The Definition of American Insanity

There’s always money for more nukes

W.J. Astore

Here are two items this morning from FP: Foreign Policy (, which provides a daily summary (Situation Report, or SITREP) of news items related to the U.S. military and foreign policy.  Together, they represent the very definition of insanity.

Item 1The Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday said U.S. taxpayers are on the hook for about $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize the country’s nuclear arsenal. That huge number takes into account the replacement of nuclear-capable submarines, ICBMs, and new aircraft for the Air Force.

The budget office warned that the projected costs would muscle out some conventional weapons programs in the coming years unless the Pentagon’s budget is increased substantially. The CBO identified some cost savings however, saying the Pentagon could save as much as $139 billion if it delayed production of a new ICBM, stalled a secretive new nuclear-capable bomber called the B-21, and reduced the number of ICBMs and missile-carrying nuclear submarines than planned. 

All of those plans are carry-overs from the Obama administration, as the Trump team has yet to articulate a nuclear weapons strategy. 

Item 2War in Afghanistan, redacted. The Afghan government is losing control of more and more territory to the Taliban, according a grim new report from the congressionally-mandated Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. On the humanitarian side, civilian casualties from coalition and Afghan air strikes spiked by 52 percent in the first nine months of this year over last year, the report notes. 

In response to those unfriendly stats, the U.S. military has started to withhold information from the American public, refusing to report figures related to the size and success of Afghan security forces — which the U.S. taxpayer has spent tens of billions to build and sustain.

“The Afghans know what’s going on; the Taliban knows what’s going on; the U.S. military knows what’s going on,” John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan, told the New York Times. “The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the people paying for it.”

In sum, the American people will possibly pay more than a trillion dollars in the next three decades for more nuclear weapons (when the stated goal of leaders like Obama had been to eliminate them), even as information about the never-ending war in Afghanistan is withheld from the American people (especially the jaw-dropping waste of billions of dollars on Afghan security forces that can’t or won’t fight).

Meanwhile, U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico languish in the dark, the victims of a U.S. government that seeks to punish the island for its debt to various financial institutes and power brokers.

What madness!

7 thoughts on “The Definition of American Insanity

  1. I have decided to let my VFW Membership lapse next year. I understand the VFW wanting to tell various stories about combat in their magazine. I understand the VFW cannot engage in political advocacy. When I came home from Vietnam in 1971, the older vets at the VFW were not happy about our questioning of the War in Vietnam. The attitude was if your country sends you off to war, you are expected to go and fight no matter how flawed the decision making was.

    The VFW seems to just stand by off to the side. I guess my expectation is at some point for the VFW to make a statement that the lives of our soldiers are precious and should not be squandered. The VFW should ask these decision makers: What is the mission in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Niger, etc?? What is victory supposed to look like??

    Now, we have this never ending cycle of war and more war. I feel so helpless and defeated. We have no one, it seems, in the establishment who will stand-up to these War Mongers and Neo-Cons.


    1. I can understand your reasoning, ML. Some of these veterans groups do supply volunteers without whom the Veteran’s Administrtion could not possibly function. So they should get credit for that. On the other side of the ledger, their fervent support for these endless and needless wars of choice only create far more damaged veterans than the understaffed and underfunded VA, or anyone else, can help. I couldn’t begin to weigh the balance, but then I never joined any of these organizations in the first place, for many of the reasons you enumerate. Good luck with your decision.

      Like you, I encountered many older veterans who looked down upon us returning Vietnam veterans as “losers.” I will never forget reading in the Saturday Evening Post or Life Magazine (or some such monthly rag), a derisive comment made about us by Air Force General Chuck Yeager, the WWII veteran and test pilot who first broke the sound barrier. “Those boys in Vietnam just had something missing in their character,” he said. No dirty fucking hippie war protester ever spit at me, but one rather well-known U. S. Air Force general did. And I wear his slimy spittle with pride. Up yours, General Chuck!

      Personally, I didn’t give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut what General Chuck or anyone else, veteran or civilian, thought about my time spent languishing in the southern part of Vietnam. I survived an extended eighteen-month tour-and-a-half of dirty duty there and won my personal war the day I got my young ass out of that pointless rotten quagmire. I never wanted to belong to veteran’s groups like the VFW and the American Legion, and their older veterans felt the same about Vietnam veterans like me. Nearly everyone “back home” just wanted to forget about anything associated with “Vietnam,” and that most definitely included us.

