Thinking About Nuclear War

W.J. Astore

This week, I was truly honored to talk with Robert Scheer about a subject that should be on our minds: nuclear war. I remember reading Scheer’s book, “With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush, and Nuclear War” when I was in college in the early 1980s. Back then, at least some of the “experts” surrounding Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush believed a nuclear war was “winnable” against the Soviet Union. Those were the days of the nuclear freeze movement and of deep concern about the possibility of a cataclysmic nuclear war. (Of course, any nuclear war would be cataclysmic.)

Today, few people seem that concerned about nuclear war even as the Doomsday Clock creeps ever closer to midnight. Why is this? Scheer and I talk about this as well as other subjects related to nuclear weapons and the military-industrial complex.

Who Determines U.S. Foreign Policy?

W.J. Astore

The Golden Rule Applies

Who determines U.S. foreign policy?  The question seems simple enough.  According to my go-to source, the AI chatbot ChatGPT,

U.S. foreign policy is made by the President, with the assistance and advice of the National Security Council and the State Department, and with the approval of Congress. The President has the power to negotiate treaties and executive agreements, and to appoint ambassadors, while Congress has the power to approve or reject treaties and executive agreements, and to confirm ambassadors. The National Security Council and the State Department are responsible for providing the President with advice and information on foreign policy issues.

That’s how many people see it.  Except it doesn’t work that way.  More than anything, America is an oligarchy rooted in capitalism and driven by greed and profit.  Foreign policy, therefore, is most often driven by powerful corporate interests, especially those tied to the military, hence President Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex.  When looking at foreign policy, one must always factor in the interests of Wall Street and its small army of lobbyists and especially powerful corporate interests in fossil fuels and similar trillion-dollar industries.

Again, when looking at U.S. foreign policy, its decisions and commitments, one should first ask, Cui bono?  Who benefits the most from the decisions made?  Second, one should keep in mind the golden rule, as in they who have the gold make the rules.  Presidents, Secretaries of State, ambassadors, and the like come and go, but the moneyed interests remain.  And with “dark money” now endemic in politics, it’s difficult to parse exactly who is giving what to whom.

I don’t mean this as a great revelation.  In the 1950s C. Wright Mills wrote of the “power elite,” which I cited in an article on greed-war.  This is what Mills had to say:

the high military, the corporation executives, the political directorate have tended to come together to form the power elite of America … a triangle of power [that is] the key to any understanding of the higher circles in America today.

C. Wright Mills knew the score

That power elite largely drives and determines U.S. foreign policy today.  Recall as well that the Pentagon budget today (almost $860 billion) is 14 times greater than the State Department (roughly $60 billion).  Basically, State is a tiny branch of the Pentagon.  I wonder who calls the shots?

We’d like to think we the people have some say over foreign policy.  Don’t we elect our members of Congress?  Don’t we elect our president?  But when both parties are thoroughly corporatized, when both respond to lobbyists and special interests while ignoring the rest of us, the truth is we essentially have no choice and no influence.

That truth can be hard to believe because we like to think we have some agency.  But we have none.  Even so, the power elite will pretend that our opinions matter, even as they resolutely ignore them.  Consider the most important foreign policy decision any nation can make: whether war is to be declared and our troops are to be sent off to fight and die.  We haven’t made that decision as a nation since December of 1941.  Every war America has fought since World War II has been undeclared.  That should tell us something about who’s in control.  Hint: It’s not us.

The rich and powerful will tell you and sell you what “truth” to believe in.  So, we’re told and sold the idea that Joe Biden is making vitally important decisions in the White House, even as Joe nowadays has trouble reading from a teleprompter.  We’re told and sold the idea that Congress represents our interests when it most definitely doesn’t (as the Princeton Study proved).  We’re told and sold the idea that America cares about fostering democracy in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ukraine, but a bit of digging reveals the real forces and interests at play, such as oil, pipelines, strategic metals, market dominance, and the like.

