Former President Donald Trump went on CNN last week and said something sensible. When asked if he wanted Ukraine to win the war, Trump replied he didn’t think about the war in terms of winning and losing. His priority was to stop the killing on both sides by ending the war. Naturally, he boasted he could end the war in 24 hours, surely a hyperbolic claim, though if the U.S. ended its massive package of military and financial aid, Ukraine would likely be forced to sue for peace, and quickly.
Interestingly, the CNN anchor badgered Trump, trying to get him to say he favored Ukraine over Russia and that Ukraine had to win. Trump, to his credit, was having none of it. Nor would Trump declare that Putin was a war criminal for the sensible reason that such a declaration would make a diplomatic settlement much more problematic.
Readers here know I’m no fan of Trump. I think he’s a dangerous con man without a clue about what public service is about. But I give him credit for not giving the easy answers, the expected ones, that Ukraine must win, that Russia must lose, that Putin is a war criminal, and that as long as Ukraine wins it really doesn’t matter how many people die in this disastrous war.
The CNN anchor never bothered to define what “winning” looks like for Ukraine. I assume she meant something like this: All Russian troops expelled from Ukraine; democracy flourishing in Ukraine as the country is rebuilt, in part from sanctions put on Russia; Ukraine eventually joining NATO; and perhaps even the end of Vladimir Putin’s power and his possible execution as a war criminal. Such a decisive win for Ukraine is unlikely; what I see is more stalemate, more dead and wounded on both sides, more destruction, and escalatory pressure as the war continues without a clear end in sight.
I can’t fault Trump for wanting to stop the killing in the Russia-Ukraine War. I also can’t fault him for refusing to take the bait and declaring Ukraine must win. It matters because a lot of Americans find Trump attractive because he’s willing to pose as antiwar. Clearly, he’s an alternative to the Democrats and Joe Biden who insist on prosecuting the war for reasons that I believe are largely cynical and self-interested.
Americans are war-weary. Very few Americans, I think, truly want a war with Russia or China. Trump is a serial liar, a venal manipulator, and a selfish braggart, but he doesn’t want World War III. Who knows: that very fact alone might be enough to win him four more years in the Oval Office.
Its biggest advantage is that it knows what it wants
The military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC) has a huge advantage over its critics. Its proponents are united by greed and power. They know exactly what they want. Like Johnny Rocco in “Key Largo,” they want MORE. More money. More authority. And obviously more weapons and more war.
Whereas critics of the MICC tend to approach the beast from different angles with different emphases. Tactical differences lead to fissures. Fissures prevent coalitions from forming. Unity is lacking, and not for want of trying. And so the MICC rumbles on, unchallenged by any societal force that is remotely its size.
A colleague of mine, Dennis Showalter, was fond of a saying that helps to explain the situation. Critics and intellectuals, he said, have a propensity to see the fourth side of every three-sided problem. Analysis leads to paralysis. The tyranny of small differences prevents unanimity of purpose.
Another key strength of the MICC is reflected in an alternate acronym: the MICIMATT, which adds the intelligence “community,” the mainstream media, academe, and various think tanks to the military, industry, and Congress. To that we might also add the world of sports, entertainment (Hollywood and TV especially), and the very idea of patriotism in America with all its potent symbols. I’d even add Christianity here, the muscular version practiced in the U.S. rather than the compassionate version promulgated by Christ.
When you focus just on the MICC, you miss the wellsprings of its power. It’s not just about greed and authority, it’s about full-spectrum dominance of all aspects of American life and society.
America hasn’t won a major war since World War II, but the MICC has won the struggle for societal dominance in America. Serious challenges to it will require Americans to put aside differences in the name of a greater cause of peace and sanity. The wildcard here, of course, is the ever-present hyping of fear by the MICC.
FDR told Americans the only thing we truly needed to fear was fear itself. Fear paralyzes the mind and inhibits action. Fear is the only darkness, Master Po said in “Kung Fu.”
If we can overcome our fear and our differences to focus on building a more compassionate world, a world in harmony with nature and life, then maybe, just maybe, we can see the foolishness of funding and embracing an MICC based on an unnatural pursuit of destruction and death.
I turn 60 this year. My health is generally good, though I have aches and pains from a form of arthritis. I’m not optimistic enough to believe that the best years of my life are ahead of me, nor so pessimistic as to assume that the best years are behind me. But I do know this, however sad it may be to say: the best years of my country are behind me.
