America’s Faustian Deal with the Devil of War

The United States made a deal long time ago that has sealed our nation’s fate today.

German folklore tells a story of a man named Faust, who, bored with his life as a scholar and seeking unlimited knowledge, power and pleasure, makes a deal with the devil to attain all of these things.

In return, however, Faust agrees to give the devil his soul at the end of 24 years.

This is where the term “a Faustian bargain” comes from – and it refers to someone willing to sacrifice their moral integrity just to attain power and pleasure for a limited time.

Today, the United States is the most powerful and wealthiest nation on the planet.

No other nation even comes close in terms of military power. The United States spends more on so-called “defense” than the next 17 top military nations combined. And when it comes to our supposed biggest threat in the future, the Chinese, we spend six times more on our military than they do.

And in terms of wealth, the United States GDP in 2010 was $14.5 trillion – nearly three times the GDP of China, the second wealthiest nation on the planet.

Unfortunately, just like Faust, all of this power and wealth did not come honestly. It came as a result of a bargain – a bargain with the Devil of War.

Out of the chaos of World War II, it was the United States that triumphed and embarked on empire building for the remainder of the 21st century. Despite seeing the dangers of hyper-militarism in Japan and Germany, the United States would go on to make the very same mistakes, relying on never-ending war to expand its influence, wealth and power around the planet.

It was none other than the Father of the Constitution himself, James Madison, who warned early in the infancy of this nation that, “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

But, as soon as World War II – the supposed war to end all wars – ended, the United States got involved in the never-ending warfare game.

The drop-off in military spending after Japan’s surrender was immediately replaced by Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, who both triggered a massive expansion of war spending. That included overt war spending in Korea, and covert war spending all around the world to destabilize governments and contain what was then called “Soviet aggression.”

To ensure that global capitalism reigned supreme to enrich the oligarch class of bankers, corporate executives and oil barons, our military intervened all around the world throughout the 1950s – meddling in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia and Cuba.

President Eisenhower knew the consequences of the Faustian Bargain with the Devil of War. “Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron,” he said in 1953.

In that same “Cross of Iron” speech, Eisenhower explained how increased war spending eats away at a nation from within. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” Eisenhower said.

He went down the list, “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

This was during a time when our nation was spending roughly $50 billion a year on defense. Now we spend upwards of $900 billion or a trillion.

Despite his own warnings, Eisenhower did little to renegotiate the terms of this morally repugnant deal. And by the start of the 1960s, he knew something had gone terribly wrong.

In his 1961 farewell address, Eisenhower warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.” He noted, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

But our lawmakers didn’t listen to Eisenhower. The Vietnam War, plus more covert wars in South America, Asia and the Middle East to ensure that global capitalists in the United States had favorable regimes to do business with around the world, would ramp up our military budget through the 1960s and 1970s – taking the Pentagon’s annual spending to nearly $200 billion.

During the 1980s, spending on war would grow exponentially with more covert operations across the globe, and high-tech missile defense boondoggles like “Star Wars.” During his two terms in the White House, Reagan would increase annual military spending from less than $200 billion to nearly $350 billion. At the same time, Reagan slashed taxes and cut spending to social programs.

Although the Soviet Union fell and defense spending leveled off in the 1990s, the perpetual war machine continued to grind on. There was Desert Storm in Iraq, military intervention in Kosovo, airstrikes in Sudan, and another bombing raid on Iraq to close out the decade.

And then George W. Bush moved into the White House; 9/11 happened, and military spending went through the roof. Two new wars were started, and a brand new covert drone warfare program was unleashed across the planet. Our defense budget tripled under Bush and then Obama. We now spend between $700 billion and a trillion dollars every year to maintain this deal with the Devil of War.

On every corner of the planet, we have between 700 and 1,000 military bases of all sizes and purposes. They include massive installments like Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and small, secret facilities in Africa used primarily to launch drones.

And almost every single dollar that you and I and everyone else in this country pay in income taxes goes to supporting this massive military empire. Our defense and war spending eats up 94 percent of all federal income tax revenue.

And in return, the Billionaire Class has profited immensely with oil and shipping lanes wide open, and favorable business deals in foreign markets. But within, the United States is rotting. This Faustian deal is sun-setting.

We learned last week that the American economy contracted by .1 percent in the fourth quarter despite the fact that overall consumption in the economy grew by 2.2 percent. The reason why the economy shrank was because the war budget shrank by 22 percent that month.

In other words, when missiles, tanks and warplanes aren’t being manufactured, our economy runs into trouble.

As President Obama said in his Super Bowl interview with CBS on Sunday, “The economy shrank a little bit despite the fact that housing is recovering, manufacturing is going strong, car sales are up … the big problem was defense spending was cut 22 percent.”

With so much of our economy dependent on perpetual war, we officially have a war economy, which means we must continue this endless war or suffer further economic ruin beyond what we’re already experiencing with rampant joblessness, declining wages and spiraling budget deficits on a local, state and federal level.

But drive around the Washington, DC suburbs in Virginia and you’ll see enormous palaces built in gated communities where the war profiteers reside. In 2002, the five largest war profiteering corporations saw $2.4 billion in profits. But by 2011, their profits had grown 45 percent to $13.4 billion. They’ve been the real winners in this Faustian Bargain.

And it’s difficult to rectify this wealth across the Potomac with the desperation across America. For the hundreds of billions we spend every year on them and their wars, we could be sending an entire generation to college for free. We could bring financial security to the 50 million Americans living in poverty by giving them a living wage. And we could establish a single-payer health care system to finally put an end to the carnage of 40,000 Americans who die every year in America because they don’t have health insurance – far more than any threat presented by a terrorist or a communist.

As economic hardship for the vast majority of us intensifies, then this deal with the United States made with the Devil of War creeps closer to its due date. We’ve acquired our enormous wealth and power for the few, but the day when we must hand over our national soul is quickly approaching.

Do we really want to be a devilish empire that brings carnage to the rest of the world while our own population at home suffers? We know how that story ends – it ends in collapse. It always has throughout history.

That’s why we must renege on this deal. We must take on the military industrial complex and re-think empire. It will be painful, fraught with danger and likely accompanied by economic pain, but it’s the only way to save our national soul.