Look, I’ve taken standard college courses on U.S. foreign policy.  I learned a lot from them.  But even in college I didn’t learn much about the colossal power of America’s military-industrial complex; the enormous influence of mega-corporations; the way in which foreign policy is shaped by economic profit and the pursuit of resources, some of which is captured in that old saw that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”

Well, GM may have waned in influence, but other industries and financial interests have taken its place. Again, if America’s foreign policy decisions confuse you, clarity should come when you ask yourself, who benefits (not you, of course), and when you remember the golden rule, as in they who have the gold make the rules.

Let the Weapons Flow and the Body Count Grow

W.J. Astore

Say “no” to killing, “no” to war

Two articles I read yesterday are typical of polarized, indeed antithetical, views on the Russia-Ukraine War.

At the British Guardian, Simon Tisdall says this is Europe’s moment to step up and support Ukraine in a righteous war against Putin. He concludes, with passion:

Zelenskiy is right. Risk-averse Nato has been too slow and too cautious from the start. To outpace tyranny, Europe must fight – and fight to win. Our common future depends on it.

Putin, the tyrant, must be stopped in Ukraine, or Poland and Germany could be next. Fighting to win means that Ukraine must be given not only hundreds of Leopard 2 tanks but also combat jets. The combination of tanks, jets, and related ancillary equipment will enable Ukraine to drive Russian forces out of the country in a quasi-Blitzkrieg operation. Victory to the West!

Why not talks instead of tanks?

At Antiwar.com, Edward Curtin predicts Russia will win this war even as he suggests it’s mainly the West’s fault for inciting it via NATO expansion and U.S. involvement in the 2014 coup in Ukraine:

we are being subjected to a vast tapestry of lies told by the corporate media for their bosses, as the US continues its doomed efforts to control the world. It is not Russia that is desperate now, but propagandists such as the writers of this strident and stupid editorial [by the New York Times]. It is not the Russian people who need to wake up, as they claim, but the American people and those who still cling to the myth that The New York Times Corporation is an organ of truth. It is the Ministry of Truth with its newspeak, doublespeak, and its efforts to change the past.

Which is it? Is this a war that the U.S. and NATO must win, along with Ukraine, to stop an evil and expansionist dictator, or is this a war that the U.S. and NATO provoked, and surely will lose, given Russia’s military superiority empowered in part by the justice of its cause?

To me, the disturbing part of such polarized, us versus them, views is that they really guarantee only one thing: more fighting and more death. Let the weapons flow and the body count grow: that is the result of these debates.

War, as almost any military historian will tell you, is inherently unpredictable. I have no idea who’s going to “win” this war. I do know the Ukrainians are losing. I say this only because the war is being fought on their soil, and the longer it lasts, the more Ukraine will suffer.

That doesn’t mean I want Ukraine to surrender, nor do I want it to lose. But I don’t think it will win with more Western tanks and planes. Just about any escalation by the West can be matched by Russia. I see further stalemate, not Blitzkrieg-like victories, and stalemate means more and more suffering.

It’s said the pen can prove mightier than the sword. Why not try talking in place of tanks? Put those mighty pens to work by signing an armistice or even an enduring peace treaty. Ukraine and Russia are neighbors; unless they want perpetual war, they must find a way to live together.

More weaponry to Ukraine is unlikely to produce decisive victory, but it is likely to produce far more death and destruction in that country. It’s high time both sides said “no” to killing, “no” to yet more war.

German Panzers in Ukraine

W.J. Astore

What could possibly go wrong?

The U.S. and Germany are currently discussing sending German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. This is in addition to British Challenger 2 tanks. These weapons are needed so that Ukraine can take the offensive and evict Russian forces from Ukrainian territory, according to Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration.

Who knew that Cold War-era German Panzers would possibly meet their Soviet counterparts in a clash of armor featuring Ukraine against Russia? I don’t think anyone predicted that scenario forty years ago.

In fact, as a teenager in the 1970s, I played war games such as “MechWar ‘77,” which envisioned a massive Soviet armored thrust into West Germany countered by NATO armored forces consisting primarily of German and U.S. tanks. You know, the good old days.

