A book by Dominican politician and historian Juan Bosch explains the connections between U.S. foreign policy, permanent war, and the defense industries.
Have you asked yourself lately: why is the United States sending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to Ukraine seemingly every week? If so, you may find an answer to your question in the book Pentagonism: A Substitute for Imperialism, written by Juan Bosch Gaviño. Bosch was a Dominican historian, essayist, educator, and politician who is among the most important and intriguing figures of the Caribbean left. Pentagonism is a classic, though perhaps neglected, text of Caribbean anti-imperialism.
In Pentagonism, first published in Spanish in the Dominican Republic in 1967 and translated into English the following year, Bosch argues that the old Leninist model of imperialism based around extractive colonies feeding the metropole has become obsolete. Instead, the profits ripped from the core now supersede those stolen from the periphery. The domestic economy is organized around permanent, total war, tying the labor and taxes of the “pentagonist” country (that is, of the United States), to the military machine and its hawkish foreign policy.
Bosch knew of what he wrote from bitter, first hand experience. Bosch was the Dominican republic’s first democratically-elected president – and easily its most progressive. Elected in a landslide in 1962, he advocated for the rights of farmers and the working class, and women, youth, and the unhoused. He tried to limit the power of the old, landowning aristocracy, restrain the influence of the Church, and curb the impunities of the military. Bosch’s policies represented a radical break from those of Dominican dictator Lionel Trujillo, whose assassination in 1961 allowed Bosch to return to the country after 23 years in exile Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Costa Rica.
Bosch’s political, social, and economic reforms raised the ire of both local and U.S. elites. In 1963, after seven months in office, Bosch was overthrown in a coup d’etat. A three-man military junta took over. Two years later, when Bosch supporters staged an insurgency that removed the junta from power, the Pentagon intervened calling on the Organization of American States and, in particular, Brazil for support. In 1965 the US landed 42,000 troops in the country as part of Operation Power Pack. The Pentagon wanted to prevent the emergence of “another Cuba” in the Caribbean – by keeping Bosch from returning to power in the Dominican Republic.
Certainly, the old forms of imperialism (and, indeed of neocolonialism as a “stage” of imperialism as Kwame Nkrumah has written) still remain today. But Bosch’s theories explain how US defense contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, are enriching themselves off Ukraine, while the US citizens are increasingly impoverished and immiserated. As Bosch so eloquently argues, pentagonism explains why: “Pentagonism exploits its own people,” as a “little group of bankers, industrialists, businessmen, generals, and politicians is making war to obtain rapid and generous profits.” An excerpt from Bosch’s Pentagonism is reproduced below.
What Is Pentagonism?
If people in many parts of the world still say that there are imperialist countries and colonialized countries, it is because we have not yet realized that pentagonism has taken the place of imperialism.
In the days when it still existed – a period which lasted until the end of the Second World War – the essence of imperialism was the conquest of colonies in order to invest the surplus capital of the conquering country in them and to take out the raw materials with which to keep the industrial plants of the mother country functioning. At the same time, the colonies were turned into markets for the mother country's industrial production, thereby establishing an endless chain that fettered the economic life of the colonies through political submission to the mother country.
As can be seen from this summary description of the phenomenon called imperialism, a colony was both a zone in which capital was invested and a zone in which profits accumulated, for its labor was cheap, its raw materials were bought at low prices, the banking system of the mother country lent very little money, making only short-term loans at a high rate of interest, the transportation of goods to and from the mother country was controlled, and high tariffs were put on what the colonials bought, while the manufactured products of the mother country coming into the colony were high-priced. This situation of economic control, in the final analysis, had one sole purpose: To see to it that the colonial worker received, let us say, ten monetary units per hour of work and had to pay fifty units per hour of work to buy a product that was made in the mother country with the raw material that this same colonial worker – or one from another colony dependent on the same mother country – had produced for five times less money.
Conquering a colony and keeping it a dependent territory called for the use of a military power whose sole purpose was to conquer and keep a hold on a colonial empire. This required funds, arms factories, specialized schools for the training of officials and civil administrators to be sent to the colonies, and poets, musicians, painters, journalists, and orators to create the heroic atmosphere appropriate to wars in the territories destined to be colonies. But this atmosphere has disappeared and children being born now will have to resort to old books and films of other eras to know what colonial armies were like.
Imperialism is now a shadow of the past, yet out of intellectual inertia we keep saying that imperialism still exists and we keep accusing this or that country of being imperialistic. In view of the fact that two-thirds of mankind [sic] lives in capitalist societies, and in view of the fact that Lenin indissolubly tied imperialism to capitalism — with its own reason for being, when and where it occurred – by saying that imperialism was the last stage – or the most advanced stage – of capitalism, there are those who think that imperialism still exists because capitalism still exists. But this is an illusion. Imperialism no longer exists and capitalism has survived it.
