Beware of Long Wars

W.J. Astore

Ukrainian Attacks on Russia Are Dangerously Escalatory

Reports that Ukraine is launching modified drones to strike airbases deep in Russia highlight the unpredictability and escalatory nature of wars. Ukraine is no longer content at defending itself against Russian aggression; Russia itself must be made a target, which will likely provoke harsher Russian counterattacks. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress continues to authorize billions in military aid to Ukraine, which is pitched as defending democracy and freedom.

War is many things but it is rarely democratic. Indeed, as James Madison warned, war is inherently anti-democratic. It strengthens authoritarian forces and contributes to abuses of power and corruption. As the Russia-Ukraine War goes on, with no clear resolution in sight, Ukraine suffers more even as the chances of escalation rise.

James Madison warned that no nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare

What’s needed now is resolute diplomacy — a committed effort to end the war by all parties involved, obviously Russia and Ukraine but also the U.S. and NATO. The longer this disastrous war lasts, the more unpredictable it will become, the more atrocious it will prove, and the more likely ordinary Ukrainians and Russians will suffer and die, whether at various battlefronts or on the homefront.

Negotiation is not weakness nor is it appeasement. Negotiation is sensible, rational, and life-affirming. But there’s little reason for Ukraine to negotiate when it’s enjoying a blank check of support from the U.S. and NATO.

Meanwhile, as Ukraine continues striking deep into Russia, one wonders to what extent the U.S. military and intelligence agencies are involved. Did the U.S. provide technology?  Targeting information?  Intelligence? Or is Ukraine doing this entirely on its own, a scenario that is less than comforting?

I sure hope the U.S. and Russia are talking.  In the confusion and chaos of war, how is Russia to know for sure that an attack on one of their strategic air bases is coming from Ukraine and not from NATO territory?  Even if it’s clearly coming from Ukraine, if these attacks are enabled or approved by the U.S./NATO, will the Russians see them as an act of war? Will they respond militarily, creating even more escalatory pressure?

Bizarrely, Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia has been sold as America’s “good” war, a chance to weaken Russia and Putin in the cause of defending Ukrainian “democracy.” But as Ukraine’s tactics turn more offensive, and as the Ukrainian government likely becomes more authoritarian due to the pressures of war, how wise is it for the United States to continue to send massive amounts of military aid there while discouraging diplomacy?

Policies that end in prolonging the Russia-Ukraine War in the name of teaching Putin a lesson and eroding his power may teach us all a lesson in how war is not just anti-democratic. War runs to extremes, and only fools believe they can control it in a way that is conducive to liberty and freedom and justice.

Where’s the Antiwar Movement?

W.J. Astore

In America, we get what we pay for

A question I hear often concerns the lack of a strong antiwar movement in America. The last large protest against war I remember preceded the Iraq invasion in 2003. The nuclear freeze movement of the early 1980s was sharply focused and somewhat effective in raising concerns about nuclear escalation between the US and USSR. But I can’t recall a truly powerful and effective antiwar movement since the Vietnam War days, when the draft was still in force and American troops were dying in the tens of thousands in a useless and atrocious war in Southeast Asia.

And those are, of course, two key reasons why America lacks a strong antiwar movement today: there is no military draft, and Americans are not dying in large numbers in a deeply unpopular war.

Rally agains the Iraq War in 2003. Photo by Jeff Miller

Another obvious (I think) reason: we get what we pay for. America pays for war and weapons, we even speak of “investing” in them, so at some (deep) level we believe in war and its efficacy. We are caught or even enraptured by it; our culture is infused with it, whether you speak of movies like “Top Gun: Maverick” or video games like the “Call of Duty” franchise or sporting events that routinely celebrate “our” troops and their weaponry. We “invest” in wars and weapons, and that investment sure pays dividends for the military and all its weapons makers.

There’s another reason as well, perhaps more subtle: the antiwar movement is fragmented whereas pro-war forces are united. What unites them is the pursuit of power, greed, profit, and their own sense they are being patriotic in “defending” America. A lot of people make a lot of money off the military-industrial complex, but it’s not solely about money. They also gain an identity from it and relatively high social status. (The military remains deeply respected within American culture.)

