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“Wars are always fought over what’s under the soil. It’s not power, prestige, or patriotism, but Big Businesses’ push and profit from what’s extracted—so long as the sponsoring nation’s leaders get a cut from the profits.”
In other words, wars might be staged by governments and their armies, but it’s a certainty that behind the scenes its leaders were secretly goaded into it by merchants, bankers, and investors pursuing raw resources to be used for production earnings. Not to mention a conquering power’s continuous fortunes from colonization, taxation, and trade.
That was the message drummed into us graduate students by an eminent professor of history and military operations at the University of Minnesota. He was right.
For instance, Christopher Columbus’ first journey for spices after Arabs blocked the Silk Road to Asia. Contrary to myth, Spain’s Queen Isabella did not pawn her jewels to underwrite his westward voyage to exploit Asia. She and husband Ferdinand took out long-term loans with principal and interest covered by wringing taxes out of their subjects. So successful was he in returning with gold, spices, and slaves that in the second of four expeditions to the New World, he now had 17 ships containing 200 investors and a “small troop of cavalry .” Then as now, the royals undoubtedly squelched the taxed complaints by claiming revenues spent on armed forces protected the “national interests” from enemies “foreign or domestic .”
Today, too many now know our government has been threatening war with Iran and invasion of Venezuela to seize and exploit their oil. They are the No. 1 and No. 4 countries possessing the world’s greatest reserves, respectively—Venezuela with 302,809 billion barrels and Iran, 155,600 billion barrels. Will Americans really be fooled about whythe remaining 500 troops in Syria just received hundreds more to guard the oil fields from ISIS and the Syrian government? Or will they recognize that U.S. oil interests are patiently waiting for the government to fall so they can bid on drilling contracts for its 2,500 millions of barrels of reserves.
History is full of other examples of major “business-interests” wars:
- Spain extracting gold in Central and South America from the exploits of Columbus and the conquistadors in the 15th century.
- Britain extorting spices, jewels, and textiles from India after the 16thcentury and after the 17th century from the American colonies : sugar, tobacco, cotton, indigo, iron ore, furs, timber, and fish.
- The Dutch history in exploiting Indonesia, beginning in the early 17thcentury, involving seizure of pepper and other spices, camphor, tin, gold, and silk-worm textiles.
- The French seizing, colonizing Vietnam in the mid-19thcentury for its rubber, opium, rice, coal, and coconut/peanut oils.
- Three wars between France and Germany(1870, 1914, 1939) chiefly over the coal and iron ore in the Saar and Alsace-Lorraine regions.
- The U.S. wars in the 20th/21stcenturies to seize and control oil deposits/refineries in Iraq, Syria, Libya, protecting Saudi Arabia’s oil resources from Yemen. Preserving rubber plantations in Vietnam , as well as occupying southern Afghanistan for a long-planned Caspian-to-Indian Ocean oil and gas pipeline.
The overused, abused and underpaid armed forces usually know who is literally “calling the shots.” Ordered to wink at the extensive cotton-bale smuggling from Southern plantations to Northern factories during the Civil War, troops on both sides soon began muttering that famous line : “It’s a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” In the Vietnam War, both sides were ordered to keep their distance from Michelin Tire’s rubber plantations. Damage by U.S. troops was reimbursed by U.S. taxpayers.
In fact, we taxpayers have been funding all of our wars principally on behalf of business interests, since 1786 when merchants’ ships encountered bribe-demanding Barbary pirates working the Gibraltar entrance to Mediterranean markets. Not only did they hijack cargoes, but ransomed ships and crews. Thomas Jefferson , then our ambassador to France, wrote to Virginia neighbor James Monroe in 1784 about enraged American businessmen protesting paying the Portuguese government for its protective convoys:
“…this will require a protecting force on the sea. Otherwise the smallest powers in Europe, every one which possesses a single ship of the line may dictate to us, and enforce their demands by captures on our commerce. Some naval force then is necessary if we mean to be commercial.”
Evidently, Jefferson began lobbying Congress for the next two years for a navy to protect businesses because his fellow ambassador to Britain John Adams , strongly advised him that American taxpayers would never stand for their money being used to protect merchants’ profits, not counting the military casualties. That if overland commercial operations hired gunmen to ward off highwaymen or Indian attacks, those doing overseas business should build their own convoys. Those shippers should just get over it because “…Congress will never, or at least not for years, take any such Resolution….”
Because few taxpayers evidently complained, nor were debates hot in Congress, precedent was set from that day up to this year’s $741 billion appropriation for the Pentagon. Journalists like me who’ve worked in the Middle East have good reason to believe a good share of taxpayer trillions over the decades have been used to fund protection by U.S. troops and USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) so that American businesses can still profit from exploiting undeveloped nations’ raw resources.
Will this policy ever stop? Skeptics such as WSWS editor Niles Niemuth sees little change in this arrangement from a Biden presidency:
“Everything the administration does will be within the framework of 1) what is acceptable to the financial oligarchy and Wall Street, and 2) the requirements of the global geostrategic interests of American imperialism.”
Now most taxpayers and voters accept that the Pentagon is needed to defend this country’s territory from physical attacks by external forces. But not to continue nearly 300 years of protecting corporate profits on our tax dollars. Currently, it’s costing us half of the nation’s discretionary spending. Too, if security companies are paid to guard the home offices of these multinational corporations, the use of our armed forces to protect their foreign exploitations should be repaid. If Isabella and Ferdinand got a generous cut of Columbus’ profits, shouldn’t the Treasury get the same from them, especially in these terrible economic times?