What is the explanation for what we have just said? It is that imperialism has been replaced by a superior force. Imperialism has been replaced by pentagonism.
Industrial capitalism began to develop in the hands of technicians, not of scientists, and began to enroll scientists in its service around the end of the nineteenth century. Put in the service of capitalism, science was to open up unsuspected sources of production that were to bring it infinite resources for the accumulation of capital, sources so numerous and so productive that colonial wealth was to appear to be child's play alongside them. Taking advantage of the work of the scientists, industrial capitalism was to evolve rapidly after the First World War in the direction of the unforeseen stage of overdevelopment which it was to reach because of the Second World War. On entering the atomic era, capitalism was to be so different from what the world had known up until 1939 that in terms of historic evolution it was to have more features of the twenty-first century than of the twentieth.
Today's capitalism is overdeveloped capitalism. This new type of capitalism no longer needs to call upon dependent territories to produce cheap raw materials and consume expensive manufactured articles. Overdeveloped capitalism has found within itself the strength necessary to cube the two terms of capitalism that came into play in the imperialist stage. Its formidable industrial plants, operating under conditions created by scientific accumulation, can produce raw materials – once undreamed of – from basic raw materials and at an extremely low cost; these new raw materials, whose quality, volume, consistency, and size are scientifically guaranteed, have allowed production lines to expand until they attain fabulous figures, and have thereby made the subproduct the key to the minimum indispensable profit for maintaining a going industry, so that the profits obtained from the principal products accumulate for the expansion of existing plants or the setting up of new ones, and the final result of this endless process is a very high productivity, unforeseen in the history capitalism. Thanks to this high productivity, overdeveloped capitalism can pay its people very high salaries, thus giving rise to a buying power within its own boundaries that increases at a gallop, and this in turn permits capitalization to an extent that the most impassioned promoter of military expeditions to conquer colonies in the heyday of Victoria, Queen and Empress, would never have suspected.
Now this phenomenon, which necessarily gave rise to new types of relationships between mother countries and their colonies – the granting of independence to their colonies by the British Empire and General de Gaulle – led to a new phenomenon in the country where capitalism is most overdeveloped. This is pentagonism, which has come to occupy the place that imperialism occupied until a short while ago. Imperialism has now disappeared from the globe, and the word which defined it ought to disappear with it. What is taking place at present in Latin America, in Asia, in Africa – in all the underdeveloped areas – is not the old imperialism defined by Lenin as the last stage – or the most advanced stage – of capitalism. It is pentagonism, the product of overdeveloped capitalism.
Pentagonism retains almost all the characteristics of imperialism, especially those that are most destructive and painful, but it is a more advanced form, and bears the same relation to imperialism that today's overdeveloped capitalism bears to the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century. To state this more graphically, pentagonism resembles imperialism in the nature of its effects, not in its dimensions, just as the cannon used in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 resembles the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, in that both cause death, but not the same number of deaths.
Pentagonism nonetheless differs from imperialism in that it does not share its most characteristic feature, military conquest of colonial territories and their subsequent economic exploitation. Pentagonism does not exploit colonies: it exploits its own people. This is an absolutely new phenomenon, as new as the overdeveloped capitalism that gave birth to pentagonism.
To succeed in the exploitation of its own people, pentagonism colonizes the mother country; but since the colonization of the mother country must be achieved through the same military process as was used to conquer a colony and since it cannot wage war against its own people, the mother country sends its armies out to make war on other countries. And since sending the army of the mother country out against a foreign territory was what was done in the bygone days of imperialism, people continue to think that imperialism still holds sway. But this is not the case. The fact is that the use of military power has not changed; what has changed is the purpose for which it is used.
The military forces of a pentagonist country are not sent out to conquer colonial territories. War has another purpose; war is waged to conquer positions of power in the pentagonist country, not in some far-off land. What is being sought is not a place to invest surplus capital for profit; what is being sought is access to the generous economic resources being mobilized for industrial war production; what is being sought are profits where arms are manufactured, not where they are employed, and these profits are obtained in the pentagonist mother country, not in the country that is being attacked. A contract for bombers brings in several times more profit, in a much shorter time, than the conquest of the richest mining territory, and the contract is obtained in, and brings money in from, the place where the center of pentagonist power lies. The armies operate a long way away from the pentagonist power, but the planes are built at home, and this is where the fabulous sums produced by the contract are earned. These sums come out of the pockets of the pentagonized people, who are at the same time the mother country and the seat of pentagonist power.