In “MechWar ‘23,” it’s now possible that German- and British-made tanks, crewed by Ukrainians, will face their Soviet/Russian counterparts in heated combat. The Germans, considering the legacy of Panzers in Russian and Ukrainian territory in World War II, are understandably reluctant to send tanks to Ukraine to kill Russians. The historical echoes here are more than faintly disturbing.

As the U.S. and NATO keep sending heavier and more powerful offensive weaponry to Ukraine, the dangers of escalation continue to creep upwards. So too do the ambitions of those involved. What started in the West as an allegedly limited effort to help Ukraine defend its soil against Russian attacks is rapidly becoming a full-fledged war to roll back Russian forces not only in Ukraine but also in the Crimea.

Again, what could possibly go wrong in MechWar ‘23?

What’s the best way to end a war?

W.J. Astore

Sending more weapons to Ukraine isn’t the answer

U.S. foreign policy is a place where logic goes to die.

Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, said yesterday that the quickest way to end the Russia-Ukraine War is “to give Ukraine a strong hand on the battlefield,” by which he meant more and more weaponry, including Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Patriot missile systems together with Challenger II tanks from Great Britain. Not surprisingly, then, the White House also hinted at yet another aid package for Ukraine, which may be announced “as soon as the end of this week.”

A “strong hand” for Ukraine?

Logic suggests the quickest way to end a war is to stop fighting. Announce a cease fire, negotiate, and find acceptable terms for an armistice or peace treaty. Stop the killing—stop the war.

Of course, the U.S. State Department is really a tiny branch of the Pentagon. It’s been that way for decades. The Pentagon budget, $858 billion for this year, is 14 times greater than the State Department’s at $60 billion. It often seems that a primary mission of the State Department is to market and sell U.S. weaponry overseas. Small wonder that Blinken sees more deadly weaponry in Ukraine as the answer to ending a catastrophic war.

In a way, Blinken’s blinkered thinking is typically American. What’s the quickest way to end a war on crime? A drug war? Or almost any other problem in America? Obviously, more guns, more security cameras, more metal detectors, more body armor, and so on. Think about our “solutions” to gun violence in schools, which include armored backpacks for eight-year-olds and semi-automatic pistols for teachers. Too many Americans look to guns as a “solution” to life’s problems; count Blinken among the gun-lovers, at least when it’s in the form of U.S. arms exports.

While it’s true U.S. arms exports and aid may keep Ukraine from losing quickly, it’s highly unlikely these same weapons will help Ukraine to win quickly and decisively. Russia can and likely will match any escalation to this war, and at a cheaper price than the U.S. taxpayer is currently paying (now over $100 billion and rising).

Blinken’s bloodless language about war is also revealing. It’s all about giving Ukraine “a strong hand on the battlefield,” as if Ukraine and Russia are playing a polite game of poker. More weapons to Ukraine means more bloody death and destruction; attrition or even escalation is far more likely than a quick end in Ukraine’s favor.

Blinken probably knows this, but a large part of his intellectual training was spent at Harvard and Columbia Law, just as Jake Sullivan, his younger counterpart at the National Security Council, trained at Yale and Yale Law. These men aren’t stupid, they’re just narrowly trained and partisan functionaries willing to spout whatever the empire needs them to say in the cause of imperial hegemony.

And so U.S. lawyers continue to send guns and money to Ukraine, especially guns, while saying this is the best and quickest way for Ukraine to beat Putin and end the war with Russia. Logic, however, suggests more fighting and dying and a lack of decision for either side.

Best not confuse a “strong hand” with a dead man’s one.

The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy

W.J. Astore

Bombs, Bullets, and Bellicosity Instead of Brains

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I parse the meaning of America’s latest National Defense Strategy. Hint: It’s not about defense.