By comparison, antiwar forces in America are fragmented. In talking to some members, I found considerable diversity in what motivates them. This is hardly surprising. There’s no one “big” war to be against, as in the Vietnam War years or in the run up to the Iraq War. Being against war in general is not as compelling a message to fence-straddlers. Meanwhile, Americans are being told by the mainstream media that war works in places like Ukraine and that a new cold war is looming with Russia and China, so how can we afford the hypothetical comforts of peace when we’re afflicted by the grim realities of war?

Again, antiwar forces sometimes disagree about what is at the root of America’s hyper-aggressiveness and how best to counter it. I hear that we must tackle racism first; I hear that the white male patriarchy must be dismantled; I hear that indigenous peoples must finally obtain justice and reparations for the land and livelihoods stolen from them; I hear that BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities must be heard and empowered; these motivations and agendas, and more, animate antiwar voices and communities. Diversity can be a strength, but it can also make working on a common cause problematic when there’s no clear unity of purpose.

I am perhaps most familiar with antiwar voices on the left, though I also listen to Tulsi Gabbard, Tucker Carlson, Rand Paul, and other voices that are considered right or libertarian. Generally speaking, the left doesn’t want to make common cause against war with the right, and vice-versa. There’s simply too much distrust and distaste. This is perhaps a fatal blow to building a truly effective antiwar movement.

I say this because the pro-war movement in America is truly bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans routinely come together in Congress to vote for more money for weapons and for more war. If we are to resist this, the antiwar movement must also be bipartisan. It must also pitch a big tent and let all people in, irrespective of their political affiliations.

I’d add as well that some antiwar voices in America are also anti-military. Perhaps I’m biased as a retired military officer, but I don’t think an anti-military message is attractive or compelling to most Americans. Anti-militarism, yes. Antiwar, yes. Anti-military, no. That said, I strongly believe America needs to reject warrior and warfighter nonsense and return to its roots and traditions with citizen-soldiers and a much smaller standing military.

Back in 2016, I wrote a similar article on the absence of a concerted antiwar war movement in America. Looking at that today, I think I should repeat the point I made about fear and threat inflation. To wit:

“Finally, a nebulous factor that’s always lurking: FEAR.  The popular narrative today is that terrorists may kill you at any time right here in America.  So you must be ready to “lockdown“; you must be ready to “shelter in place.”  You must always defer to the police and military to keep you safe.  You must fully fund the military or YOU WILL DIE. Repeated incantations of fear reinforce the master narrative of war.”

So, perhaps the biggest reason America lacks an effective antiwar movement is simply that we get what we pay for. America spends roughly a trillion dollars a year on wars and weaponry and an imperial military presence, so that’s what we get. We’re not spending a trillion a year on peace and diplomacy and conflict resolution. We reap what we sow, and what we sow is almost entirely favorable to more war.

War Dividends

W.J. Astore

The Pentagon Budget Keeps Soaring Up, Up, and Away!

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the Cold War ended, I heard a lot about peace dividends. It was time to become a normal country in normal (more peaceful) times, said Jeanne Kirkpatrick, an early neocon who served under Ronald Reagan. More than thirty years later, America still awaits its peace dividends from the Cold War.

When the Afghan War came to a sputtering and ignominious end in 2021, I didn’t hear much at all about peace dividends. Even though the Afghan War was costing the United States almost $50 billion a year before it crashed and burned, the Pentagon budget for 2022 went up by that amount rather than down. You’d think the end of wars would lead to a decrease in military spending, but not in America.

And so we come to today, when I learned that the Pentagon budget for 2023, which sat at $802 billion per the request of the Biden administration, has been boosted big time to $847 billion by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. That’s $45 billion extra for more wars and weapons, a whopping sum of money that would likely end homelessness if it was invested in America.

One thing is certain: war dividends always come through. Peace dividends? Not so much.

How does the Washington Beltway crowd justify such enormous sums for “national defense”? Threat inflation, of course. Because of its debilitating war with Ukraine, Russia is weaker but somehow that means America must spend more because Putin or something. Chinese maneuvers near Taiwan are treated like direct incursions into U.S. coastal waters. A few North Korean missiles are enough to justify more than a trillion dollars for new or revamped nuclear forces over the next thirty years. And of course military Keynesianism is always a factor, as in Pentagon-related jobs spread as widely as possible through every Congressional district.