Indeed, there are all too many signs of America’s decline, ranging from mass shootings to mass incarceration to mass hysteria about voter fraud and “stolen” elections to massive Pentagon and police budgets. But let me focus on just one sign of all-American madness that speaks to me in a particularly explosive fashion: this country’s embrace of the “modernization” of its nuclear arsenal at a price tag of at least $2 trillion over the next 30 years or so — and that staggering sum pales in comparison to the price the world would pay if those “modernized” weapons were ever used.
Just over 30 years ago in 1992, a younger, still somewhat naïve version of Bill Astore visited Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and the Trinity test site in Alamogordo where the first atomic device created at that lab, a plutonium “gadget,” was detonated in July 1945. At the time I took that trip, I was a captain in the U.S. Air Force, co-teaching a course at the Air Force Academy on — yes, would you believe it? — the making and use of the atomic bombs that devastated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. At the time of that visit, the Soviet Union had only recently collapsed, inaugurating what some believed to be a “new world order.” No longer would this country have to focus its energy on waging a costly, risky cold war against a dangerous nuclear-armed foe. Instead, we were clearly headed for an era in which the United States could both dominate the planet andbecome “a normal country in normal times.”
I was struck, however, by the anything-but-celebratory mood at Los Alamos then, though I really shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, budget cuts loomed. With the end of the Cold War, who needed LANL to design new nuclear weapons for an enemy that no longer existed? In addition, there was already an effective START treaty in place with Russia aimed at reducing strategic nuclear weapons instead of just limiting their growth.
At the time, it even seemed possible to imagine a gradual withering away of such great-power arsenals and the coming of a world liberated from apocalyptic nightmares. Bipartisan support for nuclear disarmament would, in fact, persist into the early 2000s, when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama joined old Cold War hawks like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Senator Sam Nunn in calling for nothing less than a nuclear-weapons-free world.
An Even More Infernal Holocaust
It was, of course, not to be and today we once again find ourselves on an increasingly apocalyptic planet. To quote Pink Floyd, the child is grown and the dream is gone. All too sadly, Americans have become comfortably numb to the looming threat of a nuclear Armageddon. And yet the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’sDoomsday Clockcontinues to tick ever closer to midnight precisely because we persist in building and deploying ever more nuclear weapons with no significant thought to either the cost or the consequences.
Over the coming decades, in fact, the U.S. military plans to deploy hundreds — yes, hundreds! — of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in silos in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and elsewhere; a hundred or so nuclear-capable B-21 stealth bombers; and a brand new fleet of nuclear-missile-firing submarines, all, of course, built in the name of necessity, deterrence, and keeping up with the Russians and the Chinese. Never mind that this country already has thousands of nuclear warheads, enough to comfortably destroy more than one Earth. Never mind that just a few dozen of them could tip this world of ours into a “nuclear winter,” starving to death most creatures on it, great and small. Nothing to worry about, of course, when this country must — it goes without saying — remain the number one possessor of the newest and shiniest of nuclear toys.
And so those grim times at Los Alamos when I was a “child” of 30 have once again become boom times as I turn 60. The LANL budget is slated to expand like a mushroom cloud from $3.9 billion in 2021 to $4.1 billion in 2022, $4.9 billion in 2023, and likely to well over $5 billion in 2024. That jump in funding enables “upgrades” to the plutonium infrastructure at LANL. Meanwhile, some of America’s top physicists and engineers toil away there on new designs for nuclear warheads and bombs meant for one thing only: the genocidal slaughter of millions of their fellow human beings. (And that doesn’t even include all the other life forms that would be caught in the blast radii and radiation fallout patterns of those “gadgets.”)
The very idea of building more and “better” nuclear weapons should, of course, be anathema to us all. Once upon a time, I taught courses on the Holocaust after attending a teaching seminar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Now, the very idea of modernizing our nuclear arsenal strikes me as the equivalent of developing upgraded gas chambers and hotter furnaces for Auschwitz. After all, that’s the infernal nature of nuclear weapons: they transform human beings into matter, into ash, killing indiscriminately and reducing us all to nothingness.
