On Veterans Day, Remembering the War Profiteers of WWI

Reposted from teleSUR, a website I wrote this for in 2015.

World War I is one of those wars that even those who fought it had trouble explaining. The 4-year-long war left over 17 million people from at least 20 different countries dead. Was it fought for democracy and self-determination? That’s what U.S. President Woodrow Wilson claimed, but then he also invaded and occupied an independent Haiti, instituting forced labor in the only country borne out of a successful slave revolt.

In reality, the war that raged from July 28, 1914, to November 11, 1918, was fought largely because every major power in Europe (and a couple years in, North America) thought it could use the trigger of an archduke’s assassination to expand their power and influence. Most powers ended up weaker than before, while those that achieved gains — France occupied the Rhineland, Germany’s prime industrial area, for several years — found them costly and rather infamously short lived.

During the 1920s and even until the mid-1930s, the question “What was that all about?” continued to dominate discussions of war and peace. The failure to find a good answer contributed to the preference for isolationism in the United States and Western Europe that prevailed among the general public until Adolf Hitler showed that his idea of diplomacy was to encourage the rest of the world to rubber-stamp his aggression until it was their turn to be annexed.

Hitler’s rise may have been enabled by appeasement, but it’s not right to say it was the product of peace. In 1934, the U.S. magazine Fortune, a periodical whose name suggests its audience, published the sort of muckraking expose one would be hard-pressed to find in today’s business press. Naming names, it called out what would later be termed the “military-industrial complex” — a U.S. Senate committee at the time went with the more colorful “merchants of death” — for profiting off the misery of World War I and following up by arming all the sides that would go on to fight the sequel.

“According to the best accountancy figures, it cost about $25,000 to kill a soldier during the World War,” the article began. “There is one class of Big Business Men in Europe that never rose up to denounce the extravagance of its governments in this regard — to point out that when death is left unhampered as an enterprise for the individual initiative of gangsters the cost of a single killing seldom exceeds $100. The reason for the silence of these Big Business Men is quite simple: the killing is their business.”

And what a business it was. As the article noted, the U.S.-based Bethlehem Steel “not only makes armor-piercing’ projectiles, but ‘non-pierceable’ armor plate — which must sometimes cause slight confusion on the proving ground when anyone attempts to demonstrate the virtues of both at the same time.”

Companies also sold to both sides, before, during and after World War I. As The Washington Post reported, when U.S. soldiers “invaded Europe in June 1944, they did so in jeeps, trucks and tanks manufactured by the Big Three motor companies in one of the largest crash militarization programs ever undertaken. It came as an unpleasant surprise to discover that the enemy was also driving trucks manufactured by Ford and Opel — a 100 percent GM-owned subsidiary — and flying Opel-built warplanes.”

As Fortune noted in its 1934 expose, while political leaders may have expressed mutual fears and condemnations of each other, “the lion and the lamb never lie down together with more good fellowship than these French, German, Czech, and Polish gentleman when they come together to discuss, as fellow directors, the problems of increasing Europe’s consumption of armaments.” Indeed, “The armorers,” said Fortune, “are the true internationalists. Regardless of their nationalities, they work in concert at the two axioms of their grade — prolong wars, disturb peace.”

Indeed, capital may have no gods nor moral compass, but it does have respect for its larger clients, wherever they may be. Noted The Post:  “When the U.S. Army liberated the Ford plants in Cologne and Berlin, they found destitute foreign workers confined behind barbed wire and company documents extolling the ‘genius of the Fuehrer,’ according to reports filed by soldiers at the scene.”

Its safe to bet that Ford executives wished a GM plane had dropped bombs on those love letters.

Profit though they may have from armed conflict and the preparation for it, it’s not as if there is some small cabal of arms dealers that plans each war.

“There is no perfectly homologous group of single-purposed individuals that sits down before a polished table in a soundproof room and plots new holocausts in Europe,” wrote Fortune.