The Pentagon can’t even pass an audit (for the fifth year in a row!), yet it still gets more and more billions from you the taxpayer.

I took a quick look at NBC News online to see if there were any objections to this massive $847 billion budget for the Pentagon. The only story featured warned that “GOP senators threaten to delay military bill over vaccine mandate.” Yes, what’s truly worrisome is that a few troops might have to accept a COVID vaccine against their will. Geez, where were these senators when the military was jabbing me in the arm every year with a mandatory flu vaccine?

Trees are falling in the forest to print all the money the Pentagon wants (and then some), but few Americans hear a sound since the mainstream media refuses to cover wasteful military spending and disastrous American wars. 

If you should want a sure bet in America, don’t toss money at your favorite sports team. Place your bet on America’s war horse. Whether it wins, places, or shows, or even comes up lame, it will always pay dividends.

A Peculiar Form of American Madness

W.J. Astore

Heroification of the military is a strange mindset for any self-avowed democracy

America is touched by a peculiar form of collective madness that sees military action as creative rather than destructive, desirable rather than deplorable, and constitutive to democracy rather than corrosive to it.

This madness, this hubris, this elevation or heroification of the military and war has to end, or it will most certainly end America, if not the world.

Related to this, America advances and sustains a historical narrative based on triumphalism, exceptionalism, and goodness. We Americans see total military dominance as something to crow about, even as we insist that it’s our birthright as “exceptional” Americans. This mindset, or Zeitgeist if you will, enables and empowers a national security state that easily consumes more than half of federal discretionary spending each year. As long as this mindset persists, the MICC or MICIMATT will persist and continue to grow in reach and power.

So that’s my first big step in taming the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academia-think-tank complex. America’s mindset, its culture, must change. Change the mindset and you begin to change the deference if not adulation granted to the MICIMATT.

Change the mindset, weaken the blob. That was what Dwight D. Eisenhower had in mind in his “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953.1 Our peculiar form of militarized madness is simply no way of life at all for democracy or for the planet.

It won’t be easy because we’re taught to salute the military and support “our” beloved troops. We’re taught that corporations like Boeing and Raytheon are job-creators, even citizens. We look to Congress to represent us, even as its members thrive on corporate campaign contributions (bribes) while genuflecting to the generals and admirals. We look to the media for news and information even as those outlets are fueled by advertising dollars from companies like Boeing, if not owned by them. We look to “liberal” academia for new ideas even as colleges and universities compete for Pentagon research and development dollars. We look to think tanks for fresh approaches even as they’re funded by weapons contractors.

Under these conditions, it’s not surprising that the U.S. no longer sees peace as possible or even as desirable. Peace is rarely mentioned by U.S. political candidates or by the mainstream media. War is simply taken for granted; even worse, it’s seen as the health of the state.

That war is now seen as the health of the state is indeed a peculiar form of American madness. As the Christmas season approaches, is it too much to ask for sanity as in peace on earth and good will toward all?

1

Ike’s “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953 was brilliant in its clarity and power. Can you imagine any U.S. politician saying these words today?

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.  It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

We All Represent “Diversity”

W.J. Astore

On not judging books by their covers

It was only a few years ago that I learned I’m a “cis white male.” As such, I guess I’m a dime a dozen. Ordinary. Not representative of “diversity.”

I get it. I’m a historian so I know something about how various peoples have suffered extreme, even murderous, prejudice and exploitation over time. I’ve taught about slavery, the Holocaust, and various forms of discrimination against women and minorities, among other groups and peoples. The list goes on and on. The recent shootings in Colorado Springs where the LGBTQ community was targeted reminds us that too many people see diversity as a threat.

If only we could see ourselves just as human beings in all the richness that term describes. We are all part of the human community. We contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman said.

These people aren’t diverse. Where are the unhappy people? Seriously, this stock image is supposed to represent diversity, but I don’t see any blue-collar workers. Where’s the cleaning crew? Is everyone in this company lean and fit? Too often, even “diversity” images lack diversity.

Nevertheless, I understand how various people and organizations want to exhibit diversity by hiring or showcasing more women, or more Blacks, or more members of the LGBTQ community, and so on. It seems as if guys like me have ruled the world (or we act as if we have) for so long that we need to be taken down a peg or two. Or three.

