Military Spending Robs Workers and the Poor

Ike was unafraid of plain and cruel truths

W.J. Astore

Unless you’re working for Raytheon or some other weapons contractor, you’re being robbed whenever our government spends excessively on the military, which is always. $54 billion of your money was stolen from you and sent to Ukraine, with much of it going to Raytheon and similar merchants of death. More than $813 billion will be spent next year on the Pentagon, with roughly half of that being unnecessary for true national defense. Excessive military spending is a form of theft in which workers and the poor are the biggest victim.

My point here isn’t original. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it nearly 70 years ago in 1953 in his brilliant “Cross of Iron” speech. In Ike’s words:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.  It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953.

Ike, a Republican, a retired five-star general, told it like it was, is, and remains. Excessive military spending isn’t a left-right issue. It isn’t a Democrat-Republican issue. It’s a class issue. It’s a moral issue. Ike knew this and was unafraid to say it.

Ike said we are crucifying ourselves with this militarized way of life. He chose this image deliberately for its Christian meaning and moral power. He spoke openly of “plain and cruel truths.” Ike, a true public servant, wanted to make a better America. He had no fear of the military-industrial-Congressional complex because he knew it so well and could resist its old siren song of perpetual war as being somehow in our national interest. I salute him for his honesty and his wisdom.

What do we need to do? We need to reject militarism, we need to reinvest in America, we need to reanimate our democracy, and we need to restore peace. We need more Americans to run and work on these 4 Rs. America needs a thoroughgoing reformation now or, mark my words, as my dad used to say, we will soon experience something far more disruptive and unpleasant.

Priming the Pump for More War

W.J. Astore

A reader contacted me about China, Russia, and risks for war. One thing history has taught me is to be humble about predicting anything. Here was my response:

Have to admit I don’t know what China is planning.  I understand the policy of “One China,” i.e. that Taiwan is still part of China.  I don’t know if China is planning war.  I tend to doubt it.  Unlike the U.S., China is patient and careful.  But war by miscalculation is always possible.  Just look at 1914.  Here in the USA, we keep hearing that China is our most serious potential enemy.  That kind of rhetoric is not helpful, to put it mildly.

With respect to the Russia-Ukraine war, history teaches us that war is unpredictable, even chaotic.  The war already approaches 90 days, longer than most people predicted, I think, with no clear end in sight.  Meanwhile, the USA is planning to send $40 billion in “aid,” mostly military, on top of the already $12 billion or so that we’ve sent.  This money is not intended to end the war; indeed, it can only prolong it.

So I’m not optimistic about any of this.  It all strikes me as reckless and escalatory.

If I had but one message for my country, it would be this: Reject militarism. Reclaim democracy. Reinvest in America. Restore peace.

But we’re doing the very opposite of my message. We’re priming the pump for more war. Meanwhile, more violence overseas feeds more violence at home. And the government’s response is always the same: More police internally and more troops externally. More spending on police and the military. More focus on “security” achieved through weaponry and surveillance.

To me, it’s sobering and sad how broadly yet narrowly we define “national security.” It’s broad in the sense that America seeks full-spectrum dominance of the land, sea, air, space, and cyber; that global reach, global power, and global dominance is the goal; that the U.S. military splits the globe into “commands” headed by four-star generals and admirals. Yet it’s narrow because we don’t equate security with having affordable health care, a clean environment, a quality education, safe water and healthy food, and similar, non-military essentials.

How can we be safe and secure when kids are drinking water with lead and other toxic chemicals in it? When sickness leads to personal bankruptcy? When people can’t afford to put gas in their tanks while putting food in their bellies and paying their rent? When they have to ration essential drugs like insulin?

Instead of priming the pump for more war, we should be doing everything possible to work toward peace. Ike told us this in 1953, JFK in 1963, and MLK in 1967. George McGovern in 1972 told America to come home, to reject constant warfare overseas, and to focus on healing our country and its divisions.

