Tackling the Military-Industrial Complex

W.J. Astore

Sixty-one years ago, in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America of the threat posed by the military-industrial complex (MIC). To that complex, Ike had rightly added Congress, whose members are generally supportive of immense military spending, especially when it occurs in their district. Americans, in the main, haven’t heeded Ike’s warning, mainly due to government/corporate propaganda, military lobbying and threat inflation, wars and rumors of war, the naked desire for global dominance in the stated cause of keeping the “homeland” safe, and, well, greed.

Ike in 1959

How does “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” tackle such a beast?  I was part of a discussion this week on strategies to “dismantle” the MIC; more on that in a moment. First, a caveat. When I use the term “military-industrial complex,” I know what I’m referring to and talking about, and so too do my readers. But what about your average American, who perhaps has barely heard of President Eisenhower, let alone his farewell address in 1961?  And what about those who prosper from the MIC, whether they know it or not?  Why should they support calls for “dismantling” a big part of their livelihood?

Random example. I went to the doctor’s office today. The receptionist noted my military background as she told me about her son, whose work on red blood cells is funded by the Department of Defense, and her husband, whose work is connected to Raytheon, a major weapons contractor.  Another example is my previous dental hygienist, whose husband proudly worked on the helmet system for the F-35 jet fighter. So many of our fellow Americans are connected to the MIC; lots of my friends are, especially if they served.  As a retired military officer who writes articles that are generally critical of the MIC, I’m the exception.  Many of my peers are still employed by the MIC in good-paying positions that would be difficult for them to replicate in the private, civilian sector of society.

This is not an argument for how wonderful the MIC is. But reformers need to recognize that significant cuts to MIC funding, desirable as they are, will impact ordinary people first, rather than retired generals and corporate CEOs, who will be just fine no matter what happens.

Whatever your reforming zeal, terminology is vitally important.  To me, talk of “dismantling” the MIC is a non-starter.  Like “defund” the police, it’s doomed to fail because its message is so easily twisted. Recall that for most Americans, the military remains a trusted institution within our society, much more trusted than Congress and the President.  “Support our troops” is almost the new national motto, an adjunct to In God We Trust.  Indeed, Jesus is often envisioned as a warrior-god who’s always on America’s side.

To be persuasive, we shouldn’t say “defund” the Pentagon; “dismantle” also sounds wrong in this moment.  But if we talk of a leaner military, a smarter one, more agile, more cost-effective, more bang for the buck, those phrases will resonate better.  Let’s talk as well of a military focused on national defense, motivated by high ideals, and aligned with liberty, freedom, and democracy.

Look: The MIC has a big advantage over would-be reformers and cost-cutters: the clarity that comes with a common goal, which for the Complex is profit/power.  We live in a capitalist society that values those things. I don’t think we can compete on the money field with the MIC, but we can compete in the realm of ideas and ideals, and the military can be an ally in this, so long as its members remember the ideals of their oaths to the U.S. Constitution.

What do I mean here?  We need to tell Americans their very future is being stolen from them by wanton military spending.  At the same time, their past is being rewritten.  We’re forgetting past American ideals like “right makes might” and the citizen-soldier as a public servant.  Instead, it’s might makes right as enforced by warriors and warfighters.  We are in yet another Orwellian moment where war is peace, surveillance is privacy, and censorship is free speech.

In fighting against this moment, we need to use all tools at our disposal. Somehow, we need to bring people together at a moment when our “leaders” are determined to divide us, distract us, and keep us downtrodden.

“Come home, America” is a famous speech given fifty years ago by George McGovern. He wanted to cut military/war spending and send rebate checks directly to the American people.  Let’s advocate for that!  Let’s put money back in the pockets of Americans as we make a leaner, smarter, cheaper U.S. military that can pass a financial audit.  (I’d cut all Pentagon funding until it passed an honest and thorough audit.) Most Americans would support major reforms if they were pitched in this way.

