William J. Astore – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 01 Feb 2023 04:00:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.8 Can the Military-Industrial Complex Be Tamed? Cutting the Pentagon Budget in Half Would Finally Force the Generals to Think https://www.juancole.com/2023/02/military-industrial-generals.html https://www.juancole.com/2023/02/military-industrial-generals.html#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2023 05:02:04 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=209804 By William J. Astore | –

( Tomdispatch.com ) – My name is Bill Astore and I’m a card-carrying member of the military-industrial complex (MIC).

Sure, I hung up my military uniform for the last time in 2005. Since 2007, I’ve been writing articles for TomDispatch focused largely on critiquing that same MIC and America’s permanent war economy. I’ve written against this country’s wasteful and unwise wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its costly and disastrous weapons systems, and its undemocratic embrace of warriors and militarism. Nevertheless, I remain a lieutenant colonel, if a retired one. I still have my military ID card, if only to get on bases, and I still tend to say “we” when I talk about my fellow soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen (and our “guardians,” too, now that we have a Space Force).

So, when I talk to organizations that are antiwar, that seek to downsize, dismantle, or otherwise weaken the MIC, I’m upfront about my military biases even as I add my own voice to their critiques. Of course, you don’t have to be antiwar to be highly suspicious of the U.S. military. Senior leaders in “my” military have lied so often, whether in the Vietnam War era of the last century or in this one about “progress” in Iraq and Afghanistan, that you’d have to be asleep at the wheel or ignorant not to have suspected the official story.

Yet I also urge antiwar forces to see more than mendacity or malice in “our” military. It was retired general and then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, after all, who first warned Americans of the profound dangers of the military-industrial complex in his 1961 farewell address. Not enough Americans heeded Ike’s warning then and, judging by our near-constant state of warfare since that time, not to speak of our ever-ballooning “defense” budgets, very few have heeded his warning to this day. How to explain that?

Well, give the MIC credit. Its tenacity has been amazing. You might compare it to an invasive weed, a parasitic cowbird (an image I’ve used before), or even a metastasizing cancer. As a weed, it’s choking democracy; as a cowbird, it’s gobbling up most of the “food” (at least half of the federal discretionary budget) with no end in sight; as a cancer, it continues to spread, weakening our individual freedoms and liberty. 

Call it what you will. The question is: How do we stop it? I’ve offered suggestions in the past; so, too, have writers for TomDispatch like retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich and retired Army Major Danny Sjursen, as well as William Hartung, Julia Gledhill, and Alfred McCoy among others. Despite our critiques, the MIC grows ever stronger. If Ike’s warning wasn’t eye-opening enough, enhanced by an even more powerful speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1967, what could I and my fellow TomDispatch writers possibly say or do to make a difference?

Maybe nothing, but that won’t stop me from trying. Since I am the MIC, so to speak, maybe I can look within for a few lessons that came to me the hard way (in the sense that I had to live them). So, what have l learned of value?

War Racketeers Enjoy Their Racket

In the 1930s, Smedley Butler, a Marine general twice decorated with the Medal of Honor, wrote a book entitled War Is a Racket. He knew better than most since, as he confessed in that volume, when he wore a military uniform, he served as “a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” And the corporate-driven racket he helped enable almost a century ago by busting heads from the Caribbean to China was small-scale indeed compared to today’s thoroughly global one.

There’s an obvious lesson to be drawn from its striking endurance, never-ending enlargement, and distinct engorgement in our moment (even after all those lost wars it fought): the system will not reform itself.  It will always demand and take more — more money, more authority, more power.  It will never be geared for peace.  By its nature, it’s authoritarian and distinctly less than honorable, replacing patriotism with service loyalty and victory with triumphant budgetary authority.  And it always favors the darkest of scenarios, including at present a new cold war with China and Russia, because that’s the best and most expedient way for it to thrive.

Within the military-industrial complex, there are no incentives to do the right thing.  Those few who have a conscience and speak out honorably are punished, including truth-tellers in the enlisted ranks like Chelsea Manning and Daniel Hale. Even being an officer doesn’t make you immune.  For his temerity in resisting the Vietnam War, David M. Shoup, a retired Marine Corps general and Medal of Honor recipient, was typically dismissed by his peers as unbalanced and of questionable sanity.

For all the talk of “mavericks,” whether in Top Gun or elsewhere, we — there’s that “we” again (I can’t help myself!) — in the military are a hotbed of go-along-to-get-along conformity.

Recently, I was talking with a senior enlisted colleague about why so few top-ranking officers are willing to speak truth to the powerless (that’s you and me) even after they retire. He mentioned credibility. To question the system, to criticize it, to air dirty laundry in public is to risk losing credibility within the club and so to be rejected as a malcontent, disloyal, even “unbalanced.” Then, of course, that infamous revolving door between the military and giant weapons makers like Boeing and Raytheon simply won’t spin for you.  Seven-figure compensation packages, like the one current Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gained from Raytheon after his retirement as an Army general, won’t be an option. And in America, who doesn’t want to cash in while gaining more power within the system?

Quite simply, it pays so much better to mouth untruths, or at least distinctly less-than-full-truths, in service to the powerful. And with that in mind, here, at least as I see it, are a few full truths about my old service, the Air Force, that I guarantee you I won’t be applauded for mentioning. How about this as a start: that the production of F-35s — an overpriced “Ferrari” of a fighter jet that’s both too complex and remarkably successful as an underperformer — should be canceled (savings: as much as $1 trillion over time); that the much-touted new B-21 nuclear bomber isn’t needed (savings: at least $200 billion) and neither is the new Sentinel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (savings: another $200 billion and possibly the entire Earth from doomsday); that the KC-46 tanker is seriously flawed and should be canceled (savings: another $50 billion). 

Now, tote it up. By canceling the F-35, the B-21, the Sentinel, and the KC-46, I singlehandedly saved the American taxpayer roughly $1.5 trillion without hurting America’s national defense in the least. But I’ve also just lost all credibility (assuming I had any left) with my old service.

Look, what matters to the military-industrial complex isn’t either the truth or saving your taxpayer dollars but keeping those weapons programs going and the money flowing. What matters, above all, is keeping America’s economy on a permanent wartime footing both by buying endless new (and old) weapons systems for the military and selling them globally in a bizarrely Orwellian pursuit of peace through war. 

How are Americans, Ike’s “alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” supposed to end a racket like this? We certainly should know one thing by now: the MIC will never check itself and Congress, already part of it thanks to impressive campaign donations and the like by major weapons makers, won’t corral it either.  Indeed, last year, Congress shoveled $45 billion more than the Biden administration requested (more even than the Pentagon asked for) to that complex, all ostensibly in your name. Who cares that it hasn’t won a war of the faintest significance since 1945. Even “victory” in the Cold War (after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991) was thrown away. And now the complex warns us of an onrushing “new cold war” to be waged, naturally, at tremendous cost to you, the American taxpayer.  

As citizens, we must be informed, willing, and able to act. And that’s precisely why the complex seeks to deny you knowledge, precisely why it seeks to isolate you from its actions in this world. So, it’s up to you — to us! — to remain alert and involved. Most of all, each of us must struggle to keep our identity and autonomy as a citizen, a rank higher than that of any general or admiral, for, as we all need to be reminded, those wearing uniforms are supposed to serve you, not vice-versa.

I know you hear otherwise. You’ve been told repeatedly in these years that it’s your job to “support our troops.” Yet, in truth, those troops should only exist to support and defend you, and of course the Constitution, the compact that binds us all together as a nation.

When misguided citizens genuflect before those troops (and then ignore everything that’s done in their name), I’m reminded yet again of Ike’s sage warning that only Americans can truly hurt this country. Military service may be necessary, but it’s not necessarily ennobling. America’s founders were profoundly skeptical of large militaries, of entangling alliances with foreign powers, and of permanent wars and threats of the same. So should we all be.

Citizens United Is the Answer

No, not thatCitizens United,” not the case in which the Supreme Court decided corporations had the same free speech rights as you and me, allowing them to coopt the legislative process by drowning us out with massive amounts of “speech,” aka dark-money-driven propaganda. We need citizens united against America’s war machine.

Understanding how that machine works — not just its waste and corruption, but also its positive attributes — is the best way to wrestle it down, to make it submit to the people’s will. Yet activists are sometimes ignorant of the most basic facts about “their” military. So what? Does the difference between a sergeant major and a major, or a chief petty officer and the chief of naval operations matter? The answer is: yes.

An antimilitary approach anchored in ignorance won’t resonate with the American people. An antiwar message anchored in knowledge could, however. It’s important, that is, to hit the proverbial nail on the head. Look, for example, at the traction Donald Trump gained in the presidential race of 2015-2016 when he did something few other politicians then dared do: dismiss the Iraq War as wasteful and stupid. His election win in 2016 was not primarily about racism, nor the result of a nefarious Russian plot. Trump won, at least in part because, despite his ignorance on so many other things, he spoke a fundamental truth — that America’s wars of this century were horrendous blunders.

Trump, of course, was anything but antimilitary. He dreamed of military parades in Washington, D.C. But I (grudgingly) give him credit for boasting that he knew more than his generals and by that I mean many more Americans need to challenge those in authority, especially those in uniform.

Yet challenging them is just a start. The only real way to wrestle the military-industrial complex to the ground is to cut its funding in half, whether gradually over years or in one fell swoop. Yes, indeed, it’s the understatement of the century to note how much easier that’s said than done. It’s not like any of us could wave a military swagger stick like a magic wand and make half the Pentagon budget disappear. But consider this: If I could do so, that military budget would still be roughly $430 billion, easily more than China’s and Russia’s combined, and more than seven times what this country spends on the State Department. As usual, you get what you pay for, which for America has meant more weapons and disastrous wars.

Join me in imagining the (almost) inconceivable — a Pentagon budget cut in half. Yes, generals and admirals would scream and Congress would squeal. But it would truly matter because, as a retired Army major general once told me, major budget cuts would force the Pentagon to think — for once. With any luck, a few sane and patriotic officers would emerge to place the defense of America first, meaning that hubristic imperial designs and forever wars would truly be reined in because there’d simply be no more money for them.

Currently, Americans are giving the Pentagon all it wants — plus some. And how’s that been working out for the rest of us? Isn’t it finally time for us to exercise real oversight, as Ike challenged us to do in 1961? Isn’t it time to force the Pentagon to pass an audit each year — it’s failed the last five! — or else cut its budget even more deeply? Isn’t it time to hold Congress truly responsible for enabling ever more war by voting out military sycophants? Isn’t it time to recognize, as America’s founders did, that sustaining a vast military establishment constitutes the slow and certain death of democracy?

Just remember one thing: the military-industrial complex won’t reform itself. It just might have no choice, however, but to respond to our demands, if we as citizens remain alert, knowledgeable, determined, and united. And if it should refuse to, if the MIC can’t be tamed, whether because of its strength or our weakness, you will know beyond doubt that this country has truly lost its way.

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Why does the Pentagon Budget Really Keep Growing? When Democracies Pursue Imperial Dominance it doesn’t End Well https://www.juancole.com/2023/01/pentagon-democracies-dominance.html Mon, 16 Jan 2023 05:02:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=209466 ( Tomdispatch.com) – Imagine this scenario for a moment: a “great power” watches another major power fight a war in a nearby nation for 10 years before its army limps home defeated and, not so very long after, that country implodes. A little over a decade later, by then unofficially the “last superpower” on planet earth, the second country chooses — yes, you guessed it — to fight its own war in that very same land, which happens to be almost 7,500 miles away by air. Like its predecessor, it, too, finds that, no matter what forces it brings to bear, it simply can’t win. Still, it continues to try for 20 years!

All of that should sound familiar indeed to those of us of a certain age.  And yes, of course, I was referring first to the Soviet Union’s disaster in Afghanistan (much aided and abetted by the CIA and significant American financing of the guerrilla forces fighting the Red Army) and then to Washington’s version of the same disaster. That ended in August 2021 in a chaotic U.S. withdrawal and the complete collapse of the Afghan forces it had been backing all those years.  In the last moments of that defeat — consider it the icing on the cake — an American drone took out a white Toyota Corolla in a neighborhood near the airport in that nation’s capital, Kabul, where the U.S. evacuation was underway. In the process, it slaughtered 10 Afghans, including a “long-time aid worker” and seven children, misidentified as enemy agents on a mission to attack American forces at that very airport.