More than two millennia ago, in the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides recounted a disastrous conflict Athens waged against Sparta. A masterwork on strategy and war, the book is still taught at the U.S. Army War College and many other military institutions across the world. A passage from it describing an ultimatum Athens gave a weaker power has stayed with me all these years. And here it is, loosely translated from the Greek: “The strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.”

Recently, I read the latest National Defense Strategy, or NDS, issued in October 2022 by the Pentagon, and Thucydides’s ancient message, a warning as clear as it was undeniable, came to mind again. It summarized for me the true essence of that NDS: being strong, the United States does what it wants and weaker powers, of course, suffer as they must. Such a description runs contrary to the mythology of this country in which we invariably wage war not for our own imperial ends but to defend ourselves while advancing freedom and democracy. Recall that Athens, too, thought of itself as an enlightened democracy even as it waged its imperial war of dominance on the Peloponnesus. Athens lost that war, calamitously, but at least it did produce Thucydides, a military leader who became a historian and wrote all too bluntly about his country’s hubristic, ultimately fatal pursuit of hegemony.

Imperial military ambitions contributed disastrously to Athens’s exhaustion and ultimate collapse, a lesson completely foreign to U.S. strategists. Not surprisingly, then, you’ll find no such Thucydidean clarity in the latest NDS approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In place of that Greek historian’s probity and timeless lessons, the NDS represents an assault not just on the English language but on our very future. In it, a policy of failing imperial dominance is eternally disguised as democratic deterrence, while the greatest “strategic” effort of all goes (remarkably successfully) into justifying massive Pentagon budget increases. Given the sustained record of failures in this century for what still passes as the greatest military power on the planet — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, of course, but don’t forget SomaliaSyriaYemen, and indeed the entire $8 trillion Global War on Terror in all its brutality — consider the NDS a rare recent “mission accomplished” moment. The 2023 baseline “defense” budget now sits at $858 billion, $45 billion more than even the Biden administration requested.

With that yearly budget climbing toward a trillion dollars (or more) annually, it’s easy to conclude that, at least when it comes to our military, nothing succeeds like failure. And, by the way, that not only applies to wars lost at a staggering cost but also financial audits blown without penalty. After all, the Pentagon only recently failed its fifth audit in a row. With money always overflowing, no matter how it may be spent, one thing seems guaranteed: some future American Thucydides will have the material to produce a volume or volumes beyond compare. Of course, whether this country goes the way of Athens — defeat driven by military exhaustion exacerbated by the betrayal of its supposedly deepest ideals leading to an ultimate collapse — remains to be seen. Still, given that America’s war colleges continue to assign Thucydides, no one can say that our military and future NDS writers didn’t get fair warning when it comes to what likely awaits them.

Bludgeoning America with Bureaucratese

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.

That’s a saying I learned early in my career as an Air Force officer, so I wasn’t exactly surprised to discover that it’s the NDS’s guiding philosophy. The document has an almost Alice in Wonderland-like quality to it as words and phrases take on new meanings. China, you won’t be surprised to learn, is a “pacing challenge” to U.S. security concerns; Russia, an “acute threat” to America due to its “unprovoked, unjust, and reckless invasion of Ukraine” and other forms of “irresponsible behavior”; and building “combat-credible forces” within a “defense ecosystem” is a major Pentagon goal, along with continuing “investments in mature, high-value assets” (like defective aircraft carriers, ultra-expensive bombers and fighter jets, and doomsday-promising new ICBMs).

Much talk is included about “leveraging” those “assets,” “risk mitigation,” and even “cost imposition,” a strange euphemism for bombing, killing, or otherwise inflicting pain on our enemies. Worse yet, there’s so much financial- and business-speak in the document that it’s hard not to wonder whether its authors don’t already have at least one foot in the revolving door that could, on their retirement from the military, swing them onto the corporate boards of major defense contractors like Boeing and Raytheon.

