By Chris Overfelt
Note: Here are excerpts from a talk given at UMKC on Aug. 11 during KKFI’s “Kicking the Koch Habit” conference.
My name is Chris Overfelt and I’m with Veterans for Peace. I was a hydraulics mechanic in the Air Force from 2002 to 2011. During that time, I was deployed to Turkey and Qatar, and directly participated in the destruction of two sovereign nations, Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither of these countries will likely recover from that devastation in my lifetime. Nothing I can ever do in my life will make up for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan men, women and children killed in these wars.
The title of this workshop is “Perpetual War and its Blowback: Everyone Loses.” I want to first address the idea of Perpetual War and then cover the idea of experiencing blowback.
When we use the term ‘perpetual war’ in America, it is often used in relation to the War on Terror and the War in Afghanistan, which has been going on now for 17 years. But today I want to put our current situation here in America into the broader context of the single greatest crime committed in human history. That crime is the transfer of wealth from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere that has been taking place for the last 500 years and is still taking place. This transfer of wealth has locked billions of people in the southern hemisphere into lives of grinding poverty, excruciating labor, premature death, and mental and emotional trauma so white Europeans and North Americans can live lives of affluence and comfort.
This process that began with the colonization of the southern hemisphere by the European nations continues today through the exploitation by private corporations and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Our lives here in North America and Europe are inextricably dependent on the exploitation of resources stolen from nations in the southern hemisphere. Our food, our clothing, our energy, our transportation, our technology; there is not a single aspect of our affluence that is not dependent on cheap foreign labor and the robbery of the incredibly vast natural resources of Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.
All across the world, the United States supports fascist governments through military training and arms deals to ensure they serve the interests of foreign capital, and not the people they rule over. Guatemala, Columbia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Indonesia and all across Africa, the list goes on and on.
The second part of the title of this workshop is blowback. Traditionally, the idea of blowback is thought to be a form of reaction to a certain policy or military action directed towards a certain people. Those who can inflict the most violence are those who hold power. Also, those in power are rarely punished for their crimes, and instead it is only the victims of those crimes who suffer the consequences. Look at the single greatest crime in human history, the transfer of wealth from the southern to the northern hemisphere, and look who is punished for that crime. We, sitting here today, get to enjoy the benefits of this system with no consequences whatsoever, while the indigenous peoples across the global south continue to suffer the humiliation and exploitation of governments who are bribed and bought by foreign capital. For centuries now, this model has been enacted with little to no consequence for the perpetrators.
It is no mystery why the United States has over a thousand bases worldwide, and why we spend a trillion dollars a year on a military budget. How else can we ensure that not only does this model of wealth transfer continue, but also that we cannot be held accountable for it?
A good example of this unaccountablity is what is taking place along the borders of Israel, the European Union, and the United States simultaneously. The centuries of robbery and trauma that have taken place in the global south are now pushing people up from these areas to our doorstep. Instead of taking responsibility for our crimes and addressing the issues of poverty and injustice at their source, in the heart of these southern countries, what do we do? We punish the victims of our own crimes. We station guards at our borders to shoot them, we jail them and humiliate them, vilify them, steal their children, and then send them back to the poverty we have created for them, with not a whiff of justice for ourselves. Martin Luther King correctly said that the arc of history bends toward justice, but it is indeed a very long and very, very shallow arc.
The purpose of this KKFI conference is to bring forward concrete steps we can take to fight the right-wing agenda taking place in our country. This country has always been steeped deeply in right-wing fascism. This is a country founded on the principles of racism and genocide and the idea that all means must be used to ensure that the wealth of the world will reside in the hands of white males for centuries to come.
So how does this affect the Kansas City community? This affects us because the same model of u.s. Militarism that is used abroad is used here at home. Abroad, the state department supports corrupt governments to ensure our access to their resources. We take their resources and bring their wealth into our country, and then we build walls to ensure they cannot come here and participate in the wealth we have taken from them.
This model is exemplified here at home in the suburban urban models. The suburbanites drive into the city, accumulate the capital in the urban areas and store it back in the suburbs where it can be enjoyed. Through housing discrimination and other practices, the urban poor are prevented in participating in the wealth accumulation. Instead of a deployed military ensuring the wealth transfer continues, we have a deployed police force that protects the wealthy from the poor.
Another good example of the two maxims mentioned above is the relationship between the white American community and the black American community. Because the white American community holds the ability to inflict the most violence through its police force, the white American community holds power. And because the white American community holds power, it is immune to taking responsibility for the crimes of slavery. So the descendants of the slaves, on whose backs the wealth of the white community was built, continue to suffer for the crime of slavery through the humiliation of poverty, trauma and segregation, while the white community continues to benefit from the wealth they accrued through the system of slavery.
So what is the best way to fight American militarism abroad? To end it here in our communities. There are four ways to do this.
End the occupation of our minority communities by the police.
End the war on drugs.
Provide access to health care and education to all people.
And end the war on immigrants by defunding ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the border patrol.