Are All Wars Local?

Carl von Clausewitz. Postage stamp issued in 1981, 150 years after his death.

W.J. Astore

Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House when Ronald Reagan was president in the 1980s, liked the saying, “All politics is local.”

Carl von Clausewitz, the famous Prussian theorist of war in the time of Napoleon, taught that war is the continuation of politics by other (violent) means.

Does it follow from this that all wars are, in a sense, local?

It doesn’t seem so at first glance. Americans tend to see wars like Iraq and Afghanistan as distant events that are disconnected from our daily lives. (Obviously, if a loved one is in the military and deployed overseas, concern and connection are greatly heightened.)

But when we begin to see the local costs of war, fully to see them, the way they poison lives, infect and erode democracy, and compromise the very climate we live in, we may finally act to put a stop to war.

No matter how distant and obscure America’s wars may be (and who among us really knows what’s happening this minute in Somalia, to cite one example), there are effects that are local.  And until we calculate those costs, and confront the waste and inhumanity of them, we simply won’t work synergistically to end them.

What are some of these local costs? As President Eisenhower said in his famous “cross of iron” speech, every warship we build, every rocket we fire, every warplane we launch, represents a theft from those who hunger, a theft from projects such as building schools or repairing roads and bridges. Every dollar we spend on war is a dollar we don’t spend here in America on our own sustenance, our own health as a civil society. Meanwhile, the dreadful costs incurred by wasteful wars, which will eventually exceed $8 trillion for the Iraq and Afghan wars, drives up our national debt, which is then cited, rightly or wrongly, as a reason to curb domestic spending. Profligacy for war, austerity for ordinary Americans, seems to be the new American way. And it’s impoverishing our democracy and our civic culture.

Other effects of war would include the costs of aiding veterans who are wounded, whether in body or mind or both, in our local communities. It would include the militarization of local police forces with surplus military weaponry that is then used to suppress legitimate dissent. And, if you’ve lived on or near a military base, you’ve likely experienced noise pollution to go with environmental pollution and degradation, much of it kept classified or otherwise hidden from view.

America’s wars, in short, are never truly distant and disconnected from our lives. They are instead connected to us, shaping our vision of what’s possible and impossible, what’s inevitable and what’s preventable, what’s normal and what’s abnormal.

A state of permanent war is not normal, America. Its effects are all around us and they are not good. But the good news is that, just as the effects of war are local, so too can the fight against war be local. Raise your voice and take a stand against war. If all politics is local, the political fight against war can and should be local too.

The Biggest Threat to America

W..J. Astore

Aside from climate change (Armageddon in slow motion) and nuclear war (Armageddon in the blink of an eye), the biggest threat to America is perpetual war and preparations for war driven by threat inflation. We’re witnessing it now, before our very eyes, with America’s increasingly polarized relations with China, notes David Vine in his latest effort for TomDispatch.com. Both parties, Republican and Democratic, accuse the other of being “soft” on China, even as the U.S. “defense” budget (meaning the war and weapons budget) soars with bipartisan support in Congress.

It’s folly, of course, and dangerous folly at that. China has roughly four times as many people as the U.S. and a vibrant economy; China is also a leading trading partner and owner of American debt. China, in short, should be a friend, or friendly rival, or a competitor worthy of respect. What China shouldn’t be in American eyes is a manifestation of a new “Yellow Peril,” an inscrutable foe, a soon-to-be enemy. Anything that tips us in that direction is truly folly, since any war with China could end in nuclear catastrophe. And even if such a catastrophe is avoided, war, even a “cold” one, will destroy any chance for concerted action against climate change, imperiling the very planet we live on.

If we want to avoid Armageddon, whether the one in slow motion or the one in the blink of an eye, the USA needs good relations with China, based again on mutual respect and a cooperative spirit. What should unite us (working to mitigate climate change and reduce the threat of nuclear war) is far more important than what is allegedly dividing us.

But threat inflation works, especially for the military-industrial-congressional complex, to justify colossal war budgets to the American people. Here’s the problem, though: When you inflate the threat, in some way you also create it. You instantiate it, at least in your own mind. You give it more and more substance.  And the more weapons you build to meet the threat you created, the more likely it becomes that you’ll choose to use those weapons when push comes to shove — and Americans sure do a lot of shoving in the world.