Perhaps my favorite redefined concept in that NDS lurks in the word “campaigning.” In the old days, armies fought campaigns in the field and generals like Frederick the Great or Napoleon truly came to know the price of them in blood and treasure. Unlike U.S. generals since 1945, they also knew the meaning of victory, as well as defeat. Perish the thought of that kind of campaigning now. The NDS redefines it, almost satirically, not to say incomprehensibly, as “the conduct and sequencing of logically-linked military initiatives aimed at advancing well-defined, strategy-aligned priorities over time.” Huh?

Campaigning, explains the cover letter signed by Secretary of Defense Austin (who won’t be mistaken for Frederick II in his bluntness or Napoleon in his military acuity), “is not business as usual — it is the deliberate effort to synchronize the [Defense] Department’s activities and investments to aggregate focus and resources to shift conditions in our favor.”

Got it? Good!

Of course, who knows what such impenetrable jargon really means to our military in 2023? This former military officer certainly prefers the plain and honest language of Thucydides. In his terms, America, the strong, intends to do what it will in the world to preserve and extend “conditions in our favor,” as the NDS puts it — a measure by which this country has failed dismally in this century. Weaker countries, especially those that are “irresponsible,” must simply suffer. If they resist, they must be prepared for some “cost imposition” events exercised by our “combat-credible forces.” Included in those are America’s “ultimate backstop” of cost imposition… gulp, its nuclear forces.

Again, the NDS is worthy of close reading (however pain-inducing that may be) precisely because the secretary of defense does claim that it’s his “preeminent guidance document.” I assume he’s not kidding about that, though I wish he were. To me, that document is to guidance as nuclear missiles are to “backstops.” If that last comparison is jarring, I challenge you to read it and then try to think or write clearly.

Bringing Clarity to America’s Military Strategy

To save you the trauma of even paging through the NDS, let me try to summarize it quickly in my version — if not the Pentagon’s — of English:

  1. China is the major threat to America on this planet.
  2. Russia, however, is a serious threat in Europe.
  3. The War on Terror continues to hum along successfully, even if at a significantly lower level.
  4. North Korea and Iran remain threats, mainly due to the first’s growing nuclear arsenal and the second’s supposed nuclear aspirations.
  5. Climate change, pandemics, and cyberwar must also be factored in as “transboundary challenges.”

“Deterrence” is frequently used as a cloak for the planetary dominance the Pentagon continues to dream of. Our military must remain beyond super-strong (and wildly overfunded) to deter nations and entities from striking “the homeland.” There’s also lots of talk about global challenges to be met, risks to be managed, “gray zone” methods to be employed, and references aplenty to “kinetic action” (combat, in case your translator isn’t working) and what’s known as “exploitable asymmetries.”

Count on one thing: whatever our disasters in the real world, nobody is going to beat America in the jargon war.

Missing in the NDS — and no surprise here — is any sense that war is humanity’s worst pastime. Even the mass murder implicit in nuclear weapons is glossed over. The harshest realities of conflict, nuclear war included, and the need to do anything in our power to prevent them, naturally go unmentioned. The very banality of the document serves to mask a key reality of our world: that Americans fund nothing as religiously as war, that most withering of evils.

Perhaps it’s not quite the banality of evil, to cite the telling phrase political philosopher Hannah Arendt used to describe the thoughts of the deskbound mass-murderers of the Holocaust, but it does have all of war’s brutality expunged from it. As we stare into the abyss, the NDS replies with mind-numbing phrases and terms that wouldn’t be out of place in a corporate report on rising profits and market dominance.

Yet as the military-industrial complex maneuvers and plots to become ever bigger, ever better funded, and ever more powerful, abetted by a Congress seemingly lustful for ever more military spending and weapons exports, hope for international cooperation, productive diplomacy, and democracy withers. Here, for instance, are a few of the things you’ll never see mentioned in this NDS:

  1. Any suggestion that the Pentagon budget might be reduced. Ever.
  2. Any suggestion that the U.S. military’s mission or “footprint” should be downsized in any way at all.
  3. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. and its allies spend far more on their militaries than “pacing challengers” like China or “acute threats” like Russia.
  4. Any acknowledgment that the Pentagon’s budget is based not on deterrence but on dominance.
  5. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. military has been far less than dominant despite endless decades of massive military spending that produced lost or stalemated wars from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.
  6. Any suggestion that skilled diplomacy and common security could lead to greater cooperation or decreased tensions.
  7. Any serious talk of peace.

