Empire or Republic. How the Empire Destroys its Own People
From Joplin, Missouri to Kabul, Afghanistan
by Prof. James Petras
June 5, 2011
On May 29, 2011, President Obama visited Joplin , Missouri , the site of a devastating tornado that killed 140 and pronounced it a terrible “tragedy”. But were the deaths the inevitable result of ‘natural events’ beyond the human intervention?
Coincidentally the same week Afghan President Karzai condemned the killing of a family of 14 by a NATO fighter bomber, running the total to several hundred civilians killed so far this year and thousands over the decade.
The relation between the civilian deaths in Joplin and Afghanistan raises fundamental questions about the priorities, character and direction of the US Empire and the future of the American republic.
Geography of Tornados
Every year at least 20 major violent tornadoes – with winds exceeding 200 mph – hit “tornado alley” and beyond, including central Texas, northern Iowa, central Kansas, Nebraska, western Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Each and every year at least sixty are killed and several hundred are maimed and injured. This year, through May 2011, over 519 have been killed, 25% of whom were in mobile homes, almost three times as many as those in standard houses.
In other words, these tornado-related deaths are predictable, annual, and region-specific and have a higher incidence among low income households. Government agencies and academics have compiled data banks and time series information mapping the route, frequency and impact of tornadoes.
Information about the nature of killer tornadoes is plentiful. Nevertheless deaths mount from year to year. Fear and insecurity stalks the region’s most susceptible to the violent whirlwinds, even as the Congress and White House have increased personnel and funding for ‘Homeland Security’ twenty fold over the decade .The current budget is over $180 billion. If we add the deaths caused by other ‘natural’ disasters like the flooding of New Orleans , the numbers of deaths are staggering. What explains this perverse relation between huge public funding for ‘homeland security’ and the increased insecurity of vulnerable Americans in clearly identified danger zones?
The reason is clear: ‘Homeland Security’ (HS) is an Orwellian misnomer. The agency is not concerned with domestic, civilian, American security. HS is part of a military-police response to imagined overseas threats, which have not materialized or at least have not produced deaths comparable to tornadoes and floods in the last 11 years.
HS spends billions and employs thousands to investigate, spy and harass citizens engaged in legal-constitutional activities. HS and the Pentagon spend tens of billions on overseas infrastructures – buildings, bases, camps -and over 900 billion in arms. HS and the Defense Department forcefully intervene militarily throughout the world via overt and clandestine operations.
To be precise HS intervenes offensively overseas, attacking civilian targets, while it fails to engage domestically to protect American civilians who are left defenseless in the face of predictable natural disasters.
HS and the Pentagon’s sustained violent overseas operations are rejected and regarded as a hostile imperial intervention by the civilians in those countries adversely affected. In contrast, defenseless citizens in the US would welcome large-scale intervention in the form of community shelters, which would provide survival, security, life-saving protection and financial aid for rebuilding their lives. Moreover, Pentagon and HS spending on overseas infrastructure, bases and bombs results in deficits, whereas investments in tornado and flood shelters would stimulate jobs, growth and investment in the US .
The current activity of HS destroys lives abroad and neglects survival at home: It has nothing to do with our “homeland” and even less with our “security”. Five percent of HS budget would have prevented many of Joplin ’s ‘tragedy’ (and saved us from Obama’s gaseous oratory!) and the other 400 deaths from this year’s crop of tornadoes.
Systemic Bases of Perpetual Domestic Neglect