What happens, sadly, is that in some cases what we get is what my wife likes to term “optical” diversity. Think about the U.S. government. You get a Black female (think Condi Rice) in a position of power, but she basically thinks and acts the same as a cis white male neo-conservative. You get a Black male (think Lloyd Austin) in a position of power, but he’s basically a card-carrying member of the military-industrial complex. You get “Mayor” Pete Buttigieg in a position of power, but he’s just another government technocrat spouting bromides in the pursuit of power.

Optical diversity shouldn’t be the main goal. What we’re striving for, or should be striving for, is diversity of perspectives, of life experiences, along with an openness to new ideas and viewpoints. A willingness to listen, to learn, to come together based on mutual respect, a shared commitment to work toward justice.

What about me? Am I just another aging cis white male? Just another out-of-touch white guy? Okay, Boomer!

I hope not. I was taught by my parents not to judge a book by its cover. So how do I represent diversity? If you were looking for “diversity,” would I fit the bill (no pun intended)? Here are ten reasons why I might be a “diverse” human:

  • I’m politically independent. In my life I’ve voted Republican, Democrat, and Green. I’m generally “progressive,” though I find labels reductive.
  • I’m a military veteran who’s written a lot of articles that are highly critical of the U.S. military.
  • I’m from a blue-collar family and I’m the first in my family to finish college.
  • I was educated as a mechanical engineer before I turned to history, where I specialized in the history of science, technology, and religion.
  • Speaking of religion, I was raised Catholic but now consider myself to be agnostic. I did my master’s thesis on Catholics and science; for my doctorate, I turned to evangelicals and science. I have a keen interest in both science and religion, respecting both of them as ways of knowing, ways of making sense of the world and ourselves.
  • I love the outdoors and consider myself to be pro-environment. So, for example, I am against fracking because of its demonstrable harm to our planet.
  • I lived and studied overseas in England for three years and have traveled to Italy, Germany, Scotland, and Wales. I gained a new perspective on America by being away from it.
  • I’m an introvert. (Do you want your team or organization to be all extroverts?)
  • I’m a science fiction fan. My favorite character on “Star Trek” is Mr. Spock. Yes, I can be a bit of a geek.
  • I like sports. Being from New England, I’m a fan of the Red Sox, Patriots, etc. I probably spend too much time watching “my” teams compete. My wife and I broke out bottles of champagne to celebrate the Red Sox winning the World Series.

Here’s my real point: All of you, everyone reading this, could make a similar list to showcase your (and our) diversity. In fact, if you’re reading this and would like to comment and share, please put a couple of things below that mark you as a “diverse” person. Because we all contain multitudes. Thanks so much.

Warfare Is Welfare for the Merchants of Death

W.J. Astore

Whatever else it is, the Russia-Ukraine War is a major money-making opportunity

Warfare is welfare for the merchants of death. Consider the Russia-Ukraine War. In the name of Ukrainian liberation, the U.S. Congress is preparing to approve another $37.7 billion in mostly military aid, bringing the total to nearly $100 billion in less than a year. This remarkable sum represents roughly 5% of federal discretionary spending, nearly the same as what the federal government spent on education in America this year. So far, all Democrats in Congress have supported aid to Ukraine, with only a minority of Republicans objecting.

Why is this? America is fertile ground for anti-Russian sentiment, but that’s not the main reason. It’s all about the Benjamins, as war is always immensely profitable for some sectors of society. Recall that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of the disastrous rise of misplaced power represented by the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC). Congress is heavily influenced by weapons contractors, not only through campaign contributions but by the jobs in their districts tied to the production of weapons of all sorts.

In a refreshing burst of honesty from the 1930s, the U.S. Senate referred to weapons contractors as “merchants of death,” and so they are. Weapons, from mundane bullets and artillery shells to “sexy” stealth fighters like the wildly expensive F-35, are designed to kill our fellow human beings. That’s why Eisenhower famously said in 1953 that humans essentially crucify themselves on a cross of iron when they prioritize weapons building over hospitals, schools, and other necessities of a civilized life.