Oh, and then the U.S. military did its best to bury its own investigation of that small-scale disaster amid the far larger one, something revealed recently by the remarkable New York Times reporter Azmat Khan.

And here’s my question to you: What did the U.S. military learn from all that?  The answer is simple enough, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore makes clear today. No matter that this country had wasted $2.3 trillion on its Afghan adventure, its top military officials learned that nothing could stop Congress from appropriating yet more money for a military budget that, at this point, seems headed for the trillion-dollar mark annually. Consider it strange indeed that, in this all-American world of ours, even though this country hasn’t won a war of significance since World War II, the only politicians in Washington — a small number of progressive Democrats like Barbara Lee aside — who display any interest in cutting that budget are in the otherwise disastrous Trumpist Freedom Caucus.  Honestly, what a world!

And with that, I leave you to Astore to consider the Pentagon’s latest assessment of its future and the barrels of money its failures continue to bring in. Tom

Imperial Dominance Disguised as Democratic Deterrence

The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy Drives Record Military Spending

More than two millennia ago, in the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides recounted a disastrous conflict Athens waged against Sparta. A masterwork on strategy and war, the book is still taught at the U.S. Army War College and many other military institutions across the world. A passage from it describing an ultimatum Athens gave a weaker power has stayed with me all these years. And here it is, loosely translated from the Greek: “The strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.”

Recently, I read the latest National Defense Strategy, or NDS, issued in October 2022 by the Pentagon, and Thucydides’s ancient message, a warning as clear as it was undeniable, came to mind again. It summarized for me the true essence of that NDS: being strong, the United States does what it wants and weaker powers, of course, suffer as they must. Such a description runs contrary to the mythology of this country in which we invariably wage war not for our own imperial ends but to defend ourselves while advancing freedom and democracy. Recall that Athens, too, thought of itself as an enlightened democracy even as it waged its imperial war of dominance on the Peloponnesus. Athens lost that war, calamitously, but at least it did produce Thucydides, a military leader who became a historian and wrote all too bluntly about his country’s hubristic, ultimately fatal pursuit of hegemony.

Imperial military ambitions contributed disastrously to Athens’s exhaustion and ultimate collapse, a lesson completely foreign to U.S. strategists. Not surprisingly, then, you’ll find no such Thucydidean clarity in the latest NDS approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In place of that Greek historian’s probity and timeless lessons, the NDS represents an assault not just on the English language but on our very future. In it, a policy of failing imperial dominance is eternally disguised as democratic deterrence, while the greatest “strategic” effort of all goes (remarkably successfully) into justifying massive Pentagon budget increases. Given the sustained record of failures in this century for what still passes as the greatest military power on the planet — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, of course, but don’t forget Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and indeed the entire $8 trillion Global War on Terror in all its brutality — consider the NDS a rare recent “mission accomplished” moment. The 2023 baseline “defense” budget now sits at $858 billion, $45 billion more than even the Biden administration requested.

With that yearly budget climbing toward a trillion dollars (or more) annually, it’s easy to conclude that, at least when it comes to our military, nothing succeeds like failure. And, by the way, that not only applies to wars lost at a staggering cost but also financial audits blown without penalty. After all, the Pentagon only recently failed its fifth audit in a row. With money always overflowing, no matter how it may be spent, one thing seems guaranteed: some future American Thucydides will have the material to produce a volume or volumes beyond compare. Of course, whether this country goes the way of Athens — defeat driven by military exhaustion exacerbated by the betrayal of its supposedly deepest ideals leading to an ultimate collapse — remains to be seen. Still, given that America’s war colleges continue to assign Thucydides, no one can say that our military and future NDS writers didn’t get fair warning when it comes to what likely awaits them.

Bludgeoning America with Bureaucratese

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.

That’s a saying I learned early in my career as an Air Force officer, so I wasn’t exactly surprised to discover that it’s the NDS’s guiding philosophy. The document has an almost Alice in Wonderland-like quality to it as words and phrases take on new meanings. China, you won’t be surprised to learn, is a “pacing challenge” to U.S. security concerns; Russia, an “acute threat” to America due to its “unprovoked, unjust, and reckless invasion of Ukraine” and other forms of “irresponsible behavior”; and building “combat-credible forces” within a “defense ecosystem” is a major Pentagon goal, along with continuing “investments in mature, high-value assets” (like defective aircraft carriers, ultra-expensive bombers and fighter jets, and doomsday-promising new ICBMs).

Much talk is included about “leveraging” those “assets,” “risk mitigation,” and even “cost imposition,” a strange euphemism for bombing, killing, or otherwise inflicting pain on our enemies. Worse yet, there’s so much financial- and business-speak in the document that it’s hard not to wonder whether its authors don’t already have at least one foot in the revolving door that could, on their retirement from the military, swing them onto the corporate boards of major defense contractors like Boeing and Raytheon.

Perhaps my favorite redefined concept in that NDS lurks in the word “campaigning.” In the old days, armies fought campaigns in the field and generals like Frederick the Great or Napoleon truly came to know the price of them in blood and treasure. Unlike U.S. generals since 1945, they also knew the meaning of victory, as well as defeat. Perish the thought of that kind of campaigning now. The NDS redefines it, almost satirically, not to say incomprehensibly, as “the conduct and sequencing of logically-linked military initiatives aimed at advancing well-defined, strategy-aligned priorities over time.” Huh?

Campaigning, explains the cover letter signed by Secretary of Defense Austin (who won’t be mistaken for Frederick II in his bluntness or Napoleon in his military acuity), “is not business as usual — it is the deliberate effort to synchronize the [Defense] Department’s activities and investments to aggregate focus and resources to shift conditions in our favor.”

Got it? Good!

Of course, who knows what such impenetrable jargon really means to our military in 2023? This former military officer certainly prefers the plain and honest language of Thucydides. In his terms, America, the strong, intends to do what it will in the world to preserve and extend “conditions in our favor,” as the NDS puts it — a measure by which this country has failed dismally in this century. Weaker countries, especially those that are “irresponsible,” must simply suffer. If they resist, they must be prepared for some “cost imposition” events exercised by our “combat-credible forces.” Included in those are America’s “ultimate backstop” of cost imposition… gulp, its nuclear forces.

Again, the NDS is worthy of close reading (however pain-inducing that may be) precisely because the secretary of defense does claim that it’s his “preeminent guidance document.” I assume he’s not kidding about that, though I wish he were. To me, that document is to guidance as nuclear missiles are to “backstops.” If that last comparison is jarring, I challenge you to read it and then try to think or write clearly.

Bringing Clarity to America’s Military Strategy

To save you the trauma of even paging through the NDS, let me try to summarize it quickly in my version — if not the Pentagon’s — of English:

  1. China is the major threat to America on this planet.
  2. Russia, however, is a serious threat in Europe.
  3. The War on Terror continues to hum along successfully, even if at a significantly lower level.
  4. North Korea and Iran remain threats, mainly due to the first’s growing nuclear arsenal and the second’s supposed nuclear aspirations.
  5. Climate change, pandemics, and cyberwar must also be factored in as “transboundary challenges.”

“Deterrence” is frequently used as a cloak for the planetary dominance the Pentagon continues to dream of. Our military must remain beyond super-strong (and wildly overfunded) to deter nations and entities from striking “the homeland.” There’s also lots of talk about global challenges to be met, risks to be managed, “gray zone” methods to be employed, and references aplenty to “kinetic action” (combat, in case your translator isn’t working) and what’s known as “exploitable asymmetries.”

Count on one thing: whatever our disasters in the real world, nobody is going to beat America in the jargon war.

Missing in the NDS — and no surprise here — is any sense that war is humanity’s worst pastime. Even the mass murder implicit in nuclear weapons is glossed over. The harshest realities of conflict, nuclear war included, and the need to do anything in our power to prevent them, naturally go unmentioned. The very banality of the document serves to mask a key reality of our world: that Americans fund nothing as religiously as war, that most withering of evils.

Perhaps it’s not quite the banality of evil, to cite the telling phrase political philosopher Hannah Arendt used to describe the thoughts of the deskbound mass-murderers of the Holocaust, but it does have all of war’s brutality expunged from it. As we stare into the abyss, the NDS replies with mind-numbing phrases and terms that wouldn’t be out of place in a corporate report on rising profits and market dominance.

Yet as the military-industrial complex maneuvers and plots to become ever bigger, ever better funded, and ever more powerful, abetted by a Congress seemingly lustful for ever more military spending and weapons exports, hope for international cooperation, productive diplomacy, and democracy withers. Here, for instance, are a few of the things you’ll never see mentioned in this NDS:

  1. Any suggestion that the Pentagon budget might be reduced. Ever.
  2. Any suggestion that the U.S. military’s mission or “footprint” should be downsized in any way at all.
  3. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. and its allies spend far more on their militaries than “pacing challengers” like China or “acute threats” like Russia.
  4. Any acknowledgment that the Pentagon’s budget is based not on deterrence but on dominance.
  5. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. military has been far less than dominant despite endless decades of massive military spending that produced lost or stalemated wars from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.
  6. Any suggestion that skilled diplomacy and common security could lead to greater cooperation or decreased tensions.
  7. Any serious talk of peace.

In brief, in that document and thanks to the staggering congressional funding that goes with it, America is being eternally spun back into an age of great-power rivalry, with Xi Jinping’s China taking the place of the old Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin’s Russia that of Mao Zedong’s China. Consistent with that retro-vision is the true end goal of the NDS: to eternally maximize the Pentagon budget and so the power and authority of the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Basically, any power that seeks to push back against the Pentagon’s vision of security through dominance is defined as a threat to be “deterred,” often in the most “kinetic” way. And the greatest threat of all, requiring the most “deterrence,” is, of course, China.

In a textbook case of strategic mirror-imaging, the Pentagon’s NDS sees that country and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as acting almost exactly like the U.S. military. And that simply cannot be allowed.

Here’s the relevant NDS passage:

“In addition to expanding its conventional forces, the PLA is rapidly advancing and integrating its space, counterspace, cyber, electronic, and information warfare capabilities to support its holistic approach to joint warfare. The PLA seeks to target the ability of the [U.S.] Joint Force to project power to defend vital U.S. interests and aid our Allies in a crisis or conflict. The PRC [China] is also expanding the PLA’s global footprint and working to establish a more robust overseas and basing infrastructure to allow it to project military power at greater distances. In parallel, the PRC is accelerating the modernization and expansion of its nuclear capabilities.”

How dare China become more like the United States! Only this country is allowed to aspire to “full-spectrum dominance” and global power, as manifested by its 750 military bases scattered around the world and its second-to-none, blue-water navy. Get back to thy place, China! Only “a free people devoted to democracy and the rule of law” can “sustain and strengthen an international system under threat.” China, you’ve been warned. Better not dare to keep pace with the U.S. of A. (And heaven forfend that, in a world overheating in a devastating way, the planet’s two greatest greenhouse gas emitters should work together to prevent true catastrophe!)

Revisiting the Oath of Office

Being a retired U.S. military officer, I always come back to the oath of office I once swore to uphold: “To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Naturally, if China, Russia, or any other country or entity attacks or otherwise directly menaces the U.S., I expect our military to defend this country with all due vigor.

That said, I don’t see China, Russia, or weaker countries like Iran or North Korea risking attacks against America proper, despite breathless talk of world “flashpoints.” Why would they, when any such attack would incur a devastating counterattack, possibly including America’s trusty “backstop,” its nuclear weapons?

In truth, the NDS is all about the further expansion of the U.S. global military mission. Contraction is a concept never to be heard. Yet reducing our military’s presence abroad isn’t synonymous with isolationism, nor, as has become ever more obvious in recent years, is an expansive military structure a fail-safe guarantor of freedom and democracy at home. Quite the opposite, constant warfare and preparations for more of it overseas have led not only to costly defeats, most recently in Afghanistan, but also to the increasing militarization of our society, a phenomenon reflected, for instance, in the more heavily armed and armored police forces across America.

