Back in the age when slavery was deemed acceptable by many people, it was no doubt more widely and readily accepted by slave owners and those in the numerous businesses that financially profited from it. I imagine that shipping businesses that profited from transporting slaves were deemed vital and in the national interest, and that there were pamphlets written to show that exploiting slaves and building ships to transport them were beneficial in every respect – so long as everyone involved looked away from the inherently evil nature of slavery. And so it is today with the business of weaponry and war.
It is no surprise that the defense industry spends considerable time and money lobbying on its own behalf to sell the instruments of war. Nor is it much of a surprise that Navy Admirals openly yet illegally lobby for the defense industry. It is disappointing, however, to see academics join the effort.
In A benefit, not a burden, a 75-page study by Andrew Dorman, Matthew Uttley and Benedict Wilkinson published in April by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, the authors cite Oxford Economics reports to support their claim that soaking money into the defense industry has a gross output multiplier of 2.3, meaning that every £100 million invested in the industry would generate £230 million (including the original £100 million investment) in the UK economy. Relying on the same reports, the study adds that “for each additional job created in the manufacturing component of the defence industry a further 1.8 jobs are created in the wider economy, giving a headcount multiplier of 2.8 jobs.” Hmm.
Although it is noted that the gross output multiplier effect of 2.3 ranked 12th in a sample of 27 and that the job multiplier effect of 2.8 ranked 10th out of the industries analysed, the Policy Institute study nonetheless concludes that “the UK’s defence industry should therefore be a priority area for investment due to the overall return.” (Emphasis added.) Those numbers look suspicious to me. However, I leave that to the number crunchers and economists to sort out. Other aspects of the study concern me a great deal more.
In introducing their study, the UK scholars cite the use of its armed forces in the invasion of Iraq as having been in the “national interest,” apparently overlooking research done by their university’s research partner Ipsos MORI two years ago which concluded that the invasion had “damaged Britain’s reputation in the world” and impacted negatively on global stability. This and the damning fact that UK leadership knew to a certainty that the US was fixing the intelligence and facts to garner support for its 2003 invasion of Iraq go unmentioned in the recent study, hinting at an obviously biased perspective confirmed elsewhere.
The Kings College London scholars observe that exporting arms to other states “can have adverse unintended consequences” and cite as an example the fact that Iran turned against the West after the UK had supplied the Shah with arms. Unmentioned is the fact that Shah Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran was a dictator the US and UK restored to power after facilitating a coup against the country’s first democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. The apologia for the UK’s war machine and the industry behind it casually notes that 67% (£9.8 billion worth) of the UK’s defense industry orders in 2013 were from the Middle East. Unmentioned are the horrific consequences of the UK and US flooding the Middle East with weapons.
War and threats of war are indeed “a benefit, not a burden” to certain shareholders and bankers, just not to the vast majority of people – a simple fact we should have deeply assimilated long ago.
After World War I, people eventually learned that the horrific madness that war entailed had in part been spawned by the quest for profits. In his pamphlet War is a Racket, career solder and Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, a man who was twice bestowed the US Congressional Medal of Honor, detailed the war profiteering he abetted over the years, and a Senate Committee headed up by Gerald Nye concluded that the arms industry had encouraged the promotion of tension-creating policies before the war and made massive profits during it.
A century later, war-inspiring capitalism is much the same. Over the past two years in Europe, BAE Systems’ stock went up approximately 27%; Airbus Group’s and Thales’ stock jumped 42% and 56% respectively; and Finmeccanica’s skyrocketed 150%. And, of course, in recent years US defense industry profits have also soared.
Typical of the manner in which US foreign policy is conducted, the United States’ exploitation of tensions in the South China Sea most recently involved hosting an arms sales meeting at the Embassy in Vietnam (during which US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter pledged millions of dollars’ worth of patrol boats to the country, no doubt hoping to entice Vietnam to buy the warplanes, ships, and drones on its shopping list from US manufacturers, representatives of which were also in attendance).
Yes, in the war business, making a killing is routine; but that’s a story to be pursued another day. War profiteering is another subject the Policy Institute pamphlet did not find important enough even to mention despite its persistence and the severe problems it naturally breeds.
To portray the war industry as “a benefit, not a burden” is to use a metaphor that conceptually frames the industry such that it negatively impacts cognition by causing readers to mentally skip over war itself and therefore ignore such vital matters as the health impact of war on both civilians and soldiers and on Earth’s flora and fauna as well. These are not trivial concerns to be ignored or explained away.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently reported a 95 %+ probability that human activities have accelerated global warming due primarily to the emission of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels; yet, as professional energy analyst Dr. Sohbet Karbuz and others have noted, the US military is the largest consumer of energy in the world. (It consumes as much energy and emits as much CO2 as Nigeria, a country with a population of around 175 million people.)
That is the kind of energy it takes to garrison the planet, a fruitless enterprise certain to backfire yet which the UK has apparently decided to embrace as it exercises imperial muscle once again in tandem with persistent US overreach.
When an evil persists for very long, people become habituated to it, and, over time, its presence becomes so deeply embedded in our subconscious that many lose sight of it until given a clear reminder. This is intended to be that reminder, one we must not lose sight of: War is the gravest of all moral concerns. It is akin to human slavery and is the ultimate sabotage and maximum barbarity. It is an evil in need of restraint, not a positive good that warrants fueling. Not at all.
Born and raised a Quaker, Nile Stanton is an instructor at the University of New England at its campus in Tangier, Morocco. He taught for twenty years at U.S. military bases in Spain, Italy, Bosnia, and (mostly) Greece, as well as online to troops in Europe and Asia. His signature course was on “Law, Morality, and War.”