More and more money to the merchants of death ensures three things: more power to weapons contractors, higher profits for them, and in this particular case a lot more dead Russians and Ukrainians. Some Americans seem to think it’s all worth it, though I’m skeptical about Ukrainian liberation being an important goal to officials in Washington.

Ike exhibited basic common sense when he noted the MICC is fundamentally anti-democratic. That it threatened our liberties and democratic processes. He told us to take nothing for granted, and challenged us to remain alert and knowledgeable. For when you empower the MICC, you weaken democracy. You also choose death over life.

Whether it’s the Russia-Ukraine War or previous ones like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the MICC has been and is making a killing in America and indeed across the globe— and in more ways than one. And as Ike said, that’s no way of life at all.

What is to be done? We need to start by recognizing that the MICC is fundamentally anti-democratic, often wasteful, driven by greed, and consistent with imperialism of the worst sort. Again, I’m not really saying anything new here; Ike, a five-star general and two-term president, said the same almost 70 years ago. His sentiments were echoed by James Madison when Madison wrote in 1795 that a large standing military and incessant warfare were deadly to democracy and liberty.1 Yet wars continue to find a way, and the MICC continues to thrive and expand its reach and power.

To resort to Scripture, not only is the flesh weak in America when it comes to reining in war and weapons: so too is the spirit. The spirit is unwilling because we are saturated in war and violence. An imperial vision like “full-spectrum dominance” has come to dominate American culture and society. Too many people believe that freedom is best projected and protected through the barrel of a gun.

The words of Ike come to me again when he said that only Americans could truly hurt America. The primary dangers are within not without. In that spirit, Ike warned us about a danger within, the MICC. We would do well to heed his warning if we wish to preserve and strengthen the tree of liberty.

How best to heed his warning? With respect to the Russia-Ukraine War, stop sending weapons that drive more killing. Put more effort on diplomacy. With respect to America itself, abandon the concept of a “new cold war” with Russia and China. Recognize America’s strength instead of focusing incessantly on hypothetical weaknesses. Stop listening to the screech of war hawks. Invest in life instead of death. Start from a place of life-affirming confidence rather than of fear and doubt.

There’s a powerful scene in “Enemy at the Gates” about the Battle of Stalingrad where Soviet political officers are debating how to inspire the troops to fight to the last. The Soviets had been relying on fear, and indeed at Stalingrad Soviet units killed thousands of their own troops for “cowardice” in the face of the Nazi enemy. One commissar is brave enough to offer something other than fear and death. “Give them hope!” he cries. Hope that they can and would prevail against a ruthless enemy.

That’s what we need in America today, a lot less fear and a lot more hope.

1

Madison wrote that: “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.  War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debt and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.  In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.  The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both.  No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Taking On the Military-Industrial Complex

W.J. Astore

To Fight the Unbeatable Foe

To dream the impossible dream/To fight the unbeatable foe/To bear with unbearable sorrow/To run where the brave dare not go …

Whether you call it the military-industrial complex (MIC), the national security state, the MICIMATT,1 the blob, or something else entirely, taking on the MIC and trying to restrain its influence and power is akin to dreaming the impossible dream.

President Eisenhower warned us about the grave threat posed to liberty and democracy by the MIC in 1961. In the early 1980s, as a college student, I wrote against the growth of the MIC and massive Pentagon spending under President Ronald Reagan. After I retired from the military, I started writing articles, giving interviews, etc. against the MIC and militarism in America. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years, and it hasn’t made any discernible difference. Why should it?

The MIC is massive and massively powerful. It consumes more than half of the federal discretionary budget. It employs millions of people. It is wildly profitable for major military contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. It is sold as essential to America’s national security and safety. Its uniformed members are lauded as heroes. We are all as Americans immersed in a matrix of militarism and imperialism since birth; to fight against it, then, is often seen as un-American.

Spoiler alert: I have no easy answers. There are no silver bullets. Ike called for an alert and knowledgable citizenry (that’s us) who would act as guards against the growing anti-democratic power of the MIC. The MIC responded by making sure we are kept largely docile and ignorant of its plans and actions.

When brave Americans do speak up, they are punished. Not people like me—I’m small fry. I mean people like Martin Luther King Jr., who called America the world’s greatest purveyor of violence during the Vietnam War. That speech made him unpopular even among many of his followers; exactly one year later, he was shot and killed.

