Page 2 of 2

American Warfare Goes Corporate

How the US went from a citizen's army to a robot military.

| Fri Feb. 24, 2012 1:31 PM EST

The US could have retreated, however partially, from the world to lick its wounds. Instead, the country's global stance as the "leader of the free world" and its role as self-appointed global policeman were never questioned, nor was the global military basing policy that underlay it. In the midst of the Cold War, from Indonesia to Latin America, Japan to the Middle East, no diminution of US imperial dreams was ever seriously considered.

The decision not to downsize its global military presence in the wake of Vietnam fused with the decision to create a military that would free Washington from worry about what the troops might think. Soon enough, as Bacevich wrote, the new AVF would be made up of "highly trained, handsomely paid professionals who (assuming that the generals concur with the wishes of the political leadership) will go anywhere without question to do the bidding of the commander-in-chief." It would, in fact, open the way for a new kind of militarism at home and abroad.

 

The Arrival of the Warrior Corporation

In the wake of Vietnam, the wars ceased and, for a few years, war even fled American popular culture. When it returned, the dogfights would be in outer space. (Think Star Wars.) In the meantime, a kind of stunned silence, a feeling of defeat, descended on the American polity—but not for long. In the 1980s, the years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, American-style war was carefully rebuilt, this time to new specifications.

Reagan himself declared Vietnam "a noble cause," and a newly professionalized military, purged of malcontents and rebels, once again began invading small countries (Grenada, Panama). At the same time, the Pentagon was investing thought and planning into how to put the media (blamed for defeat in Vietnam) in its rightful place and so give the public the war news it deserved. In the process, reporters were first restrained from, then "pooled" in, and finally "embedded" in the war effort, while retired generals were sent into TV newsrooms like so many play-by-play analysts on Monday Night Football to narrate our wars as they were happening. Meanwhile, the public was simply sidelined.

Year by year, war became an ever more American activity and yet grew ever more remote from most Americans. The democratic citizen with a free mind and the ability to rebel had been sent home, and then demobilized on that home front as well. As a result, despite the endless post-9/11 gab about honoring and supporting the troops, a mobilized "home front" sacrificing for those fighting in their name would become a relic of history in a country whose leaders had begun boasting of having the greatest military the world had ever seen.

It wasn't, however, that no one was mobilizing. In the space vacated by the citizen, mobilization continued, just in a different fashion. Ever more mobilized, for instance, would be the powers of big science and the academy in the service of the Pentagon, the weapons makers, and the corporation.

Meanwhile, over the years, that "professional" army, that "all volunteer" force, began to change as well. From the 1990s on, in a way that would have been inconceivable for a draft army, it began to be privatized—fused, that is, into the corporate way of war and profit.

War would now be fought not for or by the citizen, but quite literally for and by Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, KBR, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, and Blackwater (later Xe, even later Academi). Meanwhile, that citizen was to shudder at the thought of our terrorist enemies and then go on with normal life as if nothing whatsoever were happening. ("Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed," was George W. Bush's suggested response to the 9/11 attacks two weeks after they happened, with the "war on terror" already going on the books.)

Despite a paucity of real enemies of any substance, taxpayer dollars would pour into the coffers of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, as well as a new mini-homeland-security-industrial complex and a burgeoning intelligence-industrial complex, at levels unknown in the Cold War years. Lobbyists would be everywhere and the times would be the best, even when, in the war zones, things were going badly indeed.

Meanwhile, in those war zones, the Big Corporation would take over the humblest of soldierly roles—the peeling of potatoes, the cooking of meals, the building of bases and outposts, the delivery of mail—and it would take up the gun (and the bomb) as well. Soon enough, even the dying would be outsourced to corporate hirees. Occupied Iraq and Afghanistan would be flooded with tens of thousands of private contractors and hired guns, while military men trained in elite special operations units would find their big paydays by joining mercenary corporations doing similar work, often in the same war zones.

It was a remarkable racket. War and profit had long been connected in complicated ways, but seldom quite so straightforwardly. Now, win or lose on the battlefield, there would always be winners among the growing class of warrior corporations.

The All-Volunteer Force, pliant as a military should be, and backed by Madison Avenue to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to insure that its ranks were full, would become ever more detached from most of American society. It would, in fact, become ever more foreign (as in "foreign legion") and ever more mercenary (think Hessians). The intelligence services of the national security state would similarly outsource significant parts of their work to the private sector. According to Dana Priest and William Arkin of the Washington Post, by 2010, about 265,000 of the 854,000 people with top security clearances were private contractors and "close to 30 percent of the workforce in the intelligence agencies [was] contractors."

No one seemed to notice, but a 1 percent version of American war was coming to fruition, unchecked by a draft Army, a skeptical Congress, or a democratic citizenry. In fact, Americans, generally preoccupied with lives in which our wars played next to no part, paid little attention.

 

Remotely Piloted War

Although early drone technology was already being used over North Vietnam, it's in another sense entirely that drones have been heading into America's future since 1973. There was an eerie logic to it: first came professional war, then privatized war, then mercenary and outsourced war—all of which made war ever more remote from most Americans. Finally, both literally and figuratively, came remote war itself.

It couldn't be more appropriate that the Air Force prefers you not call their latest wonder weapons "unmanned aerial vehicles," or UAVs, anymore. They would like you to use the label "remotely piloted aircraft" (RPA) instead. And ever more remotely piloted that vehicle is to be, until—claim believers and enthusiasts—it will pilot itself, land itself, maneuver itself, and while in the air even chose its own targets.

In this sense, think of us as moving from the citizen's army to a roboticized, and finally robot, military—to a military that is a foreign legion in the most basic sense. In other words, we are moving toward an ever greater outsourcing of war to things that cannot protest, cannot vote with their feet (or wings), and for whom there is no "home front" or even a home at all. In a sense, we are, as we have been since 1973, heading for a form of war without anyone, citizen or otherwise, in the picture—except those on the ground, enemy and civilian alike, who will die as usual.

Of course, it may never happen this way, in part because drones are anything but perfect or wonder weapons, and in part because corporate war fought by a thoroughly professional military turns out to be staggeringly expensive to the demobilized citizen, profligate in its waste, and—by the evidence of recent history—remarkably unsuccessful. It also couldn't be more remote from the idea of a democracy or a republic.

In a sense, the modern imperial age began hundreds of years ago with corporate war, when Dutch, British and other East India companies set sail, armed to the teeth, to subdue the world at a profit. Perhaps corporate war will also prove the end point for that age, the perfect formula for the last global empire on its way down.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published. Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

Page 2 of 2
Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.