The Pentagon’s NDS is a classic case of threat inflation cloaked in bureaucratese where the “facts” are fixed around a policy that encourages the incessant and inflationary growth of the military-industrial complex. In turn, that complex empowers and drives a “rules-based international order” in which America, as hegemon, makes the rules. Again, as Thucydides put it, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.

Yet, to paraphrase another old book, what does it profit a people to gain the whole world yet lose their very soul?  Like Athens before it, America was once a flawed democracy that nevertheless served as an inspiration to many because militarism, authoritarianism, and imperial pretense didn’t drive it. Today, this country is much like Thucydides’s Athens, projecting power ever-outwards in a misbegotten exercise to attain mastery through military supremacy.

It didn’t end well for Athens, nor will it for the United States.

Tomdispatch.com

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The Madness of Nuclear Warfare, Alive and Well in America https://www.juancole.com/2022/12/madness-nuclear-warfare.html Fri, 16 Dec 2022 05:02:46 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=208817 ( Tomdispatch.com) – Hey, cheer up because it truly is a beauty! I’m talking about this country’s latest “stealth bomber,” the B-21 Raider, just revealed by Northrop Grumman, the company that makes it, in all its glory. With its striking bat-winged shape and its ability to deliver a very big bang (as in nuclear weapons), it’s our very own “bomber of the future.” As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put it at its explosive debut, it will “fortify America’s ability to deter aggression, today and into the future.” Now, that truly makes me proud to be an American.

And while you’re at it, on this MAD (as in mutually assured destruction) world of ours, let that scene, that peculiar form of madness, involving the potential end of everything on Planet Earth, sink in. As a retired Air Force officer, it reminded me all too vividly of my former service and brought to mind the old motto of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), “Peace Is Our Profession.” Headed in its proudest years by the notorious General Curtis LeMay, it promised “peace” via the threat of the total nuclear annihilation of America’s enemies. 

SAC long controlled two “legs” of this country’s nuclear triad: its land-based bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. During the Cold War, those Titans, Minutemen, and MX “Peacekeepers” were kept on constant alert, ready to pulverize much of the planet at a moment’s notice. It didn’t matter that this country was likely to be pulverized, too, in any war with the Soviet Union. What mattered was remaining atop the nuclear pile. A concomitant benefit was keeping conventional wars from spinning out of control by threatening the nuclear option or, as was said at the time, “going nuclear.” (In the age of Biden, it’s “Armageddon.”)

Luckily, since the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world hasn’t gone nuclear again and yet this country’s military continues, with the help of weapons makers like Northrop Grumman, to hustle down that very path to Armageddon. Once upon a time, the absurdity of all this was captured by Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, the satirical 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, which featured a “war room” in which there was no fighting, even as its occupants oversaw a nuclear doomsday. Sadly enough, that movie still seems eerily relevant nearly 60 years later in a world lacking the Soviet Union, where the threat of nuclear war nonetheless looms ever larger. What gives?

The short answer is that America’s leaders, like their counterparts in Russia and China, seem to have a collective death wish, a shared willingness to embrace the most violent and catastrophic weapons in the name of peace.

Nuclear Bombers and ICBMs Return!

There’s nothing magical about the nuclear triad. It’s not the Holy “Trinity,” as a congressman from Florida said long ago. Even so, it’s worshipped by the U.S. military in its own all-too-expensive fashion. America’s triad consists of bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons (B-52s, B-1s, B-2s, and someday B-21s), those land-based ICBMs, and that most survivable “leg,” the U.S. Navy’s Trident-missile-firing submarines. No other country has a triad quite as impressive (if that’s the word for it), nor is any other country planning to spend up to $2 trillion over the next three decades “modernizing” it. The Air Force, of course, controls the first two legs of that triad and isn’t about to give them up just because they’re redundant to America’s “defense” (given those submarines), while constituting a threat to life on this planet.

Recently, when the Air Force unveiled that B-21 Raider, its latest nuclear-capable bomber, we learned that it looks much like its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit, with its bat-like shape (known as a “flying wing” design) driven by stealth or the avoidance of radar detection. The Air Force plans to buy “at least” 100 of those planes at a projected cost of roughly $750 million each. Count on one thing, though: with the inevitable delays and cost overruns associated with any high-tech military project these days, the flyaway cost will likely exceed $1 billion per plane, or at least $100 billion of your taxpayer dollars (and possibly even $200 billion).

Four years ago, when I first wrote about the B-21, its estimated cost was $550 million per plane, but you know the story, right? The F-35 was supposed to be a low-cost, multi-role fighter jet. A generation later, by the Air Force’s own admission, it’s now a staggeringly expensive “Ferrari” of a plane, sexy in appearance but laden with flaws. Naturally, the B-21 is advertised as a multi-role bomber that can carry “conventional” or non-nuclear munitions as well as thermonuclear ones, but its main reason for being is its alleged ability to put nuclear bombs on target, even without Slim Pickens (“Major Kong” in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove) riding down on one of them.

The main arguments for expensive nuclear bombers are that they can be launched as a show of resolve but also, unlike missiles, recalled, if necessary. (Or so we hope anyway.) They have a “man in the loop” for greater targeting flexibility and so complicate the enemy’s defensive planning. Such arguments may have made some sense in the 1950s and early 1960s, before ICBMs and their sub-launched equivalents were fully mature technologies, but they’re stuff and nonsense today. If nuclear-capable nations like Russia and China aren’t already deterred by the hundreds of missiles with thousands of highly accurate nuclear warheads in America’s possession, they’re not about to be deterred by a few dozen, or even 100, new B-21 stealth bombers, no matter the recent Hollywood-style hype about them.

Yet logic couldn’t matter less here. What matters is that the Air Force has had nuclear-capable bombers since those first modified B-29s that dropped Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the generals are simply not about to give them up — ever. Meanwhile, building any sophisticated weapons system like the B-21 is sure to employ tens of thousands of workers. (There are already 400 parts suppliers for the B-21 scattered across 40 states to ensure the undying love of the most congressional representatives imaginable.) It’s also a boondoggle for America’s many merchants of death, especially the lead contractor, Northrop Grumman.

A reader at my Bracing Views Substack, a Vietnam veteran, nailed it when he described his own reaction to the B-21’s unveiling:

“What struck me in my heart (fortunately, I have a great pacemaker) was the self-assured, almost condescending demeanor of the Secretary [of Defense], the Hollywood staging and lighting, and the complete absence of consideration of what cognitive/emotional/moral injuries might be inflicted on the viewer, never mind experiencing exposure to the actual bomber and its payload — add in the incredible cost and use of taxpayer money for a machine and support system that can never actually be used, or if used, would produce incalculable destruction of people and planet; again, never mind how all that could have been used to start making America into a functioning social democracy instead of a declining, tottering empire.”

Social democracy? Perish the thought. The U.S. economy is propped up by a militarized Keynesianism tightly embraced by Congress and whatever administration is in the White House. So, no matter how unnecessary those bombers may be, no matter how their costs spiral ever upwards, they’re likely to endure. Look for them flying over a sports stadium near you, perhaps in 2030 — if, that is, we’re still alive as a species.

As the Air Force buys new stealth bombers with your tax dollars, they also plan to purchase a new generation of ICBMs, or a “ground-based strategic deterrent” in Newspeak, to plant in missile silos in garden spots like rural Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The Air Force has had ICBMs since the 1960s. Roughly 1,000 of them (though that service initially requested 10,000) were kept on high alert well into the 1980s. Today’s ICBM force is smaller, but ever more expensive to maintain due to its age. It’s also redundant, thanks to the Navy’s more elusive and survivable nuclear deterrent. But, again, logic doesn’t matter here. Whether needed or not, the Air Force wants those new land-based missiles just like those stealth bombers and Congress is all too willing to fund them in your name.

Ka-ching! But hopefully not ka-boom!

Just as the purchase price for the B-21 project is expected to start at $100 billion (but will likely far exceed that), the new ICBMs, known as Sentinels, are also estimated to cost $100 billion. It brings to mind an old saying (slightly updated): a hundred billion here, a hundred billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. In a case of egregious double-dipping, Northrop Grumman is once again the lead contractor, having recently opened a $1.4 billion facility to design the new missile in Colorado Springs, conveniently close to the Air Force Academy and various other Air and Space Force facilities. Location, location, location!

Why such nuclear folly? The usual reasons, of course. Building genocidal missiles creates jobs. It’s a boon and a half for the industrial part of the military-industrial-congressional complex. It’s considered “healthy” for the communities where those missiles will be located, rural areas that would suffer economically if the Air Force bases there were instead dismantled or decommissioned. For that service, shiny new ICBMs are a budget bonanza, while helping to ensure that the real “enemy” — and yes, I have the U.S. Navy in mind — won’t end up with a monopoly on world-ending weaponry.

In the coming decades, expect those “Sentinels” to be planted in fields far from where most Americans live under the guiding principle that, if we keep them out of sight, they’ll be out of mind as well. Yet I can’t help but think that this country’s military is out of its mind in “planting” them there when the only harvest can be of mass death.

It’s a MAD Old World

As MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman would undoubtedly have said, “What, me worry?”

Oh, MAD old world that has such nukes in it! Color me astonished, in fact, that America’s nuclear weapons mix hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. That sort of world-ending persistence should tell us something, but what exactly? For one thing, that not enough of us can imagine a brave new world without genocidal nuclear weapons in it.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev actually did so. They came close, in fact, to reaching a deal to eliminate nuclear weapons. Sadly, Reagan proved reluctant to abandon his dream of a nuclear space shield, then popularly known as “Star Wars” or, more formally, as the Strategic Defense Initiative. Since Reagan, sadly enough, U.S. presidents have stayed the course on nukes. Most disappointingly, the Nobel Prize-winning Barack Obama spoke of eliminating them, supported by former Cold War stalwarts like Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, only to abandon that goal, partly to solidify support in the Senate for a nuclear deal with Iran that, no less sadly, is itself pretty much dead and buried today.

If saintly Reagan and saintly Obama couldn’t do it, what hope do ordinary Americans have of ending our nuclear MADness? Well, to quote a real saint, Catholic peace activist Dorothy Day, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” It’s hard to think of a system more filthy or rotten than one that threatens to destroy most life on our planet, so that this country could in some fashion “win” World War III.

Win what, exactly? A burnt cinder of a planet?

Look, I’ve known airmen who’ve piloted nuclear bombers. I’ve known missileers responsible for warheads that could kill millions (if ever launched). My brother guarded ICBM silos when he was a security policeman in SAC. I sat in the Air Force’s missile-warning center at Cheyenne Mountain under 2,000 feet of solid granite as we ran computerized war games that ended in… yep, mutually assured destruction. We were, at least individually, not insane. We were doing our duty, following orders, preparing for the worst, while (most of us, anyway) hoping for the best.

A word of advice: don’t look for those within this nightmarish system to change it, not when our elected representatives are part of the very military-industrial complex that sustains this MADness. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry, with real freedom, could act to do so for the benefit of humanity. But will we ever do that? 

“We’re going backwards as a country,” my wife reminds me — and I fear that she’s right. She summarized the hoopla at the B-21’s recent unveiling this way: “Let’s go gaga over a mass-murder machine.”

Collectively, it seems that we may be on the verge of returning to a nightmarish past, where we lived in fear of a nuclear war that would kill us all, the tall and the small, and especially the smallest among us, our children, who really are our future.

My fear: that we’ve already become comfortably numb to it and no longer can take on that culture of mass death. I say this with great sadness, as an American citizen and a human being.   

No matter. At least a few of us will have profited from building new ultra-expensive stealth bombers and shiny new missiles, while ensuring that mushroom clouds remain somewhere in our collective future. Isn’t that what life is truly all about?

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Lie all you can Lie: Dishonesty Plagues America’s War Machine https://www.juancole.com/2022/09/dishonesty-plagues-americas.html Fri, 30 Sep 2022 04:02:34 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207258 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – As a military professor for six years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the 1990s, I often walked past the honor code prominently displayed for all cadets to see. Its message was simple and clear: they were not to tolerate lying, cheating, stealing, or similar dishonorable acts. Yet that’s exactly what the U.S. military and many of America’s senior civilian leaders have been doing from the Vietnam War era to this very day: lying and cooking the books, while cheating and stealing from the American people. And yet the most remarkable thing may be that no honor code turns out to apply to them, so they’ve suffered no consequences for their mendacity and malfeasance.

