Militarism is the one great glamor public-works project upon which a variety of elements in the community can be brought into agreement.
~ John T. Flynn, As We Go Marching (1944).
The Keynesian welfare state is best described as the mild-mannered alter ego of the totalitarian welfare state. The official alchemists responsible for transmuting debt into political power eventually find it impossible to siphon wealth out of the productive class in amounts sufficient to meet the needs of the political class. When this happens, the ruling elite will inevitably turn to bloodshed as a source of economic “stimulus.”
David Broder of the Washington Post scandalized the punditocracy by openly reciting this formula in a recent column as a prescription for both the ailing economy and Barack Obama’s increasingly enfeebled presidency.
“Look back at FDR and the Great Depression,” advised Meet the Press’s resident droning dullard. “What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II…. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, [Obama] can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.”
“I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected,” lied Broder immediately after doing exactly that. “But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history”
How Iran, or any other country on earth, could threaten the world more than a regime capable of concocting a conflict as an economic stimulus program, Broder didn’t explain. His suggestion shocked Washington’s jaw-waggers and chin-pullers — not so much because of its content, but rather because of its candor. It may be obvious to perceptive adults that wars are manufactured in such cynical ways, but it’s bad form to offer unvarnished admissions of that kind in public.
Broder has never been unduly burdened by intellect, and he is miraculously untainted by originality. It’s possible that Broder, like William Shatner’s character in the Twitter feed-turned-sitcom $#*! My Dad Says, has seen his inhibitions abraded away by time’s relentless march and no longer has the discipline to keep socially unsuitable opinions to himself. In any case, Broder’s view of using bloodshed to prime the economic pump, while repulsive, is quite commonplace within the ruling elite.
Like Broder, John T. Flynn understood the way that Washington made use of “militarism as an economic weapon.” Unlike Broder, Flynn used his influence as a writer to combat the Warfare/Welfare State, and his heroic stand for principle cost him a great deal.
Flynn’s astringent criticism of the New Deal’s authoritarian corporatism so infuriated FDR that America’s first fascist president-for-life arranged to have Flynn fired from his position at The New Republic. Broder, by way of contrast, is hardly the stuff from which martyrs of that kind are made.
As a freelance writer and organizer of the America First Committee, Flynn continued his effort to combat FDR’s regimentation of the economy and his ill-disguised campaign to entangle the country in a foreign war as a final installment of his “stimulus” program.
In his indispensable book As We Go Marching, Flynn examined the undeniable but little-appreciated kinship between the Italian and German corporate states and the one that had been inflicted on the U.S.A. The real test of one’s commitment to defeat fascism, he emphasized, was not the intensity of his loathing for the Axis powers, but rather his eagerness to oppose and reverse America’s descent into militarism and corporate socialism.
“Among all the means for producing government-created income none is so successful as militarism,” observed Flynn, tracing the progression of that disease in Italy and Germany and demonstrating its ominous parallels in this country. Echoing James Madison’s warning that the Warfare State is the greatest enemy of “public liberty,” Flynn observed that the key symptom of militarism is the maintenance of “large national armies and navies in time of peace,” a condition that rarely persists as long as governments have perverse incentives to entangle their subjects in wars.
“Inevitably, having surrendered to militarism as an economic doctrine, we will do what other countries have done,” Flynn predicted in 1944. “We will keep alive the fears of our people of the aggressive ambitions of other countries and we will ourselves embark upon imperialistic enterprises of our own.”
That observation reminds me irresistibly of Broder’s dutiful invocation of the supposed global menace posed by Iran, which — he insists — threatens the entire world, despite the fact that it occupies not a single acre of territory outside its borders. Meanwhile, the all-devouring monstrosity in Washington presumes to organize the entire globe into regional “commands” over which the Pentagon implicitly claims hegemony.
As has been noted elsewhere, the Pentagon itself institutionalizes the dual nature of the Welfare/Warfare State: Maintaining a globe-straddling military means operating one of the world’s largest welfare distribution bureaucracies. Harry Hopkins, a key architect of the New Deal and intimate adviser to FDR (and likely Soviet agent) managed to embody that same duality all by himself.
To adherents of the New Deal cult, Hopkins was Aaron to FDR’s Moses: When Hopkins spoke, his voice was giving form to the will of the Dear Leader himself. Following a career as a social worker, Hopkins was appointed as FDR’s vicar in charge of warfare. In January 1941 he was dispatched to assure Churchill that FDR would contrive to get the United States involved in the European war.
After FDR successfully opened the back door to war by manipulating Japan into firing the first shot (as Henry Stimson so memorably put it), Hopkins was placed in charge of the Lend-Lease abomination. In that capacity he did more than his share to see that many of the urban poor whose plight had moved him to such distress would be relieved of their burdens by dying in distant battlefields on behalf of London’s declining empire and to the greater glory of Stalin’s expanding one.
Like the unspeakably evil Bernard Baruch, who presided over Woodrow Wilson’s version of war socialism, Hopkins was enchanted by the prospect of collectivizing the entire economy in the name of war planning. Hopkins memorably gave voice to his ambitions in “You Will Be Mobilized,” an essay published in the December 1942 edition of American Magazine (and excerpted a few months later in Reader’s Digest).
