Session VII — Economic Development and Militarism

“I spent 33 years and 4 months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force — the Marine Corps....  And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism....  I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street... I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested… Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints.  The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts.  We Marines operated on three continents.”

– Smedley Butler, a decorated Marine general, writing in 1935

There is a story that during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign an aide posted a sign on the wall to remind everyone of the most crucial campaign issue: “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Indeed, judging by its coverage in the corporate press, a healthy economy seems essential to people’s livelihoods and our country’s success, and worries abound when the economy is growing too fast or not fast enough.  The latest governmental reports on prices, sales, new housing starts, production of durable goods, and many other indicators receive prime time coverage and serious analysis, and no news report is complete without the latest on the Dow Jones and NASDAQ averages.

This obsession with the economy is such a normal part of our day-to-day lives that we seldom stop to question it.  What fuels this expectation that our economy must continually grow?  What underlying values does economic development rest upon?  What are the consequences of these beliefs and our economic system?

“Democracy,” a word with which we have strong, positive,  emotional ties, is often conflated with “capitalism,” and this is no accident.  We are told that democracy triumphed over communism in the Cold War and that the West is bringing democracy to the long-suffering people of the formerly socialist countries.  This ensures the acquiescence of a majority of people in the US while global corporations and complicit governments force their way to economic and political control around the world. 

As Smedley Butler noted during his career nearly a century ago, it is a system that has long gone hand-in-hand with violence.  The readings in this session examine this phenomenon, and are also linked to the following session on global corporatization.  For 500 years economic expansionism and militarism have been inextricably linked in the brutal colonization of every continent.  In the past, invading armies from another country were required to accomplish this colonization.  Now universal domination is achieved through the imperative of economic development and modernization, with primary enforcement provided by each country’s own military and police force. 


1 – Excerpts from Radical Democracy by C. Douglas Lummis (6 pages)

2 – “The Truth Behind US Foreign Policy,” by Henry Rosemont, Jr. (4 pages)

3 – “The Reagan Legacy,” chapter from The Spoils of War, by John Tirman (2 pages)

4 – “Seeing the System: Alan Greenspan, Unemployment, and the Validation of Radical Analysis,” by Tim Wise (2 pages)

Discussion Questions:

1.     Explore C. Douglas Lummis’s observations about the undemocratic nature of economic development. 

2.     How do corporate interests influence both our military actions abroad and our military production within the US?  What attitudes and beliefs exist among members of the group about the need for a militarized national defense?

3.     How do policy decisions about interest rates, unemployment rates, and what kinds of production to stimulate impact our economy and our day-to-day lives?  Who benefits and who is harmed by these decisions?

4.     Does shifting our thinking about economic development and militarism open new possibilities for the future?  What social structures (e.g., class, race, culture, gender, religion) impact us and how do they colonize our minds?

Supplementary Materials:

     Radical Democracy, by C. Douglas Lummis.  Cornell University, 1996.

     Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America’s Arms Trade, by  John Tirman.  The Free Press, 1997.

     Resist Illegitimate Authority, the newsletter of RESIST, Inc., 259 Elm Street, Suite 201, Somerville, MA  02144, 617.623.5110.

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