In fact, there’s plenty of money to be made by arming nations during times of peace — it’s that arms race, though, that enables and encourages arms manufacturers, making war all the more likely, be it in 1914, 1939, 2003 or today in 2015.

“What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once asked her future successor and accessory to the Iraq war, Colin Powell. Having the means to do something makes it awfully tempting to do it, as most critics of concentrating power in the hands of a few have argued for a millennia or more. And even if one would rather not start a war, having the means of mutually assured destruction at one’s hands makes a small quarrel all the more likely to set off a big mistake.

It’s certainly not the case that such concentrated power — including the power to effortlessly destroy millions of lives with a 200-word memo or, these days, the push of a button thousands of miles away from the point of an unmanned drone’s impact — makes anyone any safer in the long run.

As of 1934, France was seen as “the greatest military power of modern times,” noted Fortune, “with an army which all but equals in numbers and far surpasses in equipment Germany’s vast militaristic machine of 1914.”

A lot of good that did.

Fortune wasn’t the only unusual source of anti-imperialism after World War I. General Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history at the time of his death, fought on behalf of U.S. imperialism from Honduras to Nicaragua and Haiti to France. In 1935, five years after he retired, he looked back on what he did with disgust.

“War is a racket. It always has been,” he wrote, looking back on his years of service. “It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious,” with profits “reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”

Butler was speaking of all the wars he had been asked to fight, but it was the global one that set him off.

“When our boys were sent off to war they were told it was a ‘war to make the world safe for democracy’ and a ‘war to end all wars,’ ” said Butler, referencing Woodrow Wilson’s grand justifications. “Well, eighteen years after, the world has less of democracy than it had then.”

Whether by accident or, as Butler suspected, intent, the war did make many a man richer.

“At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War.” he wrote. “That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.”

It’s these people, the general argued, that should be first in line at the next draft.

“Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted,” he said.

No one took him up on the offer. Four years later, there would be a second World War. One that would make the first almost seem civilized. On November 11, “Remembrance Day” as it is known in the countries that fought the first war to end all wars, we would do well to remember that while race and religion have played a part in inflaming tensions, the cause of most wars can still be traced to dollars and cents — nations and their corporate offspring fighting for power and resources. Perhaps it’s time for a return to the draft, in the U.S. and elsewhere, but one limited to the 1 percent for whom war is an abstraction, not a cause of misery and death.

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The truth isn’t useful

The important thing about truth is the underlying sentiment, which is its only utility. If any given truth gets in the way of a grander one, it may, in keeping with best praxis, be overlooked, contested or outright denied.

Take the April 2017 chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria. “I suppose the sarin attacks could be real,” wrote Paste Magazine’s Shane Ryan of the attacks, the guilt of the Syrian regime since confirmed by the United Nations, but it wouldn’t be useful, in terms of agitating against U.S. President Donald Trump’s airstrike on empty airbase that was launched in response.

So the article never delved into what we actually knew, based on eyewitness testimony and samples tested by chemical weapons experts, but rather speculated on what made “sense.” Testimony and expertise aside, what made sense, at that time, to that writer, was raising the prospect of a “false flag” by rebels hoping, after their 420th allegedly staged production, that “the U.S. would intervene on their behalf.”

When the UN debunked this narrative, squarely placing blame on the regime, the writer for Paste proclaimed innocence: they had, after all, been seeking to stop a drive to war, so even if they were wrong, empirically, one had to admire their motivation, which was superior (these answers were later deleted, because really who cares). Those who were right, by contrast those who believed the MSM accounts that set us on a path to regime change: isn’t that suspect?

One has to wonder why.

The author, accordingly, declined to alert their fans to the existence of the new information undermining what was and is the objectively more admirable posture: not believing the government or the mainstream media.

Similarly, the Democrats would agree to basically neuter their own opposition to Republicans’ health care in exchange for some more sanctions against big bad scary Russia; we know this because the bumbling Democrats lost 1,000 seats and always prefer foreign wars to fighting for the working class. Hillary Clinton would argue against breaking up the banks by saying it won’t end racism; we know this because neoliberals exploit identity for capitalism. And she’d regime-change Bashar al-Assad for Israel, because, let’s be real: wouldn’t she?