I still recall talking to an employee of Los Alamos in 1992 who assured me that, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lab would undoubtedly have to repurpose itself and find an entirely new mission. Perhaps, he said, LANL scientists could turn their expertise toward consumer goods and so help make America more competitive vis-à-vis Japan, which, in those days, was handing this country its lunch in the world of electronics. (Remember the Sony Walkman, the Discman, and all those Japanese-made VCRs, laser disc players, and the like?)
I nodded and left Los Alamos hopeful, thinking that the lab could indeed become a life-affirming force. I couldn’t help imagining then what this country might achieve if some of its best scientists and engineers devoted themselves to improving our lives instead of destroying them. Today, it’s hard to believe that I was ever so naïve.
“Success” at Hiroshima
My next stop on that tour was Alamogordo and the Trinity test site, then a haunted, still mildly radioactive desert landscape thanks to the world’s first atomic explosion in 1945. Yes, before America nuked Japan that August at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we nuked ourselves. The Manhattan Project team, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, believed a test was needed because of the complex implosion device used in the plutonium bomb. (There was no test of the uranium bomb used at Hiroshima since it employed a simpler triggering device. Its first “test” was Hiroshima itself that August 6th and the bomb indeed “worked,” as predicted.)
So, our scientists nuked the desert near the Jornada del Muerto, the “dead man’s journey” as the Spanish conquistadors had once named it in their own febrile quest for power. While there, Oppenheimer famously reflected that he and his fellow scientists had become nothing short of “Death, the destroyer of worlds.” In the aftermath of Hiroshima, he would, in fact, turn against the military’s pursuit of vastly more powerful hydrogen or thermonuclear, bombs. For that, in the McCarthy era, he was accused of being a Soviet agent and stripped of his security clearance.
Oppenheimer’s punishment should be a reminder of the price principled people pay when they try to stand in the way of the military-industrial complex and its pursuit of power and profit.
But what really haunts me isn’t the “tragedy” of Opie, the American Prometheus, but the words of Hans Bethe, who worked alongside him on the Manhattan Project. Jon Else’s searing documentary film, The Day After Trinity, movingly catches Bethe’s responses on hearing about the bomb’s harrowing “success” at Hiroshima.
His first reaction was one of fulfillment. The crash program to develop the bomb that he and his colleagues had devoted their lives to for nearly three years was indeed a success. His second, he said, was one of shock and awe. What have we done, he asked himself. What have we done? His final reaction: that it should never be done again, that such weaponry should never, ever, be used against our fellow humans.
And yet here we are, nearly 80 years after Trinity and our country is still devoting staggering resources and human effort to developing yet more “advanced” nuclear weapons and accompanying war plans undoubtedly aimed at China, North Korea, Russia, and who knows how many other alleged evildoers across the globe.
Fire and Fury Like the World Has Never Seen?
Perhaps now you can see why I say that the best years of my country are behind me. Thirty years ago, I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye (Pink Floyd again) of a better future, a better America, a better world. It was one where a sophisticated lab like Los Alamos would no longer be dedicated to developing new ways of exterminating us all. I could briefly imagine the promise of the post-Cold-War moment — that we would all get a “peace dividend” — having real meaning, but it was not to be.
And so, I face my sixtieth year on this planet with trepidation and considerable consternation. I marvel at the persuasive power of America’s military-industrial-congressional complex. In fact, consider it the ultimate Houdini act that its masters have somehow managed to turn nuclear missiles and bombs into stealth weapons — in the sense that they have largely disappeared from our collective societal radar screen. We go about our days, living and struggling as always, even as our overlords spend trillions of our tax dollars on ever more effective ways to exterminate us all. Indeed, at least some of our struggles could obviously be alleviated with an infusion of an extra $2 trillion over the coming decades from the federal government.
Instead, we face endless preparations for a planetary holocaust that would make even the Holocaust of World War II a footnote to a history that would cease to exist. The question is: What can we do to stop it?
The answer, I think, is simply to stop. Stop buying new nuclear stealth bombers, new ICBMs, and new ultra-expensive submarines. Reengage with the other nuclear powers to halt nuclear proliferation globally and reduce stockpiles of warheads. At the very least, commit to a no-first-use policy for those weapons, something our government has so far refused to do.
I’ve often heard the expression “the nuclear genie is out of the bottle,” implying that it can never be put back in again. Technology controls us, in other words.
