegal, the powerful and weak are on equal footing, much to the chagrin of the powerful. How can one can one construct or maintain an empire if war is not allowed? It is only natural that powerful nations should be opposed to international law, since it is a curb on their power. However, despite opposition, the United Nations was quite successful in ending the original era of colonialism, perhaps because of the balance of power between East and West during the Cold War. One by one, former colonies regained their independence. But it was not to last. The original era of colonialism was soon replaced by neocolonialism and by “The American Empire”.

The military-industrial complex

The two world wars of the 20th Century involved a complete reordering of the economies of the belligerent countries, and a dangerous modern phenomenon was created - the military-industrial complex.

In his farewell address (January 17, 1961) US President Dwight David Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the war-based economy that World War II had forced his nation to build: “...We have been compelled to create an armaments industry of vast proportions”, Eisenhower said, “...Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every state house, every office in the federal government. ...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. ... We must stand 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 democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.”

This farsighted speech by Eisenhower deserves to be studied by everyone who is concerned about the future of human civilization and the biosphere. As the retiring president pointed out, the military-industrial complex is a threat both to peace and to democracy. It is not unique to the United States but exists in many countries. The world today spends roughly 1.7 trillion (i.e. 1.7 million million) US dollars each year on armaments. It is obvious that very many people make their living from war, and therefore it is correct to speak of war as a social, political and economic institution. The military-industrial complex is one of the main reasons why war persists, although everyone realizes that war is the cause of much of the suffering of humanity.

The “New American Century”

The military-industrial complex needs enemies. Without them it would wither. Thus at the end of the Second World War, this vast power complex was faced with a crisis, but it was saved by the discovery of a new enemy ¨C communism. The United States emerged from the two global wars as the world’s dominant industrial power, taking over the position that Britain had held during the 19th century. The economies of its rivals had been destroyed by the two wars, but no fighting had taken place on American soil. Because of its unique position as the only large country whose economy was completely intact in 1945, the United States found itself suddenly thrust, almost unwillingly, into the center of the world’s political stage.

The new role as “leader of the free world” was accepted by the United States with a certain amount of nervousness. America’s previous attitude had been isolationism - a wish to be “free from the wars and quarrels of Europe”. After the Second World War, however, this was replaced by a much more active international role. Perhaps the new US interest in the rest of the world reflected the country’s powerful and rapidly growing industrial economy and its need for raw materials and markets (the classical motive for empires). Publicly, however, it was the threat of Communism that was presented to American voters as the justification for interference in the internal affairs of other countries. (Today, after the end of the Cold War, it has become necessary to find another respectable motivation that can be used to justify foreign intervention, and the “Crusade Against Communism” has now been replaced by the “War on Terror”.)

Despite the fact that initiating a war is a violation of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg Principles, the United States now maintains roughly 1000 military bases in 150 countries, According to Iraklis Tsavdaridis, Secretary of the World Peace Council, “The establishment of US bases should not of course be seen simply in terms of direct military ends. They are always used to promote the economic and political goals of US capitalism. For example, US corporations and the US government have been eager for some time to build a secure corridor for US controlled oil and natural gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea in Central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. This region has more than 6 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, and almost 40 percent of its gas reserves. The war in Afghanistan and the creation of US military bases in Central Asia are viewed as a key opportunity to make such pipelines a reality.”

Since World War II, the United States has interfered either militarily or covertly in the internal affairs of very many countries. These include China, 1945-49; Italy, 1947-48; Greece, 1947-49; Philippines, 1946-53; South Korea, 1945-53; Albania, 1949-53; Germany, 1950s; Iran, 1953; Guatemala, 1953-1990s; Middle East, 1956-58; Indonesia, 1957-58; British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64; Vietnam, 1950-73; Cambodia, 1955-73; The Congo/Zaire, 1960-65; Brazil, 1961-64; Dominican Republic, 1963-66; Cuba, 1959-present; Indonesia, 1965; Chile, 1964-73; Greece, 1964-74; East Timor, 1975-present; Nicaragua, 1978- 89; Grenada, 1979-84; Libya, 1981-89; Panama, 1989; Iraq, 1990-present; Afghanistan 1979-92; El Salvador, 1980-92; Haiti, 1987-94; Yugoslavia, 1999;'and Afghanistan, 2001-present. Of the interventions just mentioned, the Vietnam War, the bombing of Cambodia and Laos, and the invasions of of Iraq and Afghanistan were particularly terrible, resulting in many millions of dead, maimed or displaced people, most of them civilians.

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a Washington-based think tank called “Project for a New American Century” maintained that a strategic moment had arrived: The United States was now the sole superpower, and it ought to use military force to dominate and reshape the rest of the world. Many PNAC members occupied key positions in the administration of George W. Bush. These included Dick Cheney, I. Lewis Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wulfowitz, Eliot Abrams, John Bolton and Richard Perle.

The idea that the United States can and should achieve global hegemony through military force seems to motivate US policy today. The goal of controlling the world's supply of scarce resources seems to be almost forgotten. Today, the motive seems to be power for the sake of power; domination for the sake of domination. But of course, the military-industrial complex does not care so deeply about resources. All that it needs to be enriched is perpetual war.

Today, the US government is taking actions that seem almost insane, risking a nuclear war with Russia and simultaneously alienating China. In the long run, such hubris cannot succeed. Overspending on war will lead to economic collapse.

Ironically the military sells itself as the protector of the security of the population, but it does no such thing. On the contrary, it threatens to kill hundreds of millions of ordinary people in a nuclear war.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at avery.john.s@gmail.com


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