The United States developed its enormous military capacity during the twentieth century, a necessary component of its ascent to economic, financial, military, political and ideological domination of the world-system by the post-World War II era. Its ascent began during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, fueled by lucrative commercial relations with slaveholders in the Caribbean and the US South, facilitating the development of textile manufacturing and other industries in the northeastern section of the country. During the first half of the twentieth century, the United States turned its growing capital accumulation to investments in the auto and steel industries, the most profitable industries of the era, which further fueled US ascent. During World War II, it converted its industries into the service of war needs, thus establishing war industries, a war economy, and the military-industrial complex.
The United States emerged from World War II with unchallenged dominance. Its territory had not been affected by the war, and thus it did not experience violent destruction of its industrial infrastructure, as occurred with Germany and Japan. British industry was still relatively intact, but it had been surpassed by the US ascent. The Soviet Union had successfully converted its industries to a war economy during the war, utilizing highly effective state planning. But the Soviet Union, in spite of an impressive industrial growth after 1917, was still significantly less advanced than the United States. The growing strength of the Soviet Union was not really a threat to the United States, because the Soviet Union sought peaceful co-existence with the United States, in which the Soviet area of influence close to its borders in Eastern Europe and Asia would be secure, leaving to the United States vast areas of Latin America, Africa, and South East Asia for neocolonial exploitation.
The real threat to the United States was from the Third World revolutions, which challenged the basic structures of the neocolonial world-system. In response to this global challenge from below, the United States maintained and developed its war industries, using Cold War and anti-communist ideology to justify this turn to a permanent war economy, disdaining a post-war reconversion of its industry to peaceful purposes, as had been envisioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. With its enormous military capacity, the United States became the global policeman, claiming to act against “communism” and in defense of “democracy,” when in reality it was defending its neocolonial interests. Thus the military-industrial complex became solidified as an integral and necessary part of the US economy, a fact noted with concern by President and formerly General Dwight Eisenhower by the time of his retirement in 1960.
The United States began to decline in the 1960s and 1970s, and it no longer is a dominant economic and financial power. However, it continues to be the dominant military power of the planet. Its military expenses are approximately equal to those of the rest of the nations of the world combined. This high level of military expenditures contributes to the further erosion of its productive and financial capacities.
As a weakened economic and financial power, but a dominant military and ideological power, the United States can be expected to continue to pursue its interests through military means, inventing any pretext as justification. The unsubstantiated claim that the government of Syria has used chemical weapons against its own people is far from the first such pretext. The US dependence on military action to attain economic, financial and political objectives places all of humanity at risk.
The problem can be resolved only by the people of the United States, who must come to consciousness of the fact that US foreign policy is designed to promote the interests of US corporations and finance capital and to maintain the United States as a neocolonial global power, and not to promote democratic values and protect democratic structures. In protecting the short-term interests of US corporations and banks, US policy undermines the economic, social, and physical security of the popular classes and sectors in the United States. So the people must develop alternative political structures that can bring into power alternative political leaders who would be committed to protecting the interests and needs of the majority. This is a difficult task, but not impossible, because many conditions favor such a political transformation. And however difficult the task may be, it is our duty in the present historic moment. These are themes that we will be discussing in future posts.
I write these words on August 28, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King was a powerful, articulate, and eloquent critic of the moral evils of racism, poverty and war, and as such was a prophetic opponent of the military-industrial complex.