Yet the pacific wisdom of leaders like Ike, JFK, MLK, and McGovern is being repressed in America today. If Ike gave his 1953 “Cross of Iron” speech today, explaining how weapons spending represents a theft from the American people, he’d be dismissed as muddleheaded and misguided. If JFK gave his 1963 speech calling for peace with the Russians, he’d be called a Putin puppet. If MLK gave his 1967 speech about the evils of militarism, materialism, and racism in America, he’d be called unpatriotic and even traitorous. (As he pretty much was in 1967, but that’s another story.) And McGovern and his principled anti-war stance? He’d never get near the Democratic nomination as a presidential candidate. (Indeed, that’s why the DNC invented super-delegates.) Doubtless he’d be smeared as an isolationist, as a Russian (or Chinese) agent, as an idealistic dupe or a useful idiot for America’s alleged enemies.

So we keep priming the pump for more war. And I have some experience priming a hand pump for water. Keep cranking that handle (war rhetoric), keep adding some water (more and more weaponry and troops), and soon enough the water starts gushing out.

When will war start gushing out for America? Don’t events at home and abroad suggest it’s already beginning to flow?

Higher Military Spending Leads to Less Security

W.J. Astore

What does “security” mean to you?  My dad had a utilitarian definition.  Born in 1917, he found himself in a fatherless immigrant family with four siblings during the height of the Great Depression.  To help his family survive, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and served for two years, earning a dollar a day, most of it sent home to his mother.  For my dad, security meant a roof over one’s head, three square meals a day, and warm clothes on one’s back.  Food, shelter, clothing: it really was that simple.

Of course, you needed to pay for those bare necessities, meaning you needed a job with decent pay and benefits.  Personal security, therefore, hinges on good pay and affordable health care, which many U.S. workers today – in the richest country in the world – continue to scratch and claw for.  Another aspect of personal security is education because pay and career advancement within U.S. society often depend on one’s educational level.  A college education is proven to lead to higher pay and better career prospects throughout one’s life.

Personal security is in many ways related to national security.  Certainly, a nation as large as the U.S. needs a coast guard, border controls, an air force, a national guard, and similar structures for defensive purposes.  What it doesn’t need is a colossal, power-projecting juggernaut of a military at $800+ billion a year that focuses on imperial domination facilitated by 750 overseas bases that annually cost more than $100 billion just to maintain.  True security, whether personal or national, shouldn’t be about domination.  It should be focused on providing a collective standard of living that ensures all Americans can afford nutritious food, a decent place to live, adequate clothing, a life-enriching education, and health care.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood this.  In his farewell address as president in 1961, he warned us about the military-industrial complex and its anti-democratic nature.  Even more importantly, he called for military disarmament as a “continuing imperative,” and he talked of peace, which he tied to human betterment, and which he said could be “guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”  Ike knew that huge, offensive-minded military budgets constituted a theft from the people; even worse, he knew they constituted a betrayal of our national ideals.  A hugely powerful military establishment had “grave implications” to the “very structure of our society,” Ike presciently warned.  We have failed to heed his warning.

Ike, a former five-star U.S. general who led the D-Day invasion in 1944, knew the dangers of funding an immense military establishment

For Ike, true national security was about fostering human betterment and working toward world peace.  It was about securing the necessities of life for everyone.  It entailed the pursuit of military disarmament, a pursuit far preferable to allowing the world to be crucified on a cross of iron erected by wars and weapons manufacturers.

Tragically, America’s “councils of government” no longer guard against militarism; rather, they have been captured, often willingly, by the military-industrial complex.  The “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” that Ike was counting on to hold the line against incessant warfare and wasteful weaponry is largely uninterested, or uninformed, or uneducated in matters of civics and public policy.  Meanwhile, military spending keeps soaring, and the result is greater national insecurity.

In a paradox Ike warned us about, the more money the government devotes to its military, the less secure the nation becomes.  Because security isn’t measured in guns and bullets and warheads.  It’s measured in a healthy life, a life of meaning, a life of liberty. The pursuit of happiness, not eternal belligerence, should be the goal.