I just hope the Chinese are wise enough to see that America’s national security state is indeed a big threat — to America.  So they’d be wisest to stand back and let America defeat itself with debilitating wars and profligate spending on costly weaponry.  Meanwhile, they can use their strong economy to dominate trade.  While we build weapons and fight wars, China will defeat us — at capitalism!  Ah, the irony, comrade.

Yet even as China wins the new cold war, the planet itself will lose. Anything that distracts humanity from facing climate change together is folly. It may not seem so at this moment, but check back with the planet in 2031. Another decade lost to military folly is another nail in the coffin to efforts at preserving and restoring life on our planet.

So, as David Vine asks in his article, Do you want a new cold war? Anyone with any sense knows that “No!” is the only possible answer.

The Military and Conformity — and Democracy

Officers’ Wives’ Club in 1967. In the mid-1980s, I belonged to a bowling league with my military unit in Colorado. Good times.

W.J. Astore

Few people will be surprised to learn that the U.S. military is about conformity. Uniformity. Heck, it’s one reason why we wear uniforms to begin with. To a certain extent, individuality is tolerated but only if it’s harmless and doesn’t interfere with unit cohesion or performance — and, not just performance but image.

I can’t count the number of times I heard about my Air Force “family” when I wore the uniform, with the message I had to go along to get along; we’re all family, so stop grumbling and enjoy your “family” time.

A heavy stress on conformity can be a particular burden to civilian spouses, however, who didn’t necessarily think they were enlisting when their partner signed up and donned a uniform. In the bad old days, wives of officers were especially burdened with expectations. If they didn’t join officers’ wives’ clubs and otherwise “support” their husbands, they might find themselves ostracized from the “family.” Their husbands might see their careers suffer as well, not exactly a dynamic that promotes family values and amity at home.

Those bad old days are not entirely over, notes Andrea Mazzarino at TomDispatch.com, and being the wife of a U.S. Naval officer, she should know. I urge you to read her article here at TomDispatch. Nowadays, pressure takes new forms, notably on social media, that crazy 24/7/365 world, with email, Instagram, and Facebook posts (among other social sites) being scrutinized incessantly for right-thinking and right behavior, as judged by the self-anointed keepers of conformity and uniformity.

Militaries, again you won’t be surprised to learn, are not known to embrace criticism and non-conformity, which is why they should be kept as small as possible within a democracy that is supposed to celebrate or at least tolerate critiques and eccentrics. But here’s the rub: The more America celebrates its military and feeds it with money. the more it reinforces anti-democratic forces and tendencies within our larger society. And that’s not a good thing in a country where money is speech, i.e. where the richest already rule. (Which is no surprise to military members, as we all know the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.)

Here’s an excerpt from Mazzarino’s article. Believe me, she knows of what she speaks.

Eyes Are Always On You

Andrea Mazzarino

I know what it means to be watched all too carefully, a phenomenon that’s only grown worse in the war-on-terror years. I’m a strange combination, I suspect, being both a military spouse and an anti-war-on-terror activist. As I’ve discovered, the two sit uncomfortably in what still passes for one life. In this country in these years, having eyes on you has, sadly enough, become a common and widespread phenomenon. When it’s the government doing it, it’s called “surveillance.” When it’s your peers or those above you in the world of the military spouse, there’s no word for it at all.

Now, be patient with me while I start my little exploration of such an American state at the most personal level before moving on to the way in which we now live in ever more of a — yes — surveillance state.

A Navy Wife’s Perspective on Military Life, Post-9/11

“The military sounds like the mafia. Your husband’s rank determines how powerful you are.” That was a good friend’s response, a decade or so ago, when a more experienced Navy wife shamed me for revealing via text message that my husband’s nuclear submarine would soon return to port. Her spouse had been assigned to the same boat for a year longer than mine and she headed up the associated Family Readiness Group, or FRG.