Historian Thomas Fleming, in his important book The New Dealers’ War, describes Hopkins’ essay as “a draconian sermon” on the supposed virtues of a totalitarian planned economy, in which the author eagerly anticipated “an American Sparta laboring under the grim-visaged bureaucrats of the OPA and other war agencies.”
“No one knows how the mobilization of workers will actually operate,” admitted the commissar, “but probably at first able-bodied persons in non-essential work will be given a wide range of choice as to what they will do and where they will work.” Of course, the only real option would be for workers to “choose” to do as instructed by their superiors: “If they don’t move voluntarily, their manpower organization will direct them to specific jobs.”
Hopkins cheerfully predicted that earnings and expenditures — in fact, every facet of life — would likewise be regimented by the war planning elite:
“Through forced savings and taxes, our spending will be limited and priorities far more widespread than at present will determine the kinds of food, clothing, housing and businesses which we will have and will affect every detail of our daily lives. We should not be permitted to ride on a train, make a long distance telephone call, or send a telegram without evidence that these are necessary.”
Sacrifices such as these were intended only for the hoi polloi, of course; they were not to be shared by the Warfare State’s nomenklatura. Just a few days after Hopkins’ totalitarian homily saw print, Cissy Peterson of the Washington Times-Herald published a detailed account of a multi-million-dollar dinner dance arranged by Baruch at Washington’s Carlton Hotel to celebrate Hopkins’ marriage to fashion writer Louise Macy.
At a time when productive Americans were being subjected to rationing, ordered to eschew rudimentary creature comforts, and piss away their earnings on government war bonds, Hopkins and other New Deal commissars feasted from a menu offering dozens of expensive, exotic delicacies, most of them garnished with French names that wouldn’t fall gracefully from the lips of working people who endured food rationing regulations and were routinely hectored about the virtue of saving scraps in order to aid the war effort.
“At every place was an expensive gift from the host,” observes Fleming. “Vintage champagne flowed without stint, along with a plethora of other French wines.” Those assembled for the event represented “a who’s who of the top echelon of wartime Washington,” who gathered to enjoy a brief respite from the rigorous work of plundering other people’s wealth and sending their children off to die.
Most of the American public either ignored such official hypocrisy or accepted it with sullen resignation. However, there were a hardy few who joined John T. Flynn in decrying America’s descent into militarist totalitarianism, despite the social inconvenience — and the very real personal danger — they confronted.
“We used to get all worked up over the bombing of civilians but that was before the United Nations took the initiative in bombing cities,” protested Syracuse resident Benjamin Le Roy Candee, Jr. in a letter published in a Quaker anti-war newsletter. “We used to condemn the practice of shutting up innocent people in camps surrounded by barbed wire, but that was before the term `relocation center’ became part of the American vocabulary.”
“Recently there has been much breast beating about the evil of the Nazi model of training youth for war — `education for death,’” continued Mr. Candee. “How awful, we said, to get hold of children before they know better and mold them into believing in the supremacy of the state and into believing that the greatest aim in life is dying for the state. Well, we won’t have to condemn it much longer because the Victory Corps is coming to American high schools.”
The Victory Corps, organized under the aegis of the U.S. Office of Education’s Wartime Commission, was a public-private initiative intended to mobilize “the high-school youth sector in the all-out effort of our total war,” explained an official publication.
Military conscription of “every able-bodied male, 18 to 45 years of age,” would be necessary in order to build a 10,000,000-man army; this would be supported by “a force of 20,000,000 persons in direct war production and transportation,” and an agricultural army (of the sort described in the tenth plank of the Communist Manifesto, perhaps) of 12,000,000 more.
Public high schools would thus be converted into recruitment and indoctrination centers, and students would be required to make the war the central defining reality of their existence.
“The most important test of every day’s decisions must be this: What can we do to hit the enemy harder; to contribute to his destruction?” insisted the Victory Corps organizing manual. “If what we are doing is not clearly an immediate or remote contribution to winning this war, then we should not be doing it.” Of course, the “contributions” made by champagne-swilling commissars like Hopkins were less painful than those demanded of conscripts send to bleed on the battlefield, but them’s the breaks, I suppose.
Only by accepting the yoke of the Warfare State could Americans avoid the horrors of life under Fascist rule, which — as described in the Victory Corps manual — honestly doesn’t sound dramatically different:
“Let us not forget what happens to youth when the Nazi slave drivers are in position to crack the whip. Consider that more than 3,000,000 youngsters from the Balkan States have been rounded up for compulsory labor service (slavery) in Germany; that Gestapo agents in Belgium have been kidnapping mere boys for military service. That’s why we mean to win this war for survival” — that is, for the survival of an American-grown variant of the same ruling ideology.
With the current depression growing deeper and nastier, the Obama administration and the banking cartel controlling it have run just about every option in the Keynesian playbook, save one: The “Hail, Ares!” play Broder suggests. All that’s necessary to make this happen is the arrival of a Congress under the influence of the most militaristic element of the GOP. It’s quite likely that those nostalgic for the reign of FDR’s nation-breaking war commissars will soon have reason to erupt in a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”