Just over 30 years ago, as a young captain in the Air Force, I was celebrating the collapse of the Soviet Union and the arrival of “the new world order.” Those were the days! We talked seriously about peace dividends, about America becoming a normal country in normal times, as in peaceful times. Money on wars and weapons would be redirected to infrastructure improvements and repairs, to critical research in medicine, to improving health care, to renewable sources of energy. America was ready to vault into the 21st century, no longer haunted by a cold war that could end the world in a heartbeat with nuclear war.
Leave it to America to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. For we truly have defeated ourselves since 1991 in our embrace of militarism, weaponry, and war. And now we face renewed fears of nuclear war without any serious movement to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the U.S. military speaks of “investing” in more nuclear weapons as if they’re a growth stock, as if there are dividends awaiting us when we cash them in. We’ll all cash in our chips, that’s for sure, if the missiles fly.
We seem possessed by a form of MADness, a certain fondness for mutually assured destruction (MAD). Or, perhaps not fondness but resignation bordering on defeatism, which makes me think of those old posters we had as kids about nuclear war that reminded us there was little we could do once the missiles were launched, so we may as well kiss our ass goodbye.
But the world nevertheless remains full of surprises. Color me amazed by America’s new love of Ukraine, formerly a Soviet republic that most Americans still can’t place on a map. (I’ve seen Americans quizzed on the street who place Ukraine in Mexico or Australia.) We love Ukraine so much that we’re willing to pledge $100 billion or more in aid, most of it in the form of military weapons and training. America has never had a “special relationship” with Ukraine, so what gives? My friends tell me we must defend democracy in Ukraine, but democracy doesn’t exist there (nor does it in America, but that’s another story).
The words of Darth Vader come to mind: “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side [of the Force]. I must obey my master.” And in the case of Congress, that master is obviously the national security state, the MICIMATT of which Congress is a card-carrying member. (MICIMATT: Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank Complex.) Think of it as the real “evil empire,” and good luck trying to resist its power and influence.
Yet, how can America have turned to the “dark side”? Isn’t America a collection of Jedi knights fighting for freedom? It sure would be nice to think so! But when you look at America’s wars in places like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, what you see is an incredibly rich empire throwing almost everything at countries and peoples who had little if anything compared to the wealth and power of the U.S. and its ferocious military machine. You also see enormous profiteering, especially by the “industrial” side of the America’s militarized complex, and incessant lying by the U.S. government about progress and “winning” in its various misbegotten wars.
Only when military defeat is nearly total do U.S. troops finally come home, after which the peace advocates, relatively few in number, are blamed for weakening fighting spirit at home.
Promises of peace dividends, whether after World War II or the Cold War, have simply withered away as wars of conspicuous destruction (Vietnam, Iraq, etc.) fed a society engaged in conspicuous consumption. A militarized form of Keynesianism provided jobs and wealth for relatively few Americans at the expense of a great many.
Paradoxically, even as America’s wars went bad, no one was ever held accountable. When the warmongers admitted they were wrong (a rarity), they argued they were wrong for the right reasons. And those who were truly right, whether about Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan, were obviously right for the wrong reasons. Those “wrong” reasons included preferring peace to war or daring to question the purity of U.S. motives and methods when it came to foreign wars.
And so we’ve come to the point when the so-called Progressives in Congress quickly cave to pressure and withdraw a milquetoast and mealymouthed letter that argued a tiny bit for diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration to end the Russia-Ukraine War. It was as if they’d become quislings; as if calling for negotiation was equivalent to bowing and scraping before Vladimir Putin.
So, I return to my question: Dammit, where’s my peace dividend? And the answer is nowhere because powerful forces in America simply love their war dividends — and they’re not about to surrender them.
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