The pentagonized people are exploited as colonies were since they are the ones who pay, through taxes, for the bombers that enrich their manufacturers; the mother country thus turns its own people into its best colony; it is at once a mother country and a colony, in an unforeseen symbiosis that requires a new word to define it. It is no longer a classic imperialist power because it does not need colonial territories in order to accumulate profits. It accumulates them at the expense of its own people. A mother country that exploits and an exploited colony no longer exist. There is something else: the “impentagonal” or the “metropo-colony.”
What the United States spends in a month of war in Vietnam it could not recoup in five years if it were to devote itself to getting cheap raw materials out of, and at the same time selling expensive manufactured products to, what was formerly Indochina. And what the United States spends there in a year of military operations it could not recoup in half a century even if the two Vietnams – North and South – were covered with a layer of gold half an inch thick. If the diamond mines of the Transvaal were situated in Vietnam, they would not produce in fifty years of intensive exploitation what the United States spent fighting in Vietnam in 1967.
But out of what the United States spends in a year inside its own country on manufacturing arms, warships, fighter planes, clothes, shoes, medicine, and beer for the forces operating in Vietnam, the pentagonists get what is necessary to keep their fabulous industrial plants working and to pay the highest salaries in the world, a sum which in turn is transformed, through increased buying power for those who receive these salaries, into an ultra-rapid formation of capital through profit. The escalation of the war in Vietnam began in May, 1965; and in 1966, according to the Internal Revenue Service, the United States had 164 more millionaires than in 1965.
This capital that has been so rapidly accumulated is not employed in Vietnam, either wholly or partially, to produce more capital, as would have been the case if the war had been a typical imperialist operation to conquer Vietnamese territory in order to submit it to economic exploitation. This capital is used in the United States to produce more war materiel and more consumer goods that will in turn allow the recovery of part of the high salaries received by workers and white collar employees.
Although several studies have been made to prove that United States military expenditures have very little influence on the general economy of the country, the role these expenditures play in the formation and maintenance of pentagonism as a dominant force in American life has been concealed. Beginning in 1951, the military budget of the United States has been higher than the budget of the civilian (federal) government, which in political terms means that military power began to be greater than civilian power since it had more means at its disposal than the latter, and as a consequence civilian power began to depend increasingly on pentagonist expenditures for its stability.
The word “stability,” as applied to government, does not have the same meaning in the United States that it has in other countries. In the United States a government is more stable when it has a high percentage of public opinion on its side. And the result is that the expenditures of the Pentagon have become a fundamental factor in obtaining this support. President Johnson recognized this in his “Economic Report of the President Transmitted to the Congress” in January, 1967, when he said that “Furthermore, the expansion of defense spending contributed to a significant change in the climate of opinion. The Vietnam build-up virtually assured American businessmen that no economic reverse would occur in the near future.”
When President Johnson affirmed that military expenditures had produced “a significant change in the climate of [public] opinion,” he was referring, of course, to a change favorable to the government, not to an unfavorable one; thus the stability of the government was secured, thanks to the military expenditures that were made through the escalation of the war in Vietnam.
Although we are going to continue to quote President Johnson's statements, for the moment we wish to call attention to the key phrase that refers to American businessmen; we shall return to this later when we study the consequences of pentagonism on the political life of the United States.
The quotation from President Johnson, which we have taken from an official American document, gives the lie to the hired scholars who have attempted to demonstrate, by manipulating statistics with the cleverness of sleight-of-hand artists, that military expenditures have had little influence on the increase in production – and productivity – in the United States. A few lines farther down from the passage we have quoted, President Johnson said: “The increase in defense spending swelled an already strongly rising tide [from the second quarter of 1965 to the first quarter of 1966] of business investment expenditures.” Immediately afterward he cited the following figures:
From the second quarter of 1965 to the first quarter of 1966, business spending for new structures and equipment rose by 9 billions. Defense investment, and social security liberalization, in combination, speeded the growth of disposable income. Consumer spending responded strongly, growing by 29 billions over this three-quarter interval. All in all, GNP advanced at an average of 16 billions a quarter. Real output grew at a phenomenal rate of 7.2 per cent, and industrial production rose at an annual rate of 9.7 per cent.
Although these statements by the President of the United States are important because they categorically give the lie to everything that has been said denying the importance of war expenditures in the growth of the American economy, their political value lies in the phrase that we have referred to, which states that “the Vietnam build-up virtually assured American businessmen that no economic reverse would occur in the near future.” These “American businessmen" are the ones who manipulate the pentagonist economy, the ones who share the profits from military contracts; they are the industrialists, the bankers, the shippers, the shopkeepers, and the promoters who, along with the generals and the pentagonist politicians, manipulate the foreign policy of the United States.
