It is understood that bleeding (and certainly dying) for one’s country brings honor to the dead or wounded. Any individual willing to suffer the pains of death for the good of the whole surely embodies the great virtue of altruistic selflessness. Death (or injury) for the cause of life (and freedom) deserves ultimate respect from the nation. In the event of war or military conflict, regardless of the cause, whether just or unjust, we honor the fallen for the sacrifice they made. The rest of us, we hope, appreciate the meaning which sacrifice has for the status quo of our own comfort and safety. But what happens when the status quo comes not as the blessed result of supposedly necessary military engagements, but instead as the very driver of armed conflict?
Usually, we assume the work of soldiers as being the protection of our “freedoms” while serving in their tour of duty. By combating terrorism or engaging in subversive operations that threaten perceived enemies, troops work under the auspices of liberty and the institutional honor of the executive branch to keep us safe and secure. We easily forget that soldiers, however valorous, do not act in isolation. Troops work for an industrial complex called the military that has enfolded into its very operational structure economic incentives and business relationships with large, multinational corporations.
The military relies on private contractors to build infrastructure and producing military hardware. When the armed forces go off on missions, corporations benefit, often handsomely, from the sale of equipment, weapons, new technology, intelligence, etc. The military industrial complex itself acts to ensure that trade routes and supplies in the commodity chain (principally oil) are open and unobstructed for the exploitation of corporate business. So, when soldiers get deployed, they are doing more than the mere service of protecting American ideals and ensuring national security, they are fighting more directly for business interests. The interests of the citizenry are ultimately indirect or sometimes incidental objectives.
The main beneficiaries of military engagements are, to no surprise, the corporations that stand to gain immense new capital off of the enterprise of war. War is business. In the words of the deceased, Smedley Butler, highly-decorated Major General of the Marine Corps, “War is a racket” (Butler, 1935). War conspires for the benefit of corporate elites for whom the U.S. military acts as a publicly funded cartel to ensure business continues on as usual . Corporations not only benefit from war, they also wield considerable lobbying power in the upper echelons of the United States government, influencing U.S. foreign policy and the direction of foreign trade policy–not to mention U.S. military objectives. The gains of the corporate state from conflict highlight a problematic dimension to the sacrifices made by individual military personnel.
The rudeness of the corporate-military industrial complex is hard to miss. Soldiers put everything on the line to serve their country (ostensibly out of patriotism, but not always so), in order to protect the status quo of comfort and security for the nation. On the other hand, the corporate-military industrial complex drives an agenda of aggressive, hawkish foreign policy–using the bodies of trained men and women as the major factor of war production–in order to ensure dominance by purposefully engaging in aggressive military encounters. The winners are the executive officers, corporate managers, and establishment elites. The losers are the men and women in uniform who return home deformed, psychologically broken, or dead.
Considering the economic bonanza which ripens in the throes of military conflict, the human sacrifices of military AND civilian casualties become necessary pieces in the maintenance of the status quo. No war, no profit. No conflict, no new technologies or experimental designs to test. As a result, corporate power and the infestation of greed infecting elite boardroom arbitrations mock and cheapen the bloodletting of each individual soldier and civilian casualty. Casualties are a structural necessity for the status quo. And the planners, schemers, capitalists hiding behind their mountains of profit reaped from the blood of such human sacrifices carry on unscathed. Elites enjoy the proliferation of new assets and stock dividends, while the fighters and their families along with the victims and their families are drained of spirit and welfare, fermenting their grief and suffering.
Butler, M. G. S. D. (1935, October). America’s armed forces. In Common Sense (Vol. 4, pp. 8-12). Available at: https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/Vietnam/butler.pdf