Paving Roads to Nowhere

B-52 with lots of bombs on Guam during the Vietnam War

W.J. Astore

I have a simple proposition: Let’s rebuild America instead of paving roads to nowhere in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has spent nearly a trillion dollars on fighting and (mostly) losing the Afghan War over the last seventeen years.  That price tag includes paving roads that have already fallen into disrepair.  Yet as money continues to flow freely to the Pentagon and to America’s fruitless wars overseas, money for America’s infrastructure barely flows at a trickle from the federal government.  How stupid is that?

I was talking to a guy yesterday who owns a local landscaping company.  Like me, he couldn’t stomach Trump or Hillary for president in 2016, so he voted for a third-party candidate.  He got to asking about my latest writing efforts and I mentioned my recent article on the Air Force’s $100 billion stealth bomber.  He asked if I was for it or against it, and I said against.  Good, he said.  And he started talking about the 1930s and how America invested in itself by building bridges, roads, canals, dams, and other infrastructure.  Why aren’t we doing more of that today?  Sensible question.  Our infrastructure is decaying all around us, but our government would rather invest in military weaponry.

Today, I had to go to the auto dealership, and I got talking to an old buck who served as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam in 1967.  What he recalled about the war, he said, was its enormity.  All those B-52s lined up at Guam.  All those napalm tanks in Vietnam.  He remembered pilots dropping napalm in the morning, coming back after the mission to drink (and some to get drunk), then flying the next day to drop more napalm.  (The stuff worked, he said, meaning the napalm, but he might have added the alcohol at the club as well.)  He had thought about extending his time in the Army, but a lieutenant colonel talked him out of it.  (The LTC explained that he’d be coming back to Vietnam much sooner than he thought, probably as a company commander, and so my conversational partner voted with his feet and left the Army.)

America is incredibly profligate in war.  We spend like drunken sailors (or pilots) on everything from the biggest and most destructive weapons to bubble gum and comic books for the troops.  Yet at least in the olden days our wars had some sense of closure.  Nowadays, America’s leaders talk of “long” war, “generational” war, even “infinite” war, as Tom Engelhardt and Colonel (ret.) Andrew Bacevich note at  Infinite war — again, how stupid can we be as a people?

Long war or infinite war is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.  America is on a permanent war footing, at least in terms of the federal budget and societal propaganda enjoining us to “support our troops” and to be cheerleaders for whatever they do.

We need to call BS on these wars — and also on prodigal weapons like the B-21 — and start rebuilding this country. How about some new roads, bridges, dams, etc.?  Instead of paving roads to nowhere in Afghanistan, or blowing cities up in Iraq, let’s pave new roads and rebuild cities right here in the USA.

19 thoughts on “Paving Roads to Nowhere

  1. you, sir wm. astore, are a luminous and numinous light in the ever-darkening tenebrous tunnel-vision of our government’s mortifying flights of fantasy and morbid savagery as we persist in garrisoning the planet w/ our myopic and benighted ‘us-first’ military weaponry, strategies, and ill-begotten grabs of others’ resources… at a nexus in our zeitgeist when we were meant to be a cynosure for collective congress and concinnity after the ravages of WWII.


  2. The population is apathetic these days, compared to the country being ripped apart in the 60’s because of the Vietnam war. People have said the draft was the reason for the outrage but I don’t know about that. The bottom line as Chalmers Johnson said “When war becomes the most profitable course of action, we can certainly expect more of it”. What is most sad are the Congressmen and Senators being in bed with the Military Industrial Complex and NOT saying enough is enough.


  3. Some of my nutty thoughts today. Though I agree with Astore & Bacevich’s writings; re these endless wars, are we really seeing the final breakdown of the Bretton-Woods Agreement after WW2? Such financing of them would not be allowed! Keep in mind Britain & France etc. soon lost their colonies, yet the IMF, World Bank, was generous indeed with rebuilding their infrastructures at home. The Marshall Plan also, yet for colony defense they were on their own. Much to Churchill’s horror, India was independent by 1947; Dutch & French colonies soon followed. (The foolish stickler of course Vietnam, the French blowing up the “communist threat” bigger than it was.)
    Trump’s new idiocy of trade wars misses the point of Bretton-Woods: free trade, though with a catch: Japan & Germany would be occupied by the ‘Victors’. Of course no one expected them to become world players in manufacturing they are today. Yet they were self financed; poor America expected the gravy to last forever: cheap high quality products from abroad, while increasing profits for the 1% allowing the factories to decline.
    Just a thought. Perhaps Bretton-Woods is antiquated, but it brought more peace in the 50′ & 60′ than we have today. You’d also be laughed out of a meeting discussing “endless wars”……..