      As you know, these attitudes persisted right up until the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 when it suddenly occurred to the good citizens of America that they might need some more cannon fodder for a war with Iran, and running down the surviving veterans of the last war might not do wonders, to say the least, for military recruiting. As well, the aging veterans of the VFW and American Legion figured out that they might need some younger veterans to pay dues and thus financially support the organizations once the oldest veterans started dying off. So, for several reasons, Americans stopped overtly trashing us Vietnam veterans. They still thought of us as losers and drug addicts, but they stopped saying so openly. It just seemed a little tacky to make valiant heroes out of a hundred civilian embassy employees who did nothing but get themselves taken prisoner by a bunch of students while vilifying actual war veterans who had suffered far worse in actual fighting. So Republican Ronald Ray Gun got elected in 1980 and started babbling about the “noble” crusade and all that rot. Thirty-seven years later and we’ve got Ken Burns telling us how really well-meaning people just made some honest “mistakes.”

      Please don’t give up the ship, though. Times and attitudes change. Someday someone may listen. We Vietnam Veterans Against War have to stick it out till they shovel us under the sod. We know the truth. We have nothing for which we must apologize. FTN. FTA. FTAF. FTMC. If they knew what to do, they’d have done it already. If they could have, they would have; but they didn’t, so they can’t. Time’s up.

      From Dead Metaphors [final stanza]:

      The years pass in darkness and graveyards accrue us
      As early returns on investments gone wrong
      So the next time “supporters” of troops ballyhoo us
      Remember to vomit in tune to this song.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005


    2. An additional note on that “helpless and defeated” feeling, ML. I know it well, but I’ve learned to fight back against it by repeating to myself a little mantra from the last line of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Dirge Without Music”:

      I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

      After retiring from unemployment and no employer-provided healthcare in 2004, my wife and I sold our home in California and returned to her native country, Taiwan, so that she could help care for her elderly parents. I had spent the last two years pretty much liquidating my deceased mother’s affairs, completing my California Secondary Teaching Credential (on a student loan), teaching one semester of high-school Japanese and English (which pretty much paid off the loan), while waiting for my wife to finish her graphics arts certificate program at a local junior college. I knew about the U. S. invasion and destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan. I knew about the lies and manufactured hysteria that had led up to these vast crimes; but, frankly, I had little or no time to think much about these things.

      Then I found myself in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, with nothing much to do and all the time in the world to think — and remember. Then, as you say, I began to feel helpless and defeated, full of random rage and shame. I couldn’t sleep. For no reason at all, I’d get angry at the least little irritation. My wife cut through all the bullshit in a heartbeat. “Turn the pain into power,” she advised. How nice to know that someone loves and understands you so simply and completely.

      So I went out on the Internet and started researching how other veterans had dealt with this sort of thing. I discovered that I had lots and lots of company. Many ad hoc veterans groups, I learned, had started poetry workshops to help them drag all the rancid shit up out of that subconscious basement cellar and into the light of day where they could do something productive and creative with it. But I couldn’t locate any Veterans’ groups here in Taiwan, so I figured I’d have to do that creative poetry thing all by myself.

      Not knowing the first thing about poetry, I bought a few books on the subject. I started patterning my own work on some of the best examples I could find. I woke up ten years later having written thousands of lines of polemical verse, some of it pretty good, I think.
      Then the tsunami of polemical poetry started to recede and I saw one day some Chinese-style gargoyle faces on Taoist shrines all over the place here. I decided to teach myself how to make relief sculptures of that kind of thing to hang on the walls of my home. I’ve done quite a lot of that over the past several years, some of it pretty good, I think.

      I know I’ll never get all that rancid shit up out of my subconscious basement cellar. I spent too many decades shoving it all down in there where I thought it would never trouble me again. But the rancid shit only fermented and forced its way out into the open the first time I let myself have some free time with nothing much to do except to let my mind wander.

      Don’t do that, man.

      Keep busy. Turn the pain into power. Write a memoir. Save those unique and priceless experiences of yours for future ages more prepared to listen and understand than our own time which pretty much couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about what we have seen, done, thought, and felt. Keep repeating to yourself:

      I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.


    3. ML, Mike: Eight years ago, I wrote this post about my experience with one grizzled veteran at the VFW/American Legion. He was a wise man.