Such FRGs, led by officers’ wives, are all-volunteer outfits that are supposed to support the families of the troops assigned to any boat. In a moment of thoughtless excitement, I had indeed texted another spouse, offering a hand in celebrating our husbands’ imminent return, the sort of party that, as the same woman had told me, “All wives help with to thank our guys for what they do for us. It’s key to command morale.”

She had described the signs other wives had been making under the direction of both the captain’s wife’s and hers, as well as the phone chain they had set up to let us know the moment the boat would arrive so that we could rush to the base to greet it. In response to my message, she’d replied in visibly angry form (that is, in all capital letters), “NEVER, EVER INDICATE IN ANY WAY OVER TEXT THAT THE BOAT WILL BE RETURNING SOON. YOU ARE ENDANGERING THEIR LIVES.” She added that I would be excluded from all boat activities if I ever again so much as hinted that such a return was imminent.

Alone in my apartment in a sparsely populated town near the local military base, my heart raced with the threat of further isolation. What would happen because of what I’d done?

And yes, I’d blundered, but not, as became apparent to me, in any way that truly mattered or actually endangered anything or anyone at all — nothing, in other words, that couldn’t have been dealt with in a kinder, less Orwellian fashion, given that this was a supposedly volunteer group.

It was my first little introduction to being watched and the pressure that goes with such surveillance in the world of the military spouse. Years later, when my husband was assigned to another submarine, an officer’s wife at the same naval base had burst into tears telling me about the surprise visit she’d just been paid by three women married to officers of higher rank on other boats stationed at that base.

Sitting across from her in their designer dresses, they insisted she wasn’t doing enough to raise raffle money to pay for a military child’s future education. Am I really responsible for sending another kid to college? That was her desperate question to me. Unable to keep a job, given her husband’s multiple reassignments, she had struggled simply to save enough for the education of her own children. And mind you, she was already providing weekly free childcare to fellow spouses unable to locate affordable services in that town, while counseling some wives who had become suicidal during their husbands’ long deployments.

I could, of course, multiply such examples, but you get the idea. In the war-on-terror-era military, eyes are always on you.

Married to the Military (or the Terror Within)

On paper, the American military strives to “recognize the support and sacrifice” of the 2.6 million spouses and children of active-duty troops. And there are indeed gestures in the right direction — from partnerships with employers who have committed to hiring military spouses to short-term-crisis mental-health support.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE.

Support Our Troops — But How?

A1C Courtney Wagner, getting the job done as the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster in 2017. When America thinks of “our” troops, someone like A1C Wagner may come to mind (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Divine Cox)

W.J. Astore

Today I saw a “support our troops” magnetic ribbon on a pickup truck.  I used to see more of them, especially in the Bush/Cheney years of the Afghan and Iraq Wars.  I don’t oppose the sentiment, though the “support” it encourages is undefined.  I’ve always thought the best way to “support” our troops is to keep them out of unnecessary and disastrous wars.  Even to bring them home, not only from these wars but from imperial outposts around the globe.  But, again, “support” on these ribbons is unspecified, though the Pentagon seems to equate it with huge budgets that approach a trillion dollars every year.

Americans continue to profess confidence in “their” military, with 69% of us saying so in July 2021, whereas only 12% of us have much confidence in Congress.  Can it be said we hold Congress in contempt?  Americans know, I think, that Congress is bought and paid for, that it answers to the rich and the strong while dismissing the poor and the weak.  If you’re looking for affordable health care, for higher pay, for fair treatment, best not look to Congress.

Indeed, if you want a $15 minimum wage, free government health care, and a government-funded college education, your only option is to enlist in the U.S. military.  These “socialist” programs are a big part of the military, including government-provided housing as well.  Yet we don’t think of them as socialistic when the person getting these benefits is wearing a military uniform.

It’s truly remarkable that despite disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere, Americans continue to “support” and have great confidence in “our troops.”  There are many reasons for this.  I think most Americans recognize now that the wars our troops are sent to are losing concerns from the get-go.  You really can’t blame the troops for failing to win unwinnable wars.  You can, and should, blame the leaders for lying us into these wars and then lying again and again about (false) progress in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  But the troops who bleed on the frontlines?  No – we sense it’s not their fault.

