Monday, July 22, 2013

What If Illinois Became a "War-Profiteer-Free Zone" ?

There's been a lot of talk in recent weeks and months about the problem of gun trafficking in Illinois, and how we will never meet our goal of stopping the violence in our communities if we can't stop the flow of guns.

Maybe it's time for us to eat our own dog food.

Illinois -- specifically, Chicago -- is home to one of the world's largest weapons purveyors. We're talking here not about handguns or other small arms. We're talking about fighter jets, bombers, and drones. We're talking about Boeing.

Here are five things you need to know about Boeing to understand the position that Boeing and Illinois have irreconcilable differences.

(1) Boeing isn't who you think they are.

Most people think Boeing is a commercial aircraft producer -- the maker of the really big jets that make exciting travel possible, jets like the historic 747 and the new 787 Dreamliner.

The reality is that fully half of Boeing's business consists of making weapons: bombers, rotorcraft, fighter and attack aircraft, tankers and transports, surveillance and other military, unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles, as well as space launch and exploration products, and satellites. And the weapons business is where Boeing's big profits are.

Who is Boeing? Boeing is Apache attack helipcopters. Boeing is the next generation "Phantom Ray" killer drone. Boeing (as well as General Dynamics) is the Tomahawk missile, the missile fired into Libya by the dozens in 2011. Boeing is the FA-18 Hornet fighter, as well as numerous other models that stem from the McDonnell Douglas fighter jet business Boeing acquired. Boeing is the the highly-secret Long Range Strike-Bomber currently under development. Boeing is the radar and video systems Boeing supplies to create a 'virtual fence' on the U.S. border with Mexico.

(2) A hasty marriage of convenience.

In September, 2001, Boeing moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago, from Seattle. In the business world, this was viewed as a great coup for Chicago.

Chicago was eager to define itself as a global business city with corporate citizens of global stature (more on that under (3) below) and Boeing was anxious to distance itself from the communities where it actually did manufacturing. (The technical term for this was "getting out of Dodge.")

There was never any real explanation for why it made sense for Boeing to be in Chicago, or why it made sense for Chicago to become a weapons-supply center.

(3) A region in search of itself.

As indicated above, at the time Boeing moved to Chicago, the city had become eager to define itself as a global business city. It was slowly dawning on the business community that many American industries were becoming "hollowed out" and Chicago's traditional position at the pinnacle of the great American Midwestern economy needed to be re-cast.

This was the period of books like City of the Century and Nature's Metropolis -- books that were part of a discussion about "what makes 'the city that works' work, anyway?" It was also a time when people were intensely focused on the concept of the "global city" -- see, for instance, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo -- and the beginnings of an attempt to understand the entire Midwest better (Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism) and envision a workable future for it.

In a certain way, Boeing fit into the notion of a "global" Chicago. We saw O'Hare Airport, our global hub, as a valuable asset. Boeing was providing commercial planes in huge numbers to rapidly modernizing countries like China. The "atmospherics" (no pun intended) all seemed right . . . .

(4) We are a part of the global community.

Chicago and Illinois are part of a global community.

If I were to list the countries to which Chicago and Illinois are connected by 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc generation immigrants, and by students studying in our colleges and universities, and working in our companies, and through our exports and imports, this would be immediately clear. And if I were to tally numbers, it would be clear that we have millions of points of connection. "Global Chicago" and "Global Illinois" do NOT begin and end with a few big deals penned by a few corporate big shots!

But with that global connectedness comes responsibility. We need to put our foot down and say that we won't be part of weapons proliferation in the homes of our global partners, any more than we want them to ship guns into our communities.

(5) We're being distracted from greener pastures.

Besides doing it for them, we should do it for ourselves.

War profiteering lures people into cheap and easy profits in the near term and makes them lose sight of where their long term benefit lies.

For example, watch this video for an explanation of why spending on green technologies and education are so much more valuable -- including creating so many more jobs -- than military spending: Drones, Jobs and Green Industry - An interview with Robert Pollin, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts (Amherst).

As a specific example, look at the way the current fad for drone development has spread to universities in Illinois and throughout the Midwest.

The use of the expression "greener pastures" here is intentional. It seems clear to me that the great traditions of Chicago/Illinois ascendancy in manufacturing, commerce, distribution, design, invention, job creation, and community development are closely allied to the epochal challenges we face today on a national and global scale: the re-thinking and re-configuring of how we interact with nature and nature's bounty, how we traverse distance, how we build an environment to facilitate large numbers of people to live together in community. Finding solutions to today's versions of those challenges is what we can excel at, to everybody's benefit. None of it involves providing weapons or encouraging violence.

How can Illinois become a "War-Profiteer-Free Zone" ?

As with the problem Illinois faces with small arms, it's not obvious what the path to getting the weapons out of our system is, and it is certain that it won't be easy. But the first step is to admit we have a problem, and determine to make a change.

Related posts

Now that the Israeli government's killings in Gaza are front-page news -- particularly the way military aircraft is being used to mow down innocent men, women, and children -- Boeing's involvement is in everyone's face.

(See Boeing Has an Israel Problem . . . and Chicago Has a Boeing Problem)

It is time now to turn to the dirty secret of American life and the primary dilemma of the antiwar movement: the military money that flows to EVERY Congressional district, and in particular the "good jobs" that members of Congress think they are protecting when they vote for ever-higher levels of military spending.

(See Drones, Permawar, and the Problem of "Good Jobs")

Isn't the real problem that fully half of Boeing's business consists of making and selling war materiel? Is it really necessary to identify the one, or two, or three most egregious weapons that Boeing makes? Do we need to pick and choose?  Isn't the real issue that nice, all-American, fly-the-friendly-skies Boeing is one of the core purveyors of war and misery in the world today, by virtue of its Military Aircraft division? I mean, look at their own sanitized version of what they do -- "Strike, Mobility, Surveillance & Engagement, Unmanned & Missile Systems, Global Support" -- even in their own words its readily apparent that they're peddling poison.

(See The Wrong Labor Struggle at Boeing )

Ames serves a largely Spanish-speaking community. Is the militarization of Ames anything other than a signal of what the Democratic party means by equitable treatment for immigrants?

(See The Militarization of Ames: The Real Meaning of the DREAM Act )

Other related links

June 20, 2014 - "Presbyterians Vote to Divest Holdings to Pressure Israel" by Laurie Goodstein in The New York Times shows Illinois companies being targeted for divestment because of their contributions to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory: "The companies the church has targeted for divestment are Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. The church has about $21 million invested in them, a spokeswoman said. The church says it has tried for many years to convey its concerns that the companies are profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories by selling it bulldozers, surveillance technology and other equipment." (emphasis added)