But what if Americans finally exploded about our blood and treasure given cost-free to protect those “business interests”? What if public protests from coast to coast were powerful enough to terrify both Congress and President into following at least one of four suggestions to obtain reimbursement and a sizable cut of the profits by way of lower taxes? Charging “business interests” for starting wars over the spoils under the soil might even end those endless wars.
First, what if the IRS billed businesses for Pentagon protective services and enforced immediate collection as it knows only how well to do? The results could be replacement of billions in tax revenue. Reimbursements could be earmarked for today’s critical domestic needs in unemployment, heathcare, housing, food supplies, education, infrastructure—plus recovery caused by climate-change natural disasters. The Pentagon’s appropriations would not be impacted, nor would contractual sums paid to vendors of war materials.
For decades, corporate behemoths have escaped federal taxes by loophole labyrinths they forced Congress and presidents to create. Thousands have deposited profits at Swiss banks or in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Mauritius, Lichtenstein, and HongKong. To match costs of the U.S. army’s lowest-paid soldier (E-1: $1,785 pm )—equipage and benefits—for a security force of, say, 100, a business would have to withdraw at least $2,142,000 annually for this ghostly payroll from its sheltered profits.
True, in theory a corporation could write off that sum as a business expense, and perhaps get a tax refund, but that would set up horrendous headaches with the IRS because payroll withholdings must be reported every pay period. It must contain names, Social Security numbers, and salary withholdings for the various agency revenues (federal/state, Social Security/Medicare). The IRS also demands quarterly and annual reports about those withholdings. Because the corporation doesn’t have access to names and Social Security numbers of armed-forces members, this escape hatch would be closed. Even if it had the data, the IRS would go after those service members for failure to disclose the extra income corporations were claiming.
Second, what if the Pentagon were mandated to reveal to Congressional appropriation committees the previous year’s expenditures for protecting each business client? And what if those committees voted to deduct them from the next year’s allocation? Clearly, it would be a route to halt taxpayer dollars being spent to ensure free businesses exploitation and billions in profits. And perhaps stop endless wars, as well as significant cuts to bloat and boondoggles to producing the essentials for protecting our shores. For vendors supplying war materiél, orders would be drastically cut to those essentials. However, foreign customers abound today, some even willing to order dozens of Lockheed Martin’s troubled F-35 stealth fighter (at $79.17 million apiece ).
Third, what if Big Business were stripped by significant public pressure on Congress and president from using Pentagon protection for overseas enterprises? The result would be bringing tens of thousands home and, rather than overwhelming military bases, deploying them into public works projects like the Great Depression’s WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). The Green New Deal will mean thousands of jobs as will construction of low-cost housing for millions. They could also fill slots in short-handed local, state, and federal agencies. It would cost taxpayers nothing because the Pentagon already pays their expenses.
Those resigning rather than give up war training and experience could always apply at security companies or to dozens of private armies. Erik Prince’s Academi pays $105,000 annually for security specialists. The French Foreign Legion still exists with units currently serving in Mali and paying $990 per month. In addition, European Union members such as Germany are restarting armed services and accepting foreign recruits. A private’s starting salary is a monthly $1,573 .
Fourth, what if USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) were forced to end its 60-year-old role as a handmaiden to business exploiters abroad protected by Pentagon forces? Its staff also tracks marketing and military movements of rivals, principally China. Because the Pentagon lodges its “peacekeeping” services of the OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations) under USAID’s umbrella, it explains why the U.S. has those 800-1,000 bases and “pads” in at least 70 foreign countries. The other reason OCO is part of the agency’s allocation (FY 2021: $1.68 billion ) is that’s where the Pentagon hides excessive expenses (FY2021: $8 billion ).
The rest of USAID’s mission involves providing showy, but minimal, altruism in underdeveloped countries. The idea is to maintain the appearance of the American Global Good Samaritan in several areas: healthcare, disaster relief, food supplies, business and agricultural development and teaching democratic political processes. But because the agency is part of the State Department, USAID’s actions have always reflected its foreign policies for “critical diplomatic, development, and humanitarian programs.”
Consider, too, that all foreign aid programs have always been subjected to attacks by isolationists, Congressional “budget hawks,” and presidents looking for savings. (Trump once advocated a 30 percent cut affecting 27 countries.) But Congress has overruled even the most powerful opponents seemingly on behalf of Corporate America, armed with political donations and lobbyists. And so once again, the House appropriations committee voted to spend $65.9 billion of our taxes for FY2021, on foreign aid.
In this pandemic era, Americans can no longer support such trillion-dollar thievery of public monies for the benefit of businesses. These are hard times on the domestic front, far worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s when we were not at war only because the business world had collapsed. Today, we are facing a staggering economic and health emergency. We have 26.8 million largely jobless, 40 million to be evicted or foreclosed on, 54 million are projected to starve, 31 million are without healthcare, 26 million have been infected with COVID and are rapidly nearing 500,000 deaths.
Congress and the president must stop subsidizing Big Business’ exploitive efforts and profits with our tax dollars.
And threatening wars to protect their greed. They may well stop when Big Business has to pick up the tabs for most or all of the Pentagon’s wars spent on their behalf. It would free up those billion-dollar subsidies to address our increasing domestic Armageddon. Charity does begin at home, not for business thieves.
Barbara. G. Ellis, Ph.D., is the principal of a Portland (OR) writing/pr firm. A veteran professional writer and editor (LIFE magazine, Beirut Daily Star, Mideast Magazine), Ellis also has been a journalism professor (Oregon State University/Louisiana’s McNeese State University). A nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in history for the great Civil War run of The Memphis Daily Appeal (The Moving Appeal), today, it’s contributions to progressive websites and political and environmental activism.