It is a known fact that the kind of imperialism which has now disappeared brought profits to the arms manufacturers. But in a sense these profits were marginal, something like commissions advanced on a far-reaching mercantile operation. The profits that the capitalists – and the governments of the imperialist countries – sought were not the immediate profits that came from the sale of military equipment. The profits sought through the conquest of a colonial territory were long-term investments. The expenses of conquest – including, of course, military equipment and mobilization – represented promotion expenses for the establishment of enterprises that would begin to make a profit after the conquest was consolidated and exploitation was organized. It must be realized that all the expenditures, including in them the value of the materiel, occasioned by a colonial army that in the nineteenth century was sent into the heart of Africa or to an Asiatic country, could not begin to equal the enormous figure involved in the cost of production – and production only – of a squadron of B-52 bombers. On the other hand, once expenditures for conquest had been made, the investment of capital to organize the exploitation of the conquered territory began; the installation of equipment such as railroads, mining installations, and ports began. Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre saw this phenomenon clearly when, commenting on Lenin’s thesis concerning imperialism, he said that the Russian leader was right as far as capitalist countries were concerned, but in the colonial territories imperialism stood for the first stage of capitalism, not the last, since it brought these territories capital investments and capitalist techniques of exploitation that they had not known before.
Pentagonism does not operate on the basis of capital investments in a colonial territory. Pentagonism operates with military methods commensurate with or similar to those used by imperialism, but its purpose is different. For to pentagonism the territory that is going to be attacked, or is under attack, is only a place destined to receive expendable material, both mechanical and human. Costly war materiel is going to be consumed in this place: bullets, bombs, medicine, clothes, cement, equipment to build barracks and roads and bridges, food and drink for the soldiers, and also the soldiers themselves, or at least many of them. The attacked country is the final depository of goods that have already been produced and sold and paid for in the mother country.
From a certain point of view, it would not matter to those who accumulate profits through the production of these goods whether they were thrown into the sea or used up in war maneuvers. But in the former case the endless chain of production – high profits, high salaries, greater sales, ultra-rapid accumulation of capital and increase in production once more, and so back to the beginning of the cycle – would be broken, since the production of such expensive and such short-lived equipment could not be justified if it was not meant for war. Moreover, only a state of war – which the pentagonized people accepts as an emergency situation-permits fabulous expenditures and the quick signing of contracts with firms that have at their disposal the prestige, the credit, and the means to produce materiel immediately.
It must be realized that in order to fulfill a production contract for B-52 bombers to stick to our example hundreds of millions of dollars must be discounted in one or several banks, and this can be done easily only by those industrialists who are directly or indirectly directors of these banks; that is to say, large contracts must go to established firms which have financial and industrial power beforehand.
As far as business is concerned, pentagonism is man’s most fabulous invention and necessarily came into being in the capitalist countries par excellence – the countries of overdeveloped capitalism – since it was there that the capacity for accumulating profit was placed at the top of the scale of social values.
Pentagonism has various advantages over worn-out and now useless imperialism. We can mention two of these, one economic and one moral. The first lies in the fact that pentagonism provides the most rapid and safest means of capitalization conceivable in the world of business, since all of the profits – or almost all – get into the hands of war merchants even before the military equipment has been put to use. In this respect, perhaps only work in the gold mines of California brought such rapid, pure profit, although it was, of course, relatively limited. The second advantage – the moral one – lies in the fact that pentagonism leaves the prestige of the pentagonist country, which is the attacker, intact, because it can say to the world – and to its own people, who are giving the money for the materiel and for the profits of the businessmen and at the same time are providing the soldiers who are going to use this materiel and die while they use it – that it is not making war to conquer colonial territory; that is to say, it is not acting out of imperialist motives.
This last is true, but at the same time it hides the more important truth: that a little group of bankers, industrialists, businessmen, generals, and politicians is making war to obtain rapid and generous profits, which are translated into accumulation of capital and therefore into new investments with which they raise their profits all over again.
The partial truth that serves to hide the fundamental truth is in turn an instrument of propaganda for continuing along the path of pentagonism. Youngsters in the army are easily convinced that their country is not imperialistic, that it is not making war in order to conquer a colonial territory. What is more, they are led to believe that they are going to their deaths to help the attacked country, to save it from an evil. And this is very important, for to lead men to die and to kill it is always necessary to offer them a moral banner to fortify their consciences and justify their actions in their own eyes.
 This quotation and those that follow were taken from this report, published by the Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1967. Italics are mine.
 Ibid, pp. 46-47. The material between brackets follows in the next paragraph.
 Loc. cit.