This post started as a response to a comment by my friend Todd here in response to this post. Recently I read many letters of George Washington written throughout the entire founding period, collected in this book. The following excerpts are from letters written in 1779 in response to questions about the duration and management of the War for American Independence. They relate specifically to the concept of those who want to extend or encourage war as a way of making money.
War profiteering isn’t anything new. George Washington describes it during the American revolution in these terms:
“nothing therefore in my judgment can save us but a
total reformation in our own conduct, or some
decisive turn to affairs in Europe. The former alas!
to our shame be it spoken! is less likely to happen
than the latter, as it is now consistent with the
views of the Speculators, various tribes of money
makers, and stock jobbers of all denominations to
continue the War for their own private emolument,
without considering that their avarice, and thirst for
gain must plunge everything (including themselves) in
one common Ruin.”
Again George Washington:
“Our conflict is not likely to cease so soon as every
good Man would wish. The measure of iniquity is not
yet filled; and unless we can return a little more to
first principles (MINE: what are these? Goodness,
honesty, genuine interest in honor?), and act a little
more upon patriotic ground (MINE: instead of for a few
people to make more money and grab more power), I do
not know when it will, or what may be the Issue of the
contest. Speculation, Peculation, Engrossing,
forestalling with all their concomitants, afford too
many melancholy proofs of the decay of public virtue;
and too glaring instances of its being the interest
and desire of too many who would wish to be thought
friends, to continue the War.”
Even in 1779 there were elites who took advantage of fear and war to line their pockets. Why should things be different today?
“Is the paltry consideration of a little dirty pelf to
individuals to be placed in competition with the
essential rights and liberties of the present
generation, and of Millions yet unborn? Shall a few
designing men for their own aggrandizement, and to
gratify their own avarice, overset the goodly fabric
we have been rearing at the expense of so much time,
blood, and treasure? and shall we at last become the
victims of our own abominable lust for gain?”
Does human nature change? Is it possible that our motives for aggression and international involvement , and then staying involved in wars, are based on the financial benefits to the elite class, while the regular Joe American pays the costs in increasing taxes, prices, and lives?
Again, these are the words of George Washington. I’m just asking questions. Human tendancies don’t seem to change much.