These are things we know to be true, in general, so again we must ask of the pedants who were right with respect to these specific claims, which were wrong: Do you want to be the kind of person who wouldn’t believe the bad thing?

One, again, has to wonder why.

But serial dishonesty (or chronic intellectual sloth) takes its toll. If yours is the political faction that claims to have the most right answers on all of the issues facing humanity in 2017, that claim will be challenged by those who observe a certain infidelity in the matter of facts. That case against war, which hinges on a dictator who’s killed tens of thousands not being as blithely ruthless as claimed by his victims, will be discarded by those one wishes to persuade is that what we’re doing?  when it’s shown to hinge on a fundamental error.

Little white lies don’t serve grand ends when the means are perceived as an expression of one’s true politics. When delivered with smug flare, they do keep those who aren’t alienated in high spirits, however, and the clicks on news that is fake, left media criticism teaches us, always exceed clicks on the (enemy) analysis that corrects. That ensures a steady stream of digital red meat, misleading content and algorithmic takes garnering more donations to the Patreon in the bio and so on and so forth until we all log off for the very last time.

Many will think these creators of content are sloppy or cynical, but the thing is: they won’t be subscribers. The future is socialism in one social media cluster, sending notifications to your cellphone  forever, bitch.

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Trump’s new war plan is an awful lot like the old one


The Trump administration has a new plan for the war in Syria, Spencer Ackerman reports for The Daily Beast, and it’s the same as the old one: bomb the hell out of the Islamic State and other extremists while not just leaving the greatest purveyor of violence there alone, but treating it as a de facto partner.

This is, for those following along, broadly the same plan that the previous U.S. administration pursued. Despite the Assad regime crossing President Barack Obama’s self-imposed “red line” in 2013, it wasn’t until a year later that the U.S. bombs began falling on the Islamic State and other extremists. The hereditary dictator and his forces were spared, and not for a lack of humanitarian justification, but because U.S. foreign policy elites had long before decided that a change in regime posed the greatest threat to perceived U.S. interests.

Leftists who embraced realists’ perverted version of anti-imperialism — support for dictators in the name of stability, not just when threatened by Western invasions but in the face of popular uprisings overlooked this thematically inconvenient war on terror and the new president’s repeated desire to escalate it. As late as last fall left-liberal pundits were continuing to gravely warn of a coming war, portraying better informed critics of the regime-change storyline as the warmongers even as they ignored the thousands of U.S. airstrikes those purported warmongers decried. The latter’s crime was decrying Syrian and Russian airstrikes, too, which is well established as the road to World War III.

This was all very strange because, even before Trump, the Obama administration was desperately seeking an arrangement with Russia in Syria whereby both imperial powers would not just bomb the same country, but do it together, as allies, a plan welcomed by the Syrian regime. That put some in an awkward place for they had already agreed that Damascus had a right to accept such military assistance, the product not of principled anti-imperialist thinking, obviously, but of a degenerated segment of the left seeking to rationalize extensive Russian and Iranian intervention.

Trump and his new, old plan expose the pitfalls of left-wing rationalizations for imperialism that rely on a reactionary argument that a state, no matter how undemocratic, has the right to kill whom it chooses within its imperialist-drawn borders. The plan is: handing off never-ending peace talks to Russia while jointly administering “safe zones” in Syria that would be safe primarily, in theory, because both would agree not to bomb them. Though The Daily Beast implies this is new clarity in the wake of a confused Syria policy from the administration, it’s really not if one considers Trump’s airstrike on an empty airbase to have been the product of his lust for one-upping Obama; this far into the U.S. regime’s tenure, one can’t deny the power of ego, within the limits imposed by the generals to whom war-making power has largely been ceded.