Consider the following fable.  A man lives in a castle.  He says he seeks security.  So he digs moats and erects walls and piles cannon ball upon cannon ball.  He posts armed guards and launches raids into the surrounding countryside to intimidate “near-peer” rivals.  He builds outlying fortifications and garrisons them, thinking these will secure his castle from attack.  Meanwhile, his family and relations in the castle are starving; the roof leaks and internal walls are covered in mold; the people, shivering and in rags, are uneducated and in poor health.  Has this man truly provided security for his people?  Would we call this man wise?

Grossly overspending on the military and weaponry — on castles and cannons everywhere — produces insecurity. It’s the very opposite of wisdom. Let’s end this folly, America, and seek human betterment and world peace as Ike advised us to do.

Addendum: these are the words Ike spoke in 1953

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.  It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

The Military-Industrial Complex Is Not a Way of Life at All

W.J. Astore

As I mentioned in a previous Bracing View, I was invited to participate in a forum to generate new ideas to tackle the military-industrial complex (MIC) that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in 1961. Here are a few more thoughts in response to this stimulating collaboration:

When I was a college student in the early 1980s, and in Air Force ROTC, I wrote critically of the Reagan defense buildup. Caspar Weinberger, he of the “Cap the knife” handle for cost-cutting, became “Cap the ladle” as Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, ladling money in huge amounts to the Pentagon.  History is repeating itself again as the Biden administration prepares to ladle $813 billion (and more) to the Pentagon.

How do we stop this?  Of course, we must recognize (as I’m sure we all do) what we’re up against.  Both political parties are pro-military and, in the main, pro-war.  Our economy is based on a militarized Keynesianism and our culture is increasingly militarized.  Mainstream Democrats, seemingly forever afraid of being labeled “weak” on defense, are at pains to be more pro-military than the Republicans.  Biden, in Poland, echoed the words of Obama and other past presidents, declaring the U.S. military to be “the finest fighting force” in history.  Think about that boast.  Think about how Biden added that the nation owes the troops big. This is a sign of a sick culture.

Ike gave his MIC speech in 1961, and for 61 years the MIC has been winning.  Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early ‘90s, the MIC held its own; after 9/11, it went into warp speed and is accelerating.  To cite Scotty from Star Trek: “And at Warp 10, we’re going nowhere mighty fast.” 

We need a reformation of our institutions; we need a restoration of our democracy; we need a reaffirmation of the U.S. Constitution; we need to remember who we are, or perhaps who we want to be, as a people.

Do we really want to be the world’s largest dealer of arms?  Do we really want to spend a trillion or more dollars, each and every year, on wars and weapons, more than the next dozen or so countries combined, most of which are allies of ours?  (“Yes” is seemingly the answer here, for both Democrats and Republicans.)  Is that really the best way to serve the American people?  Humanity itself?

Consider plans to “invest” in “modernizing” America’s nuclear triad.  (Notice the words used here by the MIC.)  What does this really mean?  To me, it means we plan on spending nearly $2 trillion over the next 30 years to replace an older suicide vest with a newer one, except this suicide vest will take out humanity itself, as well as most other life forms on our planet.  To channel Greta Thunberg’s righteous anger, “How dare you!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVlRompc1yE

Or, as Ike said in 1953, “This is not a way of life at all … it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

We will need the broadest possible coalition to tackle this outrage against civilization and humanity.  That’s why I applaud these efforts to tackle the MIC, even as I encourage all of us to enlist and recruit more people to join our ranks.

My father enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 to do his bit for his family and his nation.  He fought forest fires in Oregon and later became a firefighter after serving in the Army during World War II.  That was the last formally declared war that America fought.  It was arguably the last morally justifiable war this country has fought, waged by citizens who donned a uniform, not “warriors” who are told that the nation owes them big.

In “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart, a true war hero, played a man who never fought in World War II, who stayed at home and helped ordinary people even as his younger brother Harry went off to war and earned the Medal of Honor.  Yet the movie doesn’t celebrate Harry’s war heroism; it celebrates the nobility, decency, and humility of George Bailey.