Where’s the “honor” in that?

It may surprise you to learn that “integrity first” is the primary core value of my former service, the U.S. Air Force. Considering the revelations of the Pentagon Papers, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971; the Afghan War papers, first revealed by the Washington Post in 2019; and the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, among other evidence of the lying and deception that led to the invasion and occupation of that country, you’ll excuse me for assuming that, for decades now when it comes to war, “integrity optional” has been the true core value of our senior military leaders and top government officials.

As a retired Air Force officer, let me tell you this: honor code or not, you can’t win a war with lies — America proved that in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq — nor can you build an honorable military with them. How could our high command not have reached such a conclusion themselves after all this time?

So Many Defeats, So Little Honesty

Like many other institutions, the U.S. military carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. After all, despite being funded in a fashion beyond compare and spreading its peculiar brand of destruction around the globe, its system of war hasn’t triumphed in a significant conflict since World War II (with the war in Korea remaining, almost three-quarters of a century later, in a painful and festering stalemate). Even the ending of the Cold War, allegedly won when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, only led to further wanton military adventurism and, finally, defeat at an unsustainable cost — more than $8 trillion — in Washington’s ill-fated Global War on Terror. And yet, years later, that military still has a stranglehold on the national budget.

So many defeats, so little honesty: that’s the catchphrase I’d use to characterize this country’s military record since 1945. Keeping the money flowing and the wars going proved far more important than integrity or, certainly, the truth. Yet when you sacrifice integrity and the truth in the cause of concealing defeat, you lose much more than a war or two. You lose honor — in the long run, an unsustainable price for any military to pay.


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Or rather it should be unsustainable, yet the American people have continued to “support” their military, both by funding it astronomically and expressing seemingly eternal confidence in it — though, after all these years, trust in the military has dipped somewhat recently. Still, in all this time, no one in the senior ranks, civilian or military, has ever truly been called to account for losing wars prolonged by self-serving lies. In fact, too many of our losing generals have gone right through that infamous “revolving door” into the industrial part of the military-industrial complex — only to sometimes return to take top government positions.

Our military has, in fact, developed a narrative that’s proven remarkably effective in insulating it from accountability. It goes something like this: U.S. troops fought hard in [put the name of the country here], so don’t blame us. Indeed, you must support us, especially given all the casualties of our wars. They and the generals did their best, under the usual political constraints. On occasion, mistakes were made, but the military and the government had good and honorable intentions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Besides, were you there, Charlie? If you weren’t, then STFU, as the acronym goes, and be grateful for the security you take for granted, earned by America’s heroes while you were sitting on your fat ass safe at home.

It’s a narrative I’ve heard time and time again and it’s proven persuasive, partially because it requires the rest of us, in a conscription-free country, to do nothing and think nothing about that. Ignorance is strength, after all.

War Is Brutal

The reality of it all, however, is so much harsher than that. Senior military leaders have performed poorly. War crimes have been covered up. Wars fought in the name of helping others have produced horrendous civilian casualties and stunning numbers of refugees. Even as those wars were being lost, what President Dwight D. Eisenhower first labeled the military-industrial complex has enjoyed windfall profits and expanding power. Again, there’s been no accountability for failure. In fact, only whistleblowing truth-tellers like Chelsea Manning and Daniel Hale have been punished and jailed.

Ready for an even harsher reality? America is a nation being unmade by war, the very opposite of what most Americans are taught. Allow me to explain. As a country, we typically celebrate the lofty ideals and brave citizen-soldiers of the American Revolution. We similarly celebrate the Second American Revolution, otherwise known as the Civil War, for the elimination of slavery and reunification of the country; after which, we celebrate World War II, including the rise of the Greatest Generation, America as the arsenal of democracy, and our emergence as the global superpower.

By celebrating those three wars and essentially ignoring much of the rest of our history, we tend to view war itself as a positive and creative act. We see it as making America, as part of our unique exceptionalism. Not surprisingly, then, militarism in this country is impossible to imagine. We tend to see ourselves, in fact, as uniquely immune to it, even as war and military expenditures have come to dominate our foreign policy, bleeding into domestic policy as well.

If we as Americans continue to imagine war as a creative, positive, essential part of who we are, we’ll also continue to pursue it. Or rather, if we continue to lie to ourselves about war, it will persist.

It’s time for us to begin seeing it not as our making but our unmaking, potentially even our breaking — as democracy’s undoing as well as the brutal thing it truly is.

A retired U.S. military officer, educated by the system, I freely admit to having shared some of its flaws. When I was an Air Force engineer, for instance, I focused more on analysis and quantification than on synthesis and qualification. Reducing everything to numbers, I realize now, helps provide an illusion of clarity, even mastery. It becomes another form of lying, encouraging us to meddle in things we don’t understand.

This was certainly true of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, his “whiz kids,” and General William Westmoreland during the Vietnam War; nor had much changed when it came to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General David Petraeus, among others, in the Afghan and Iraq War years. In both eras, our military leaders wielded metrics and swore they were winning even as those wars circled the drain.

And worse yet, they were never held accountable for those disasters or the blunders and lies that went with them (though the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era certainly tried). All these years later, with the Pentagon still ascendant in Washington, it should be obvious that something has truly gone rotten in our system.

Here’s the rub: as the military and one administration after another lied to the American people about those wars, they also lied to themselves, even though such conflicts produced plenty of internal “papers” that raised serious concerns about lack of progress. Robert McNamara typically knew that the situation in Vietnam was dire and the war essentially unwinnable. Yet he continued to issue rosy public reports of progress, while calling for more troops to pursue that illusive “light at the end of the tunnel.” Similarly, the Afghan War papers released by the Washington Post show that senior military and civilian leaders realized that war, too, was going poorly almost from the beginning, yet they reported the very opposite to the American people. So many corners were being “turned,” so much “progress” being made in official reports even as the military was building its own rhetorical coffin in that Afghan graveyard of empires.

Too bad wars aren’t won by “spin.” If they were, the U.S. military would be undefeated.

Two Books to Help Us See the Lies

Two recent books help us see that spin for what it was. In Because Our Fathers Lied, Craig McNamara, Robert’s son, reflects on his father’s dishonesty about the Vietnam War and the reasons for it. Loyalty was perhaps the lead one, he writes. McNamara suppressed his own serious misgivings out of misplaced loyalty to two presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, while simultaneously preserving his own position of power in the government.

Robert McNamara would, in fact, later pen his own mea culpa, admitting how “terribly wrong” he’d been in urging the prosecution of that war. Yet Craig finds his father’s late confession of regret significantly less than forthright and fully honest. Robert McNamara fell back on historical ignorance about Vietnam as the key contributing factor in his unwise decision-making, but his son is blunt in accusing his dad of unalloyed dishonesty. Hence the title of his book, citing Rudyard Kipling’s pained confession of his own complicity in sending his son to die in the trenches of World War I: “If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

The second book is Paths of Dissent: Soldiers Speak Out Against America’s Misguided Wars, edited by Andrew Bacevich and Danny Sjursen. In my view, the word “misguided” doesn’t quite capture the book’s powerful essence, since it gathers 15 remarkable essays by Americans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and witnessed the patent dishonesty and folly of those wars. None dare speak of failure might be a subtheme of these essays, as initially highly motivated and well-trained troops became disillusioned by wars that went nowhere, even as their comrades often paid the ultimate price, being horribly wounded or dying in those conflicts driven by lies.

This is more than a work of dissent by disillusioned troops, however. It’s a call for the rest of us to act. Dissent, as West Point graduate and Army Captain Erik Edstrom reminds us, “is nothing short of a moral obligation” when immoral wars are driven by systemic dishonesty. Army Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, who blew an early whistle on how poorly the Afghan War was going, writes of his “seething” anger “at the absurdity and unconcern for the lives of my fellow soldiers displayed by so many” of the Army’s senior leaders.

Former Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from the State Department in opposition to the Afghan “surge” ordered by President Barack Obama, speaks movingly of his own “guilt, regret, and shame” at having served in Afghanistan as a troop commander and wonders whether he can ever atone for it. Like Craig McNamara, Hoh warns of the dangers of misplaced loyalty. He remembers telling himself that he was best suited to lead his fellow Marines in war, no matter how misbegotten and dishonorable that conflict was. Yet he confesses that falling back on duty and being loyal to “his” Marines, while suppressing the infamies of the war itself, became “a washing of the hands, a self-absolution that ignores one’s complicity” in furthering a brutal conflict fed by lies.

As I read those essays, I came to see anew how this country’s senior leaders, military and civilian, consistently underestimated the brutalizing impact of war, which, in turn, leads me to the ultimate lie of war: that it is somehow good, or at least necessary — making all the lying (and killing) worth it, whether in the name of a victory to come or of duty, honor, and country. Yet there is no honor in lying, in keeping the truth hidden from the American people. Indeed, there is something distinctly dishonorable about waging wars kept viable only by lies, obfuscation, and propaganda.

An Epigram from Goethe

John Keegan, the esteemed military historian, cites an epigram from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as being essential to thinking about militaries and their wars. “Goods gone, something gone; honor gone, much gone; courage gone, all gone.”

The U.S. military has no shortage of goods, given its whopping expenditures on weaponry and equipment of all sorts; among the troops, it doesn’t lack for courage or fighting spirit, not yet, anyway. But it does lack honor, especially at the top. Much is gone when a military ceases to tell the truth to itself and especially to the people from whom its forces are drawn. And courage is wasted when in the service of lies.

Courage wasted: Is there a worst fate for a military establishment that prides itself on its members being all volunteers and is now having trouble filling its ranks?

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Afraid of *Everything* – The Paranoid Nature of American Foreign and Domestic Policy https://www.juancole.com/2022/07/everything-paranoid-american.html Fri, 29 Jul 2022 04:04:21 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=206057 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – I have a brother with chronic schizophrenia. He had his first severe catatonic episode when he was 16 years old and I was 10. Later, he suffered from auditory hallucinations and heard voices saying nasty things to him. I remember my father reassuring him that the voices weren’t real and asking him whether he could ignore them. Sadly, it’s not that simple.

That conversation between my father and brother has been on my mind, as I’ve been experiencing America’s increasingly divided, almost schizoid, version of social discourse. It’s as if this country were suffering from some set of collective auditory hallucinations whose lead feature was nastiness.

Take cover! We’re being threatened by a revived red(dish) menace from a “rogue” Russia! A “Yellow peril” from China! Iran with a nuke! And then there are the alleged threats at home. “Groomers”! MAGA kooks! And on and on.

Of course, America continues to face actual threats to its security and domestic tranquility. Here at home that would include regular mass shootings; controversial decisions by an openly partisan Supreme Court; the Capitol riot that the House January 6th select committee has repeatedly reminded us about; and growing uncertainty when it comes to what, if anything, still unifies these once United States. All this has Americans increasingly vexed and stressed.

Meanwhile, internationally, wars and rumors of war continue to be a constant plague, made worse by the exaggeration of threats to national security. History teaches us that such threats have sometimes not just been inflated but created ex nihilo. Those would, for instance, include the non-existent Gulf of Tonkin attack cited as the justification for a major military escalation of the war in Vietnam in 1965 or those non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq used to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of that country.

All this and more is combining to create a paranoid and increasingly violent country, an America deeply fearful and perpetually thinking about warring on other peoples as well as on itself.

My brother’s doctors treated him as best they could with various drugs and electroshock therapy. Crude as that treatment regimen was then (and remains today), it did help him cope. But what if his doctors, instead of trying to reduce his symptoms, had conspired to amplify them? Indeed, what if they had told him that he should listen to those voices and so aggravate his fears? What if they had advised him that sanity meant arming himself against those very voices? Wouldn’t we, then or now, have said that they were guilty of the worst form of medical malpractice?

And isn’t that, by analogy, true of America’s leaders in these years, as they’ve driven this society to be ever less trusting and more fearful in the name of protecting and advancing their wealth, power, and security?

