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"What do you know about war? They'll tell you it's about patriotism, democracy . . . You want to know what it's really about? War is an economy."
That's the way director, Todd Phillips' "War Dogs" begins. It's the (mostly true) tale of two bumbling stoners from Miami Beach who become wealthy arms dealers supplying weapons to the U.S. military and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The story line reminds us that money is the major reason for the endless wars the U.S has waged across the Muslim world since 9/11. It also reminds us of our moral duty to oppose the corrupt war system that is eminently reformable with a few simple measures -- if for no other reason than saving money that is currently wasted.
To begin with, it's true: war has nothing to do with patriotism, democracy or freedom. It's simply good for the economy. In fact, war is the economy -- or at least its heart where the military budget consumes 57% of the U.S. budget's annual discretionary spending -- $3.8 trillion to be exact. (That's very nearly as much as the rest of the world combined spends on "defense.")
In other words, our economy is dependent on blood sacrifice. Pope Francis said as much last September when he spoke to members of the U.S. Congress. He remarked, "Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money -- money that is soaked in blood."
At the conclusion of "War Dogs," Todd Phillips echoes the pope's phrase, "as we all know." For as the credits roll, Leonard Cohen sings his own "Everybody Knows."
And what is it that everybody knows about war? At some level, we all know that it has fundamentally corrupted our society. Our way of life is largely based on murder. Yet we refuse to put a stop to the killing. It's as if we see no alternatives, though they're staring us in the face.
We've become so inured to permanent mayhem that we rarely ponder what it all means for the defenseless poor of the world who (rather than the rich) habitually end up on the wrong end of the guns, bullets, drones, bombs, missiles, air planes, tanks and ships with which our government and U.S. corporations greedily supply the entire world.
For example, here's what our war economy has meant for the people of Yemen the poorest country in the Middle East. (Their plight is barely reported in the U.S corporate media.) For the past year and a half, Yemen has been the target of bombs dropped by Saudi Arabia, the richest country in the Middle East, with the full support and cooperation of the United States, the richest country in the world. For the impoverished of Yemen this class war has meant:
- 2,7 million Yemenis driven from their homes.
- 7000 Yemenis killed -- 3,000 of them civilians, including hundreds of children.
- 30,000 Yemenis injured.
In the end however, "War Dogs" only hints at such disaster. It only suggests the profound corruption of the entire war system. That's because its two twenty-something principals, Ephraim Diveroli (played by Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) are only small-time bottom-feeders in a system that allows the two -- virtually without education or knowledge of the world -- to secure a $3 million Pentagon contract for 100 million rounds of Ak47 ammunition for use in Afghanistan and the longest-running war in U.S. history. The bullets, of course, will be fired at poor people in Afghanistan.
The top-feeders in the system put Diveroli's and Packouz's profits to shame; by comparison, the latter come off like choir boys. The big guys are after much, much more. Their corporate names include the Carlyle Group, Halliburton, Boeing and Motorola. Most recently, the personal names at the top are Bush, Cheney, and Obama. Their bald-faced corruption and indifference to human suffering is absolutely mind-boggling. It has:
- $6.5 trillion (yes, "trillion" with a "T!") gone entirely missing from the Pentagon budget without any explanation or even a single audit of the Defense Department over the past 20 years.
- A father (and former U.S. president), George H.W. Bush, working for a defense-oriented firm (the Carlyle Group), while his son waged permanent war all over the world.
- A vice president's company (Halliburton) receiving $39.5 billion in federal war contracts without any bidding from competing firms.
- A spokesperson for the sitting U.S. president defending the killings in Yemen by saying that the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia would "positively impact the U.S economy and further advance the president's commitment to create jobs by increasing exports."
[Imagine if such words and/or practice were reported of a designated enemy like Russia, Korea, Venezuela or Cuba! Imagine a cynical system of war in those countries involving family members, government colleagues, business cronies, and revolving doors connecting presidencies, vice presidencies and defense industry offices. We'd have no trouble identifying it all as "corrupt" and "criminal" Yet somehow we can't make the same designations when our own government (with our tax dollars!!) is involved.]
Yet that is exactly what "War Dogs" should invite thoughtful viewers to do. It should have us demanding:
- The cessation of war against the Muslim's world's poor.
- Audits of the Defense Department as rigorous as those monitoring welfare programs for the poor.
- The nationalization of weapons manufacture to remove the profit motive from war.
- A 50% cut in the nation's military budget.
- The investment of that 50% in rebuilding the homes of the poor destroyed by the U.S. military.
- The opening of U.S. borders to refugees created by U.S. wars in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.
- The imposition of special war taxes to fund (and discourage) each additional war our country's leaders choose to engage.
- The centralizing of such recommendations in the upcoming presidential debates.
Each one of these proposals is not only anti-war; it is economically sound. Or as Diveroli explains to Packouz whose anti-war sentiment makes him initially demur at joining his friend in the gun-running business: This isn't about being pro or anti-war . It's about money. "This is . . . pro-money!" It's about our tax money.