That’s the reality we’re all supposed to accept, but don’t believe it. America’s elected leaders and its self-styled warrior-generals and admirals have chosen to build such genocidal weaponry. They seek budgetary authority and power, while the giant weapons-making corporations pursue profits galore. Congress and presidents, our civilian representatives, are corrupted or coerced by a system that ensnares their minds. Much like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the nuclear button becomes their “precious,” a totem of power. Consider President Trump’s boast to Kim Jong-un that “his” nuclear button was much bigger than theirs and his promise that, were the North Korean leader not to become more accommodating, his country would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The result: North Korea has vastly expandedits nuclear arsenal.
It wouldn’t have to be this way. To cite Dorothy Day, the Catholic peace activist, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” Don’t accept it, America. Reject it. Get out in the streets and protest as Americans did during the nuclear freeze movement of the early 1980s. Challenge your local members of Congress. Write to the president. Raise your voice against the merchants of death, as Americans proudly did (joined by Congress!) in the 1930s.
If we were to reject nuclear weapons, to demand a measure of sanity and decency from our government, then maybe, just maybe, the best years of my country would still lie ahead of me, no matter my growing aches and pains on what’s left of my life’s journey.
Not to be morbid, but I suppose we all walk our own Jornada del Muerto. I’d like what’s left of mine to remain unlit by the incendiary glare of nuclear explosions. I’d prefer that my last days weren’t spent in a hardscrabble struggle for survival in a world cast into darkness and brutality by a nuclear winter. How about you?
A big part of the American experiment is the idea we are a nation of laws as defined by the U.S. Constitution. The law is supposed to apply equally to all, and disinterested, impartial, justices are supposed to make rulings that are unaffected by money or race or religion or any other factor other than the law itself and what’s right and what isn’t.
That doesn’t describe today’s Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS).
Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted all kinds of undeclared gifts from a billionaire supporter, including tuition for his great-nephew at private boarding schools. Justice Neil Gorsuch profited from a real estate transaction with a rich law firm CEO with extensive business before the court. Apparently, SCOTUS polices itself here, and so far the SCOTUS cop on watch is asleep.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh gained his seat under a storm of controversy. I wrote in September 2018 that he should withdraw his name from consideration, based on the demeanor he showed at his Senate hearing, but of course he didn’t. Justice Amy Coney Barrett was specifically “saved” by President Trump to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg; everyone knew she was a conservative Catholic opposed to abortion with a clear record of being pro-business to boot.
You’d think the #1 criterion for a SCOTUS justice would be unassailable integrity, but today it seems to be predictable partisan positions (both political parties are guilty here, though Republicans are more blatant). Allegiance to moneyed interests is a big plus. The latter point is why these justices see no problem with accepting “gifts,” otherwise known as bribes (for that is what they are, in plain speak).
SCOTUS, in short, is becoming a tinier version of Congress, featuring partisan hacks serving elite interests. Of course, not all SCOTUS justices are equally guilty here, but if the court fails to police itself, they are all accessories to the actions of Thomas, Gorsuch, et al.
If we had the best legal minds of unassailable integrity on SCOTUS, a layman like me would have little chance of predicting how the court would rule. Yet we generally know ahead of time the decision SCOTUS will reach and even how the justices will vote.
Sadly, partisan predictability and allegiance to powerful interests rule. And so we have a SCOTUS featuring an increasing number of injustices in place of justice.
For various reasons, America’s ruling class has a great love of war, even as America’s non-ruling-classes have a general indifference to it, as long as its destructiveness is kept overseas and out of sight.
It’s strange indeed that we have such faith in war: such faith in destruction as being progressive. Americans are a hyper-aggressive and trigger-happy bunch, quick to anger, slow to think. Fear, anger, and pride make us a menace to various peoples on the receiving end of American firepower, yet somehow we see ourselves as reasonable peacemakers. Such a mass delusion can only be sustained through massive propaganda, a “victory culture” if you will, supported by all those Hollywood war movies, TV shows featuring SEALs and the like, military pageantry at sporting events, and so on.
Speaking of the military and sports, day 2 of the NFL draft opened with an array of military personnel in dress uniform on the big stage in Kansas City as fans broke into “USA! USA!” chants. Yes, I understand there are a lot of football fans in the military, and I’m sure there were more than a few service members and veterans in civvies in the audience. Yet, ask yourself: What are military members in uniform doing on the stage at the NFL draft? What role are they playing?
