03/05/2007 01:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Pretty Little Investment in Death

I wrote recently on the seeming paradox that the Iraq war could be such a total failure while no one in Congress is seriously trying to stop, or even curb it. Pres. Bush's proposed budget gives fully 20% of the federal budget over to defense (a larger proportion than it looks since the lion's share of the budget already goes to Social Security, Medicare, debt payments, and other entitlement programs). A bad war is "good" for the war system that includes big oil, weapons development, university research grants, aerospace, and hundreds of interconnected industries that no politician dares to challenge. That's because every region of the country, with few exceptions, depends on the war system.

In a free market it would be insane to invest in death, which is what the war system produces as its end product. Not only does death rob the economy of workers, it demoralizes those left behind. We are getting Orwellian here. Nobody stands up to say frankly and honestly that the war system is about death. It's about security and defense instead, about bringing democracy to the world, upholding civilized values against terrorist attack. But the argument that mechanized death is life-supporting won't wash. America and other countries have stockpiles of atomic bombs, chemical weapons, biological agents, and other products of the war system that have turned on their makers, threatening them with death instead of the enemy. Thus the paralyzing fear that America's own diabolical technology will be carried back to our shores and unleashed as a dirty bomb, a smallpox plague, or a poison gas attack in midtown Manhattan.

It has always been obvious that death is the stupidest of all investments, not just because it can be turned around (the way mustard gas in WW I was blown by the wind back into the face of the soldiers who deployed it). Death is literally an economic dead end. No profits or dividends come back from it, no happiness, no benefits to human welfare. If history could be reversed, and America found itself armed with no more means of waging war than those existing in 1944, the year of the D-Day landing in Normandy, we would be just as well equipped to defend ourselves, or to fight foreign wars, as we are now. The race to develop the atom bomb, considered so critical back then, proved to be a chimera in the end. A peace pact could have been made with the Soviet Union not to proliferate atomic and missile technology, saving untold billions of dollars. But the war system couldn't stand an outbreak of peace, even sixty years ago.

These are only reflections on the war system and its pretty little investment in death. Many books have detailed the argument only sketched in here. There needs to be a change in the war system--no one can seriously doubt that. Only time will tell if that change comes about rationally or as the result of an immense future disaster.