A senior official speaking to The Daily Beast argued as much, saying the new-old plan reflected continuity and would simply build off existing U.S.-Russia cooperation, the logical progression of the war on terror that expanded to Syria under Obama, who himself ended his term in office seeking such an arrangement. The lethal potential of imperialist collusion, unleashed, is one thing critics of what’s come to be known as This Russia Stuff have missed: that Louise Mensch starting World War III between these two major powers has always been dramatically less likely than those two powers agreeing to collude, for the sake of peace, in a war on those who have neither nuclear weapons nor an air force.

As for the regime, as long as it’s willing to support the U.S.-Russia war on terror then the Trump administration echoing non-interventionists like Henry Kissinger — is willing to let past and sometimes present rhetoric remain just that. “Of course that’s our policy,” a White House official told The Daily Beast. “I don’t see how you could follow what we’ve done and not come away with [that] conclusion.”

Perhaps it’s time those who concluded otherwise to consider that they concluded wrong. Point-scoring and owns are all good and zesty fun yes, I told you so, but it’s no big deal the aim of intra-left criticism is achieving better left-wing politics. A dumb liberal may believe that Putin and Trump are lovers, but what ought matter to a leftist is that they are reactionaries working in concert to impose an imperialist peace through war on Syria. If we can agree that all right-wing authoritarians should keep their hands off the Middle East, there’s no reason leftists can’t join hand in hand at the antiwar march from the Russian embassy to the White House.

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Protesting Deportations and Trump and Downtown LA

The Sunday afternoon rally against Trump in downtown LA was a safe and orderly affair, well organized and maintained by groups broadly defined as the city’s center-left: the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, various SEIU chapters, a UNITE HERE local, and the teachers’ union. There were speakers, who spoke of not letting the next president roll back the gains California’s millions of immigrants have made over the years, and there was a march.


The angriest person the whole day was a man, the picture of bourgeois decadence, shouting at about two thousand people, their offense: blocking his exit from the parking garage, his wife watching from the front passenger seat as he explained this, mortified.

“No, no, no. Get the fuck back in the car,” this dweeb yelled at his teen, who’d gotten out of the backseat with a face full of mirth, gripping a cell phone in landscape, and possessing an admirably bold intention of filming his father’s this could go viral outburst.

The march itself was led by the usual libs banal if unobjectionable appeals to stopping the hate and standing together, mixed with the eye-rollingly problematic, like stating cops becoming arms of immigration enforcement would go against their benevolent nature but having been abroad the last year and change I appreciated it for what it was, which was ultimately a protest that could have been a multi-cultural street fair, which is cool, for now. There was even fresh-squeezed orange juice and bacon-wrapped hotdogs.


The profound, world-in-a-county diversity that makes LA what it is (and it isn’t Hollywood) was on display and that was fun if not revolutionary: Filipino and Korean and Mexican immigrant groups marching with their banners, some with drums and others without drums. I stayed about an hour.


It’s nice to be back in Los Angeles, and it was pleasant and nice watching the polite center-left do its permitted thing. There will be much more interesting resistance to Donald Trump’s administration when he takes power next year, and the radical end of the U.S. left’s diversity of tactics will be on full view in the country’s second largest city, where speaking Spanish at home is many times more common than having voted for the guy who promised to deport the city’s working class.

Flickr gallery of all my photos from yesterday’s march.


kr gallery

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Donald Trump’s Militarism in 400 Words


President-elect Donald J. Trump was often vague on the campaign trail, but he was clear about this: as commander-in-chief he would get back to the basics of the War on Terror, foregoing liberal projects like “nation-building” in favor of just “bombing the hell out of” the Islamic State in Libya, Iraq, and Syria. And he suggested he would do this with the help of Vladimir Putin, a man some in his own party consider a threat. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got together with Russia,” Trump said over the summer, “and knocked the hell out of ISIS?“

His supporters cheered while pundits scoffed at this budding friendship between right-wing nationalists. But despite the unusually public nature of the affair, the groundwork for such a US-Russia alliance against ISIS was already being laid by President Barack Obama. While Trump was campaigning, U.S. diplomats were meeting with their Russian counterparts to hammer out a deal to share intelligence and jointly conduct bombing raids against ISIS and other extremists in Syria. That deal was strongly by leading Republicans like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, falling apart not because of their opposition, though, but because Russian forces reportedly bombed an aid convoy on its way to Aleppo, making a partnership unseemly.