The answer is obvious. The military uses sports to help with recruiting, and the NFL uses the military to burnish its patriotic image. It’s supposed to generate feel-good moments for the live audience there and all the millions watching at home, but it just left me shaking my head at the opportunism and cynicism of both the NFL and the Pentagon.
Speaking again of the NFL draft, it’s curious how each team has a draft room of experts that is sometimes referred to as a “war” room. The NFL loves its military metaphors and its “warrior” players featuring quarterbacks with “howitzers” for arms who throw “missiles” downfield.
I’ve never been keen on the whole “warrior” mystique because I find it in direct opposition to the citizen-soldier ideal of America’s founders. America was not supposed to have a “warrior” caste like the British had, occupied by the second sons of the aristocracy who had nothing better to do than to wage colonial and imperial wars overseas in the cause of plunder and profit. But the warrior ideal has been all the rage in the U.S. military since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and especially since 9/11.
In a recent article for TomDispatch, Joshua Frank cited just such a sentiment (from 2007) by a troop suffering from Gulf War Syndrome: “I’m a warrior, and warriors want to fulfill their mission.”
This mentality that they’re mission-driven warriors has been drilled into U.S. troops. But our troops are supposed to be loyal to the U.S. Constitution, not to the mission. If you’re simply a warrior, you exist for war, full stop. You’re no longer a citizen-soldier (or citizen-airman, etc.). You’re not really a citizen at all. Warriors are disposable, simply grunts, so who cares what happens to them? You live by the sword, you die by it, end of story.
Finally, a couple of recent articles to consider. Chris Hedges writes about the enemy within, America’s vast military-industrial complex, that is sucking the life out of what’s left of American democracy. And Caitlin Johnstone writes about how America’s aggressive and imperial presence is always advertised and disguised as “defensive” in nature. Both articles are worth reading as an antidote to all the reflexive “USA! USA!” war chants.
And Likely Biden Will Be Running Away from His Record
Joe Biden is running for reelection, or so the major networks say, the formal announcement coming as soon as this Tuesday.
It’s been on my mind as I read Chris Hedges’s latest column in which he reminds us of Biden’s string of broken promises:
Democracies are slain with false promises and hollow platitudes. Biden told us as a candidate he would raise the minimum wage to $15 and hand out $2,000 stimulus checks. He told us his American Jobs Plan would create “millions of good jobs.” He told us he would strengthen collective bargaining and ensure universal pre-kindergarten, universal paid family and medical leave, and free community college. He promised a publicly funded option for healthcare. He promised not to drill on federal lands and to promote a “green energy revolution and environmental justice.” None of that happened.
Biden’s main appeal is simply that he’s not Donald Trump (or Ron DeSantis). He represents normalcy, if “normalcy” means dysfunction, division, and increasing levels of dystopia. He represents neither hope nor change but more of the same, and as Chris Hedges notes in his article, America can’t stand much more of that.
What’s interesting to me is the idea floated by Democrats in 2020 that Biden was willing to promise to be a one-term president, given concerns aired back then of his physical and mental decline, if such a promise would secure him the support needed to defeat Trump. That promise not to run for reelection, floated but never fixed in stone, is all but forgotten today as the DNC continues to sell the idea that Biden is perfectly healthy and superbly capable of serving as president until he’s 86 years of age.
But age is just a number nowadays, right?
A few days ago, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his candidacy as a Democrat. The immediate response by The New York Times was to smear him as being anti-science because he questioned the efficacy of vaccines while pointing out their risks. Basically, the NYT was angry at RFK Jr. for daring to deviate from party lines, which makes him even more intriguing to me.
Kennedy has spoken out powerfully against the permanent war state in America and the wanton wastefulness of empire, so he has my vote. Of course, the mainstream media will do its best to ignore him as well as Marianne Williamson, and when they can’t be ignored, they’ll smear them so that shuffling Joe Biden can continue in office as a figurehead, shoved along by his handlers, likely with ever decreasing dignity.
Most readers of Bracing Views, I think, are looking for true hope and change, and we know it’s not coming from the two major parties. Still, I hope readers will give candidates like RFK Jr. and Marianne Williamson a long look. It sure beats swallowing a little bit and voting for Joe again.
