The Devil’s Dynamo


John Scales Avery – TRANSCEND Media Service

19 Mar 2018 – I would like to announce the publication of a new book entitled The Devil’s Dynamo. It is a collection of articles and book chapters that I have written about the way in which military-industrial complexes throughout the world drive and perpetuate the institution of war. A considerable amount of new material has also been added. The book can be freely downloaded and circulated from the following link:

Why call a book about military-industrial complexes “The Devil’s Dynamo”?

A military-industrial complex involves a circular flow of money. The money flows like the electrical current in a dynamo, driving a diabolical machine. Money from immensely rich corporate oligarchs buys the votes of politicians and the propaganda of the mainstream media. Numbed by the propaganda, citizens allow the politicians to vote for obscenely bloated military budgets, which further enrich the corporate oligarchs, and the circular flow continues.

The Devil’s Dynamo of today has lead to a modern version of colonialism and empire. It is therefore interesting to look at the first global era of colonialism: In the 18th and 19th centuries, the continually accelerating development of science and science-based industry began to affect the whole world. As the factories of Europe poured out cheap manufactured goods, a change took place in the patterns of world trade: Before the Industrial Revolution, trade routes to Asia had brought Asian spices, textiles and luxury goods to Europe. For example, cotton cloth and fine textiles, woven in India, were imported to England. With the invention of spinning and weaving machines, the trade was reversed. Cheap cotton cloth, manufactured in England, began to be sold in India, and the Indian textile industry withered, just as the hand-loom industry in England itself had done a century before.

As Europe became industrialized, European armaments allowed colonial expansion, until ultimately as much as 85% of the world’s land surface fell under the colonial domination of the industrialized nations. Colonialism can be thought of as an early example military-industrial complexes. At this early stage of  industrialism, we can already see wars conducted for the sake of resources. We can already see a circular flow of money from the profits of arms manufacturers to politicians and their newspaper supporters, and back to the arms manufacturers. We can already see the Devil’s Dynamo at work. Chapter 2 reviews the history of these events.

Industrial and colonial rivalry contributed to the outbreak of the First World War, to which the Second World War can be seen as a sequel. The Second World War was terrible enough to make world leaders resolve to end the institution of war once and for all, and the United Nations was set up for this purpose.  Article 2 of the UN Charter requires that “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

The Nuremberg principles, which were used in the trial of Nazi leaders after World War II, explicitly outlawed “Crimes against peace: (i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).”

With the founding of the United Nations at the end of the Second World War, a system of international law was set up to replace the rule of military force. Law is a mechanism for equality. Under law, the weak and the powerful are in principle equal. The basic purpose of the United Nations is to make war illegal, and if war is illegal, the powerful and weak are on equal footing, much to the chagrin of the powerful. How can one can one construct or maintain an empire if war is not allowed? It is only natural that powerful nations should be opposed to international law, since it is a curb on their power. However, despite opposition, the United Nations was quite successful in ending the original era of colonialism, perhaps because of the balance of power between East and West during the Cold War. One by one, former colonies regained their independence. But it was not to last. The original era of colonialism was soon replaced by neocolonialism and by “The American Empire”.

The two world wars of the 20th Century involved a complete reordering of the  economies of the belligerent countries, and a dangerous modern phenomenon was created – the military-industrial complex.

In his farewell address (January 17, 1961) US President Dwight David Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the war-based economy that World War II had forced his nation to build: “…We have been compelled to create an armaments industry of vast proportions”, Eisenhower said, “…Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every state house, every office in the federal government. …We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. … We must stand guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.”

This farsighted speech by Eisenhower deserves to be studied by everyone who is concerned about the future of human civilization and the biosphere. As the retiring president pointed out, the military-industrial complex is a threat both to peace and to democracy. It is not unique to the United States but exists in many countries. The world today spends roughly 1.7 trillion (i.e. 1.7 million million) US dollars each year on armaments. It is obvious that very many people make their living from war, and therefore it is correct to speak of war as a social, political and economic institution. The military-industrial complex is one of the main reasons why war persists, although everyone realizes that war is the cause of much of the suffering of humanity.

The military-industrial complex needs enemies. Without them it would wither. Thus at the end of the Second World War, this vast power complex was faced with a crisis, but it was saved by the discovery of a new enemy: communism. The United States emerged from the two global wars as the world’s dominant industrial power, taking over the position that Britain had held during the 19th century. The economies of its rivals had been destroyed by the two wars, but no fighting had taken place on American soil. Because of its unique position as the only large country whose economy was completely intact in 1945, the United States found itself suddenly thrust, almost unwillingly, into the center of the world’s political stage.