In brief, in that document and thanks to the staggering congressional funding that goes with it, America is being eternally spun back into an age of great-power rivalry, with Xi Jinping’s China taking the place of the old Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin’s Russia that of Mao Zedong’s China. Consistent with that retro-vision is the true end goal of the NDS: to eternally maximize the Pentagon budget and so the power and authority of the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Basically, any power that seeks to push back against the Pentagon’s vision of security through dominance is defined as a threat to be “deterred,” often in the most “kinetic” way. And the greatest threat of all, requiring the most “deterrence,” is, of course, China.

In a textbook case of strategic mirror-imaging, the Pentagon’s NDS sees that country and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as acting almost exactly like the U.S. military. And that simply cannot be allowed.

Here’s the relevant NDS passage:

“In addition to expanding its conventional forces, the PLA is rapidly advancing and integrating its space, counterspace, cyber, electronic, and information warfare capabilities to support its holistic approach to joint warfare. The PLA seeks to target the ability of the [U.S.] Joint Force to project power to defend vital U.S. interests and aid our Allies in a crisis or conflict. The PRC [China] is also expanding the PLA’s global footprint and working to establish a more robust overseas and basing infrastructure to allow it to project military power at greater distances. In parallel, the PRC is accelerating the modernization and expansion of its nuclear capabilities.”

How dare China become more like the United States! Only this country is allowed to aspire to “full-spectrum dominance” and global power, as manifested by its 750 military bases scattered around the world and its second-to-none, blue-water navy. Get back to thy place, China! Only “a free people devoted to democracy and the rule of law” can “sustain and strengthen an international system under threat.” China, you’ve been warned. Better not dare to keep pace with the U.S. of A. (And heaven forfend that, in a world overheating in a devastating way, the planet’s two greatestgreenhouse gas emitters should work together to prevent true catastrophe!)

Revisiting the Oath of Office

Being a retired U.S. military officer, I always come back to the oath of office I once swore to uphold: “To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Naturally, if China, Russia, or any other country or entity attacks or otherwise directly menaces the U.S., I expect our military to defend this country with all due vigor.

That said, I don’t see China, Russia, or weaker countries like Iran or North Korea risking attacks against America proper, despite breathless talk of world “flashpoints.” Why would they, when any such attack would incur a devastating counterattack, possibly including America’s trusty “backstop,” its nuclear weapons?

In truth, the NDS is all about the further expansion of the U.S. global military mission. Contraction is a concept never to be heard. Yet reducing our military’s presence abroad isn’t synonymous with isolationism, nor, as has become ever more obvious in recent years, is an expansive military structure a fail-safe guarantor of freedom and democracy at home. Quite the opposite, constant warfare and preparations for more of it overseas have led not only to costly defeats, most recently in Afghanistan, but also to the increasing militarization of our society, a phenomenon reflected, for instance, in the more heavily armed and armored police forces across America.

The Pentagon’s NDS is a classic case of threat inflation cloaked in bureaucratese where the “facts” are fixed around a policy that encourages the incessant and inflationary growth of the military-industrial complex. In turn, that complex empowers and drives a “rules-based international order” in which America, as hegemon, makes the rules. Again, as Thucydides put it, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.

Yet, to paraphrase another old book, what does it profit a people to gain the whole world yet lose their very soul?  Like Athens before it, America was once a flawed democracy that nevertheless served as an inspiration to many because militarism, authoritarianism, and imperial pretense didn’t drive it. Today, this country is much like Thucydides’s Athens, projecting power ever-outwards in a misbegotten exercise to attain mastery through military supremacy.

It didn’t end well for Athens, nor will it for the United States.