People who truly pose a threat to the MIC are taught a lesson. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, at the time also a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, was smeared by NBC News as a Russian asset when she announced her candidacy for president in 2020. Gabbard was the only mainstream candidate criticizing the MIC and its disastrous regime-change wars. Dennis Kucinich, who bravely advocated for a Department of Peace, was sidelined and silenced by his own party (the Democrats). Jill Stein, who ran in 2016 as the Green Party candidate for the presidency, was also smeared as a “useful idiot” for Russia because she called for major reductions to war budgets.

There are many examples of brave Americans fighting the MIC. Edward Snowden told the truth about abuses of power by U.S. intelligence agencies; he’s in exile in Russia. Chelsea Manning went to prison for bravely exposing war crimes in Iraq. Daniel Hale is in prison for exposing the murderous results of America’s drone wars. Even foreign journalists like Julian Assange aren’t safe. Assange embarrassed the MIC and partially exposed the hideous face of war to Americans, and for that he’s being held in a maximum security prison under conditions meant to break him physically and mentally.

What is to be done? It’s flattering to me that a few readers think I might have answers. I have none. I’m not an organizer, I’m not an agitator or protester, I’m just a retired military schmuck looking for a new way forward for our country (and, by extension, for the planet). A new cold war is not a new way forward. Indeed, a new cold war will only ensure a hotter future for us all, if not an irradiated one.

McGovern, a bomber pilot and war hero, never bragged about his war experiences

I think George McGovern had the right approach in 1972. “Come home, America,” McGovern said. Stop trying to dominate the world. Stop claiming that democracy can be spread by bullets and bombs. Downsize the military and the whole MICIMATT and with the money saved send a check to every American. Call it a true peace dividend.

Support our troops—bring them home, is a commonsense message that holds appeal. Returning to Eisenhower, Ike once said that only Americans can truly hurt America. We hurt America when we exaggerate threats overseas, when we give blank checks to warmongers, indeed when we forget how hellish war truly is and how corrosive it is to our democracy (what’s left of it) and our way of life.

I’ve written so much about this that I know I’m repeating myself. And I’m probably preaching to the choir as well. But the choir must keep singing, even when the dogs of war howl to drown us out.

America needs a reformation or a revolution. A restoration of liberty where war and militarism are seen as the antithesis of liberty. Why can’t America be a shining city on a hill? Why do we instead choose to be a dark fortress bristling with cannons?

To dream the impossible dream/to fight the unbeatable foe …

1

Military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academia-think tank complex. An awkward acronym that does help to capture the size and reach of the national security state. The MIC itself is supported by the mainstream media, many colleges and universities that are funded by the DoD, and all those think tanks in the DC area that are often funded by major weapons makers. Truly a Goliath awaiting a David with a slingshot.

How to Get Elected in America

W.J. Astore

Don’t talk about the poor or peace

The key to getting elected in America is to raise lots of money. And you can’t do that by talking about poor people or the prospects for peace in the world.

Poor people have no powerful lobby or armies of lobbyists. With no access to the political game, they can be easily ignored. Those who advocate for peace also lack armies of lobbyists; they lack money as well compared to Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and similar giant weapons contractors. They can also be easily ignored.

When you look at Democrats and Republicans, both parties serve the privileged elites. Neither party is on the side of Aurora, a woman working two part-time jobs cleaning motel rooms while also cleaning houses on the side for affluent clients. She has no health care (she can’t afford it, and it doesn’t come with her part-time jobs) and she barely makes $30K a year despite working 70+ hours a week while trying to raise two kids.

Which political party is fighting (truly fighting, not just paying lip service) for higher pay for her? Which is fighting for single-payer health care for her that’s truly affordable? Child-care benefits? Anything at all? The answer is neither.

To America’s political establishment, Aurora doesn’t exist. She doesn’t count. She doesn’t matter.

This point was reinforced as I read an article by Chris Hedges on Father Michael Doyle. In Doyle’s words:

“There is a meanness that has raised its ugly head in the soul of America. Bobby Kennedy, even Lyndon Johnson, spoke about the poor. Now you can’t say the word poor and get elected. Let the poor suffer. They’re not important. Let the train roll over them.”

