The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 187 | Secret Wars: On Garth Ennis’ Fury: My War Gone By

Leaving Proof 187 | Secret Wars: On Garth Ennis’ Fury: My War Gone By
Published on Sunday, June 2, 2013 by
In Fury: My War Gone By, Garth Ennis asks: Just what were America’s clandestine Cold War operations in the developing world really for?

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

 

- MajGen Smedley D. Butler, USMC (ret.), War is a Racket (1935)

In his 1935 booklet War is a Racket, Major General Smedley D. Butler—one of a handful of military personnel to have received the Medal of Honor twice and the only Marine to have received two Medals of Honor and the Marine Corps Brevet Medal for separate actions—launched a blistering criticism of how America’s foreign military policy could so easily be exploited by the industrial and financial sectors as a source of profit. Smedley wasn’t a pacifist per se—he was all for the use of armed force when appropriate in the defense of the Bill of Rights and the preservation of democracy—but the general accused defense-contracted industrialists, munitions makers, the industrial-scale sugar refineries and fruit importers, bankers, war bond speculators, politicians, and career military officers of war profiteering and being complicit in the active promotion of military adventurism in the interest of lining their bank accounts, all at the cost of American taxpayers and the lives of the frontline fighters of the military.

Fury_MyWarGoneBy_01coverIn the almost 80 years since Smedley wrote War is a Racket, much of the discourse about the ills fomented by the so-called “military-industrial complex” (the term “military-industrial-congressional complex” has found traction in the media in recent years) remains the same: Instead of the Bethlehem Steel and American Sugar Refining Company of Smedley’s day, we now talk about Halliburton and Academi (née Blackwater) as examples of the corporate entities who hold a vested commercial interest in the United States being continuously embroiled in armed conflicts of debatable strategic value beyond its borders, a never-ending bonanza of billion dollar defense contracts, tax exemptions, and kickbacks.

Garth Ennis’ latest project for Marvel’s mature readers-rated MAX imprint Fury: My War Gone By (a series beautifully illustrated by Croatian artist and frequent Ennis co-conspirator Goran Parlov) uses the hindsight perspective of Marvel’s un-aging super-spook Nick Fury to address the question: Just what were America’s clandestine Cold War operations in the developing world really for?

The series begins with Col. Nick Fury in the thick of the first French Indochina War, serving as a CIA adviser for a French military outpost under siege by the Viet Minh, even fighting alongside a former member of Nazi Germany’s S.S. who has found refuge with the French Foreign Legion.

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It is during his mission in Indochina that Fury first meets and begins his work association with Pug McCuskey, a congressman on the rise in Washington who has built his career on a combination of down-home charisma and a staunch anti-communist agenda.

As the series progresses, McCuskey is revealed to be a political opportunist of the worst sort, hiding behind the shield of public patriotism and his anti-communist crusade even as he pushes for an ill-advised, haphazardly planned, doomed-to-failure covert operation in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion with a view to furthering his political ambitions and sparing no thought for the lives of the mission volunteers (which includes Fury) or even the safety of his wife, holed up with the increasingly agitated counter-revolutionary leaders and who suffers physical abuse at their hands after they receive word of the invasion’s failure and McCuskey’s abandonment of their cause.

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It is during the Vietnam War, however, that McCuskey’s ties to defense contractors and corrupt defense personnel are first hinted at. Fury and a pre-Punisher Frank Castle are tasked with a clandestine cross-border mission in Cambodia to assassinate a ranking North Vietnamese army officer, but in a plot point no doubt inspired by the real-world story of disgraced US Army Master Sergeant Ike Atkinson, the McCuskey-vetted CIA handlers who assign Fury the mission turn out to be running a heroin smuggling operation out of the infamous Golden Triangle, and their target Captain Letrong Giap of the PAVN is actually marked for termination because he is in possession of photographic evidence linking the CIA operatives with drug shipments coming from Indochina and landing in the US. It is also during this story-arc that Ennis brings forward a subplot simmering since the series’ opening and a point he first raised in 2001’s Fury MAX: Fury derives a psychological benefit—one could probably call it a fulfillment of a sublimated sociopathic drive—from the lethal violence of armed conflict committed in the name of national defense, and that in his own way, he is just as guilty as McCuskey of the charge of profiting from the instigation of American military intervention overseas. Faced with the opportunity to let Giap live and allow his exposé of the CIA agents’ heroin smuggling operation shorten the conflict by further undermining stateside support for the Vietnam War, Fury chooses to destroy the evidence and let Giap die by Castle’s hands.

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Issue #10 of the series finds Fury in 1984 Nicaragua in an operation again engineered by McCuskey, and it is what the grizzled veteran of numerous shadow wars sees during his time working with the Contras and the Special Forces teams supporting them that finally compels him to, in his own words, “stop lying to [himself],” and face up to thirty years of fighting and killing for the profiteering and career advancement of McCuskey and others like him, all under the pretext of a covert, global war being conducted against the threat of militant communism in the developing world. After bearing witness to a village massacre and cocaine smuggling operations conducted by a rogue Special Forces A-Team led by Barracuda (a villain who first appeared in Ennis’ The Punisher series for Marvel MAX), Fury confronts the politico in last week’s issue #12, the penultimate installment in the series:

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Garth Ennis has been picking at the scab of war profiteering for a while now, sometimes clumsily, such as in the controversial 303, sometimes in books that aren’t overtly military in nature, such as in The Boys and in key portions of his acclaimed run on The Punisher. For readers familiar with his oeuvre, Fury: My War Gone By can sometimes read like a remix of Ennis’ older material, filtered through the cynical, war-weary voice of Marvel’s nigh-immortal Cold Warrior. But the conflict-of-interest issues driving the book’s narrative are timeless, as relevant now as they were 80 years ago when Major General Smedley said the following in a speech given not long after his retirement:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909 to 1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Fury: My War Gone By is slated to end with next month’s issue #13. A trade paperback collecting the first six issues was released in December 2012 and a second trade paperback compiling issues #7–12 is scheduled for an August 2013 release.

Prior Leaving Proof articles in “The Sequential Art of War” series:

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