How do we get back to that America?  The America from before the MIC, that celebrated decency and kindness and humanitarianism?

Yes, I know.  It’s just a Frank Capra movie, and America has never been a perfect shining city.  All I’m saying is we need more of that spirit, and more of the righteous anger of Greta Thunberg, if we are to prevail.

Pity Ukraine, and Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and any other War Zone

W.J. Astore

As Russia’s invasion drags on, more and more destruction is visited upon Ukraine. Western media coverage is filled with images of this destruction, but rarely did we see images of widespread destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan during those U.S. wars. Meanwhile, the Saudi war in Yemen drags on as well, essentially uncovered and ignored by mainstream media outlets, even though that war is supported and enabled by the U.S. military.

It’s supposed to be good news, I guess, that Russia is “stalemated” in Ukraine, according to Western media outlets. If true, what this really means is a longer war with even more destruction, especially given major shipments of weapons to Ukraine by the United States and NATO. Weapons like the Javelin missile system, made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, are supposed to even the odds for Ukraine. What they’re effectively doing is ensuring a longer, more devastating, war.

Javelin missile system, carefully crafted in the USA, shipped generously to Ukraine, paid for by U.S. taxpayers

At NBC News today, I noted the following snippet: “Russia has roughly four times as many troops as Ukraine’s 130,000-strong army. It also spends about $78 billion on its armed forces annually, compared to the $1.6 billion Ukraine has been able to budget for its military.”

NBC failed to note that the U.S. military annually spends roughly $780 billion , ten times as much as its Russian counterpart. Meanwhile, it appears the Russian military is weakening due to this invasion. A weaker Russian military suggests that the U.S. military budget can decrease in FY2023. NATO-member countries’ spending on their militaries is due to rise, yet another reason why U.S. military spending could conceivably decrease. But of course Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being seized upon by the military-industrial-congressional complex as the primary reason why U.S. spending on weapons and warfare must soar ever higher.

Recall that President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s goal was to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Europe when European countries were back on their feet after World War II and able to fund their own militaries. We’re acting as if Ike’s goal will never be met. Put differently, we’re acting as if America’s right flank truly sat at the border of Ukraine rather than along the Atlantic seaboard.

The U.S., of course, acts as a global hegemon. No price is apparently too high to pay for global dominance. But when one seeks to dominate the world while losing one’s fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, while impoverishing the lives of one’s people, especially the neediest and most vulnerable, what has one truly gained?

For what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his immortal soul?

America’s Disastrous 60-Year War

W.J. Astore

In my latest for TomDispatch.com, I tackle America’s disastrous 60-year war (1961-2021), which began with Ike’s warning of the pernicious threat to democracy of the military-industrial complex and ended with last year’s humiliating retreat from Afghanistan. Has America learned anything? Based on recent events with Russia and Ukraine, together with bellicose acts toward China, it doesn’t seem so.

Here’s an excerpt from my article; you can read it in its entirety at TomDispatch.com.

Three Generations of Conspicuous Destruction by the Military-Industrial Complex

BY WILLIAM ASTORE

In my lifetime of nearly 60 years, America has waged five major wars, winning one decisively, then throwing that victory away, while losing the other four disastrously. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as the Global War on Terror, were the losses, of course; the Cold War being the solitary win that must now be counted as a loss because its promise was so quickly discarded.

America’s war in Vietnam was waged during the Cold War in the context of what was then known as the domino theory and the idea of “containing” communism. Iraq and Afghanistan were part of the Global War on Terror, a post-Cold War event in which “radical Islamic terrorism” became the substitute for communism. Even so, those wars should be treated as a single strand of history, a 60-year war, if you will, for one reason alone: the explanatory power of such a concept.