I think many Americans also support our troops out of guilt and ignorance.  Most Americans are isolated from the military and therefore have little understanding of its ways and even less understanding of its wars.  Less than 1% of Americans currently serve in the military, plus there’s no draft, so young Americans can safely ignore, so they think, the discomforts and potential perils of a few years spent within the ranks.  After a flurry of attention paid to a humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, the mainstream media is back to saluting the troops while warning of potential conflicts elsewhere, perhaps with China over Taiwan.

The disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq, among others, are already being sent down the Memory Hole to oblivion.  After all, there’s always another war looming, so we’re told, which serves to convince most Americans that a strong “defense” is needed.  So why not support our troops.  We’re going to need them to fight the next war, right?

This is precisely how we fail to support our troops.  We don’t ask enough tough questions – and we don’t demand enough honest answers – about why the next war is necessary.  How it serves national defense and the ideals of the U.S. Constitution.  We are always pressured to salute smartly, even if we’ve never served in the military.  And that way lies militaristic madness.

So, if I had to define how best to support our troops, I’d answer with another bumper sticker motto: Question Authority.  Especially when it’s wrapped in the flag and camouflaged by a military uniform.

It’s folly in the extreme that Americans routinely acquiesce to Pentagon “defense” budgets – let’s face it, these are war budgets — that consume more than half of federal discretionary spending each year, even as the Pentagon loses wars and fails audits. Nevertheless, our very unpopular Congress continues to throw money at the generals and admirals and war contractors, and indeed these groups are often interchangeable, as many senior officers join corporate “defense” boards after retiring from the military.

It’s not Private Jones (or A1C Wagner, pictured above) who’s cashing in here.  It’s America’s military-industrial-congressional complex, which is guided and motivated by one word: more. More money, more power, and, often enough, more wars.

If we keep “supporting” our troops while funneling vast and unaccountable funds to the Pentagon and the weapons makers, America will get more weapons and more wars.  It’s that simple.  And more weapons and more wars will combine to destroy what little is left of our democracy, no matter how many “support our troops” ribbons we stick to our pickup trucks.

Do you really want to support our troops?  Besides questioning authority, one might best begin by reducing their numbers.  America’s military should be no larger than what it needs to be to provide for a robust national defense.  Then we need to remember that a state of permanent war represents a death blow to democracy, no matter how much we profess confidence in our troops.  Since Congress is already deeply unpopular, it should have the guts to cut and limit military and war spending to no more than 25% of federal discretionary spending.

Cutting funds to the military-industrial complex will help bring it to heel – and force more than few spoiled and hidebound generals and admirals to bring our troops home rather than wasting them in faraway countries fighting unwinnable conflicts.

What say you, America?  Ready to support our troops?

We’re Mad As Hell — And Fighting Each Other

Peter Finch in “Network”

W.J. Astore

In the movie “Network” from 1976, a TV news anchor played by Peter Finch builds a mass following by promising to kill himself on the air while declaring that “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”  The network execs are all too happy to encourage him – as long as his outrage is good for ratings and doesn’t threaten the system.  But when Finch starts to step on corporate agendas, he has the riot act read to him by Ned Beatty, who explains “There is no America.  There is no democracy” and that “The world is a college of corporations.”  A visibly shaken Finch realizes he’s in over his head.

I’ve always liked that catchphrase from the movie, for we the people should be as mad as hell, and we should refuse to take it.  We should act.  But what’s interesting is how our anger is redirected before we can act.    

We’re not supposed to be mad at the oligarchs – that “college of corporations” – who own it all and who push all the buttons. No — our anger is supposed to be tribal. We’re supposed to hate Republicans, or Democrats, or anti-vaxxers, or Trump supporters, or someone — someone ultimately like us, without much power. The anger is ginned up to encourage us to punch down while keeping us disunited.

Being mad can be good if the anger is channeled against the exploiters; it’s not good when it’s exploited by the powerful to keep us divided and weak.