The new role as “leader of the free world” was accepted by the United States with a certain amount of nervousness. America’s previous attitude had been isolationism, a wish to be “free from the wars and quarrels of Europe”. After the Second World War, however, this was replaced by a much more active international role. Perhaps the new US interest in the rest of the world reflected the country’s powerful and rapidly growing industrial economy and its need for raw materials and markets (the classical motive for empires). Publicly, however, it was the threat of Communism that was presented to American voters as the justification for interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

Today, after the end of the Cold War, it has become necessary to find another respectable motivation that can be used to justify foreign intervention, and the “Crusade Against Communism” has now been replaced by the “War on Terror”.

Despite the fact that initiating a war is a violation of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg Principles, the United States now maintains roughly 1000 military bases in 150 countries, According to Iraklis Tsavdaridis, Secretary of the World Peace Council, “The establishment of US bases should not of course be seen simply in terms of direct military ends. They are always used to promote the economic and political goals of US capitalism. For example, US corporations and the US government have been eager for some time to build a secure corridor for US controlled oil and natural gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea in Central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. This region has more than 6 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, and almost 40 percent of its gas reserves. The war in Afghanistan and the creation of US military bases in Central Asia are viewed as a key opportunity to make such pipelines a reality.”

Since World War II, the United States has interfered either militarily or covertly in the internal affairs of very many countries. These include China, 1945-49; Italy, 1947-48; Greece, 1947-49; Philippines, 1946-53; South Korea, 1945-53; Albania, 1949-53; Germany, 1950s; Iran, 1953; Guatemala, 1953-1990s; Middle East, 1956-58; Indonesia, 1957-58; British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64; Vietnam, 1950-73; Cambodia, 1955-73; The Congo/Zaire, 1960-65; Brazil, 1961-64; Dominican Republic, 1963-66; Cuba, 1959-present; Indonesia, 1965; Chile, 1964-73; Greece, 1964-74; East Timor, 1975-present; Nicaragua, 1978- 89; Grenada, 1979-84; Libya, 1981-89; Panama, 1989; Iraq, 1990-present; Afghanistan 1979-92; El Salvador, 1980-92; Haiti, 1987-94; Yugoslavia, 1999;’and Afghanistan, 2001-present. Of the interventions just mentioned, the Vietnam War, the bombing of Cambodia and Laos, and the invasions of of Iraq and Afghanistan were particularly terrible, resulting in many millions of dead, maimed or displaced people, most of them civilians.

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a Washington-based think tank called “Project for a New American Century” maintained that a strategic moment had arrived: The United States was now the sole superpower, and it ought to use military force to dominate and reshape the rest of the world. Many PNAC members occupied key positions in the administration of George W. Bush. These included Dick Cheney, I. Lewis Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wulfowitz, Eliot Abrams, John Bolton and Richard Perle.

Today, the US government is taking actions that seem almost insane, risking a nuclear war with Russia and simultaneously alienating China. In the long run, such hubris cannot succeed. Overspending on war will lead to economic collapse.

As we start the 21st century and the new millennium, our scientific and technological civilization seems to be entering a period of crisis. Today, for the first time in history, science has given to humans the possibility of a life of comfort, free from hunger and cold, and free from the constant threat of infectious disease. At the same time, science has given us the power to destroy civilization through thermonuclear war, as well as the power to make our planet uninhabitable through pollution and overpopulation. The question of which of these alternatives we choose is a matter of life or death to ourselves and our children.

Science and technology have shown themselves to be double-edged, capable of doing great good or of producing great harm, depending on the way in which we use the enormous power over nature, which science has given to us. For this reason, ethical thought is needed now more than ever before. The wisdom of the world’s religions, the traditional wisdom of humankind, can help us as we try to insure that our overwhelming material progress will be beneficial rather than disastrous.

The crisis of civilization, which we face today, has been produced by the rapidity with which science and technology have developed. Our institutions and ideas adjust too slowly to the change. The great challenge which history has given to our generation is the task of building new international political structures, which will be in harmony with modern technology. At the same time, we must develop a new global ethic, which will replace our narrow loyalties by loyalty to humanity as a whole.

In the long run, because of the enormously destructive weapons, which have been produced through the misuse of science, the survival of civilization can only be insured if we are able to abolish the institution of war.

I hope that in addition to downloading and spreading the pdf file of “The Devil’s Dynamo”, readers will also spread the following link, where my other books and articles on global problems are available:


John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Mar 2018.

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