For me, because of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation in January 1961, that year is the obvious starting point for what retired Army colonel and historian Andrew Bacevich recently termed America’s Very Long War (VLW). In that televised speech, Ike warned of the emergence of a military-industrial complex of immense strength that could someday threaten American democracy itself. I’ve chosen 2021 as the VLW’s terminus point because of the disastrous end of this country’s Afghan War, which even in its last years cost $45 billion annually to prosecute, and because of one curious reality that goes with it. In the wake of the crashing and burning of that 20-year war effort, the Pentagon budget leaped even higher with the support of almost every congressional representative of both parties as Washington’s armed attention turned to China and Russia.

At the end of two decades of globally disastrous war-making, that funding increase should tell us just how right Eisenhower was about the perils of the military-industrial complex. By failing to heed him all these years, democracy may indeed be in the process of meeting its demise.

The Prosperity of Losing Wars

Several things define America’s disastrous 60-year war. These would include profligacy and ferocity in the use of weaponry against peoples who could not respond in kind; enormous profiteering by the military-industrial complex; incessant lying by the U.S. government (the evidence in the Pentagon Papers for Vietnam, the missing WMDfor the invasion of Iraq, and the recent Afghan War papers); accountability-free defeats, with prominent government or military officials essentially never held responsible; and the consistent practice of a militarized Keynesianism that provided jobs and wealth to a relative few at the expense of a great many. In sum, America’s 60-year war has featured conspicuous destruction globally, even as wartime production in the U.S. failed to better the lives of the working and middle classes as a whole.

Let’s take a closer look. Militarily speaking, throwing almost everything the U.S. military had (nuclear arms excepted) at opponents who had next to nothing should be considered the defining feature of the VLW. During those six decades of war-making, the U.S. military raged with white hot anger against enemies who refused to submit to its ever more powerful, technologically advanced, and destructive toys.

Please read the rest of my article here.

Curbing the Military-Industrial Complex

W.J. Astore

The American people have failed Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Sixty years ago, President Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex. He told us it was sapping our resources and livelihood. He said its total influence — economic, political, and spiritual — was warping the very structure of our society. Its growing power, Ike warned, posed a grave danger to our liberties and our democratic processes. We heard his words, but we failed to act on them.

Ike didn’t just issue a warning in his farewell address in 1961. He gave us a mission. He literally put us on guard duty, as he said we must guard against the growing power of the Complex. He challenged us to be an alert and knowledgeable citizenry. Notice those three words: alert, knowledgeable, citizenry. Ike told us to get smart, to be vigilant, to be fully informed and involved citizens. Not citizen-soldiers for war, but citizen-guards against the growing power of the U.S. military and its weapons makers within a democracy that was increasingly compromised by militarism and imperialism.

Collectively, we have failed to heed Ike’s warning. We have failed to curb the military-industrial complex. And thus it has become a leviathan within our society and our culture. It has, as Ike warned, come to dominate our economics, our politics, even our spiritual lives.

Ike had a different vision. He knew war and hated it. So he asked Americans to work for world peace and for human betterment. Yes, of course he was worried about communism in the climate of the Cold War. Of course he was in favor of negotiating from a position of strength. But Ike was in favor of the kind of strength that feels free and confident to extend the open hand of friendship rather than the mailed fist of war.

The latest Pentagon budget is all about the mailed fist of war. It undermines world peace and human betterment. It is a betrayal of Ike’s vision and a failure of democracy.

The American Republic is dead. The American Empire, consumed by militarism and powered by threat inflation and greed, is visibly in decline even as it consumes the lion’s share of federal discretionary spending. What is needed is a spiritual rebirth of America, a turning away from greed-war, a collective reawakening to the idea that strength is not measured by nuclear missiles or tanks or fighter jets, but by the health of our society, especially our commitment to human rights, to maximizing our human potential while protecting our environment and our planet.

America desperately needs a new vision of the good life, one that abjures war and rejects weaponry. War and weaponry are not the health of society; quite the opposite. Ike saw this; he challenged us to see it as well, and to act to ensure our democracy wouldn’t be destroyed by a permanent military establishment of vast proportions.

And we the people have failed him — and ourselves.

What is to be done? We need to reject fear. We need to cut military spending. We need to dismantle the empire. And we need to see these acts for what they are: the acts of a strong people, confident that right makes might, committed to avoiding the utter waste of war and the depravity of building an economy based on weapons production and arms exports.