The Madness of U.S. Militarism

W.J. Astore

Where are today’s Eisenhowers, Butlers, and Shoups?

As a teenager in the 1970s, I recall talking to my dad about fears of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. My dad took a broad view, suggesting that if U.S. and Soviet leaders were stupid enough to blow each other to smithereens, a billion Chinese people would be left to pick up the slack and move the world forward.

My dad was right about many things, but what he didn’t realize was that U.S. nuclear war plans (known as SIOPs) often called for the elimination of the USSR and China, even if China had had no involvement in events leading up to the war. Basically, the ruling U.S. nuclear war philosophy was: If you’re red, you’re dead.

Daniel Ellsberg wrote about this in his book, The Doomsday Machine. As I wrote in my review of that book:

“U.S. nuclear war plans circa 1960 envisioned a simultaneous attack on the USSR and China that would generate 600 million deaths after six months.  As Ellsberg notes, that is 100 Holocausts.  This plan was to be used even if China hadn’t directly attacked the U.S., i.e. the USSR and China were lumped together as communist bad guys who had to be eliminated together in a general nuclear war.  Only one U.S. general present at the briefing objected to this idea: David M. Shoup, a Marine general and Medal of Honor winner, who also later objected to the Vietnam War.”

What’s truly startling is that only one U.S. military leader present, General David Shoup, objected to the SIOP that would lead to the death of 600 million people in six months. A decade later, scientists learned that such a huge nuclear exchange would likely cause a nuclear winter that would kill billions due to famine. Truly, the (few) living would envy the (many) dead.

Mention of David Shoup’s name leads me to this fine article: “The Marine Corps legend who tried to stop the Vietnam War,” by James Clark. Shoup was a remarkable American who helped to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 from escalating to a nuclear war. Once he retired from the Marines, he became a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and militarism in general, a worthy successor to General Smedley Butler.

The Joint Chiefs in 1961. General Shoup is on the far right, next to General Curtis LeMay, architect of SAC and of a possible nuclear doomsday

I urge you to read Clark’s article on Shoup, who quotes Shoup’s hard-won wisdom here:

About the Vietnam War, Shoup said “I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own.”

In the Atlantic Monthly, Shoup, echoing the warning of Eisenhower about the military-industrial complex, wrote bluntly about America’s war culture and its anti-democratic nature:

Somewhat like a religion, the basic appeals of anti-Communism, national defense and patriotism provide the foundation for a powerful creed upon which the defense establishment can build, grow, and justify its cost. More so than many large bureaucratic organizations, the defense establishment now devotes a large share of its efforts to self-perpetuation, to justifying its organizations, to preaching its doctrines, to self-maintenance and management.

You would think that a Medal of Honor recipient who’d proved his bravery and patriotism at Tarawa during World War II would be immune from charges of being unpatriotic or weak on defense, but you’d be wrong.

Where are today’s Shoups among the U.S. military brass? Where are the leaders who are against genocidal nuclear war and who are willing to speak out against it? Where are the leaders who reject a new cold war with China and Russia? Where are the leaders with the courage to advocate for peace whenever possible in place of more and more war?

Have we fallen so far under the spell of militarism that America no longer produces leaders like Dwight Eisenhower, Smedley Butler, and David Shoup, generals who truly knew war, despised it, and wanted above all to put an end to it?

Talking About War, War Culture, Police, and the U.S. Military

W.J. Astore

On finding a better way forward for America

I recently sat down with Jim Wohlgemuth and Harvey Bennett with Veterans for Peace. We talked for about an hour and covered many topics I’ve written about here at Bracing Views and also at TomDispatch.com. Here is the link:

Or, if it’s easier, click here.

I’d like to thank Jim and Harvey for inviting me on their show and for their interest in my writing, but most especially for their work on promoting peace and sanity. Special bonus song at the end of the interview!

He’s a “wartime” president!

W.J. Astore

How about words of praise for “peacetime” presidents?