Bobby Kennedy reached out to everyone

This is the crux. America, we’re told, is incredibly rich and noble and good. Yet we export wars and weapons and treat the most vulnerable among us like trash.

Speaking of wars and weapons, the Biden administration is asking for nearly $38 billion more in aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia. If approved, this will bring U.S. aid to Ukraine, mainly in the form of weapons, ammunition, and the like, to almost $100 billion in less than a year. People tell me this is because America cares about the Ukrainian people. But the U.S. government doesn’t care about Americans living on the streets: do you really think it cares about Ukrainians?

Aid to Ukraine gets approved with alacrity by Congress because most of the money goes to weapons contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. To those and similar corporations, war is profitable, peace isn’t. Talk of a new cold war with Russia and China drives war-based profits higher still. Few in Congress have the temerity to suggest that peace is ultimately better for Americans (and indeed Ukrainians, Russians, and all other life on earth) than incessant wars and preparations for the same.

Imagine what $100 billion could do for the homeless in America. Imagine the shelters that could be built, the aid that could be provided, the hope that could be instilled. I’m not saying government aid is the solution to homelessness, but it sure would help.

Perhaps we need to declare war on homelessness while creating an army of well-heeled lobbyists to attack Congress with the magic bullet that always gets attention: campaign contributions. Money. At the same time, let’s eliminate the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and replace them with a Department of Peace with an equivalent budgetary authority of roughly a trillion dollars a year.

Barring that, the poor will continue to suffer and wars and weapons will continue to find a way.

Why Did Eisenhower Fail in 1961?

W.J. Astore

Perhaps America, Home of the Brave, Simply Fears Too Much

In 1961, in his famous farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America about the military-industrial complex. He said it potentially posed a grave threat to liberty and democracy, noting that only an alert and knowledgable citizenry could keep its “disastrous rise” in check. In an earlier draft of his speech, Ike had included Congress as part of the complex, but he removed it from the final draft in the interest of parting with Congress on good terms.

Ike, of course, knew the military and loved it and had worked with industry as well. He knew of what he spoke. Every year when he was president, the military wanted more. So did the weapons manufacturers. And Congress was willing to give them more in the name of jobs and for that nebulous cause of national security. Ike did a decent job as president containing the ambitions of the military and the greed of America’s merchants of death. His speech in 1961 was his parting shot across the bow of the complex and a warning that’s largely been forgotten by Americans then and now. 

Ike, I think, would be dismayed but not shocked at how the military-industrial complex or MIC has expanded its “misplaced” power over the last sixty years. The MIC is now the MICIMATT, or the military industrial congressional intelligence media academia think tank complex, employing millions of Americans in pursuit of full-spectrum dominance across the globe. In fact, America has proudly become a warrior nation (the citizen-soldier ideal is long dead) with 750 bases around the world and military budgets that routinely touch or exceed a trillion dollars. Permanent war is the new normal in America, justified as always in terms of making the world safe for democracy.

In the spirit of Ike, we should recognize the military or industry or Congress alone is not the enemy. It’s the conjunction of an immense military establishment with powerful industrial interests, and the enabling of the same by Congress, that needs to be addressed and reformed.  

Yet, given its enormity and its power, the complex is remarkably resistant to change, let alone to being shrunk and weakened. It will take enormous national will, working against powerful propaganda forces that will paint every Pentagon budget reduction, large or small, as unsafe if not un-American.

So why did Ike fail?  Or why did we fail Ike?  He warned us in 1961.  Why have we as “an alert and knowledgable citizenry” failed to guard against the acquisition of “disastrous” power by the MIC?

For the truth is America has become an Orwellian country where war is peace.  War (or preparations for war) has been continuous since Ike’s speech.  Our government wages war in the alleged cause of peace.  It acts imperially in the name of democracy, and we collectively accept or tolerate the tale that Big Brother tells us.

Short of a revolution, what America needs is radical honesty. An awakening.  If we truly want as a people to pursue peace, we can’t do that by constantly waging war.  If we truly favor democracy, we can’t pursue one through militarism and imperialism.