Nobody said it would be easy. Ike knew it wouldn’t be. It’s why he put us on guard duty. He told us to be alert, to get smart, and to act.

Ike gave us a mission, not just a warning. Are you ready to enlist and fight against weapons and war?

Listening to Ike’s Military-Industrial Complex Speech

W.J. Astore

May I make a suggestion to all my fellow Americans? Even if you’ve read it, even if you’ve listened to it before, listen again to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation in 1961. It’s the speech in which he warned against America’s military-industrial complex, to which Ike wanted rightly to add Congress as well but decided against it.

You’ll hear some words in Ike’s address that you rarely hear in political discourse today. Words like liberty, charity, dignity, integrity, love, mutual respect, and that rarest word of all, peace. You’ll hear him speak of Americans as citizens, not just as consumers, and at the end you’ll hear him rejoice in becoming a private citizen as he prepared to leave the White House to his successor, John F. Kennedy.

You’ll also hear Ike deplore war as one who’d seen its horrors. Ike referred to 20th-century wars as “holocausts,” which they were, and of the need to avoid future wars as they could utterly destroy civilization if nuclear weapons were used in them. Ike called for disarmament in the cause of world peace, and when was the last time an American president made such a call?

Ike further urged Americans, despite this country’s military strength, to avoid arrogance. The strong must not dominate, Ike said, for the weak also deserve a say and a seat at the negotiating table. Ike talked about exercising power for the cause of world peace and human betterment, and that moral intellect and decent purpose should rule, not fear and hate.

Of course, this speech is best known for Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex, the immense U.S. military establishment “of vast proportions” as well as corporate weapons makers and the “disastrous rise” of their “misplaced power.” It’s vitally important we recognize how Ike framed his warning. His meaning is plain. He says the military-industrial complex, if allowed to grow unchecked, will endanger our liberties and our democratic processes. He says its immense power poses grave implications for the structure of our society. He calls on Americans, as alert and knowledgable citizens, to keep the Complex in check, and indeed to do their best to lessen its power.

Ike gave this address 60 years ago, and we have largely failed to heed his warning. We have allowed the military-industrial-Congressional complex to grow unchecked, so much so that the so-called national security state has become a fourth branch of government that gobbles up more than a trillion dollars a year while pursuing endless war around the globe.

As citizens (are we still citizens?), we are witnessing the slow death of our democracy, even as American militarism and repetitive undeclared wars have made the world a meaner, nastier place.

Our course of action is plain, as it was to Ike in 1961. Until we reject the holocaust of war and reduce as much as humanly possible the power of the military-industrial complex, America will remain on a catastrophic path that threatens the very existence of humanity.

Ike implored us to seek balance; to come together; to look toward the future; to cherish and protect our democratic institutions. He confessed he was disappointed in his own performance as president in ensuring disarmament and pursuing fair-minded diplomacy, but he enjoined us all to seek peace and to advance freedom around the world.

Why not do that?

Ike’s Warning (1961)

The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

America Is Programmed for War

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch, I write that America is programmed for war. It’s a feature of our polity and our politics and our culture, not a bug. In some sense, we are a country made by war, and that’s not a good feature for a self-avowed democracy to have. Here’s an excerpt:

Why don’t America’s wars ever end?

I know, I know: President Joe Biden has announced that our combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 9/11 of this year, marking the 20th anniversary of the colossal failure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to defend America.

Of course, that other 9/11 in 2001 shocked us all. I was teaching history at the U.S. Air Force Academy and I still recall hushed discussions of whether the day’s body count would exceed that of the Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day of the Civil War. (Fortunately, bad as it was, it didn’t.)

Hijacked commercial airliners, turned into guided missiles by shadowy figures our panicky politicians didn’t understand, would have a profound impact on our collective psyche. Someone had to pay and among the first victims were Afghans in the opening salvo of the misbegotten Global War on Terror, which we in the military quickly began referring to as the GWOT. Little did I know then that such a war would still be going on 15 years after I retired from the Air Force in 2005 and 80 articles after I wrote my first for TomDispatch in 2007 arguing for an end to militarism and forever wars like the one still underway in Afghanistan.