At the same time, I’d like to see a revival of the Nye Commission from the 1930s and the “merchants of death” idea.  Whatever else it is, selling weapons is not a way to peace, nor is it life-affirming.  Harry Truman made his mark in Congress during World War II by attacking fraud and waste related to military spending. Again, today’s Pentagon can’t even pass an audit!  We need to show the American people that the Pentagon brass is stealing from them and hiding behind a veil of secrecy that is undemocratic and probably illegal as well. Here, I would love to see Members of Congress act in the spirit of William Proxmire and his “Golden Fleece” awards.  The American people are being fleeced by the MIC, and we should be reminding them of this fact, every single day.

In the 1930s, General Smedley Butler, a Marine veteran who was twice awarded the Medal of Honor, saw how war was a racket, and that to end it, you had to take the profit out of it.  How can America do that?  Can we “nationalize” defense contractors?  Can we make weapons building into a non-profit activity?  Can we reverse Citizens’ United and outlaw weapons lobbying as a form of protected speech (it’s really legalized bribery)?

How about slowing the revolving door between the U.S. military and weapons contractors?  Make it so that retired officers in the grade of major and above must forfeit their pensions if they join a weapons/war firm.  Naturally, no one employed by, and especially on the board of, a defense contractor should ever be approved by Congress as the civilian Secretary of Defense.

Another idea: All retired military officers, CIA-types, etc., who appear on TV and media should be required to reveal their conflicts of interest (if any).  For example, if retired General John Q. Public appears on TV and works for Raytheon, that should be identified in the on-screen chyron, and by the general himself if he has integrity.

It’s high time the Pentagon shares more information with the American people. Secrecy is a huge problem that the MIC hides behind and exploits. Democracy doesn’t work without transparency, which is why the MIC is at pains to hide the truth from us of malfunctioning weaponry and disastrous and murderous wars.

I would add that tackling the MIC is not a liberal issue, it’s not a progressive issue, it’s not a partisan issue: it’s an American issue.  My readers, I’m guessing, are not fans of Fox News or commentators like Tucker Carlson.  But if they’re against war and want to see major reforms to the MIC, recruit them!  Work with them.  They are not the enemy.  Not even the MIC is the enemy.  I was, after all, part of it for 20 years.  The real enemy is war.  The real enemy is spending trillions of dollars on weaponry that could, and just might, destroy us all.  If we can’t set aside our differences and get together to save ourselves and our planet from war’s destructiveness, we’re pretty much doomed, don’t you think?

The MIC is united by profit and power.  Maybe we can find unity in the preservation of our planet and love for the wonderful blessings it has bestowed on us.

Come on people now, smile on your brother everybody get together try to love one another right now.  Right now.  Right now.

111 thoughts on “Tackling the Military-Industrial Complex

  1. Wonders never cease! In all the times I submitted a comment for Moderator approval in a New York Times article, this comment is the 1st Time it appeared within minutes after submission.

    In War, all the Democratic Values we hold as Sacred during Peace are turned upside down.

    Killing on a massive scale is totally acceptable. Wanton destruction of property is the norm, and exercising Democratic Freedom of Speech and Thought is Traitorous.
    Democratic Societies embrace all the UN-Democratic forms we call evil when the Enemy does the same things and for which we go to War.

    The US is the Biggest Arms Merchant in the History of Nations for the love of money and jobs in America, as long as those Wars are contained ‘over there.’

    Most Christian America sees no contradiction with this insight in all their Bibles, dismissing it altogether as irrelevant to the practice and implementation of Christian Belief, “Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.”

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    1. Good comment, Ray.

      The title of the NYT op-ed is biased. Tulsi and Tucker are not “friends” of Russia or Putin. They are critics of U.S. foreign policy and the MIC.

      Nor are they “paranoid” of U.S. interventionism and its results. They see the results clearly — and they’re willing to condemn them.

      I’m not a fan of Tucker, who is mostly an opportunistic tool, but he does get a few things right.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Another expensive MIC boondoggle….

        “Three years after joining the U.S. Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford is still teething problems that limit its ability to operate airplanes. The first ship to use a new generation of catapults and arresting gear, has encountered far more failures of both, leaving it unable to launch or recover airplanes for days at a time. In the meantime, barely half of the ship’s fancy new weapons handling elevators are operational, limiting the ship’s ability to arm aircraft in peace—and war.