America’s two-party system is designed to deflect anger away from the moneyed interests and toward each other.  What we need is a new political party that truly represents the people rather than the oligarchs.  Neither major party, Republican or Democrat, seems reformable.  Both are captured by moneyed interests.  After all, if money is speech, who can yell louder: you and me, or Lockheed Martin and Amazon? Even the “anti-establishment” voices in either major party have largely been neutralized. Or they get sicced on the enemy of the day, whether it’s evil woke Democrats or evil unwoke Trumpers.

Hence nothing really changes … and that’s the point.

America needs an anti-imperial party, a “Come home, America” party, a party that puts domestic needs first as it works to downsize the military and dismantle the empire.  Yet, in the spirit of Orwell’s 1984 and the Two Minutes’ Hate, Americans are always kept hating some putative enemy.  Russia!  Radical Islamic Terror!  China!  Immigrants at the gate!  Maybe even an enemy within.  We’re kept divided, distracted — and downtrodden

If we continue to be at war with each other while punching down, we’ll never turn righteous anger against the right people.  We’ll never effect meaningful change.

It’s said that power never concedes anything without a demand.  Why do we demand so much from the powerless and so little from the powerful?  Isn’t it high time we reversed that?

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

W. J. Astore

As a new movie version of Dune is released, it’s a good time to be reminded of Frank Herbert’s wise saying that fear is the mind-killer.

Americans are kept constantly in a state of fear, or at least of high anxiety (a Mel Brooks movie, if memory serves), and that fear or anxiety makes us open and responsive to claims the Pentagon must have more weapons, more authority, and always more money, justified in the name of keeping us safe, whether from “terror” or from China (echoes of the old “Yellow Peril”) or from some other threat just beyond the horizon.

How is it that the world’s most militarily powerful empire is always so fearful? And always needs more weaponry for “security”? Perhaps it’s precisely because fear helps to stifle critical thinking? And because we think of weaponry as job-creators instead of life-takers?

I talk about this and other subjects with Burt Cohen on his podcast, “Keeping Democracy Alive.” Even Yoda makes an early appearance! To listen, please click on the link below.

https://bit.ly/3ijbePc

Wars not make one great

In Praise of Whistleblowers

Julian Assange. The “true” Afghan War was not for us to see, but the truth will out, at least in this case, as total defeat in war is hard to hide

W.J. Astore

Edward Snowden. Daniel Hale. Chelsea Manning. Julian Assange. And of course Daniel Ellsberg. These and other whistleblowers courageously spoke out to reveal the lies the government feeds us to keep us pacified and compliant.

What do whistleblowers do? Some might say they speak truth to power. But power already knows the truth, indeed the powerful manufacture the truth, and they like their near-monopoly on truth and its creation and distribution.

What whistleblowers really do is speak truth to the powerless. They speak truth to us, and their version of the truth is one that reveals the manipulation and mendacity of the powerful. It exposes power to the light, revealing the rot, the greed, the lies, and for this act of defiance and of patriotism, the whistleblower must be punished.

Snowden was forced into exile in Russia. Hale was recently imprisoned for up to four years. Manning spent years in prison under humiliating conditions that included solitary confinement. Assange is still in prison, and the U.S. government still seeks to extradite him and punish him under an espionage act that shouldn’t even apply to a citizen of another country (not to mention a journalist who should be protected in a democracy that allegedly reveres the freedom of the press).

It’s not that the American people can’t handle the truth, to cite the words of Colonel Jessup as played by Jack Nicholson. It’s that the American people can handle the truth, that the truth would empower us while weakening the powers-that-be and their various plots and privileges. That’s why the truth is such a scarce commodity in Washington, D.C. It must be guarded while being massaged and manipulated before its fed to the masses as formless, often truthless, pabulum.

America’s punishment of principled whistleblowers is yet another sign of the death of democracy in America. If President Biden wanted to do something important, something inspiring, something meaningful, he’d permit Snowden to return with no charges, he’d pardon Hale, and he’d stop pursuing the extradition of Assange. But Biden will do none of these. Whistleblowers must be persecuted, must be punished, not because they’ve done something wrong, but because they’ve done something right, something that embarrasses the powerful. And that simply cannot be tolerated.