I caught only a couple of minutes of mainstream media coverage of the Zelensky visit, and I suppose that makes me lucky. In that brief period, I heard Zelensky described twice in positive terms as a “wartime” president. As if it’s a great thing to be the leader of Ukraine during a devastating war.

Remember when George W. Bush took a fancy to being described as a “wartime” president in the aftermath of 9/11? The mainstream media seems to fancy the term as well. What a wonderful, praiseworthy thing it is to be a wartime president! Look at how Zelensky dresses so simply, in olive drab, as if he just stepped out of a command post. What a guy.

War shouldn’t be a spectacle. Battle flags are far less impressive than flags of peace

When I caught that media coverage yesterday of Zelensky’s visit, which included a quick meet and greet with Joe and Jill Biden with Marine Corps guards saluting in the background, I was with my brother. My brother Stevie is mentally ill. But as I watched the coverage on TV, in my brother’s room, I reflected that he’s far saner than those media types gushing about war, and a far wiser and more honest soul than the so-called leaders I was watching at the White House.

There’s nothing like being a “wartime” leader that makes certain people gush. Obviously, many leaders love it too, since wartime grants them far more authority in the cause of waging and “winning” the war. And all this is treated as the height of sobriety and sanity within our war-crazed society.

When is the mainstream media going to praise our leaders for being peacetime presidents? Jesus Christ, after all, was the Prince of Peace. We need some princes of peace today. Then again, look what they did to Jesus.

Dominating Everyone Everywhere All At Once

W.J. Astore

Defense? Nonsense. It’s All Offense.

Terminology is so important.  There was a time when America spoke honestly of a Department of War. But not everyone is keen on war, even Americans, so in 1947 the national (in)security state slyly changed its name to the Department of Defense (DoD). And who can be against “defense”?

The problem is that America’s fundamental vision is offensive. We speak openly of global reach, global power, global vigilance. We never speak of regional or hemispheric defense. Regional power? Forget about it! Everything has to be “global.” Indeed, not just global but soaring above it into space. And not just outer space but virtual space and inner space, into one’s mind, so-called information dominance. For that’s what “full-spectrum” dominance is all about. To be safe, to “defend” us, the DoD must dominate everywhere, so we’re told.

This vision serves to generate yearly budgets that consume more than half of federal discretionary spending. It’s used to justify 750 military bases around the world. It’s consistent with dividing the globe into commands headed by four-star generals and admirals, e.g. AFRICOM, CENTCOM, NORTHCOM, and the like. It generates U.S. involvement in wars that few Americans know anything about, e.g. Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. It’s a vision consistent with a state of permanent warfare driven by imperial ambitions. 

I don’t think there’s ever been a military more ambitious and vainglorious than the U.S. military and its various straphangers (industry, congress, intelligence agencies, the media, academe, think tanks, hence the term MICIMATT).1 No wonder its “thought” leaders keep demanding and getting more and more money: at least $858 billion for FY2023 alone. The DoD is supposed to be a means to an end. Clearly, it’s become an end in and of itself; it may yet lead to the end of everything.

He who has the gold makes the rules—and no government agency gets more gold to dominate rule-making than the DoD/Pentagon. It’s a golden fleecing of America, as the Pentagon after five attempts has yet to pass an audit. The war on terror, including failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost America as much as $8 trillion, yet those failures have already been largely forgotten, with no senior officials called to account.

Our future is being stolen from us by wanton military spending.  At the same time, our past is being rewritten.  Lincoln’s ideal that “right makes might” and Washington’s ideal of the citizen-soldier have been replaced by might makes right enforced by warriors. Orwell rules the moment as war is sold as peace, surveillance as privacy, and censorship as free speech.

I remember my military oath of office: to support and DEFEND the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I still believe in defending the Constitution. I just don’t see that we’re doing it when we spend $858 billion (and more) on a global quest to dominate everyone everywhere all at once.

Defense? Nonsense. It’s all offense.

1

MICIMATT: military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academia-think-tank complex. Awkward acronym that has the virtue of capturing the size and scope of Ike’s old military-industrial complex.