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

If you’re plugged into the mental matrix that’s America in 2022, you’re constantly exposed to fear. Fear, as Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, is the mind-killer. The voices around us encourage it. Fear your MAGA-hat-wearing neighbor with his steroidal truck and his sizeable collection of guns as he supposedly plots a coup against America. Alternately, fear your “libtard” neighbor with her rainbow peace flag as she allegedly plots to confiscate your guns and brainwash your kids. Small wonder that more than 37 million Americans take antidepressants, roughly one in nine of us, or that, in 2016, this country accounted for 80% of the global market for opioid prescriptions.


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A climate of fear has led to 43 million new guns being purchased by Americans in 2020 and 2021 in a land singularly awash in more than 400 million firearms, including more than 20 million assault rifles. A climate of fear has led to police forces being heavily militarized and fully funded rather than “defunded” (which actually would mean a bit less money going to the police and a bit more to non-violent options like counseling and mental-health services). A climate of fear has led Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives who can agree on little else to vote almost unanimously to fork over $840 billion to the Pentagon in Fiscal Year 2023 for yet more wars and murderous weaponry. (Of course, the true budget for what is still coyly called “national defense” will soar well above a trillion dollars then, as it often has since 9/11/2001 and the announcement of a “global war on terror.”)

The idea that enemies are everywhere is, of course, useful if you’re seeking to create a heavily armed and militarized form of insanity.

It’s summer and these days it just couldn’t be hotter, so perhaps you’ll allow me to riff briefly about a scene I’ve never forgotten from The Big Red One, a war film I saw in 1980. It involved a World War II firefight between American and German troops in a Belgian insane asylum during which one of the mental patients picks up a submachine gun and starts blasting away, shouting, “I am one of you. I am sane!” In 2022, sign him up and give him a battlefield commission.

Where fear is omnipresent and violence becomes routinized and normalized, what you end up with is dystopia, not democracy.

We Must Not Be Friends but Enemies

At this point, consider us to be in a distinctly upside-down world. Reverse Abraham Lincoln’s moving plea to Southern secessionists in his first inaugural address in 1861 — “We must not be enemies but friends. We must not be enemies” — and you’ve summed up all too well our domestic and foreign policy today. No, we’re neither in a civil war nor a world war yet, but America’s national (in)security state does continue to insist that virtually every rival to our imperial being must be transformed into an enemy, whether it’s Russia, China, or much of the Middle East. Enemies are everywhere and must be feared, or so we’re repetitiously told anyway.

I remember well the time in 1991-1992 when the Soviet Union collapsed and America emerged as the sole victorious superpower of the Cold War. I was a captain then, teaching history at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Those were also the years when, even without the Soviet Union, the militarization of this society somehow never seemed to end. Not long after, in launching a conflict against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, this country officially kicked ass in the Middle East and President George H.W. Bush assured Americans that, by going to war again, we had also kicked our “Vietnam Syndrome” once and for all. Little did we guess then that two deeply destructive and wasteful quagmire wars, entirely unnecessary for our national defense, awaited us in Afghanistan and Iraq in the century to come.

Never has a country squandered victory — and a genuinely global victory at that! — so completely as ours has over the last 30 years. And yet there are few in power who consider altering the fearful course we’re still on.

A significant culprit here is the military-industrial-congressional complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans about in his farewell address in 1961. But there’s more to it than that. The United States has, it seems, always reveled in violence, possibly as an antidote to being consumed by fear. Yet the intensity of both violence and fear seems to be soaring. Yes, our leaders clearly exaggerated the Soviet threat during the Cold War, but at least there was indeed a threat. Vladimir Putin’s Russia isn’t close to being in the same league, yet they’ve treated his war with Ukraine as if it were an attack on California or Texas. (That and the Pentagon budget may be the only things the two parties can mostly agree on.)

Recall that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was in horrible shape, a toothless, clawless bear, suffering in its cage. Instead of trying to help, our leaders decided to mistreat it further. To shrink its cage by expanding NATO. To torment it through various forms of economic exploitation and financial appropriation. “Russia Is Finished” declared the cover article of the Atlantic Monthly in May 2001, and no one in America seemed faintly concerned. Mercy and compassion were in short supply as all seemed right with the “sole superpower” of Planet Earth.

Now the Russian Bear is back — more menacing than ever, we’re told. Marked as “finished” two decades ago, that country is supposedly on the march again, not just in its invasion of Ukraine but in President Vladimir Putin’s alleged quest for a new Russian empire. Instead of Peter the Great, we now have Putin the Great glowering at Europe — unless, that is, America stands firm and fights bravely to the last Ukrainian.

Add to that ever-fiercer warnings about a resurgent China that echo the racist “Yellow Peril” tropes of more than a century ago. Why, for example, must President Joe Biden speak of China as a competitor and threat rather than as a trade partner and potential ally? Even anti-communist zealot Richard Nixon went to China during his presidency and made nice with Chairman Mao, if only to complicate matters for the Soviet Union.

If imperial America were willing to share the world on roughly equal terms, Russia and China could be “near-peer” friends instead of, in the Pentagon phrase of the moment, “near-peer adversaries.” Perhaps they could even be allies of a kind, rather than rivals always on the cusp of what might potentially become a world-ending war. But the voices that seek access to our heads prefer to whisper sneakily of enemies rather than calmly of potential allies in creating a better planet.

And yet, guess what, whether anyone in Washington admits it or not: we’re already rather friendly with (as well as heavily dependent on) China. Here are just two recent examples from my own mundane life. I ordered a fan — it’s hot as I type these words in my decidedly unairconditioned office — from AAFES, a department store of sorts that serves members of the military, in service or retired, and their families. It came a few days later at an affordable price. As I put it together, I saw the label: “Made in China.” Thank you for the cooling breeze, Xi Jinping!

Then I decided to order a Henley shirt from Jockey, a name with a thoroughly American pedigree. You guessed it! That shirt was plainly marked “Made in China.” (Jockey, to its credit, does have a “Made in America” collection and I got two white cotton t-shirts from it.) You get my point: the American consumer would be lost without China, the present workhouse for the world.

You’d think a war, or even a new Cold War, with America’s number-one provider of stuff of every sort would be dumb, but no one is going to lose any bets by underestimating how dumb Americans can be. Otherwise, how can you explain Donald Trump? And not just his presidency either. What about his “Trump steaks,” “Trump university,” even “Trump vodka”? After all, who could be relied upon to know more about the quality of vodka than a man who refuses to drink it?

Learning from Charlie Brown

Returning to fears and psychiatric help, one of my favorite scenes is from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” In that classic 1965 cartoon holiday special, Lucy ostensibly tries to help Charlie with his seasonal depression by labeling what ails him. The wannabe shrink goes through a short list of phobias until she lands on “pantophobia,” which she defines as “the fear of everything.” Charlie Brown shouts, “That’s it!”

Deep down, he knows perfectly well that he isn’t afraid of everything. What he doesn’t know, however, and what that cartoon is eager to show us, is how he can snap out of his mental funk. All that he needs is a little love, a little hands-on kindness from the other children.

America writ large today is, to my mind, a little like Charlie Brown — down in the dumps, bedraggled, having lost a clear sense of what life in our country should be all about. We need to come together and share a measure of compassion and love. Except our Lucys aren’t trying to lend a hand at the “psychiatric help” stand. They’re trying to persuade us that pantophobia, the fear of everything, is normal, even laudable. Their voices keep telling us to fear — and fear some more.

It’s not easy, America, to tune those voices out. My brother could tell you that. At times, he needed an asylum to escape them. What he needed most, though, was love or at least some good will and understanding from his fellow humans. What he didn’t need was more fear and neither do we. We — most of us anyway — still believe ourselves to be the “sane” ones. So why do we continue to tolerate leaders, institutions, and whole political parties intent on eroding our sanity and exploiting our fears in service of their own power and perks?

Remember that mental patient in The Big Red One, who picks up a gun and starts blasting people while crying that he’s “sane”? We’ll know we’re on the path to sanity when we finally master our fear, put down our guns, and stop eternally preparing to blast people at home and abroad.

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Why Going “Hard” Is Taking the Easy Way Out: Hardening Schools and Arming Teachers Is the Wrong Approach https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/hardening-teachers-approach.html Wed, 29 Jun 2022 04:04:21 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205479 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – American schools are soft, you say? I know what you mean. I taught college for 15 years, so I’ve dealt with my share of still-teenagers fresh out of high school. Many of them inspired me, but some had clearly earned high marks too easily and needed remedial help in math, English, or other subjects. School discipline had been too lax perhaps and standards too slack, because Johnny and Janey often couldn’t or wouldn’t read a book, though they sure could text, tweet, take selfies, and make videos.

Oh, wait a sec, that’s not what you meant by “soft,” is it? You meant soft as in “soft target” in the context of mass school shootings, the most recent being in Uvalde, Texas. Prominent Republicans like Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz have highlighted the supposed softness of American schools, their vulnerability to shooters armed with military-style assault rifles and intent on mass murder.

That “softness” diagnosis leads to a seemingly logical quick fix: “harden” the schools, of course! Make them into “targets” too intimidating to approach thanks to, among other security measures, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, bulletproof doors and windows, reinforced fences, armed guards, and even armed teachers.

Here’s the simple formula for it all: no more limpness, America, it’s time to get hard. Johnny and Janey may still find it challenging to read books or balance a checkbook (or even know what a checkbook is), but, hey, there must be an app for that, right? At least they’ll stay alive in our newly hardened schools. Or so we hope. There’s no app, after all, for reviving our kids after they’ve been shot and shredded by some assault-rifle-wielding maniac.

As a retired military officer and professor, and a former gun owner, the latest chapter in this country’s gun mania, the Republican urge to keep all those assault weapons circulating and still protect our children, strikes me not just all too strangely, but all too familiarly as well. Those voices calling for billions of dollars to “harden” schools reflect, of course, the imagery of a sexualized hyper-masculinity, but something else as well: a fetish for military-speak. In my service, the Air Force, we regularly spoke of “hardening” targets or “neutralizing” them.

In essence, politicians like Graham and Cruz seem way too eager to turn our schools into some combination of fortresses and bomb shelters, baby versions of the massive nuclear shelter I occupied in the 1980s during my first tour of duty in the Air Force (on which more in a moment). Button up and hunker down, America — not from the long-gone “red” enemy without, armed with nuclear missiles, but from the red-hot (as in murderously hateful) enemy within. These days, that increasingly means a school-age shooter or shooters armed with military-grade weaponry, usually acquired all too legally. Sound the klaxons! Lock and (especially) load! It’s time to go to DEFCON 1 (maximum military readiness, as in war) not in nuclear shelters but in America’s schools.

Speaking of my Cold War nuclear-bunker days in the 1980s, when I was stationed at Cheyenne Mountain, America’s command center for its nuclear defense in Colorado, a few things stood out then. Security guards, for one. Locking cipher doors, for another. Security ID badges. Razor wire. Video monitors. Blast doors. I was in the ultimate lockdown fortress. But tell me the truth: Is this truly what we want our schools to look like — pseudo-military bunkers for the (hot) war increasingly blazing in our society?

In fact, the whole “hardening” idea represents not a defense against, but a surrender to the notion of schools as potential sites of gun combat and mass death. To submit to such a scenario is, in the view of this retired military officer and educator, a thoroughly defeatist approach to both safety and education. It’s tantamount to admitting that violence and fear not only rule our lives but will continue to do so in ever more horrific ways and that the only solution is to go hard with even more “security” and even more guns. Hardening our schools implies hardening our hearts and minds, while we cede yet more power to security experts and police forces. And that may be precisely why so many authority figures so lustily advocate for the “hard” way. It is, in the end, the easy path to disaster.

The Hard Way as the Easy Way Out

Though six of my college-teaching years were at a military academy, where I wore a uniform and my students saluted me as class began, it never occurred to me to carry a loaded gun (even concealed). For the remaining nine years, I taught at a conservative college in rural Pennsylvania where, you may be surprised to learn, guns were then forbidden on campus. But that, of course, was in another age. Only at the tail end of my college teaching career were lockable doors installed and voluntary lockdown drills instituted.

I never ran such a drill myself.

