War and Morality

By John Tateishi
Published September 4, 2009

The play (later made into a movie) "All My Sons," written by Arthur Miller, is about morality and social responsibility. It's about a father and his partner who ship faulty airplane cylinder heads to the Army Air Force, resulting in the deaths of American pilots. His own son, a pilot in the Pacific, commits suicide by intentionally crashing his plane when he learns that many of his colleagues have died because of what his father has done. The father later kills himself when he's found out by his family.

It's a morality play and a Greek tragedy, one that is not unlike something that might have been written by Euripides. In the end, the truth comes out and the tragedy of corruption and greed overwhelms the drama.

Dwight Eisenhower, former president and the great Army general who commanded the joint allied forces in Europe during World War II, warned of the military industrial complex in his departing speech as president. That term, "the military industrial complex," was coined by Ike and became a reality against which he warned as a danger to American democracy.

Ike's warning came 15 years after WWII. It was a war that helped bring the U.S. out of the Great Depression and turned it into the wealthiest nation in the world with its war machinery and booming war industry.

It was that industry which Eisenhower feared. As the real war ended and the Cold War began, Eisenhower understood how the real and imagined threats of a distant enemy could seep into every aspect of American life. Ironic for someone whose whole life was about war, but he understood that once the defense industry took control, they would determine much of what this country would become. Today it's clear how warranted his warnings were.

There was a time in this nation when war profiteering was illegal. There was a time in America when we were morally outraged that anyone would profit from wars, so much so that it was a serious crime if proven. Companies were actually shut down and people — executives and CEOs — were sent to prison for profiteering. 

Patriotism had an entirely different meaning then. It meant supporting the country against evil, fighting for moral causes and being willing to sacrifice one's life and well-being for the sake of  what America stood for.

But that was a different time and our sense of what it means today is different, if not perverted. During the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the subsequent ill-conceived and protracted war, patriotism became defined by the right wing and Republicans and the logic of George Bush, "You're either with us or against us." It must be wonderful when logic can be so simplistic and stupid.

And one continues to read about Halliburton and Blackwater and Kellogg, Brown and Root as well as others and their involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq in either building things or destroying them and the billions each has made in the process. But they can't be faulted for doing what they do best: profiting from the war. The lack of accountability is bothersome, especially when they can't account for billions.

Blackwater? They're different from the others because that operation is made up of mercenaries — their role is to protect and kill and they do it outside the chain of command and outside the rules of war.

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