After all, if Americans in positions to know start speaking the truth to their fellow Americans, where will that end? We might see a resurgence of accountability, of justice, even of democracy in America. And we can’t have that.

Addendum: For a terrific book on whistleblowing that will make you angry indeed, check out Tom Mueller’s “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing In An Age of Fraud” (New York, Riverhead Books, 2019).

The Pentagon Gets More Money

W.J. Astore

Imagine you’re a parent with a difficult son. You send him to the most expensive schools, you give him prodigious sums of money, but when Johnny comes home from school with his report card, you see he got an “F” in Afghanistan, an “F” in Iraq, and an “F” in Libya, among other “classes.” Projects he’s working on, like the F-35 jet fighter or Ford-class carriers, are also proving to be expensive failures. Even in deportment he’s receiving an “F,” with the teachers telling you he’s prone to bullying his fellow students as he boasts of being the most exceptional student in the world.

How would you handle Johnny? Well, our collective Johnny is the Pentagon and the National Security State, and our government’s way of handling him is to shove more money his way, another $24 billion or so, with more promised in the future.

Is it any wonder why Johnny Pentagon never changes its behavior?

That’s the subject of my latest article at TomDispatch.com. Here’s the first half of the article; please go to TomDispatch.com to read the rest. Many thanks!

William Astore, A Bright Future for Weapons and War

Yoda, the Jedi Master in the Star Wars films, once pointed out that the future is all too difficult to see and it’s hard to deny his insight. Yet I’d argue that, when it comes to the U.S. military and its wars, Yoda was just plain wrong. That part of the future is all too easy to imagine. It involves, you won’t be shocked to know, more budget-busting weaponry for the Pentagon and more military meddling across the globe, perhaps this time against “near-peer” rivals China and Russia, and a global war on terror that will never end. What’s even easier to see is that peace will be given no chance at all. Why? Because it’s just not in the interests of America’s deeply influential military-congressional-industrial complex.

When that vast complex, which President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about six decades ago, comes to my mind, I can’t help thinking of a song from the last years of the then seemingly endless Cold War. (How typical, by the way, that when the Soviet Union finally imploded in 1991, it barely affected Pentagon funding.)

“The future’s so bright (I gotta wear shades)” was that 1986 song’s title. And I always wonder whether that future could indeed be nuclear-war bright, given our military’s affection for such weaponry. I once heard the saying, “The [nuclear] triad is not the Trinity,” which resonated with me given my Catholic upbringing. Still, it’s apparently holy enough at the Pentagon or why would the high command there already be planning to fund the so-called modernization of the American nuclear arsenal to the tune of at least $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years? Given this nation’s actual needs, that figure blows me away (though not literally, I hope).

What is that “triad” the complex treats as a holy trinity? It consists of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs; nuclear-weapons-capable bombers like the B-1, B-2, and the venerable B-52; and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs. Given our present vast nuclear arsenal, there’s no strategic need for building new ICBMs at a price beyond compare. In fact, as the most vulnerable “leg” of the triad, the ones the Air Force currently has should be decommissioned.

Nor is there a strategic need for an ultra-expensive new bomber like the Air Force’s proposed B-21 Raider (basically, an updated version of the B-2 Spirit “stealth” bomber that’s most frequently used these days for flyovers at big college and Super Bowl football games). America’s Ohio-class nuclear submarines that still wander the world’s oceans armed with Trident missiles are more than capable of “deterring” any conceivable opponent into the distant future, even if they also offer humanity a solid shot at wholesale suicide via a future nuclear winter. But reason not the need, as Shakespeare once had King Lear say. Focus instead on the profits to be made (he might have added, had he lived in our time and our land) by building “modernized” nukes.

As my old service, the Air Force, clamors for new nuclear missiles and bombers, there’s also the persistent quest for yet more fighter jets, including overpriced, distinctly underperforming ones like the F-35, the “Ferrari” of fighter planes according to the Air Force chief of staff. If the military gets all the F-35s it wants, add another $1.7 trillion to the cost of national “defense.” At the same time, that service is seeking a new, “lower-cost” (but don’t count on it) multirole fighter — what the F-35 was supposed to be once upon a time — even as it pursues the idea of a “6th-generation” fighter even more advanced (read: pricier) than 5th-generation models like the F-22 and F-35.