Why not? Because I refused to inject more fear into the minds of my students. In truth, given the unimaginably violent chaos of a school shooting, you’d almost automatically know what to do: lock the door(s) to try to keep the shooter out, call 911, and duck and cover (which will sound familiar to veterans of early Cold War era schooling). If cornered and as a last resort, perhaps you’d even rush the shooter. My students, who were young adults, could have plausibly done this. Children in the third and fourth grades, as in the Uvalde slaughter, have no such option.

That mass shooting took place at a hardened school with locking doors, one that ran lockdown and evacuation drills regularly, and had fences. And yet, of course, none of that, including 911 calls from the students, prevented mass death. Not even the presence of dozens of heavily armed police inside and outside the school mattered because the commander at the scene misread the situation and refused to act. Well-trained “good guys with guns” proved remarkably useless against the bad guy with a gun because the “good guys” backed off, waited, and then waited some more, more than an hour in all, an excruciating and unconscionable delay that cost lives.

But combat can be like that. It’s chaotic. It’s confusing. People freeze or act too quickly. It’s not hard to make bad decisions under deadly pressure. At Uvalde, the police disregarded standard operating procedure that directs the immediate engagement of the shooter until he’s “neutralized.” But we shouldn’t be surprised. Fear and uncertainty cloud the judgment even of all-too-hardened professionals, which should teach us something about the limitations of the hard option.

A related hardening measure that’s been proposed repeatedly, including by former President Trump, is to arm and train teachers to confront shooters. It’s a comforting fantasy, imagining teachers as Dirty Harry-like figures, blowing away bad guys with poise and precision. Sadly, it’s just that, a fantasy. Imagine teachers with guns, caught by surprise, panicking as their students are shot before their eyes. How likely are they to respond calmly with deadly accuracy against school shooter(s) who, the odds are, will outgun them? “Friendly fire” incidents happen all too frequently even in combat featuring highly trained and experienced soldiers. Armed teachers could end up accidentally shooting one or more of their students as they tried to engage the shooter(s). How could we possibly ask teachers to bear such a burden?

Let’s also think about the kind of teacher who wants to carry a weapon in a classroom. My brother was a security policeman in the Air Force, and he understands all too well the allure of weaponry to certain types of people. As he put it to me recently, “A gun is power. To some, even the psychologically relatively stable among us, carrying a gun is indeed like having a permanent hard-on. You have the power of life and death as well. It can be a pure ego-driven power trip, sexual, every time you get to pull the trigger. You give a guy a gun and strange things can happen.”

Think of your least favorite teacher in your K-12 experience, perhaps the one who intimidated you the most. Now, think of that very teacher “hardened” with a gun in class. Sounds like a good idea, right?

Arming Lady Liberty (to the Teeth)

Arming teachers is a measure of our collective confusion and desperation, though some politicians like Donald Trump are sure to continue to press for it. Again, if I’m an armed teacher, perhaps with a concealed 9mm pistol, I’d have virtually no chance against a shooter or shooters with AR-15s and body armor. Does that mean I need an AR-15 and body armor, too? Who needs an arms race with the Russians or Chinese when we can have one in every school in America?

What, then, of hardening schools? We’re back to locking security doors, reinforced fences around campus, cameras everywhere, metal detectors at each entrance, and of course more armed police (or “school resource officers,” known as SROs) in the hallways. We’re talking about untold scores of billions of dollars spent to turn every American school into a fortress/bunker, a place to hunker down and ride out a violent weapons-of-mass-destruction storm of our own making.


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And mind you, of all the things we don’t know, one thing we do: this hunkering down, this fear will be indelibly etched into the minds of our kids as they navigate our ever more hardened, over-armed schools. It won’t be healthy, that’s for sure. In seeking to reduce and eliminate school shootings in America, we should be guided by the goal of not making matters worse for our children.

As horrific as they are, headline-grabbing school shootings are rare indeed compared to the number of schools across America. Indeed, given the violence of this society and the extreme violence we routinely export to other countries across the globe, it’s surprising we don’t have more school shootings. Their relative rarity should reassure us that all is not lost. Not yet, anyway.

I get it. We all want to feel safe and, above all, we want our kids to be safe. But buying them bulletproof backpacks or hardening their schools is the wrong approach. Besides, if we spend massively on school security, what’s to stop a shooter determined to kill children from going elsewhere to find them? It’s horrifyingly grim logic, but he’d likely go to a playground, or the movies, or a dance recital, or any other “soft” place where children might gather. And what then? I for one don’t want to live in fortress America, surrounded by armed and armored police and intrusive security gadgetry “for my protection.”

Admittedly, in a country in which Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to agree on anything but the most modest gun reforms (forget banning military-style weapons or even restrictingtheir sale to people 21 and older), the hardening of schools is an easy target (so to speak). As gun enthusiasts like to say: don’t focus on the weapons, focus on the shooters.

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people, right? As best we can, we must identify those crazed enough to want to murder innocent kids and get them the help they need before they start squeezing triggers. We should deny unstable people the ability to own and wield weapons of mass destruction — that is, assault rifles (and preferably simply ban such weaponry period). We must do everything possible to reform our blood-drenched society with all its weapons-porn. One thing is guaranteed, as a “solution” to the gun problem, adding more of them and other forms of “hardness” into an already deadly mix will only worsen matters.

Quick fixes are tempting, but school-hardening measures and even more “good guys with guns” aren’t the answer. If they were, those 19 children and two adults in Uvalde might still be alive. An exercise in over-the-top security, meanwhile, is guaranteed to do one thing — and that is, of course, starve schools of the funds they need to… well, teach our kids. You know, subjects like math and science and English and history. We’re trending toward graduating a generation of young people who may have trouble reading and writing and adding but will be experts at ducking and covering behind hardened backpacks.

Going hard isn’t the answer, America. Unless the “hard” you’re talking about is the hard I grew up with, meaning high academic standards instilled by demanding and dedicated teachers. If, however, we continue to harden and militarize everything, especially our schools and the mindsets of our children, we shouldn’t be at all surprised when this country becomes a bastion bristling with weapons, one where Lady Liberty has relinquished her torch and crown for an AR-15 and a ballistic helmet from the local armory.

And that’s not liberty — it’s madness.

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Destroying the Town Is Not Saving It: Two Unsung Heroes as Role Models for the Air Force https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/destroying-saving-unsung.html Fri, 03 Jun 2022 04:02:09 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204989 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – Twenty years ago, I left the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for my next assignment. I haven’t been back since, but today I travel there (if only in my imagination) to give my graduation address to the class of 2022. So, won’t you take a few minutes and join me, as well as the corps of cadets, in Falcon Stadium?

Congratulations to all you newly minted second lieutenants! As a former military professor who, for six years, taught cadets very much like you at the Academy, I salute you and your accomplishments. You’ve weathered a demanding curriculum, far too many room and uniform inspections, parades, restrictions, and everything else associated with a military that thrives on busywork and enforced conformity. You’ve emerged from all of that today as America’s newest officers, part of what recent commanders-in-chief like to call “the finest fighting force” in human history. Merely for the act of donning a uniform and taking the oath of office, many of your fellow Americans already think of you as heroes deserving of a hearty “thank you for your service” and unqualified expressions of “support.”

And I must say you do exude health, youth, and enthusiasm, as well as a feeling that you’re about to graduate to better things, like pilot training or intelligence school, among so many other Air Force specialties. Some of you will even join America’s newest service, the Space Force, which resonates with me, as my first assignment in 1985 was to Air Force Space Command.

In my initial three years in the service, I tested the computer software the Air Force used back then to keep track of all objects in earth orbit, an inglorious but necessary task. I also worked on war games in Cheyenne Mountain, America’s ultimate command center for its nuclear defense. You could say I was paid to think about the unthinkable, the end of civilization as we know it due to nuclear Armageddon. That was near the tail end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. So much has changed since I wore gold bars like you and yet, somehow, we find ourselves once again in another “cold war” with Russia, this time centered on an all-too-hot war in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, instead of, as in 1962, a country in our immediate neighborhood, Cuba. Still, that distant conflict is only raising fresh fears of a nuclear nightmare that could well destroy us all.

What does this old light colonel, who’s been retired for almost as long as he wore the uniform, have to teach you cadets so many years later? What can I tell you that you haven’t heard before in all the classes you’ve attended and all the lectures you’ve endured?

How about this: You’ve been lied to big time while you’ve been here at the Academy.

Ah, I see I have your attention now. More than a few of you are smiling. I used to joke with cadets about how four years at a military school were designed to smother idealism and encourage cynicism, or so it sometimes seemed. Yes, our lead core value may still be “integrity first,” but the brass, the senior leadership, often convinces itself that what really comes first is the Air Force itself, an ideal of “service” that, I think you’ll agree, is far from selfless.

What do I mean when I say you’ve been lied to while being taught the glorious history of the U.S. Air Force? Since World War II began, the air forces of the United States have killed millions of people around the world. And yet here’s the strange thing: we can’t even say that we’ve clearly won a war since the “Greatest Generation” earned its wings in the 1930s and 1940s. In short, boasts to the contrary, airpower has proven to be neither cheap, surgical, nor decisive. You see what I mean about lies now, I hope.

I know, I know. You’re not supposed to think this way. You eat in Mitchell Hall, named after General Billy Mitchell, that airpower martyr who fought so hard after World War I for an independent air service. (His and our collective dream, long delayed, finally came to fruition in 1947.) You celebrate the Doolittle Raiders, those intrepid aviators who flew off an aircraft carrier in 1942, launching a daring and dangerous surprise attack on Tokyo, a raid that helped restore America’s sagging morale after Pearl Harbor. You mark the courage of the Tuskegee Airmen, those African American pilots who broke racial barriers, while proving their mettle in the skies over Nazi Germany. They are indeed worthy heroes to celebrate.

And yet shouldn’t we airmen also reflect on the bombing of Germany during World War II that killed roughly 600,000 civilians but didn’t prove crucial to the defeat of Adolf Hitler? (In fact, Soviet troops deserve the lion’s share of the credit there.) We should reflect on the firebombing of Tokyo that killed more than 100,000 people, among 60 other sites firebombed, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that, both instantly and over time, killed an estimated 220,000 Japanese. During the Korean War, our air forces leveled North Korea and yet that war ended in a stalemate that persists to this day. During Vietnam, our air power pummeled Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, unleashing high explosives, napalm, and poisons like Agent Orange against so many innocent people caught up in American rhetoric that the only good Communist was a dead one. Yet the Vietnamese version of Communism prevailed, even as the peoples of Southeast Asia still suffer and die from the torrent of destruction we rained down on them half a century ago.

Turning to more recent events, the U.S. military enjoyed total air supremacy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other battlefields of the war on terror, yet that supremacy led to little but munitions expended, civilians killed, and wars lost. It led to tens of thousands of deaths by airpower, because, sadly, there are no such things as freedom bombs or liberty missiles.


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If you haven’t thought about such matters already (though I’ll bet you have, at least a little), consider this: You are potentially a death-dealer. Indeed, if you become a nuclear launch officer in a silo in Wyoming or North Dakota, you may yet become a death-dealer of an almost unimaginable sort. Even if you “fly” a drone while sitting in a trailer thousands of miles from your target, you remain a death-dealer. Recall that the very last drone attack the U.S. launched in Afghanistan in 2021 killed 10 civilians, including seven children, and that no one in the chain of command was held accountable. There’s a very good reason, after all, why those drones, or, as we prefer to call them, remotely piloted aircraft, have over the years been given names like Predator and Reaper. Consider that a rare but refreshing burst of honesty.

I remember how “doolies,” or new cadets, had to memorize “knowledge” and recite it on command to upper-class cadets. Assuming that’s still a thing, here’s a phrase I’d like you to memorize and recite: Destroying the town is not saving it. The opposite sentiment emerged as an iconic and ironic catchphrase of the Vietnam War, after journalist Peter Arnett reported a U.S. major saying of devastated Ben Tre, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Incredibly, the U.S. military came to believe, or at least to assert, that destroying such a town was a form of salvation from the alleged ideological evil of communism. But whether by bombs or bullets or fire, destruction is destruction. It should never be confused with salvation.

Will you have the moral courage, when it’s not strictly in defense of the U.S. Constitution to which you, once again, swore an oath today, to refuse to become a destroyer?