  4. Speaking of road-building and building construction in Afghanistan, that mountainous country full of tribal, illiterate people on the other side of the planet but “essential to US national security,” this article from eleven years ago:
    Billions in Military Contracts to Husband’s Firms Were Approved by Sen. Feinstein’s Committee

    SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband was a major beneficiary of military appropriations blessed by a subcommittee that she headed, Metro Newspapers reports this week.
    Feinstein (D-Calif.) acted in apparent conflict of interest while approving billions of dollars in military construction expenditures, according to an investigative story by award-winning journalist Peter Byrne. The story was published jointly in the North Bay Bohemian and Metro Silicon Valley weekly newspapers this week.
    Following Feinstein’s participation at the legislative level, large contracts were awarded to two firms — URS Corporation and Perini Corporation — that were controlled by an investment group headed by the senator’s spouse, financier Richard C. Blum.

    But hey, the Feinstein/Blum cottage needs to be kept up.


    1. They say “money can’t buy love”, but no harm in tryin’. I saw an aerial view of their ‘cottage’; a California based Versailles, and figured out her Senate salary couldn’t pay the salaries of the necessary gardeners.
      Mr. Blum is also interested in Tibet – and personally fascinated with Tibetan Buddhism. Maybe that explains the road paving in Afghanistan….


  5. “Let’s rebuild America instead of paving roads to nowhere in Afghanistan.”

    Here’s a fact sheet on Trump’s American Infrastructure Initiative, published in February. That was six months after the generals got to Trump who then proclaimed the ‘new South Asian strategy’ in which the President announced a renewed commitment to ‘win’ the ongoing losing war against Afghanistan now in its seventeenth year.

    Trump’s plan has not been transformed into legislation. From the White House: “We’re going to continue to look at ways to improve the nation’s infrastructure, but, in terms of a specific piece of legislation, I’m not aware that that’ll happen by the end of the year.” Translation: There’s nothing in this plan that puts money into congressional pockets. Lockheed doesn’t do street repair.


    1. Yikes! And thanks Don Bacon! I wrote a sarcastic reply above, always an optimist – but Trump’s promises are not funny: My once wonderful country – America – falling into a FAILING military power!
      You’re more astute than me: finding Trump’s “promises”.



  6. It must be a beautiful life for the CEO’s and the various hangers on in the Wall Street-Security-Military-Industrial Complex. Profits looking a bit weak, have the Defense Department order up some airstrikes, Tomahawks missile tracks, drones or all of the above on “suspected enemy positions” in Whereeveristan. Profits increase, stock prices go up – big bonus time for the the CEOs and the company directors.

    If some “fighting vehicles” are damaged or destroyed – not to worry they can be replaced.

    If the USA cannot use up all the capacity of the War Machine, well just sell more to our allies. We can find an “Enemy” for our allies to bomb.

    Schedule fly-byes over some stadium and march out some “Warriors”, add a bit of drama with on field reunification between the “Warrior” and his or her’s family. The Home Front will be asked to make their own sacrifice by standing for the National Anthem.

    And the God’s and Goddesses of War looked down on AmeriKa and said this is good.


  7. The “long war” in Afghanistan is endless because its supporters have no reason to quit.
    >The US invaded and occupied Afghanistan because of its key geographic position relative to the US “New Silk Road” strategy and natural resources in the area. There would have to be some freedom and democracy in Kabul (as there was previously in Baghdad) for the Afghan government to force the US out, but President Ghani is a US puppet. We can only hope that Karzai returns.
    >Pakistan is offended by the US-sponsored presence of Pakistan enemy India, with its financial support and infrastructure-building, in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s western border. Pakistan doesn’t want to become an Indian sandwich. General McChrystal highlighted this problem in his 2009 assessment, which was followed three months later by Obama’s declaration that Pakistan was a US ally. Stupid. Pakistan will support the Taliban forever.
    >Similarly, Iran supports the Taliban in the west, where the provincial capital Farah was recently taken, because Iran doesn’t want US bases on its eastern border. Sure the Taliban is Sunni and Iran Shia, but the enemy of my greatest enemy is my friend in this case.