      One Grizzled Veteran’s Dream

      By William Astore
      Thirty years ago, I attended Boys State. Run by the American Legion, Boys State introduces high school students to civics and government in a climate that bears a passing resemblance to military basic training. Arranged in “companies,” we students did our share of hurrying up, lining up, and waiting (sound preparation, in fact, for my career in the military). I recall that one morning a “company” of students got to eat first because they launched into a lusty rendition of the Marine Corps hymn. I wasn’t angry at them: I was angry at myself for not thinking of the ruse first.

      Today, most of my Boys State experience is a blur, but one event looms large: the remarks made by a grizzled veteran to us assembled boys. Standing humbly before us, he confessed that he hoped organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars would soon wither away. And he said that he hoped none of us would ever become a member of his post.

      At first, we didn’t get it. Didn’t he like us? Weren’t we tough enough? (Indeed, I recall that one of our adolescent complaints was that the name “Boys State” didn’t seem manly enough.)

      Then it dawned on us what the withering away of organizations like the American Legion and the VFW would mean. That in our future young Americans would no longer be fighting and dying in foreign wars. That our world would be both saner and safer, and only members of an “old guard” like this unnamed veteran would be able to swap true war stories. Our role would simply be to listen with unmeasured awe and undisguised thanks, grateful that our own sons and daughters no longer had to risk life or limb to enemy bullets and bombs.

      It pains me that we as a country have allowed this veteran’s dream to die. We as a country continue to enlarge our military, expand our foreign commitments, and fight seemingly endless wars, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or in other far-off realms of less-than-vital interest to us.

      As a result of these wars, we continue to churn out so many new veterans, including so many wounded veterans, not forgetting those who never made it back.

      Collectively, we Americans tend to suppress whatever doubts we have about the wisdom of our wars with unequivocal statements of support for our troops. And on days like Veteran’s Day, we honor those who served, and especially those who paid the ultimate price on the battlefield.

      Yet, wouldn’t the best support for our troops be the achievement of the dream of that grizzled vet who cut through a young man’s fog thirty years ago? Shouldn’t we be working to achieve a new age in which the rosters of our local VFWs and Legion posts are no longer renewed with the broken bodies and shattered minds of American combat veterans?

      Sadly, as we raise more troops and fight more wars, we seem committed to the opposite. Our military just enjoyed its best recruiting class in years. This “success” is not entirely surprising. It’s no longer that difficult to fill our military’s expanding ranks because many of our young men and women simply have little choice but to enlist, whether for economic opportunity, money for college, or benefits like free health care.

      Many of course enlist for patriotic reasons as well. Yet the ease of expanding our military ranks during a shooting war is also a painful reminder of the impoverishment of opportunities for young, able-bodied Americans – the bitter fruit of manufacturing jobs sent overseas, of farming jobs eliminated by our own version of corporate collectivization, of a real national unemployment rate that is approaching twenty percent.

      On this Veteran’s Day, what if we began to measure our national success and power, not by our military arsenal or by the number of new recruits in the ranks, but rather by the gradual shrinking of our military ranks, the decline of our spending on defense, perhaps even by the growing quiet of our legion posts and VFW halls?

      Wouldn’t that be a truer measure of national success: fewer American combat veterans?

      Wouldn’t that give us something to celebrate this Veteran’s Day?

      I know one old grizzled veteran who would quietly nod his agreement.


  2. Michael Murry, and Col. Astore, I have decided to join Veterans for Peace and hand out fliers during our Veterans Day Parade.
    Both of you are far more eloquent with the English Language than I am. So I will paste a Poem by Archibald MacLeish:
    The young dead soldiers do not speak.
    Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them?
    They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.
    They say: We were young. We have died.
    Remember us.
    They say: We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.
    They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.
    They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours, they will mean what you make them.
    They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say, it is you who must say this.
    We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
    We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.

    In WW 1 MacLeish served first as an ambulance driver and later as a captain of artillery. His brother, Kenneth MacLeish was killed in action during the war.
    As I read this poem, it is up to us the living to provide meaning for death of the soldier. I read also an underlying message: the living individual has a responsibility for why this soldier was killed. It is necessary for us not excuse our personal selves from the responsibility of the soldiers death. I sent him or her to die, not the collective “we did”. It is easy and superficial to say it was our government’s policy that sent the soldier to his death.


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