Replacing emergency relief with war is not new in world or U.S. history. Even disasters separated by more than half a century have similarities. In the spring of 1952, during the Korean War, a Missouri River flood left hundreds of thousands homeless and cost, in 1952 dollars, hundreds of millions in property damage. The flood was the third in five years. Fifty cities and towns were submerged. The Missouri Valley Authority, proposed in the 1948 presidential campaign, which would have supplied the funds and saved the valley, remained an unmet campaign promise. The official reason was that money was needed for the military, a far more profitable expenditure than flood control.
The Bush administration’s cutting of flood prevention funds is the most recent example of such government callousness. It shows that the link between poverty and the military budget remains and is embedded even more openly in the policies of this administration. “Fiscal conservatives” — the racists in charge — prefer war to morality. They are only “conservative” on questions of peoples’ needs. Their choice, usually cloaked in patriotic rhetoric, is for corporate welfare instead.
Major General Smedley Butler, who was awarded two Congressional Medals of Honor and a Distinguished Service Medal, famously said, “War is a racket … possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. … It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”
He went on to say, “A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
During World War I, at least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the U.S., he noted. “That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows? How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dugout? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?”
While these few “wrung dollars out of blood,” Butler said, “The general public shoulders the bill … a horrible accounting — newly placed gravestones, mangled bodies, shattered minds, broken hearts and homes, economic instability, depression and all its attendant miseries, back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.”
Even in World War II, the courageous war against fascism, great fortunes were made. Despite Roosevelt’s price controls and strict contracts, Congress permitted great leeway. Contracts were modified to ensure high profits. While the rest of the country sacrificed for the war, big business resorted to extortion and refused to make even a single bullet until its demands were met. A wartime government economic commission charged big business with “blackmail, not too fully disguised.” Later, during the Cold War, laws restricting military profit rates to 6 percent were ignored and profits from wars and war preparations more than doubled.
Bush’s handling of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a glaring example of putting war profiteering before lives. In January 2001 Bush appointed Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as FEMA head. Allbaugh (and his successor Michael Brown) had no previous experience in disaster management. In 2001 Budget Director Mitch Daniels announced the administration’s goal of privatizing much of FEMA’s work. In 2004 Bush slashed the New Orleans Army Corps of Engineers funding for levee construction by a record $71.2 million. One of the projects most deeply affected was the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after a May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes. Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri said, “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay.”
When natural disasters threaten our nation, administrations that are tools of big business will choose war and profit over protecting poor and working people.
We need an independent commission to let the world know of Bush’s high crimes and misdemeanors.
Lou Incognito is a reader in Philadelphia.