Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Business of Generals

The Carey Business School just announced its Leaders and Legends lecture series. I'll refrain from commenting on the title itself, what's really interesting is the first speaker they chose: General James E. Cartwright. I assume very few people see anything wrong with this, but of course I do. I'll quote what one of the more honest generals, Smedley Darlington Butler, had to say about the intersection of business and war:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and 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 benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

I am sure "Hoss" would be quick to claim that Smedley was a "pinko commie", or that the "modern" military does not do any such thing anymore. I won't spend $35 to hear his talk only to get thrown out during the Q&A session when I ask something inconvenient. I hope nobody else goes either, and empty hall is probably the easiest way of commenting clearly on the choice of speaker.

Not sure yet? Just try to think through what a general knows about business. He knows that "funding" never runs out. He knows that "employees" will do what they are told or else. And he knows that "laws" can be broken without consequence whenever that is convenient.

Still not sure? Why don't you read Smedley's War is a Racket for some historical perspective and then follow it up with Naomi Klein's Risky Business in Iraq for some more recent examples. I wonder how long it'll take them to invite Naomi to speak... :-)

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