Election Day is two weeks away, and this year may see one of the highest voter turnouts in US history. But filmmaker and author Eugene Jarecki argues that while voting is essential, it is not enough. He writes, Unless we see our vote as part of a commitment to involve ourselves consistently and unrelentingly in the political process, our vote is wasted. This is because the forces that have led us to this economic, military, and political precipice exert such awesome power over the mechanics of Washington that no single candidate or group of legislators, whatever their intentions, can possibly go up against them unless armed with an irrepressible public mandate.
Eugene Jarecki, filmmaker who made the acclaimed documentaries Why We Fight and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. His new book, just published, is The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril.
PRESIDENT DWIGHT EISENHOWER:
My fellow Americans, this evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Three-and-a-half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development, yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. 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.
The American way of war is usually a term used to think about sort of what America brought to war making that other countries hadnt done before, typically sort of mass production of equipment and weapons and logistics. And I sort of saw something evolve over our history that I thought was better represented by that term, the American way of war, which is really how America lost her way through war making, what war has done, the best of wars, the worst of wars, wars that seemed, quote, necessary and wars that seemed frivolous or sort of shadowy motives, like the one weve just experienced. The wars of all kinds, they guide America away from her founding principles, from basic standard norms of decency and humanity. And I think the American way of war is a sort of—is a very tragic way, in a sense, that needs now to be fixed, needs to be rescued. And thats where I think the public comes in so necessarily.
Perfect example. You know, the B-1 bomber has a piece of it made, a piece of the plane made, in every single US state. Now, why? I mean, thats not an efficient way to make a product. So, it must be serving some end. And the end, it turns out, that it serves is that the B-1 bomber was designed by its makers according to a process called political engineering, fancy word for distributing the contracts and subcontracts to build a given weapons system to as many states, as many congressional districts as possible, not lets make it as efficient as possible, but rather, lets put it in as many districts as possible, so that if this thing ever comes up for review, everybodys getting a piece of the action, everybodys in on it. And as a result, when, you know, the questions arise—Do we need the B-1 bomber? Do we need to be spending this money?—there is a constituency built in in Congress thats going to keep that thing going.
And what does that tell us? That tells us that—first of all, the defense sector is not alone in that. Every industry has their version of politically engineering Congress. But what it does is it puts the congressperson in a position of being a professional pleader to that corporation, that corporate interest, on behalf of them to the federal government. And it suborns, it really undermines the purity of their decision making. It produces some of the very tragic and wrong-headed decisions that weve seen in recent years.