I could go on similarly about the Navy (more Ford-class aircraft carriers and new nuclear-armed submarines) or the Army (modernized Abrams tanks; a new infantry fighting vehicle), but you get the idea. If Congress and the president keep shoveling trillions of dollars down the military’s gullet and those of its camp followers (otherwise known as “defense” contractors), count on one thing: they’ll find ever newer ways of spending that dough on anything from space weaponry to robot “companions.”

Indeed, I asked a friend who’s still intimate with the military-industrial complex what’s up with its dreams and schemes. The military’s latest Joint Warfighting Concept, he told me, “is all about building Systems of Systems based in AI [artificial intelligence] and quantum computing.” Then he added: “All it will do is give us more sophisticated ways to lose wars.” (You can see why he’s my friend.) The point is that AI and quantum computing sound futuristically super-sexy, which is why they’ll doubtless be used to justify super-expensive future budgetary requests by the Pentagon.

In that context, don’t you find it staggering how much the military spent in Afghanistan fighting and losing all too modernistically to small, under-armed units of the Taliban? Two trillion-plus dollars to wage a counterinsurgency campaign that failed dismally. Imagine if, in the next decade or two, the U.S. truly had to fight a near-peer rival like China. Even if the U.S. military somehow won the battles, this nation would undoubtedly collapse into bankruptcy and financial ruin (and it would be a catastrophe for the whole endangered planet of ours). It could get so bad that even Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk might have to pay higher taxes, if, that is, they haven’t already slipped the surly bonds of Earth to mingle with the twinkling stars.

If America’s post-9/11 war-on-terror military spending, including for the Afghan and Iraq wars, has indeed reached the unimaginable sum of $8 trillion, as Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimates, imagine how much a real war, a “conventional” war, featuring the air force, the fleet, big battalions, and major battles, would cost this country. Again, the mind (mine at least) boggles at the prospect. Which is not to say that the U.S. military won’t fight for every penny so that it’s over-prepared to wage just such a war (and worse).

The idea that this country faces a perilous new cold war that could grow hot at any moment, this time with China, crops up in unusual places. Consider this passage by Dexter Filkins, a well-known war reporter, that appeared recently in the New Yorker:

“We’ve spent decades fighting asymmetrical wars, but now there’s a symmetrical one looming. The United States has never faced an adversary of China’s power: China’s G.D.P. is, by some measures, greater than ours, its active-duty military is larger than ours, and its weapon systems are rapidly expanding. China appears determined to challenge the status quo, not just the territorial one but the scaffolding of international laws that govern much of the world’s diplomatic and economic relations. If two forever wars are finally coming to an end, a new Cold War may await.”

A new war is “looming.” Our adversary has more money and more troops than us and is seeking better weaponry. Its leadership wants to challenge a “status quo” (that favors America) and international laws (which this country already routinely breaks when our leaders feel in the mood).

Why are so many otherwise sane people, including Joe Biden’s foreign policy team, already rattling sabers in preparation for a new faceoff with China, one that would be eminently avoidable with judicious diplomacy and an urge to cooperate on this embattled planet of ours?

Why indeed? Please read the rest of my article at TomDispatch.com.

AOC’s “Radical” Gown

W.J. Astore

AOC got a lot of attention wearing a gown to the Met Gala that read, “tax the rich.” Here’s a fetching image:

Of course, this is hardly a radical message. Firstly, the rich are already taxed. Secondly, something like 70% of Americans, and perhaps more, agree that the richest Americans should pay more taxes. Thirdly, attendees of the Met Gala are, though rich, generally supportive of liberal causes, if not of true leftist agendas, so her message was hardly offensive to most of the people there.

Many people have pointed out AOC’s hypocrisy, such as her lack of action on issues like health care for all or a $15 minimum wage. Her gown was basically an exercise in performative theater. It garnered “hits” and “likes” as well as fury, but in the end it signified nothing.