The death penalty shouldn’t apply to turning in the wrong driveway or knocking on the wrong door
As a follow up to my previous article, “Shootings Are Us,” I read a piece today on NBC News about “Stand Your Ground” and “Castle Doctrine” laws. The idea is that people can defend themselves if accosted (“stand your ground”) and if their property is invaded (“castle doctrine”). In America, however, defense often takes a deadly form because people reach for guns rather than, say, a baseball bat, and bullets are quite unforgiving to flesh, and more difficult for most to aim and control than a bat.
Perhaps we all need “Star Trek” phasers set to stun, but, seriously, the problem is that guns are designed to kill. You really can’t modulate their murderous potential. So we have all sorts of Americans shot and killed or wounded for the most innocuous of actions, such as turning down the wrong driveway, knocking on the wrong door, or getting in the wrong car.
Such mistaken actions shouldn’t be subject to a potential death penalty at the trigger-happy hands of mostly untrained and seemingly strung out men.
Reasonable self-defense laws make sense to me, but the so-called castle doctrine is part of the problem. It encourages us to see our houses (and other property) as castles, as fortresses, as something we should defend using murderous force. But is defending one’s property truly a sufficient rationale to take someone’s life?
If a man knocks me from my bike and steals it, am I truly justified in pulling my gun and shooting him dead? Sure, I’d be seriously pissed at losing my bike, but I’d get over it. I’m not sure I’d ever get over shooting the bike thief and putting him six feet under.
A home intruder? I get it. I’d call 911 and do my best to keep my family safe. If a gun were handy, I’d get it, but I wouldn’t start blasting away as a first resort. Firing a gun at someone truly should be the last resort. And when you fire, you should always have a good idea what you’re shooting at. Too many times, the “home intruder” turns out to be a family member visiting unexpectedly or returning late, or perhaps even someone who’s lost or confused.
Here, the lesson from Peter Parker’s gentle Uncle Ben comes to mind: With great power comes great responsibility. Guns represent great power, meaning you must exercise great responsibility when employing them. Far too often, America seems to have too many trigger-happy people, eager to use their power but none too eager to consider their responsibility.
So they blast away, then claim they were standing their ground or defending their castle. And given the law in many states across America, it just may be enough of a defense to earn them verdicts of “not guilty,” even when they kill innocents.
Shootings are all over the news today. A young woman killed in rural New York when she drove up the wrong driveway and the owner of the house came out blasting. A Black teenager shot and wounded when he mixed up an address and knocked on the wrong door in Kansas City. And a news flash from The Boston Globe this PM reporting that at least four people have been killed and three more wounded in two shootings in Maine.
America has so many deadly shootings on a daily basis that they hardly qualify as news anymore. What gives?
No guns, no shootings, of course, but America is awash in guns, and no one is going to pry them from the hands of those who want them.
You’d think brandishing a gun would be enough of a threat, but far too often, those who have guns seem eager to use them as well. Why shoot at a car that pulls in your driveway, even as the car is turning around and leaving? Why shoot at a young Black man for simply walking up and knocking on the door? In both cases, the shooters pulled the trigger at least twice, and apparently used no warning shots or for that matter any other kind of warning. It’s shoot first, ask questions later, in this man’s America.
There’s a weird toxic brew at work here, I think. First, the guns themselves. I’ve fired plenty of them and they do give you a feeling of power. Second, fear. People are fearful. Sometimes the fear may be race-based, sometimes it’s something else, but there’s nothing like fear to paralyze the mind. Then there’s a fantasy element. Some people, mostly men I’m guessing, think they’re akin to Dirty Harry, blowing away bad people with their guns. Finally, sadly, some people just find guns to be fun, even when they’re pointing them at other people.
I know it’s more complicated than this, but fear, fantasy, and fun don’t mix well with guns. In America, guns are WMD: weapons of mass destruction. Because of their deadly power, they should be used only in the rarest of circumstances and as a last resort.
Yet Americans seem to be grabbing their guns and blasting away as a first resort and with no remorse.
Stay safe out there. And to those with guns, why not just call 911? Or keep your door locked? Do you really want to take the life of an innocent just because you felt afraid or angry and fancied yourself a vigilante?
Would you buy a new car if its longevity was 40% of your old one?
When I was still in the Air Force, the F-35 was on the drawing boards as a fairly low cost, multi-role, fighter-bomber somewhat akin to an F-150 pickup truck. Being designed and built by Lockheed Martin and also having to meet the varying requirements of the U.S. Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, cost and complexity quickly escalated, so much so that an AF Chief of Staff recently compared it to a Ferrari rather than to a trusty and capable pickup truck.