Two Unsung Heroes of the U.S. Air Force

In your four years here, you’ve learned a lot about heroes like Billy Mitchell and Lance Sijan, an Academy grad and Medal of Honor recipient who demonstrated enormous toughness and resilience after being shot down and captured in Vietnam. We like to showcase airmen like these, the true believers, the ones prepared to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, to advance what we hold dear. And they are indeed easy to respect.

I have two more courageous and sacrificial role models to introduce to you today. One you may have heard of; one you almost certainly haven’t. Let’s start with the latter. His name was James Robert “Cotton” Hildreth and he rose to the rank of major general in our service. As a lieutenant colonel in Vietnam, Cotton Hildreth and his wingman, flying A-1 Skyraiders, were given an order to drop napalm on a village that allegedly harbored enemy Viet Cong soldiers. Hildreth disobeyed that order, dropping his napalm outside the target area and saving (alas, only temporarily) the lives of 1,200 innocent villagers.

How could Hildreth have possibly disobeyed his “destroy the town” order? The answer: because he and his wingman took the time to look at the villagers they were assigned to kill. In their Skyraiders, they flew low and slow. Seeing nothing but apparently friendly people waving up at them, including children, they sensed that something was amiss. It turns out that they were oh-so-right. The man who wanted the village destroyed was ostensibly an American ally, a high-ranking South Vietnamese official. The village hadn’t paid its taxes to him, so he was using American airpower to exact his revenge and set an example for other villages that dared to deny his demands. By refusing to bomb and kill innocents, Hildreth passed his “gut check,” if you will, and his career doesn’t appear to have suffered for it.

But he himself did suffer. He spoke about his Vietnam experiences in an oral interview after he’d retired, saying they’d left him “really sick” and “very bitter.” In a melancholy, almost haunted, tone, he added, “I don’t talk about this [the war] very much,” and one can understand why.

So, what happened to the village that Hildreth and his wingman had spared from execution by napalm? Several days later, it was obliterated by U.S. pilots flying high and fast in F-105s, rather than low and slow as Hildreth had flown in his A-1. The South Vietnamese provincial official had gotten his way and Hildreth’s chain of command was complicit in the destruction of 1,200 people whose only crime was fighting a tax levy.

My second hero is not a general, not even an officer. He’s a former airman who’s currently behind bars, serving a 45-month sentence because he leaked the so-called drone papers, which revealed that our military’s drone strikes killed far more innocent civilians than enemy combatants in the war on terror. His name is Daniel Hale, and you should all know about him and reflect on his integrity and honorable service to our country.

What was his “crime”? He wanted the American people to know about their military and the innocent people being killed in our name. He felt the burden of the lies he was forced to shoulder, the civilians he watched dying on video monitors due to drone strikes. He wanted us to know, too, because he thought that if enough Americans knew, truly knew, we’d come together and put a stop to such atrocities. That was his crime.

Daniel Hale was an airman of tremendous moral courage. Before he was sentenced to prison, he wrote an eloquent and searing letter about what had moved him to share information that, in my view, was classified mainly to cover up murderous levels of incompetence. I urge you to read Hale’s letter in which he graphically describes the deaths of children and the trauma he experienced in coming to grips with what he termed “the undeniable cruelties that I perpetuated” while serving as an Air Force intelligence analyst.

It’s sobering stuff, but we airmen, you graduates in particular, deserve just such sobering information, because you’re going to be potential death-dealers. Yet it’s important that you not become indiscriminate murderers, even if you never see the people being vaporized by the bombs you drop and missiles you’ll launch with such profligacy.

In closing, do me one small favor before you throw your caps in the air, before the Thunderbirds roar overhead, before you clap yourselves on the back, before you head off to graduation parties and the congratulations of your friends and family. Think about a saying I learned from Spider-Man. Yes, I really do mean the comic-book hero. “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Like so many airmen before you, you may soon find yourself in possession of great power over life and death in wars and other conflicts that, at least so far in this century, have been all too grim. Are you really prepared for such a burden? Because power and authority, unchecked by morality and integrity, will lead you and our country down a very dark path indeed.

Always remember your oath, always aim high, the high of Hildreth and Hale, the high of those who remember that they are citizen-airmen in service to a nation founded on lofty ideals. Listen to your conscience, do the right thing, and you may yet earn the right to the thanks that so many Americans will so readily grant you just by virtue of wearing the uniform.

And if you’ll allow this aging airman one final wish: I wish you a world where the bombs stay in their aircraft, the missiles in their silos, the bullets in their guns, a world, dare I say it, where America is finally at peace.

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore

Via Tomdispatch.com

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The Last Good Guys? Five Reasons Why Washington Can’t Break Its War Addiction https://www.juancole.com/2022/05/reasons-washington-addiction.html Mon, 09 May 2022 04:02:30 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204536 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – Why has the United States already become so heavily invested in the Russia-Ukraine war? And why has it so regularly gotten involved, in some fashion, in so many other wars on this planet since it invaded Afghanistan in 2001? Those with long memories might echo the conclusion reached more than a century ago by radical social critic Randolph Bourne that “war is the health of the state” or recall the ancient warnings of this country’s founders like James Madison that democracy dies not in darkness, but in the ghastly light thrown by too many bombs bursting in air for far too long.

In 1985, when I first went on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, a conflict between the Soviet Union and Ukraine would, of course, have been treated as a civil war between Soviet republics. In the context of the Cold War, the U.S. certainly wouldn’t have risked openly sending billions of dollars in weaponry directly to Ukraine to “weaken” Russia. Back then, such obvious interference in a conflict between the USSR and Ukraine would have simply been an act of war. (Of course, even more ominously, back then, Ukraine also had nuclear weapons on its soil.)

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, everything changed. The Soviet sphere of influence gradually became the U.S. and NATO sphere of influence. Nobody asked Russia whether it truly cared, since that country was in serious decline. Soon enough, even former Soviet republics on its doorstep became America’s to meddle in and sell arms to, no matter the Russian warnings about “red lines” vis-à-vis inviting Ukraine to join NATO. And yet here we are, with an awful war in Ukraine on our hands, as this country leads the world in sending weapons to Ukraine, including Javelin and Stinger missiles and artillery, while promoting some form of future victory, however costly, for Ukrainians.

Here’s what I wonder: Why in this century has America, the “leader of the free world” (as we used to say in the days of the first Cold War), also become the leader in promoting global warfare? And why don’t more Americans see a contradiction in that reality? If you’ll bear with me, I have what I think are at least five answers, however partial, to those questions:

* First and above all, war is — even if so many Americans don’t normally think of it that way — immensely profitable. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. military-industrial complex recognized a giant business opportunity. During the Cold War, the world’s biggest arms merchants were the U.S. and the USSR. With the Soviet Union gone, so, too, was America’s main rival in selling arms everywhere. It was as if Jeff Bezos had witnessed the collapse of Walmart. Do you think he wouldn’t have taken advantage of the resulting retail vacuum?

Forget about the “peace dividends” Americans were promised then or downsizing the Pentagon budget in a major way. It was time for the big arms manufacturers to expand into markets that had long been dominated by the USSR. Meanwhile, NATO chose to follow suit in its own fashion, expanding beyond the borders of a reunified Germany. Despite verbal promises to the contrary made to Soviet leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev, it expanded into Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Romania, among other countries — that is, to the very borders of Russia itself, even as U.S. weapons contractors made a killing in supplying arms to such new NATO members. In the spirit of management guru Stephen Covey, it may have been a purely “win-win” situation for NATO, the U.S., and its merchants of death then, but it’s proven to be a distinctly lose-lose situation for Russia and now especially for Ukraine as the war there drags on and on, while the destruction only mounts.

* Second, when it comes to promoting war globally, consider the U.S. military’s structure and mission. How could this country possibly return to anything like what, so long ago, was known as “isolationism” when it has at least 750 military bases scattered liberally on every continent except Antarctica? How could it not promote war in some fashion, when that unbelievably well-funded military’s mission is defined as projecting power globally across all “spectrums” of combat, including land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace? What could you expect when its budget equals those of the next 11 militaries on this planet combined or when the Pentagon quite literally divides the whole world into U.S. military commands headed by four-star generals and admirals, each one a Roman-style proconsul? How could you not imagine that Washington’s top officials believe this country has a stake in conflicts everywhere under such circumstances? Such attitudes are an obvious product of such a structure and such a sense of armed global mission.

* Third, consider the power of the dominant narrative in Washington in these years. Despite the never-ending war-footing of this country, Americans are generally sold on the idea that we constitute a high-minded nation desirous of peace. In a cartoonish fashion, we’re always the good guys and enemies, like Putin’s Russia now, uniquely evil. Conforming to and parroting this version of reality leads to career success, especially within the mainstream media. As Chris Hedges once so memorably put it: “The [U.S.] press goes limp in front of the military.” And those with the spine to challenge such a militarist narrative are demoted, ostracized, exiled, or even in rare cases imprisoned. Just ask whistleblowers and journalists like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Daniel Hale, and Edward Snowden who have dared to challenge the American war story and paid a price for it.

* Fourth, war both unifies and distracts. In this century, it has helped unify the American people, however briefly, as they were repeatedly reminded to “support our troops” as “heroes” in the fight against “global terror.” At the same time, it’s distracted us from the class war in this country, where the poor and working class (and, increasingly, a shrinking middle class as well) are most definitely losing out. As financier and billionaire Warren Buffett put the matter: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

* Fifth, wars, ranging from the Afghan and Iraq ones to the never-ending global war on terror, including the present one in Ukraine, have served as distractions from another reality entirely: America’s national decline in this century and its ever-greater political dysfunction. (Think Donald Trump, who didn’t make it to the White House by accident, but at least in part because disastrous wars helped pave the way for him.)

Americans often equate war itself with masculine potency. (Putting on “big boy pants” was the phrase used unironically by officials in President George W. Bush’s administration to express their willingness to launch conflicts globally.) Yet by now, many of us do sense that we’re witnessing a seemingly inexorable national decline. Exhibits include a rising number of mass shootings; mass death due to a poorly handled Covid-19 pandemic; massive drug-overdose deaths; increasing numbers of suicides, including among military veterans; and a growing mental-health crisis among our young.


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Political dysfunction feeds on and aggravates that decline, with Trumpism tapping into a reactionary nostalgia for a once “great” America that could be made “great again” — if the right people were put in their places, if not in their graves. Divisions and distractions serve to keep so many of us downtrodden and demobilized, desperate for a leader to ignite and unite us, even if it’s for a cause as shallow and false as the “stop the steal” Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.

Despite the evidence of decline and dysfunction all around us, many Americans continue to take pride and comfort in the idea that the U.S. military remains the finest fighting force in all of history — a claim advanced by presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, among so many other boosters.

All the World’s A Stage

About 15 years ago, I got involved in a heartfelt argument with a conservative friend about whether it was wise for this country to shrink its global presence, especially militarily. He saw us as a benevolent actor on the world stage. I saw us as overly ambitious, though not necessarily malevolent, as well as often misguided and in denial when it came to our flaws. I think of his rejoinder to me as the “empty stage” argument. Basically, he suggested that all the world’s a stage and, should this country become too timid and abandon it, other far more dangerous actors could take our place, with everyone suffering. My response was that we should, at least, try to leave that stage in some fashion and see if we were missed. Wasn’t our own American stage ever big enough for us? And if this country were truly missed, it could always return, perhaps even triumphantly.

Of course, officials in Washington and the Pentagon do like to imagine themselves as leading “the indispensable nation” and are generally unwilling to test any other possibilities. Instead, like so many ham actors, all they want is to eternally mug and try to dominate every stage in sight.

In truth, the U.S. doesn’t really have to be involved in every war around and undoubtedly wouldn’t be if certain actors (corporate as well as individual) didn’t feel it was just so profitable. If my five answers above were ever taken seriously here, there might indeed be a wiser and more peaceful path forward for this country. But that can’t happen if the forces that profit from the status quo — where bellum (war) is never ante- or post- but simply ongoing — remain so powerful. The question is, of course, how to take the profits of every sort out of war and radically downsize our military (especially its overseas “footprint”), so that it truly becomes a force for “national security,” rather than national insecurity.

