Mark Harmon, Columnist Published 4:00 p.m. ET Oct. 18, 2017
Mark HarmonBuy Photo
(Photo: Paul Efird / News Sentinel)
Some people misuse the term Catch-22 to describe any dilemma. Catch-22 actually is a rule that raises false hope but contains the seeds of its own negation. The catch in Joseph Heller’s novel, set on a fictional U.S. military air base in Italy during World War II, was that insane pilots could not fly combat missions — but asking not to fly was a sane act; therefore, you had to fly.
The whole book is an extrapolation on the insanity of war. One character from it eerily echoes today. First Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder was the ultimate capitalist war profiteer. His M&M Enterprises controlled everything from food to prostitutes. Once he invested too heavily in Egyptian cotton and found himself covering cotton in chocolate, trying to persuade people to eat it.
Milo even arranged with the Nazis to bomb his own squadron in a scheme to rescue M&M finances. Politicians and newspapers quickly forgave him when he showed the move turned a big profit.
Charlie Daniel cartoon for Sept. 28, 2017 Charlie Daniel
“In a democracy, the government is the people,” Milo declared. “We’re people, aren’t we? So we might just as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”
How far from that amoral doublespeak are the recent machinations of Erik Prince, founder of controversial private security firm and military contractor Blackwater? Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, recently promoted a massive plan to create an army of private contractors and their aircraft to take over much of the war in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump was talked out of his initial support for the idea, but the revelation we came that close to outsourcing our war should scare all of us.
Another Milo-esque moment came at the start of this year when Trump benefactor Prince met in the Seychelles islands with a Russian close to Vladimir Putin — an apparent effort to establish a back channel for use by the incoming president. Why a president with full U.S. communications and diplomatic resources would need such a secret channel remains a curious and disturbing question.
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Lest we forget, American and Iraqi investigators concluded Blackwater guards were unjustified in the infamous 2007 shooting deaths of 17 civilians. The firm then authorized more than a million dollars in secret payments to Iraqi officials to quell outrage regarding various Blackwater misdeeds. One also could note how Vice President Dick Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton, cashed in to the tune of $11 billion in government contracts on the Iraq War that Cheney lied about to promote.
The war profiteers are circling again. How long will it be before we’re all being encouraged to eat the chocolate cotton?
Mark Harmon is a professor of journalism and electronic media at the University of Tennessee, and a member of the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee.
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