Monday, 08 April 2013
Preparations are well under way to commemorate the Great War of 1914 -1918. Andrew Murrison, the UK minister in charge of the £50 million celebrations, expects interest to outstrip the public’s fascination with the sinking of the Titanic. The 100th anniversary of that tragic event provided a marketing bonanza two years ago. Remembering World War 1 is not going to be a weekend event, says Mr. Murrison. The theme will be woven into everything from school exams to television programmes from 2014 – 2018.
Tufts University professor, Sol Gittleman, says the Americans and British can’t wait for the centenary to begin. Yet almost a century ago few anticipated what was to come. At Edward V11’s funeral in May 1910 nine European kings, all related to each other rode in the funeral procession – with German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm accorded the highest place of honour.
A year later, most were back for the inauguration of King George V. War seemed impossible and even when declared appeared unreal. “Home by Christmas!” cheered the crowds at Piccadilly as they watched their boys march off to glorious battle against an enemy called the Hun by enthusiastic newspapers.” By Armistice Day, November 11, 1918 there would be 9 million dead. The age of unrestrained massacre had begun.
Some 13 to 15 million died in action in the Great War (37 million including civilians); between 65 and 75 million perished in World War 11 – doomed to follow inevitably – and by the end of the century the death toll from war exceeded 140 million. Most were non-combatants. Millions more have died since in ‘humanitarian bombings’ that have obliterated nations and in the war on terrorism declared after 9/11. A breathtaking advance in lethal technology made much of the slaughter possible.
Still, the valour of those who died in defence of a “free world” will be celebrated, with pomp and pageantry and cold-blooded hypocrisy. The famous Christmas 1914 truce football matches in the “no man’s land” of Flanders are to be replicated. Young people will be expected to embrace with reverence the memory of their peers suicidally charging to their deaths on the Western Front; carnage on a scale hitherto unimaginable in the history of warfare. Like remembrances past, there will be poppies and wreaths as Britons are sentimentally blackmailed into patriotism.
The irony, of course, is that there is nothing to celebrate and everything to fear. A century of the most brutal warfare has simply produced a world of devastating inequality in which the liberal 19th century conventions of civilised conduct have been abandoned along with international law. War is an economic necessity, the mainspring of US capitalism, and America has run a war economy since World War 11 ended the Great Depression. Since 1979 the income of the top 1 percent has increased by 240 percent while average wages have fallen.
The Cold War was a swindle; no peace dividend followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead US military spending rose inexorably. Corporations and banks feasted on lucrative arms contracts and loans to the government. A new report issued by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government estimates a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost as much as $6 trillion, the equivalent of $75,000 for every American household. These are the most expensive wars in history.
Corporate profits have risen 20 percent in 20 years. Quite remarkably this is not enough. Almost a hundred years on from the Great War a financial and political elite has openly declared war on all those who are unable to resist its organised power; the poor and vulnerable, struggling workers and the crumbling middle-class itself. The austerity programmes in the US, UK and Europe are intended to put all that is profitable in private hands – to loot the economy, plunder national assets and dismantle collective health, welfare and educational provision.
But it’s also a strategy to ensure that the “too big to fail banks” remain on life support; that every cent and penny is extracted to guarantee they get paid. The reason is simple. The banks have usurped and franchised the government’s function of creating money and now hold the economy to ransom. There is a revolving door between Wall Street and the White House. Bankers are above the law; they’re too big to jail and they call the shots. In the US in 2008-2009, a total of $1.45 trillion was channelled to Wall Street financial institutions as part of the Bush and Obama rescue packages. They were financed through drastic cuts in social programmes including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Analyst Chris Whalen estimates that the big American banks get a subsidy in excess of $780 billion dollars a year. Their profits come from the taxpayer and the government pays trillions in unnecessary interest payments, for money that it could have created itself. The banks are technically insolvent.
Not content with spinning money out of loans advanced out of thin air, they’ve been betting against each other and their customers in an unregulated derivatives market. The notional value of these derivatives – contracts based on underlying assets – is estimated at $1,200 trillion, more than 20 times the size of the global economy. There is the optimistic view that these bets will cancel out in an orderly fashion in a deregulated market but the banks themselves don’t take that seriously. They know much of their assets are toxic paper and, unable to trust each other, are refusing to lend freezing economies into the bargain.
In Euroland the scam has been for the European Central Bank to provide cheap money to banks rather than governments. A trillion euros was advanced on the basis of worthless collateral, allowing banks to exchange their trash for good money to lend to governments at higher rates. Meanwhile nations are forced to slash social spending and wages in a self-defeating cycle. Sovereignty in Greece and Italy, Spain and Portugal is effectively dead. Bankers rule supreme.
But that’s not the end of the story. The confiscation of the deposits of customers in Cyprus banks – as a condition for the bail out of the banking system – is a sinister development. Author Ellen Brown notes this is not a “one-off” and that a joint paper by the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Bank of England dated December 10, 2012, shows that these plans have been long in the making. According to economist Michel Chossudovsky it’s a diabolical plot conceived because the bank bail-outs and austerity measures have reached their limits.
“The appropriation of bank deposits would essentially target the upper middle and upper income groups which have significant bank deposits. The second target will be the bank accounts of small and medium sized firms. The purpose of the global financial actors is to wipe out competitors, consolidate and centralise bank power and exert an overriding control over the real economy, the institutions of government and the military.” The social consequences would be traumatic but it would leave the big banks and corporations in control.
There are unlikely to be any concessions. By way of example SunTrust Bank recently ordered the eviction of the owner of a supermarket in Augusta, Georgia, and the confiscation of all the assets. While local residents waited in the parking lot with bags and baskets hoping to get some of the baby food, canned goods, noodles and other non-perishables, SunTrust ordered all the food to be loaded on dumpsters and hauled to a landfill. None of the desperate people got anything. Some 50 million Americans now live in poverty. SunTrust bank is a subsidiary of SunTrust Bank Inc., one of the largest banks in the US with assets in excess of $170 billion. It is also among the ten top banks when it comes to home foreclosures.
In Britain the first tranche of austerity measures came into force this month. They included a perverse “bedroom tax” that would slash £14 a week from the benefits of low paid workers and others if they were deemed to have a little extra space in their tiny homes. The “Mirror” reports that 17,000 blind people now face the prospect of being wrenched from their homes and neighbourhoods. Some 10 million families will be hit by tax and benefit changes losing on average £900 a year, collectively about £9 billion. By comparison the government has spent £124 billion on bailing out the banks, lost £13 billion on the banks it bought and pays more interest on the debt incurred than is paid to it by the banks.
War has enriched the great banking houses over the centuries and as they attempt to consolidate their stranglehold on the world – and dump their toxic assets – creative destruction remains the preferred option. A war on Iran would be handsomely expensive but dangerous. A series of spreading conflicts across Africa is a certainty. The widespread use of drones and robots and the weaponisation of space will provide investment opportunities. There will be lucrative contracts for securing the homelands. And there will be no centenary celebrations for this war, already begun, will be endless.