The CBS program 60 Minutes recently reported on the latest double-standard benefiting the privileged: the legality of insider trading by Congress, which has influenced the outcome of our laws. This is my personal experience with inside trading by a high officer in the Department of the Navy.
Long before September 11th, 2001 and the attacks on the Twin Towers – when Americans in Armani slacks and ties were given the choice to jump 124 floors, or to be burned to death – I too was given a deadly choice: to invest in war and make tens of thousands of dollars or to refuse blood money and face the ridicule of my father and my peers. Defiantly, I chose the latter.
You see, our country did not choose to go to war on March 20th , 2002 following the 9/11 disaster. Our government chose to go to war long before that. In fact, the decision came just one day after George Walker Bush was selected our 43rd president. Let me explain.
As I remember it, I first learned of the war some time in March of 2001, two months after Bush took office, and about a year before our East Coast Pearl Harbor that changed the nation.
I was working as a floor nurse in a medical hospital at the time. My supervisor had been worried about the recessive stock market, which started plummeting as soon as Bush was inaugurated. She had already lost half her retirement, so she decided to invite a mysterious financial advisor to our unit.
As a “courtesy” to her fellow nurses, she arranged to hold a financial conference. A high officer from the local Navy base volunteered to serve in the role of our financial messiah. As I recall, the conversation went very much like this:
We sat down, and he leaned toward us instantly, “I’ll cut to the chase,” he said. “I have some first-hand information that was just brought to my attention, and I want all of you to benefit from it.” We were all so silent you could hear the spider in her web in the corner.
“I want you to take whatever money you have and invest it in Halliburton.” the officer continued. “If you have as much as $40,000, I promise you a beach house in eight years.”
My father had been trying to teach me about the stock market, and I knew, from reading the financial page, Halliburton wasn’t doing well, not well at all.
“Halliburton’s been slumping,” I said. “How can you be so sure?”
There was no hesitation in his response: “Three things. One. Our vice-president was CEO of Halliburton. Two. I have been informed that all the no-bid food contracts will go to Halliburton, and for all branches of service. And three. The clincher. Guess where they’re sending the food? I mean, do you think I’m getting any of it? No. They’re sending it to Kuwait. That can only mean one thing, we’re going back into Iraq. And this time, the job’s getting done … It means we’ll be there awhile, and it also means that if you have money to invest in Halliburton, at its lowest point in years, you stand to make a killing.”
He didn’t mince words. I mulled it over. “So,” I said finally, “I can make a killing, as you put it, by investing in war.”
“What if I don’t want to invest in blood money?”
I ended up the lone dove. Eight of the nine nurses at the conference invested in their future, and I trust they are doing well. My father was angry I didn’t let him “in on it,” so he could choose to do the same.
All I could do was flash back to Vietnam: the divisiveness, the protests, Kent State, and Tricky Dicky [Nixon]. It was a period of time you both loved and hated, but would have rather avoided entirely. The names I recognized on the memorial Wall I visited in DC provided an instant sick feeling, as evidence for how I remembered Vietnam.
And then there was the link between Vietnam and Iraq. Kellogg, Brown, and Root, which was one of the first war contractors to benefit from the Vietnam War – also turns out to be a subsidiary of Halliburton. The Vietnam War too was fought over oil. But the Gulf of Tonkin was a lot of hot air, and a lot of natural gas.
A few years later, after the fictitious aluminum tubes and “mushroom cloud,” after the secret meetings with Cheney over oil, after the 9/11 Commission, and our executive leaders refusing to testify in the open, or under oath, and after the rising whispers of conspiracy – I ran into a friend, who is a colonel in the armed forces, at a local bookstore. I told him about my story and the financial advice I had been given.
That’s nothing, he informed me, and he proceeded to tell me about a good friend of his who was “supply commander” for the Middle East. The day after Bush became president, the colonel said, his friend was ordered to start building bases in Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He said everyone knew the war was coming.
He avoided the question of whether or not he too made investments.
Without intending it, I had suddenly been dropped on money’s bloody road leading to the Iraqi killing fields of our military industrial complex.
There was so much money to be made from this war, especially if you got in on the ground floor. $40,000 gets you a beach house, a half a million dollars or more just by making a simple investment. Who could resist the temptation? And it’s likely why no one, to this day, talks out loud about the tips they received. And as long as the war continues, they’re basking in big money.
And although oil, defense, and security contractors are doing just fine, war and its debt are risking the financial stability of the public sector across the country. We are now in a growing and lengthy recessive economy, with so many Americans hurting. The question arises more frequently as to how much war is really costing our nation. What could we buy with the nearly $4 trillion we have spent on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Pakistan?
How much will we spend on Syria or Iran? And the people who have invested in war don’t want anyone to turn off the faucet. They know their stocks and dividends will dry up quickly. After all, we are a war economy.
So, how much interest will we end up paying on our war debt, and how much will the debt devour what thriving economy we could have had?
It leads me to suspect that I had run into the mouth of the beast, that ominous creature Eisenhower had endeavored to warn us about a half century ago: When war is for profit, the first casualty of killing for money is truth. It’s the reason why it’s so hard to count all the lies levied for going into Iraq. I question the morality of those in power when war is no longer a painful and reluctant last resort, but instead a knee-jerk compulsion to kill for a buck.
And if so many people are willing to be shareholders in war, maybe Martin Luther King was right, “A nation that spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift approaches spiritual death.” Yes, just what are we willing to do for the love of money, or at least have our children do for that love? And are they killing for patriotism, Christ, or the love of country? Or are they killing for Exxon, Chevron, Halliburton, and for those who profit most from war?
I took the high road. I’m not bragging. The economy is as hard on me as many. And I have nothing to show for my decision. But I think I can live with that. No need to keep washing the blood from my hands, or clean the brush from my ranch. I imagine that’s where George is right now, more from a reflexive need of the subconscious than from integrity or conscience. Regardless, war was always avoidable and never the answer.
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Grant Marcus is a registered nurse He was co-founder of the Abalone Alliance and founder of Nurses for Social Responsibility.