US law officially proclaims Memorial Day "as a day of prayer for permanent peace."
However, the US is much closer to permanent war than permanent peace. Corporations are profiting from wars and lobbying politicians for more. The US, and the rest of the world, cannot afford the rising personal and financial costs of permanent war.
Number One in War
No doubt, the USA is number one in war. This coming year the US will spend 708 billion dollars on war and another $125 billion for Veterans Affairs -- over $830 billion. In a distant second place is China which spent about $84 billion on its military in 2008.
The US also leads the world in the sale of lethal weapons to others, selling about one of every three weapons worldwide. The USA's major clients? South Korea, Israel and United Arab Emirates.
Our country has 5 percent of the world's population but accounts for more than 40% of the military spending for the whole world.
Our nation does not respect our soldiers by engaging in permanent war. War is grinding up our children. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost over 5000 US lives and tens of thousands more lives of people in those countries. Over 20% of those in our military who served in these two wars, 320,000 people, have war-related traumatic brain injuries. Suicide rates are up by 26 percent among 18 to 29 year old male veterans in the latest Veterans Administration study. Mental health hospitalizations are now the leading cause of hospital admissions for the military, higher than injuries. On any given night, over 100,000 veterans are homeless and living on our nation's streets.
Rising Costs of War
Since 2001, the US has spent over $6 trillion (a trillion is a million millions) on war and preparations for war. That is about $20,000 for every woman, man and child in the US. Iraq and Afghanistan alone have cost the US taxpayer over a trillion dollars since 2001.
No End in Sight
Earlier this month, Marine General James Cartwright, the Vice-Chair of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Army Times that the US can expect continuing war "for as far as the eye can see."
In the name of this perpetual war against terrorism the US still jails hundreds without trial in Guantanamo, holds hundreds more in prisons on bases and in secret detention world-wide, tries to avoid constitutional trials for anyone accused of terrorism, admits it is trying to assassinate an American citizen Muslim cleric in Yemen, and launches deadly drone strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen killing civilians and suspects whenever we decide.
Who Benefits from Permanent War?
One support for permanent war is that there are corporations in the US which openly lobby for more and more money to be invested in war. Why? Because they profit enormously from government contracts.
President Dwight Eisenhower, who believed in a strong military, warned the US about just this in his farewell address to the nation in 1961.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
War is Big Business
War is very big business. People know that private companies are doing much more in war. In January 2010, the Congressional Research Service reported that there are at least 55,000 private armed security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe many more - as many as 70,000 in Afghanistan alone.
But much bigger money is available to defense contractors. In 2008 alone, the top ten defense contractors received nearly $150 billion in federal contracts. These corporations spent millions to lobby for billions more in federal funds and hired ex-military leaders and ex-officials to help them profit off war.
For example, look at the top three defense contractors, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. They demonstrate why perpetual war is profitable and part of the reason it continues.
Lockheed Martin is the largest military contractor in the world with 140,000 employees, taking in over $40 billion annually, over $35 billion of which comes from the US government. Lockheed Martin boasts that they have increased their dividend payments by more than 10 percent for the seventh consecutive year - perfectly in line with the increase in war spending by the US. Its chairman, Robert Stevens, received over $72 million in compensation over the past three years.
Lockheed's board of directors includes a former Under Secretary of Defense, a former US Air Force Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, a former Deputy Director of Homeland Security, and a former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. These board members receive over $200,000 a year in compensation. Its political action committee gave over a million dollars a year to federal candidates in 2009, and is consistently one of the top spending PACs in the US. They appeal to all members of Congress because they strategically have operations in all fifty states. And, since 1998, Lockheed has spent over $125 million to lobby Congress.
Northrop Grumman is a $33 billion company with 120,000 employees. In 2008, it received nearly $25 billion in federal contracts. Its chairman, Ronald Sugar, received over $54 million in compensation over the past three years.
Northrop's Board includes a former Admiral of the Navy, a former 20 year member of Congress, a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former commissioner of the Security and Exchange Commission and a former U.S. Naval officer. The members of its board of directors received over $200,000 each in 2009. Its Pac is listed as making over $700,000 in federal campaign donations in 2009. Since 1998, it has spent over $147 million lobbying Congress.
Boeing has 150,000 employees and took in over $23 billion in federal contracts in 2008. With revenues of $68 billion in 2009, its chair, James McNerney, was paid over $51 million over the past three years. Its board members are paid well over $200,000 a year. Boeing's directors include a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, a former White House chief of staff, a former vice chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a former U.S. Ambassador and U.S. Trade Representative. It hosts the 10th largest political action committee, giving away more than one million dollars to federal candidates in 2009. Since 1998, it has spent $125 million lobbying Congress.
Time to Terminate the Permanent War
These corporations take billions from the government and profit from our perpetual state of war. They recycle some of that money back into lobbying the same people who gave it to them, and hire ex-military and government officials to help smooth the process. Their leaders make tens of millions off this work.
The trillions of dollars that it costs to wage permanent war are taxing the US economy. Yet where are the voices in Congress, Democrat or Republican, that talk seriously of dramatically reducing our military spending? President Obama and the Democrats are effectively continuing the permanent war policies of the Bush years. It is past time for change.
Remember this Memorial Day that, while thousands have been laid in their graves and hundreds of thousands wounded, private military contractors are prospering and profiting as the business of war booms.
The US should not only remember its dead but work to reverse the profitable permanent war that promises to add more names to the dead and disabled in this country and around the world.
Bill Quigley is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Quigley77@gmail.com