Trump is more likely to overlook humanitarian concerns, but he’ll face the same opposition Obama did if he tries to link up with Putin. General Michael Flynn, his top national security advisor, shares his outlook on Russia and terrorism, even being paid to speak at a party in Moscow hosted by RT, the Russian government’s propaganda arm. But Trump’s administration also includes the likes of Congressman Mike Pompeo, a hard-liner on Russia who will be leading the Central Intelligence Agency. There are no doves in his cabinet, but there will be disagreements on how far to take any alignment with Moscow, which will amplified by a Congress that can still play politics with the money Trump will need for any airstrikes.

Trump, however, inherits not just a proposed alliance with Russia, but the unilateral ability to deploy U.S. military power wherever he chooses. The upside is there’s no ambiguity: few expect him to earn a Nobel Peace Prize. And that’s an advantage for those who don’t think a war on terror can be won with more of the extreme violence that breeds terrorism: they can start organizing now against what they know is coming.

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What I Saw on Oprius 10 (You’re Being Lied To)


I just got back from this “barbaric alien slave planet” and what I found was shocking: we’re not being told the truth.

Children as young as 14 hours are ripped from their mother’s tentacles and forced to work 37 cycles straight in underground Calbazarite mines until their tiny withered bodies, still bound together by Gregorothian emotion-stabilizing mobilityrays, are shoveled out by the kiloton and tossed in unmarked disposal modules that are fired into the suns. Meanwhile, we’re told, Leader Rahsab’s personal envoy dines at 7-star restaurants, his harem of Alphanian gendermorphs injecting him with the galaxy’s finest proteins while, beneath the soil, his army of Mechatrons blasts away so-called “moderate” resistance caves.

We’ve all heard these stories, just like we all heard the story about Itarkian security forces devouring humanoid offspring as they slept in their interdimensional space-time inhibitors. Only after the New Alliance of Coequal Aliens removed their Supreme Being did we learn that was a total lie, manufactured by a public relations planet enslaved the Kuwangians who — you probably didn’t hear — had been trying and failing to build a warp portal through Itarkian space.

First, let me be clear: I don’t believe Leader Rahsab is infallible. I, personally, believe this mild-mannered gaseous cloud has made mistakes. Destroying Oprius 7, the famed artist colony, was not ideal, in my opinion, only aiding the interplanetary campaign of defamation which, of course, never addressed what “peaceful” gammachord players were doing with Kuwangian shape-shifting technology. But I also understand why, amid a NACA-backed insurgency attracting mercenaries from around the cosmos, he felt the need to send a message. NACA would have done the same thing.

And what I really know for sure? That the last thing the Oreckians need is a change in Eternal Hierarchy imposed by a solar system 90 million light years away and sold on the basis of a corrupt, Earth-based opposition’s lies and the tales of Oprian “refugees” who claim they escaped the mineral deposits but, curiously, display none of the signs of Calbazarite Syndrome. That’s why I decided to accept Leader Rahsab’s invitation to spend five cycles touring Oprius 10. What I can say now You’re being lied to.

I expected the outrageous smears the moment I agreed to hear the perspective of a “brutal confederation,” but one doesn’t go into journalism expecting pleasantries and generous fiber rations. I wanted to hear their side; clearly, whether . Surely if dissatisfaction were as high as claimed by the mainstream news algorithms I would see it and those famed (but always conveniently “disappeared”) dissidents during my visit.

What I saw in the Historic Quadrant of Damackulous Y was instead, normal — disappointingly so for those believing NACA’s planted newsbytes about all that (manufactured) dissent. Intelligent lifeforms wore clothes that they bought on Amazon. Local injection labs had all the brands and flavors I knew from back home. Most of the people I saw were rather shy, seeking to shift the conversation away from politics and back to my drink order, but Oreckian system tribes are known for their wariness of strangers.

