Originally published at Sultan Knish.
Few myths are as beloved among liberals as the idea that wars could be put down to a conspiracy of defense contractors. Throw together Haliburton, Northrop Grumman and GE along with some retired generals and you have the makings of your next war.
The fabled military-industrial complex was a dimwitted descendant of the WW1 era Socialist notion
that wars were the product of industrialists and without them, the working peoples of every country would naturally get along. Then came WW2, which was fought between a Communist empire, a National Socialist oligarchy, a Socialist American government and a Britain that would kick out Churchill as soon as the war was over and swap him out for Labour and the Socialist dream.
None of these Socialist or aspiring Socialist systems could get along. The Nazis and Commies had started out by looting their own citizens, the Nazis based on religion and ethnicity, and the Commies, based on these things and a thousand others, and the mere existence of wealth, and when all that money was gone, and the paintings were sold and the only hope lay in sending tanks across the border, went to war.
WWII was arguably the first Socialist world war in which two countries committed to ridiculously unworkable economic and political ideas set off on a massive looting and killing spree across Western and Eastern Europe. The Nazis shipped the loot back home, practicing a familiar form of wealth redistribution by turning over stolen property from conquered countries to their own people as the spoils of war while funneling much of the rest into the corrupt machinery of the Nazi Party. The Communists were less generous with their people, but plenty of Russian soldiers still brought home unknown luxuries from the formerly prosperous capitals of captured countries.
The Soviet Union bought a little more time with an empire that stretched all the way to Germany, but the economic collapse still came. With no more territories to seize and no more wealth to steal, the Socialist Motherland became a pitiful backwater full of secondhand copies of Western technology and buildings where KGB trolls thought up increasingly nasty schemes that could damage the West, but could not destroy it or salvage the Bolshevik experiment. And eventually they just gave up.
The West learned nothing from these experiences as the infamous military-industrial complex learned to take a backseat to the social-welfare complex which was a good deal bigger and more ambitious. There’s only so much money that any country can spend on weapons. And weapons, unlike social welfare programs, can be scrapped.
The big idea of the Twentieth, the militarization and industrialization of every aspect of society proceeded with grim regularity with no regard for the myths of the 50s as conformist or of the succeeding decades as countercultural. No matter what the kids were wearing in their hair, the massive bureaucracies continued expanding, grinding on and recruiting those same kids to come up with great new ways to solve all the problems of society with an even bigger bureaucracy.
The military-industrial complex had its ups and downs, but the social-welfare complex kept getting bigger and bigger. Every aspect of life was industrialized, regulated and militarized, but it wasn’t the fictional militarization that frenzied pacifists imagine, but real life militarization, which means being subjected to a ridiculously incompetent bureaucracy incapable of getting anything right. There was a plan for everything, but like the Five Year Plans in Mother Russia, they never actually worked.
The difference, most reasonable people would point out, is that we were still democracies, which is to say that we voted for things. And the thing we voted for was rule by politician-lawyers whom we knew that we couldn’t trust even before we voted for them. But voting was one of those perverse rituals that reminded us that we were free. We might have very little ability to get the bureaucratic monkey off our backs, but once every few years we could could vote in a different politician-lawyer.
Not that it made that much of a difference.
The Supreme Court recently decided that the Defense of Marriage Act was illegitimate because a majority of the unelected lawyer-judges on the bench decided that they didn’t like it. A number of State Attorney Generals then announced that they weren’t going to defend state laws on gay marriage, even though that is their job, because they didn’t like them.