What kind of nation — what kind of people — do we want to be? Judging by our federal discretionary budget and by the general affection for all things military in our nation, perhaps we want to be a bellicose empire. I’m not saying all Americans want this; even those who do probably wouldn’t state it so baldly. But maybe this is just who we are, a nation and a people convinced that it’s always at risk, and thus one that’s forever fearful, hyper-vigilant, coiled to strike and ready to rumble.

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” So says Roy Batty, the doomed replicant in Blade Runner, played so brilliantly by Rutger Hauer. There’s a lesson here for all of us. The first step to heeding Ike’s warning, as well as his marching orders to us, is to control our collective fear. To stop listening to threat inflation about China or Russia or Iran or terrorism or whatever. Fear is the mind-killer, Frank Herbert noted in Dune, thus to think freely requires us to master that which kills thought. Fear, Master Po said in Kung Fu, is the only darkness.

We will only begin to downsize the military-industrial complex and end our pursuit of militarism when we acknowledge our fear, stop being slaves to it, and head away from the darkness.

America is the home of the brave, so we say. Isn’t it time we acted like it?

Democrats Keep Control of the Senate

W.J. Astore

Democracy Is Saved!

I woke up today to the news the Democrats will keep control of the Senate through 2024. Democracy is saved! I guess the Russian bots didn’t steal the election this time around, nor did election deniers mount a coup against democracy. The status quo prevails in America. What great news for all workers, all those who are struggling to make ends meet, to learn that nothing has fundamentally changed in the best of all possible countries.

Heck, it’s even good news that Republicans are likely to gain a narrow majority in the House, thereby demoting Nancy Pelosi to House Minority Leader. I can look forward to House impeachment proceedings against various Democrats, because such proceedings are truly what working-class Americans want and need from their government.

President Biden promised to take action to codify Roe v Wade into law if the Democrats won, so I suppose he’ll weasel his way out of this promise if the House tips Republican. Not that his action was going to change anything, since Biden refuses to touch the Senate filibuster.

What we can look forward to is two more years of divided, do-nothing government in Washington, DC, with politics being dominated by Donald Trump’s new run for the presidency against Sleepy Joe and Giggles Harris. Happy days are here again!

Of course, a “divided” Congress will still come together to support massive Pentagon spending and a blank check of military aid to Ukraine. Nothing unites Democrats and Republicans like weapons and wars.

What you won’t see, of course, is a higher federal minimum wage, single-payer health care, or anything else the working classes could truly use. America, of course, is an oligarchy and Congress and the President serve the oligarchs. As George Carlin memorably said: “You have no rights” — and no say.

Ready for a depressing repeat?

One clear result from this election is Joe Biden’s commitment to run again in 2024, when he’ll be 82 years old. Truly, anyone can be president in America, as long as the oligarchs sign off on you. Biden running again reminds me of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the early 1930s, when Paul von Hindenburg, also in his eighties, ran against and defeated a certain Adolf Hitler in 1932. Of Hindenburg it was said that the men around him “shoved him — with dignity.” And I suppose the operatives around Biden will also shove him about, with (or without) dignity, as age takes its inevitable toll on him. 

Biden will likely keep Kamala Harris as his vice president, not wanting to admit his mistake in picking her. Put charitably, Harris has been a non-entity as VP, so she’s perfect for the job, but if Biden runs and wins in 2024, there’s a decent chance she could become president during Biden’s second term. Of course, the oligarchy vetted and picked her exactly because she’s predictable and obedient to power. But some people will crow about how amazing it is to have a Black Asian female president when her views and allegiances are almost exactly the same as a white Catholic male president like Biden. But, you know, diversity!

So it’s two more years of hearing Democracy is in peril because Trump is running again when we all know or sense that whatever democracy we had ended in America decades ago, and most certainly by 1980. (Of course, America was founded as a republic by a bunch of privileged white guys, who weren’t exactly trusting of democracy, seeing it as mob rule.) Still, I like to think there’s hope in America, because more and more people are waking up to the harsh realities we face as a people. Don’t tell me I’m wrong about this; I’d like to keep a scintilla of hope, if only to preserve my own sanity, which will be sorely tested in the run up to the 2024 election.

So here’s to another two years of “democracy,” American-style, meaning no democracy at all. I wonder why an obvious con man like Trump gains so much traction here in the land of the not-so-free?