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The devil's dynamo

By John Avery - posted Thursday, 5 April 2018

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. Colonialismcan 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." Chapters 3 and 4 discuss the events leading up to World Wars I and II, and to today's arms race. Chapter 9 discusses the growth of international law and proposals for UN Charter reform.

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.

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John Scales Avery's new book entitled The Devil's Dynamo, dealing with the way in which military-industrial complexes throughout the world drive and perpetuate the institution of war, has recently been made available. The book can be freely downloaded and circulated from the following link:

Other books on global problems can be found at the following address:

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About the Author

John Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin, evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its background situated in the fields of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory.

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