“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
(Diego González / Unsplash)
[Editor’s note: This article was written with respect to the victims, victims’ loved ones, and the countless servicemen affected by the 9/11 tragedy. We mourn for the people who lost their lives that day and we advocate against violence nationally and around the world. We must never forget the tragedies that came before us. Do not desensitize yourself to senseless death, no matter the cause or the frequency.]
America’s obsession with violence is no secret to anyone with eyes and cable television.
Violent sports; Violent hobbies; Violent TV. Accompanied by a defense budget of approximately $712 billion this year, CTE is basically expected at this point, right?
This relentless spending toward a corrupt cause, however, is not new to America. Nor is the fear of its repercussions on democracy.
During the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr. said, America spent more money on the military than social programs, leading the country towards a spiritual death.
It was around in the ‘60s when President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term the military-industrial complex, as he referred to the crippling future of democracy.
Fast forward to 2020: no effort has been made to curb military growth. Instead, America has set a defining precedent of endless war, unjustified violence and a government that will do anything to garner false faith and admiration toward its troops.
So, where exactly is this money going?
The short answer: away from government functions or social programs that actually benefit the American people.
The long answer: Half of the budget goes to the 600,000+ private military contractors bought by the Pentagon. There are so many that even the Pentagon itself has failed to accurately keep track of the expenses. These companies depend almost entirely on government money, meaning salaries go directly from civilian tax dollars to CEO pockets, taking from social security in the process.
In 2017, ex-CEO of defense contractor General Electric, Jeff Immelt, was revealed to have had an extra private jet flown behind him when he ventured on overseas trips for the 16 years he occupied the role. (Because one private jet wasn’t enough.)
Why does the U.S. pour so much into military funding, especially when it seemingly goes nowhere?
We all know the United States gained its independence in 1776 — 244 years ago (or at least white men did). However, what we may not have processed (and who can blame us?) is that for 227 of these years, America has been at war. To spare you the calculations, this means that America has been involved in some form of war for 93% of its existence.
This isn’t just “more click-bait bullshit” as the WWII nerds like to call it in Internet comment sections.
Yes, Congress has only officially declared war five times. But the U.S. has been involved in centuries of undeclared war and authorized military engagement — the Vietnam War; Korean War; Philippine-American War; military campaigns launched in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and other Middle Eastern states under the War on Terror; violence against Native American tribes; and countless other acts of “war.”
All these statistics and examples culminate in a singular, terrifying truth: the modern military-industrial complex, coupled with American exceptionalism, has resulted in a dangerous editing of reality.
American involvement in the Vietnam War, for example, was one of the greatest and most enduring myths of American exceptionalism.
The story often told is that US troops were sent overseas in defense of democracy and freedom. Sounds great, right?
The initial motivation, however, was purely in supporting French colonialism in Vietnam — crushing a popular independence movement in an attempt to once again seize control under the guise of foreign aid.
President Ronald Reagan pushed aside the idea of the U.S. being an “imperialistic conquistador” and simply labeled its intervention as a “noble cause.”
Well, that “noble cause” ended an estimated 3.8 million Vietnamese lives and produced up to 14 million refugees. It became infamous for the 1968 Mai Lai massacre, where Americans killed over 500 innocent Vietnamese citizens in just four hours. (The Obama administration referred to this as just a mere “incident.”)
That “noble cause” obliterated Vietnam’s environment for decades by blanketing the nation in 20 million gallons of poisonous herbicides.
Playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter described our nation’s moral facade best:
“The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them,” he said. “You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
President Donald Trump’s administration has engaged in its fair share of national manipulation during his past four years in office, as well.
In 2019, a collection of articles regarding the war in Afghanistan were released, essentially revealing that current and past leadership were lying about having a clear and effective strategy in order to keep public morale high during the ongoing conflict.
And on April 12th, President Trump declared yet another victory on the nation’s most relevant conflict: the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been going a while time, but we win. We win.” Trump announced to his administration as he outlined plans to begin easing guidelines and reopening the nation.
Meanwhile, the US death toll had reached 150,000, and the daily death toll a record high of 129.
Looking back with a September perspective, it’s clearer than ever that the United States did not win the war on COVID-19, just as Vietnam was not a “noble cause” and the Afghanistan war was not a successful combat.
At least with COVID-19, failure is visible — we wear masks when we leave the house, restaurants and libraries are socially distanced, and many of us are connected in some way to someone who tested positive. America’s largest source of deception lies in overseas conflicts where reports are filtered through biased voices. Skewing the harsh, often gory reality is far easier than confessing to hundreds of years of murder.
So long as American officials stay bent on spreading the false narrative of American exceptionalism, the government will continue to funnel billions of dollars each year into the nation’s defense program; and as long as defense remains excessively well-budgeted, this tall tale of America as the “good guy” will continue to thrive. The importance in identifying the lies embedded within the military-industrial complex is holding America accountable for its long history of international violence.
Or, simply remember the catchphrase of cartoon strip possum Pogo:
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Veronica Nocera is a Staff Writer at Rowdy Magazine. Her simple pleasures include hoarding stationary, rewatching 90s rom coms, and romanticizing the lives of 20th century female authors. She's intensely passionate about the power of language, social justice, and the overlap between past and present. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info!