    1. Yes, Don. You can always tell when the U.S. military has lost another war: the minute they start calling it “long.” If I understand correctly, U.S. military groupies even have their own magazine devoted to bungles in jungles and debacles in the deserts: namely, The Lost War Journal. I believe the Pentagram has even added a fourth oxymoronic slogan to Orwell’s famous first three: DEFEAT IS VICTORY.

      Personally, I prefer the old radio and film comedian W. C. Fields’ view of wooden-headed persistence: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No sense being a damn fool about it.”


      1. Mike: the U.S. military should have a new saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, appoint another commander. Spin and repeat as necessary.”

        From Tom Engelhardt’s recent intro:

        “In case you hadn’t noticed — and it wasn’t exactly front-page news — America’s eighth war commander in Afghanistan (and keep in mind that we’re only talking about this country’s second Afghan War), General John Nicholson, is about to be history. Sometime in the coming months, the ninth, Lieutenant General Austin “Scott” Miller, who spent much of his career commanding Special Operations forces, will take over. The previous commanders included figures like generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who made more than their share of news, and ones like Nicholson’s predecessor, General John Campbell or General David McKiernan (back in distant 2009), whom no one today is likely to remember. But they each had one striking thing in common. Whatever they did, whether they were commanding a few thousand American troops or more than 100,000 of them, and no matter what strategies they employed, they were invariably succeeded by another commander.”


  8. As a former drunken sailor once marooned for over a year two kilometers from the furthest southern tip of the Mekong Delta (as punishment for growing a moustache and beard which the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, had said I could) I would like to correct a slanderous metaphorical idiom often used to impugn the enlisted Navy man’s sense of fiscal discipline and social propriety while ashore after months at sea. Since at least the 1980s, sailors have gone on liberty “spending like drunken Reagans” and defending their entertainment expenditures with Dick Cheney’s dictum: “<b<Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter.” So, let us give proper credit for fiscal profligacy to its all-time exemplars: the Republican administration of Ronald “Rob the Future Now” Reagan.

    Thank you.


    Sober and Responsible Sailors for Metaphorical Accuracy


    1. @ MM
      “Drunken sailor” brings me back to my days as a tour guide/entertainer in a US maritime area, which included singing sea shanties.
      One of my shanties: What do you do with a drunken sailor?
      The verses offered various possibilities: Put him in the scuppers with a hose pipe on him, shave his belly with a rusty razor, keel haul him until he’s sober, etc.
      I trust that your reformation didn’t derive from any of these.
      PS: That was long after my Vietnam army duty further upriver, at Sadec in Vinh Long province.


  9. Miller is replacing Nicholson in Afghanistan, where a corner is being turned yet again.. On Nov 10, 2017, Gen. John Nicholson said “Yes, I think the conditions are set for success. [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani has said he believes we are turning a corner, and I agree.”

    Nicholson had replaced Campbell, who said on Feb 2, 2016: “Afghanistan is at an inflection point” and on Dec 28, 2014 said “we can see that Afghanistan and our Coalition are at a critical turning point.” Campbell earlier on May 9, 2011: “But I really do think that as people look back, and they’ll say 2010 was the year in Afghanistan. It’s the year that we finally put more resources in here. We had the right leadership [Petraeus], the right strategy. And I think that was a turning point.”

    The new commander of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force which has brought enduring insecurity to Afghanistan, is the eighteenth since 2001 shown here.

    During this time of 18 western commanders the Taliban has had three commanders, Mullah Mohammed Omar, Mullah Akhtar Mansour and Hibatullah Akhundzada (current). Three commanders, no corners turned. They just keep plugging along, defending their country against US aggression.

    Sorry Trump, in this case we need a Truman at the top. A couple of Truman quotes: “It’s the fellows who go to West Point and are trained to think they’re gods in uniform that I plan to take apart”. . .”I didn’t fire him [General MacArthur] because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three quarters of them would be in jail.”


  10. Yeah, Truman. No bright light Don Bacon, Adding to your Truman quotes is (supposedly) Bess’s comments to the press: He said his garden “needed more manure”; he should use the word “fertilizer”. She retorted: “It took me years to get him to say that word!”
    Meanwhile, Afghanistan is a huge opium supplier.
    We’re in trouble WEST!


    1. The Taliban had eliminated poppy production in the south, until the US came in. Now it thrives, and reached a record high last year. They turned the corner on opium! Most of the expansion of took place in Helmand province which was the focus of the Obama surge. Memories of the CIA in Laos years ago.


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