A few days ago I wrote an article ("Certain Americans") about the intellectual wasteland inhabited by "certain Americans," which facilitated the foisting of George W. Bush's benighted presidency upon decent and thoughtful Americans, as well as upon the thousands of American soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians, who now are dead as a consequence. Unfortunately, that unimproved wasteland also provides fertile soil for the sprouting of the many journalistic weeds now blighting America's political landscape. Simply consider the "journalism" of "crabgrass" Bill O'Reilly, "pigweed" Rush Limbaugh, "ragweed" Sean Hannity, "quackgrass" William Kristol and "creeping jenny" Ann Coulter. (For a hint of the sins of such weeds, see here.)
Thanks to an insight provided by Jay Diamond, who recently excoriated money-grubbing broadcast station owners for cultivating such journalistic weeds, I began to think about "forums." (Diamond's insight supplemented an earlier one by Juan Cole, who observed: "Cranky rich people hire sharp-tongued and relatively uninformed young people all the time and put them in their mass media to badmouth the poor, spread bigotry, exalt mindless militarism, promote anti-intellectualism, and ensure generally that rightwing views come to predominate even among people who are harmed by such policies. One of their jobs is to marginalize progressives by smearing them as unreliable." [Cole, Informed Comment, Feb. 8, 2005])
Thus, I reconceived the courtroom of Judge Defino (see "Certain Americans") as a well-intentioned, if hit-or-miss, forum for insulating justice from the intellectual wasteland of certain prospective American jurors. One the other hand, I also questioned why anyone at the Philadelphia Inquirer, would have elevated Kevin Ferris — a diligent dullard dutifully defending the "Decider's" debacle in Iraq — to the position of editor of its "Commentary Page."
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Just three days ago, however, I began to question why the New York Times provides a forum for Ben Stein, especially given the narrow-minded and specious reasoning found in his article, "Is It Responsible to Shun Military Contractors?" As a Department of Defense weapons acquisition executive with some thirty years of dealing with military contractors, I could not avoid asking: "Who's he trying to fool?"
Simply stated, Mr. Stein questioned why "some socially responsible investors shun companies that do military contracting." [Stein] Thus, his assertion: "I had always understood that socially responsible investment firms and advisers wanted a better planet and more dignity for humans and animals. We are currently in a war that is about creating a better, more dignified planet and we are fighting enemies who openly say they want to kill everyone who is not their slavish followers."
Which prompted his question:
"How can this be sensible?" First, making outcasts of military contractors, even during a war, might make sense if the contractors are as corrupt as Halliburton or as counterproductive to the war effort as Blackwater. Given these examples, it seems at least as sensible to be guided by President Eisenhower's warning about the threat posed by military industrial complex, as it does to embrace Stein's categorical imperative requiring unconditional support of defense contractors during periods when America is at war."Do socially responsible investors think they are doing good by trying to make outcasts of military contractors, the very companies that help arm the people battling our foes? How can this be sensible?"
Second, shouldn't ethical investors be concerned about the moral rot of the "revolving door," which enables high-level officials within defense corporations to move into senior positions within the Department of Defense and make defense policy decisions that often enrich both their former and future employers, before eventually returning to the defense industry for even higher salaries, perks and decision-making authority?
Third, shouldn't ethical investors make outcasts of military contractors that "buy" congressmen (through campaign contributions), who then coincidentally earmark taxpayer dollars for weapons produced by their campaign contributors, even when such weapons contribute little to America's national security? Simply consider how defense contractors spread their subcontractors across the country, in order to "buy" widespread political support for their weapons.
Then consider the billions of dollars wasted on America's Ground-based Midcourse missile defense system. Must ethical investors obey Mr. Stein's categorical imperative and invest in the companies producing this system, notwithstanding the fact that it's scarcely relevant to the war in Iraq and the fact that - after decades of research and development and some $50 billion wasted during the "Decider's" years alone — it still possesses no demonstrated capability to intercept even one ICBM equipped with decoys or countermeasures. No, as these examples demonstrate, Stein's categorical imperative is full of holes.
But, what's worse is the fact that it's based upon three erroneous assumptions: (1) Bush's war is a "just" war, (2) it is killing more terrorists than it's creating and (3) it still can be won by military means. In reality, Bush's war is an illegal, immoral war of choice that has created more terrorists than it has killed (thus undermining America's security) and has degenerated into a civil war.
As Barbara F. Walter, an expert on civil wars, recently wrote: "Civil Wars don't end quickly." Thus, "if we don't plan to stay for a very long time in Iraq, there is no added benefit in staying a few extra years. At this point, the longer we stay in Iraq, the more American soldiers will be killed and the more likely our presence will help al Qaeda recruit more supporters." [Barbara F. Walter, "You Can't Win With Civil Wars," Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2007] In such a situation, the refusal to invest in military contractors would be both ethical and patriotic. Perhaps, a categorical imperative!
Finally, before trying to bludgeon ethical investors with his categorical imperative requiring unconditional support of military contractors when America is at war, Mr. Stein might have paid serious attention to Naomi Klein's Harper's article, "Disaster Capitalism." Adapted from her book, The Shock Doctrine, Klein's article describes how the massive use of private contracts has enlarged and transformed the military industrial complex into a "disaster-capitalism complex' that further erodes America's democracy by severing the bonds connecting rich, middle class and poor in the United States.
With just a little thought and preparation, Mr. Stein, you might have anticipated questions about Halliburton and Blackwater, as well as questions about the political corruption of America's weapons acquisition process. You asserted: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Perhaps, but that hasn't prevented you from blighting America's political landscape with close-minded nonsense, much like our other ill-informed journalistic weeds.
Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA).
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