That Ferrari comparison is apt with respect to cost, though even Ferraris may be more durable and reliable than the F-35.
How so? A friend sent along an article on the F-15EX Eagle II fighter.
Now, I’ve been reading about the F-15 since I was a teenager in the 1970s. It’s a proven fighter jet but it lacks the stealthy characteristics of the F-35. But here’s the section that got my attention from the article:
Remember, the F-15EX has a 20,000-hour airframe life. The F-35A has an 8,000-hour airframe life. This is one way the F-15EX gets done dirty when people make comparisons between it and the F-35, often based on unit cost alone, which is about equal. We are talking about two-and-a-half times the airframe hours out of the box with the F-15EX. That is not a knock against the F-35A at all. The F-15EX is just a very mature aircraft that has been optimized for longevity over a much younger one.
I like the way the author tries to explain away the short airframe life of the F-35. Hey, it’s a young aircraft! What can you expect except a 60% drop in longevity?
How many of us would buy a car, a truck, or any other technology if we were told the new tech would last only 40% as long as roughly comparable older tech? Would Apple advertise a new iPhone battery as lasting only four hours when the previous version lasted ten hours? How many people would rush out to buy the “new and improved” iPhone in this case?
The F-35 has many issues, which I’ve written about here and here. Add a much quicker expiration date to the mix.
I’m assuming Ferrari is none too happy with its cars being compared to the F-35!
What has America learned from the colossal failure of the Iraq War? Not what it should have learned, notes historian (and retired U.S. Army colonel) Greg Daddis at War on the Rocks. Daddis recently attended a 20-year retrospective symposium on the Iraq War, where he heard two distinctive narratives. As he put it:
Most, if not all, veterans of “Iraqi Freedom” told an inward-facing story focusing on tactical and operational “lessons” largely devoid of political context. Meanwhile, Iraqi scholars and civilians shared a vastly different tale of political and social upheaval that concentrated far more on the costs of war than on the supposed benefits of U.S. interventionism.
In short, the U.S. view of the Iraq War remains insular and narcissistic. The focus is on what U.S. troops may have gotten wrong, and how the military could perform better in the future. It’s about tactical and operational lessons. In this approach, Iraq and the Iraqi people remain a backdrop to American action on the grand stage. Put differently, the Iraqis are treated much like clay for Americans to mould or discard should they refuse to behave themselves under our hands.
So the “lessons” for America focus on how to become better, more skilled, manipulators of the “clay” at hand. Issues of right and wrong aren’t addressed. The morality or legality of war isn’t questioned. And Iraqis themselves, their suffering, their plight, even their say in determining their own futures within their country, is pretty much dismissed as irrelevant. And the same is largely true when considering the Vietnam War or the Afghan War; we matter, they don’t, even when we’re fighting in their country and spreading enormous destruction in undeclared and illegal wars.
As Mike Murry, a Vietnam veteran who comments frequently at this site, has said: you can’t do a wrong thing the right way. America’s Vietnam War was wrong; the Iraq War was wrong. There was no “right” way to do these wars. Yet, far too often, U.S. military officers and veterans, joined by far too many Americans who lack military experience, want to focus on how to wage a wrong war in a better, smarter, often more ruthless, way
Indeed, the narrative at times is reduced to “We lost because we weren’t ruthless enough, or we were about to win until the U.S. military was betrayed.” I wrote about this back in 2007 after I heard Senator John McCain speak on PBS. Basically, his point was that if America lost the Iraq War (which we already had), it wouldn’t be the U.S. military’s fault. It would be the fault of anyone who questioned the war. McCain, in other words, was spouting yet another exculpatory stab-in-the-back myth.
What can we learn from the Iraq War, then? Let’s start with these basic lessons: Don’t fight a war based on governmental lies and unfounded fears. Don’t fight illegal and immoral wars. Don’t fight undeclared wars. Don’t meddle in the societies of other people where you are seen as invaders and about which you are ignorant. Don’t wage war, period, unless the domestic security of the U.S. is truly threatened.
Those seem like the right lessons to me, not lessons about how to recognize insurgencies or how to respond more quickly to asymmetries like IEDs and ambushes.
In sum, learn this lesson: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, were and are countries with rich pasts and proud peoples who were not about to submit to American invaders and agendas, no matter how well-intentioned those invaders believed or advertised themselves to be.