        Newport News Shipbuilding built the $13.2 billion USS Ford with a new aircraft catapult launch system, new aircraft landing arresting gear, and new elevators designed to speed missiles and bombs from the bowels of the ship to the hangar and flight deck. According to a report prepared by Pentagon director of testing Robert Behler, EMALS is supposed to average 4,166 launches between breakdowns. Instead, the new system is averaging just 181 launches between breakdowns.

        The extreme cost of ships ($13.2 billion), individual aircraft ($117.3 million), and high manpower requirements (4,600 sailors) is forcing many to consider if the aircraft carrier as the Navy currently envisions it is still a viable platform.”

        https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/navy-ships/a35180842/uss-ford-aircraft-carrier-problems/

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  2. Another one….sigh!

    “The Littoral Combat Ship program has been unnecessarily complicated from the beginning,” the Project on Government Oversight explained in 2016. “Initially the Navy aimed for each ship to cost $220 million, but the Government Accountability Office estimates procurement costs for the first 32 ships is currently about $21 billion, or about $655 million per ship—nearly triple what they were supposed to cost.”

    https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/why-are-us-navys-littoral-combat-ships-so-terrible-172114

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  3. Does anybody know what happened to to this Bill? Did it pass into Law?

    The Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act would require an annual public report detailing all federal projects that are running at least $1 billion over budget or at least five years behind schedule.
    The Senate version was introduced last February 26 as bill number S. 565, by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). The House version was introduced a month later last March 27 as bill number H.R. 1917, by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI8).

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  4. “Farmers On The Brink” by Tyler Durden [Authored by Doomberg via doomberg.substack.com]

    While the concept of a perfect storm is often too casually assigned in popular culture, it is difficult to find a more apt description of what has been unfolding in the global agriculture markets over these past several months.

    The tempest caused by the European energy disaster has merged with the hurricane of consequences flowing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forming the genesis of a generational crisis in food that will leave few unaffected.

    While we’ve been warning about just such a scenario for some time, after spending the past two weeks traveling across the US Midwest and conferring with our contacts in the agricultural sector, even we are a little spooked by what we’ve learned. In a financial crash, the correlation between all asset classes converges to one.

    The coming crash in global food supply will be driven by a similar phenomenon across virtually every input into farming – they are all spiking to historic highs simultaneously, supply availability is diminishing across the spectrum, and the time to reverse the worst of the upcoming consequences is rapidly running short.

    Other than that, things are great.

    Continued at https://www.zerohedge.com/commodities/farmers-brink

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  5. “Top takeaways from Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget request; Discretionary spending, taxes and debt rise while deficit drops” by Peter Cohn

    President Joe Biden submitted his budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 on Monday morning, which will set the tone for the legislative scramble ahead of midterm elections in November. Highlights of what Biden is pitching to lawmakers:

    Discretionary Spending: The White House is asking for about $1.64 trillion in appropriated funds for fiscal 2023, a nearly 9 percent increase over the $1.51 trillion enacted for the current year, over five months late. Including various budgetary add-ons to the “base” budget request, including disaster relief money and changes to mandatory programs that free up discretionary funds, domestic and foreign aid agencies and programs would receive roughly $829 billion in fiscal 2023, a nearly 14 percent increase from the comparable levels enacted this year.

    Defense programs, largely at the Pentagon, would get $813 billion, a roughly 4 percent boost. [Lose a War, get a raise, eh? Heh.]

    Deficits: This year’s budget shortfall would drop to about $1.42 trillion, from $2.78 trillion in fiscal 2021, falling further to around $1.2 trillion the next two years before starting to rise again. [It’s all part of The Plan,]

    Debt: Federal debt held by the public, excluding government trust funds, would keep rising — by about $14.7 trillion from the end of this fiscal year to fiscal 2032. Note: Total U.S. Government Unfunded Trust Fund Liabilities equals $168.4 trillion https://www.usdebtclock.org/index.html .

    Debt subject to the statutory borrowing cap, which includes intragovernmental debt, would surpass the current $31.4 trillion ceiling before the end of the year, though the Treasury Department could deploy “extraordinary measures” to avoid breaching the limit. [How “extraordinary” are they when they happen every year?]

    https://rollcall.com/2022/03/28/top-takeaways-from-bidens-fiscal-2023-budget-request/

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