Actions speak louder than words, even on gowns, but I can imagine more powerful words for her to have worn, if she’d really wanted to send a subversive message. Examples that occur to me:

EAT THE RICH. Much more amusing and to the point.

END THE WARS. Why not focus on America’s forever wars that have (or will) cost us $8 trillion?

HELP THE POOR. Why not remind the rich at the gala that there is such a thing as poor people in America?

GREED IS BAD. The anti-Gordon Gekko message.

CLASS WAR: Why not go all Marxian on them?

NO MORE NUKES: Why not remind Americans that the Pentagon plans to spend as much as $1.7 trillion on new ICBMs, bombers, and nuclear submarines, when the “old” ones we have are already capable of ending most life on Earth?

OK: Wearing what amounts to a bumper sticker on a gown isn’t going to change the world. It’s a stunt to grab attention, with an element of narcissism to it. But if you’re going to pull a stunt like this, why not go big? Why not be radical?

One more thought: If you watched the Met Gala and all the celebrities showing off their gowns and outfits, and you’ve also read “The Hunger Games” or saw the movies, you couldn’t help but recall the scenes of the decadent few in The Capitol, thoroughly enjoying life as all the proles in the Districts suffer to serve their prodigal and hedonistic lifestyle.

Something tells me AOC is very much a Capitol creature. She’s no Katniss Everdeen, no matter what she puts on her gown.

Readers: What message would you dare to wear on your gown or suit to show your “betters” you mean business? Have some fun in the comments section, but let’s keep it rated “R,” not “X.” And short!

Never Forget — What?

W.J. Astore

The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has come and gone. The theme I often heard was “never forget.” Never forget what, exactly? That we were attacked? All of us of a certain age remember 9/11. We remember where we were when we first heard the news. We remember the shock, the confusion, the sense of loss. We really don’t need to be reminded to “never forget.”

A similar phrase is “always remember.” Like “never forget,” it’s remarkably labile, much like Obama’s slogans of “hope” and “change.” And that’s the point. It’s vague while being emotive. It plays on our emotions without encouraging us to think.

So, let’s think critically for a moment. What should we “never forget”? We should never forget the victims, of course. The heroes. The first responders who gave their lives. And, by the way, why is Congress always so reluctant to provide health care to those first responders who worked so tirelessly in the dangerously unhealthy rubble of the Twin Towers? Let’s not forget them in their moments of need.

But what else shouldn’t we forget and “always remember”? I think we should remember the colossal failure of the Bush/Cheney administration to act on intelligence that indicated Al Qaeda was determined to strike in the U.S. We should remember the chaos generated by those attacks, and how our government responded so slowly, and with a measure of panic. And we should remember how quickly men like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld deflected any blame and took no responsibility for what can only be described as a massive defeat.

Also, it’s important to recall that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, yet America’s leaders chose to invade Afghanistan and Iraq after announcing a global war on terror. In short, they used 9/11 as a pretext to embark on wars that they wanted to fight, wars of choice that proved disastrous, and for which they’ve largely evaded responsibility.

As a military historian, I’m also taken aback by our leaders choosing to rebrand 9/11 as “Patriot Day.” When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, America’s leaders didn’t rebrand that day as an occasion for patriotism. They recognized it was a date of infamy and declared war on the attacker.

It’s almost as if 9/11 has become a date of victimhood for the U.S. An old Air Force buddy of mine put it well recently in a message to me:

“It felt like it wasn’t about remembrance as much as just wallowing in self-pity. Interesting you bring up Pearl Harbor. Back then we went off and fought a 4-year war, beat our enemy, and helped them rebuild. For 9/11, we went off and fought a 20-year war, came home with our tails between our legs, and left our enemy more empowered. A celebration of victimhood, but not of honor.”

I like my friend’s appeal to honor. It’s an old-fashioned word that you hear rarely in America’s offices and corridors of power. Where is the honor in turning the 9/11 calamity into some kind of celebration of victimhood and patriotism?

As a historian, of course I want 9/11 to be remembered. But let’s not allow propaganda and cheap sentiment to shape our memories. And let’s “never forget” the failures of our leaders both before and after that date of infamy.