Most of all, Americans need to resist the seductiveness of war, because endless war and preparations for more of the same have been a leading cause of national decline. One thing I know: Waving blue-and-yellow flags in solidarity with Ukraine and supporting “our” troops may feel good but it won’t make us good. In fact, it will only contribute to ever more gruesome versions of war.

A striking feature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that, after so many increasingly dim years, it’s finally allowed America’s war party to pose as the “good guys” again. After two decades of a calamitous “war on terror” and unmitigated disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and so many other places, Americans find themselves on the side of the underdog Ukrainians against that “genocidal” “war criminal” Vladimir Putin. That such a reading of the present situation might be uncritical and reductively one-sided should (but doesn’t) go without saying. That it’s seductive because it feeds both American nationalism and narcissism, while furthering a mythology of redemptive violence, should be scary indeed.

Yes, it’s high time to call a halt to the Pentagon’s unending ham-fisted version of a world tour. If only it were also time to try dreaming a different dream, a more pacific one of being perhaps a first among equals. In the America of this moment, even that is undoubtedly asking too much. An Air Force buddy of mine once said to me that when you wage war long, you wage it wrong. Unfortunately, when you choose the dark path of global dominance, you also choose a path of constant warfare and troubled times marked by the cruel risk of violent blowback (a phenomenon of which historian and critic Chalmers Johnson so presciently warned us in the years before 9/11).

Washington certainly feels it’s on the right side of history in this Ukraine moment. However, persistent warfare should never be confused with strength and certainly not with righteousness, especially on a planet haunted by a growing sense of impending doom.

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore

Via Tomdispatch.com

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It Goes up but Never Comes Down: What Would It Take to Reduce US Military Spending? https://www.juancole.com/2022/04/reduce-military-spending.html Wed, 06 Apr 2022 04:08:01 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203893 ( Tomdispatch.com) – I have a question for you: What would it take in today’s world for America’s military spending to go down? Here’s one admittedly farfetched scenario: Vladimir Putin loses his grip on power and Russia retrenches militarily while reaching out to normalize relations with the West. At the same time, China prudently decides to spend less on its military, pursuing economic power while abandoning any pretense to a militarized superpower status. Assuming such an unlikely scenario, with a “new cold war” nipped in the bud and the U.S. as the world’s unchallenged global hegemon, Pentagon spending would surely shrink, right?

Well, I wouldn’t count on it. Based on developments after the Soviet Union’s collapse three decades ago, here’s what I suspect would be far more likely to happen. The U.S. military, aided by various strap-hanging think tanks, intelligence agencies, and weapons manufacturers, would simply shift into overdrive. As its spokespeople would explain to anyone who’d listen (especially in Congress), the disappearance of the Russian and Chinese threats would carry its own awesome dangers, leaving this country prospectively even less safe than before.

You’d hear things like: we’ve suddenly been plunged into a more complex multipolar world, significantly more chaotic now that our “near-peer” rivals are no longer challenging us, with even more asymmetrical threats to U.S. military dominance. The key word, of course, would be “more” — linked, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, to omnipresent Pentagon demands for yet more military spending. When it comes to weapons, budgets, and war, the military-industrial complex’s philosophy is captured by an arch comment of the legendary actress Mae West: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

Even without Russia and China as serious threats to American hegemony, you’d hear again about an “unbalanced” Kim Jong-un in North Korea and his deeply alarming ballistic missiles; you’d hear about Iran and its alleged urge to build nuclear weapons; and, if those two countries proved too little, perhaps the war on terror would be resuscitated. (Indeed, during the ongoing wall-to-wall coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea did test a ballistic missile, an event a distracted media greeted with a collective shrug.) My point is this: when you define the entire globe as your sphere of influence, as the U.S. government does, there will always be threats somewhere. It matters little, in budgetary terms, whether it’s terror, most often linked to radical Islam, or the struggle over resources linked to climate change, which the Pentagon has long recognized as a danger, even if it still burns carbon as if there were no tomorrow. And don’t discount a whole new set of dangers in space and cyberspace, the latest realms of combat.

Of course, this country is always allegedly falling behind in some vital realm of weapons research. Right now, it’s hypersonic missiles, just as in the early days of the Cold War bomber and missile “gaps” were falsely said to be endangering our security. Again, when national security is defined as full-spectrum dominance and America must reign supreme in all areas, you can always come up with realms where we’re allegedly lagging and where there’s a critical need for billions more of your taxpayer dollars. Consider the ongoing “modernization” of our nuclear arsenal, at a projected cost approaching $2 trillion over the coming decades. As a jobs program, as well as an advertisement of naked power, it may yet rival the Egyptian pyramids. (Of course, the pyramids became wonders of the world rather than threatening to end it.)

No Peace Dividends for You

While a young captain in the Air Force, I lived through the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a romping, stomping performance by our military in the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1991. It felt great! I was teaching history at the Air Force Academy when President George H.W. Bush talked of a “new world order.” On a planet with no Soviet Union and no Cold War, we even briefly heard talk of “peace dividends” to come that echoed the historical response of Americans after prevailing in past wars. In the aftermath of the Civil War, as well as World Wars I and II, rapid demobilization and a dramatic downsizing of the military establishment had occurred.

And indeed, there was initially at least some modest shrinkage of our military after the Soviet collapse, though nothing like what most experts had expected. Personnel cuts came first. As a young officer, I well remember the Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP) and the Selective Early Retirement Board (SERB). VSIP offered money to entice officers like me to get out early, while SERB represented involuntary retirement for those judged to have overstayed their welcome. Then there was the dreaded RIF, or Reduction in Force, program, which involved involuntary separation without benefits.

Yet even as personnel were pruned from our military, the ambitions of the national security state only grew. As I wrote long ago, the U.S. didn’t just “contain” the Soviet empire during the Cold War; that empire also contained us. With its main enemy in tatters and facing virtually no restraint to its global ambitions, the military-industrial complex promptly began to search for new realms to dominate and new enemies to contain and defeat. Expansion, not shrinkage, soon became the byword, whether in Asia, Africa, or Europe, where, despite promises made to the last of the Soviet Union’s leaders, NATO’s growth took the lead.

So, let’s jump to 1998, just before the initial round of NATO expansion occurred. I’m a major in the Air Force now, on my second tour of teaching history to cadets and I’m attending a seminar on coalition warfare. Its concluding panel focused on the future of NATO and featured four generals who had served at the highest levels of that alliance. I was feverishly taking notes as one of them argued forcefully for NATO’s expansion despite Russian concerns. “Russia has nothing to fear,” he assured us and, far more important, could no longer prevent it. “If the Soviet Union was an anemic tiger, Russia is more like a circus tiger that may growl but won’t bite,” he concluded. Tell that to the people of Ukraine in 2022.

Retired Army General Andrew Goodpaster had a different view. He suggested that the U.S. could have fostered a peaceful “overarching relationship” with Russia after 1991 but chose antagonism and expansion instead. For him, NATO’s growth was only likely to antagonize a post-Soviet Russia further. Air Force General John Shaud largely agreed, suggesting that the U.S. should work to ensure that Russia didn’t become yet more isolated thanks to such a program of expansion.

In the end, three of those four retired generals urged varying degrees of caution. In an addendum to my notes, I scribbled this: “NATO expansion, from the perspective of many in the West, gathers the flock and unites them against an impending storm. From the Russian perspective, NATO expansion, beyond a certain point, is intolerable; it is the storm.” If three of four former senior NATO commanders and a young Air Force major could see that clearly almost 25 years ago, surely senior government officials of the day could, too.


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Unfortunately, it turned out that they simply didn’t care. For the military-industrial complex, as journalist Andrew Cockburn noted in 2015, such expansion was simply too lucrative to pass up. It meant more money, profits, and jobs, as Eastern European militaries retooled with weaponry from the West, much of it made in the USA. It didn’t matter that Russia was prostrate and posed no threat; it didn’t matter that NATO’s main reason for being had disappeared. What mattered was more: more countries in NATO, meaning more weapons sold, more money made, more influence peddled. Who cared if expansion pissed off the Russians? What was a toothless “circus tiger” going to do about it anyway, gum us to death?

If there ever was a time for peace dividends and military demobilization, the 1990s were it. This country even had a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who was focused far more on domestic concerns than foreign policy. And there’s the rub. He simply had no desire to challenge the military-industrial complex. Few presidents do.

Early in his first term, he’d already lost big-time in arguing for gays to serve openly in the ranks, leading to his ignominious surrender and the institutionalization of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as military policy. As that complex then frog-marched Clinton through what remained of the twentieth century, hardheaded hawks like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz were already hatching their plans for America’s triumphant return to a policy of complete unipolar dominance empowered by a kick-ass military. Their time came with George W. Bush’s less than legitimate election in 2000, accelerated by the September 11th tragedy the following year.

America’s New Normal Is War

Ever since 9/11, endless conflict has been this country’s new normal. If you’re an American 21 years of age or younger, you’ve never known a time when your country hasn’t been at war, even if, thanks to the end of the draft in the previous century, you stand no chance of being called to arms yourself. You’ve never known a time of “normal” defense budgets. You have no conception of what military demobilization, no less peacetime might actually be like. Your normal is only reflected in the Biden administration’s staggering $813 billion Pentagon budget proposal for the next fiscal year. Naturally, many congressional Republicans are already clamoring for even higher military spending. Remember that Mae West quip? What a “wonderful” world!

And you’re supposed to take pride in this. As President Biden recently told soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division now stationed in Poland, this country has the “finest fighting force in the history of the world.” Even with the mountains of cash we give to that military, the nation still “owes you big,” he assured them.

Well, I’m gobsmacked. During my 20-year career in the military, I never thought my nation owed me a thing, let alone owed me big. Now that I think of it, however, I can say that this nation owed me (and today’s troops as well) one very big thing: not to waste my life; not to send me to fight undeclared, arguably unconstitutional, wars; not to treat me like a foreign legionnaire or an imperial errand-boy. That’s what we, the people, really owe “our” troops. It should be our duty to treat their service, and potentially their deaths, with the utmost care, meaning that our leaders should wage war only as a last, not a first, resort and only in defense of our most cherished ideals.

This was anything but the case of the interminable Afghan and Iraq wars, reckless conflicts of choice that burned through trillions of dollars, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops killed and wounded, and millions of foreigners either dead or transformed into refugees, all for what turned out to be absolutely nothing. Small wonder today that a growing number of Americans want to see less military spending, not more. Citizen.org, representing 86 national and state organizations, has called on President Biden to decrease military spending. Joining that call was POGO, the Project on Government Oversight, as well as William Hartung at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. And they couldn’t be more on target, though they’re certain to be ignored in Washington.

Consider the recent disastrous end to the Afghan War. Viewing that conflict in the aggregate, what you see is widespread corruption and untold waste, all facilitated by generals who lied openly and consistently to the rest of us about “progress,” even as they spoke frankly in private about a lost war, a reality the Afghan War Papers all too tellingly revealed. That harsh story of abysmal failure, however, highlights something far worse: a devastating record of lying on a massive scale within the highest ranks of the military and government. And are those liars and deceivers being called to account? Perish the thought! Instead, they’ve generally been rewarded with yet more money, promotions, and praise.

So, what would it take for the Pentagon budget to shrink? Blowing the whistle on wasteful and underperforming weaponry hasn’t been enough. Witnessing murderous and disastrous wars hasn’t been enough. To my mind, at this point, only a full-scale collapse of the U.S. economy might truly shrink that budget and that would be a Pyrrhic victory for the American people.

In closing, let me return to President Biden’s remark that the nation owes our troops big. There’s an element of truth there, perhaps, if you’re referring to the soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen, many of whom have served selflessly within its ranks. It sure as hell isn’t true, though, of the self-serving strivers and liars at or near the top, or the weapons-making corporations who profited off it all, or the politicians in Washington who kept crying out for more. They owe the rest of us and America big.

My fellow Americans, we have now reached the point in our collective history where we face three certainties: death, taxes, and ever-soaring spending on weaponry and war. In that sense, we have become George Orwell’s Oceania, where war is peace, surveillance is privacy, and censorship is free speech.

Such is the fate of a people who make war and empire their way of life.

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore

Via Tomdispatch.com

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