At an Irish pub, I heard from an Oprian female about how her husband had been tricked into fighting for confederation change, believing the same lies we Talangs have been told about the attractiveness of Northern sector-style “liberties” — to anti-socially fret over what to do with one’s consciousness, instead of having that rationally decided for you — and the unilateral consensus process laid out in the Leader’s Chartreuse Communication. Through a reconciliation deal offered by the confederation’s social justice minister, he agreed to be cremated in exchange for a small stipend off which she now lives. Yes, life can be hard, she confided, but — glancing nervously at my state-provided translator to make sure he was getting every word — life in the mines had given her and her children the structure they sorely lacked in “liberated” zones, where she wasn’t even allowed to work, much less required to.

While I would like to have seen more, after a drugged Orian male shrieked at me to take his identity chip without authorization — he was neutralized by security forces after a reading of his right — it was decided on my behalf that I should go. And that’s the Oreckian way: Capable superiors decide things like this for you, leaving more time for life. The Oreckians, like any other people, should be allowed to decide their system of governance, and Leader Rahasab has made that decision for them. We may not always understand their ways, but that doesn’t mean we should try to impose ours on them.

Remember Itark?

Charles Davis is a reporterbot from the Talang system. Their work is presented in 400 billion minds.

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Syria and The Intercept: The Case for Editorial Intervention


The online publication launched by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar recently published what it billed as a major scoop: “Internal United Nations assessments obtained by The Intercept reveal that U.S. and European sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and crippling aid work during the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II.” These sanctions were likened by author Rania Khalek to the siege the U.S. imposed on Iraq, which a U.N. report in 1999 said had doubled child mortality in the country, leading to “the death of 500,000 children.”

Khalek’s piece was well received by others who prefer to omit the words “barrel bombs,” “cruise missiles” and “starvation sieges” from their coverage of Syria’s humanitarian crisis, which has seen roughly 500,000 people killed since 2011, the majority, according to the U.N., killed at the hands of the Syrian regime and its allies. Russia’s RT and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency both amplified the story’s conflation of targeted sanctions against Bashar al-Assad and his top officials with an all-encompassing economic embargo. “US and EU economic sanctions on Syria are causing huge suffering among ordinary Syrians and preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid, according to a leaked UN internal report,” wrote The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn.

The problem for The Intercept and those who reported on its claim is the oft-unwelcome truth among those committed to blaming someone other than Bashar al-Assad for the bulk of the suffering in Syria: The only hint of truth in Khalek’s lede is that Syrians are suffering through the worst war the world has seen since Adolf Hitler’s self-inflicted demise in a bunker underneath Berlin.

To start: What is billed as “Internal United Nations assessments” is but one report that wasn’t internal and, explicitly, does not reflect the view of the United Nations. The Intercept has since acknowledged this in one of the corrections issued at the end of Khalek’s piece: “The report referenced was prepared for the U.N. and does not reflect the U.N.’s official position.”


The latter clause is perhaps intentionally suggestive: “official,” if you know what I mean. What is not explicitly stated is that the report that was “obtained” was a report available freely online at least four months earlier, authored not by a U.N. official or agency but by an official, Justine Walker, at the British Bankers’ Association, an organization institutionally inclined to favor Western trade with literally whomever, capital and those who possess it not troubled by grave violations of human rights.

Capture4.PNGThat this is not a “U.N. report,” as The Intercept states in its headline, or a “United Nations” assessment, as Khalek states in her lede, is buried all the way back on page three of this banker’s assessment: “The views expressed are entirely those of the author and should not be considered to constitute any official statement.”


Attributing one view solicited by an organization to the organization as a whole is like suggesting an OpEd from the foreign minister of Iran reflects the institutional take of The New York Times, which after all commissioned it. And yet: The headline, and the lede, persist, admitting a fatal mistake as hard for some as admitting who is chiefly to blame for punishing ordinary Syrians.

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