The Spoils of War: A letter from the editor


Why does the US go to war? Humanitarianism? To bring freedom and democracy to the unfortunate corners of the world? To save vulnerable populations from dictatorship? 

Not likely. Try: self interest. To maintain a US based military-industrial complex that greases the cogs of power. So Wall Street can spin it into profit.

Andrew Cockburn has been the Washington Correspondent for Harpers Magazine for over a decade. Ironically, it was his direct descendent, Sir George Cockburn, who burned down the White House in 1814, and – in this collection – his ancestor continues the family tradition.  

In The Spoils of War Cockburn writes about the politics of war, and how war has been moulded into politics (by other means) from the end of the Cold War in the 1980s to the rise of the Neo Cons, from the War on Terror since 2001 to today. It is not a heroic story, but one of squalid dealings in closed rooms. An early version of this book was titled Private Passions, but the real sense of the book is summed up by the question: cui bono? Who benefits? A very telling quote comes from a Colonel John Boyd:

"People say the Pentagon does not have a strategy; they are wrong. The Pentagon does have a strategy. It is 'Don't interrupt the money flow, add to it.'"

While noting the changes across three decades, Cockburn skewers the libidinous forces that drive the American Empire. For example, he shows how Washington expanded NATO in response to the financial demands of arms dealers; and that the troop surge in Afghanistan in 2009 was as much as a policy to justify the military budget as it was peace keeping.  

Since the 1950s we have become used to the idea of the shadowy ‘military-industrial complex’, but this no longer illustrates the convoluted and entwined relationships between Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, Silicon Valley and Wall Street. The Spoils of War set out a new anatomy of the American War Machine.   

The American military is a profit-seeking enterprise that scours the world for potential pay days. New conflicts, such as the racketing up of the New Cold War against Putin’s Russia, is an opportunity for Silicon start-ups to push expensive AI and hi-tech geegaws. Allies become business partners in joint military ventures. Soldiers move seamlessly from the corps to privatized security companies and back to the front lines. Banks make high level investments knowing the Pentagon money tap will never be turned off. Meanwhile the politicians polish this graft with the rhetoric of duty and patriotism.

Perhaps it was always thus; as Cockburn shows, this is happening in plain sight but no one is watching.

– Leo Hollis, editor

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