Over those years, I’ve come to learn that, in my country, war always seems to find a way, even when it goes badly — very badly, in fact, as it did in Vietnam and, in these years, in Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed across much of the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa. Not coincidentally, those disastrous conflicts haven’t actually been waged in our name. No longer does Congress even bother with formal declarations of war. The last one came in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. During World War II, Americans united to fight for something like national security and a just cause. Today, however, perpetual American-style war simply is. Congress postures, but does nothing decisive to stop it. In computer-speak, endless war is a feature of our national programming, not a bug.

Two pro-war parties, Republicans and Democrats, have cooperated in these decades to ensure that such wars persist… and persist and persist. Still, they’re not the chief reason why America’s wars are so difficult to end. Let me list some of those reasons for you. First, such wars are beyond profitable, notably to weapons makers and related military contractors. Second, such wars are the Pentagon’s reason for being. Let’s not forget that, once upon a time, the present ill-named Department of Defense was so much more accurately and honestly called the Department of War. Third, if profit and power aren’t incentive enough, wars provide purpose and meaning even as they strengthen authoritarian structures in society and erode democratic ones. Sum it all up and war is what America now does, even if the reasons may be indefensible and the results so regularly abysmal.

Support Our Troops! (Who Are They, Again?)

The last truly American war was World War II. And when it ended in 1945, the citizen-soldiers within the U.S. military demanded rapid demobilization — and they got it. But then came the Iron Curtain, the Cold War, the Korean War, fears of nuclear Armageddon (that nearly came to fruition during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962), and finally, of course, Vietnam. Those wars were generally not supported — not with any fervor anyway — by the American people, hence the absence of congressional declarations. Instead, they mainly served the interests of the national security state, or, if you prefer, the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Ike knew the score

That’s precisely why President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his grave warning about that Complex in his farewell address in 1961. No peacenik, Ike had overseen more than his share of military coups and interventions abroad while president, so much so that he came to see the faults of the system he was both upholding and seeking to restrain. That was also why President John F. Kennedy called for a more humble and pacific approach to the Cold War in 1963, even as he himself failed to halt the march toward a full-scale war in Southeast Asia. This is precisely why Martin Luther King, Jr., truly a prophet who favored the fierce urgency of peace, warned Americans about the evils of war and militarism (as well as racism and materialism) in 1967. In the context of the enormity of destruction America was then visiting on the peoples of Southeast Asia, not for nothing did he denounce this country as the world’s greatest purveyor of violence.

Collectively, Americans chose to ignore such warnings, our attention being directed instead toward spouting patriotic platitudes in support of “our” troops. Yet, if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize those troops aren’t really ours. If they were, we wouldn’t need so many bumper stickers reminding us to support them.

With the military draft gone for the last half-century, most Americans have voted with their feet by not volunteering to become “boots on the ground” in the Pentagon’s various foreign escapades. Meanwhile, America’s commanders-in-chief have issued inspiring calls for their version of national service, as when, in the wake of 9/11, President George W. Bush urged Americans to go shopping and visit Disney World. In the end, Americans, lacking familiarity with combat boots, are generally apathetic, sensing that “our” wars have neither specific meaning to, nor any essential purpose in their lives.

As a former Air Force officer, even if now retired, I must admit that it took me too long to realize this country’s wars had remarkably little to do with me — or you, for that matter — because we simply have no say in them. That doesn’t mean our leaders don’t seek to wage them in our name. Even as they do so, however, they simultaneously absolve us of any need to serve or sacrifice. We’re essentially told to cheer “our” troops on, but otherwise look away and leave war to the professionals (even if, as it turns out, those professionals seem utterly incapable of winning a single one of them).

Please read the rest of my article here at TomDispatch.com.

VE Day, 75 Years Later

W.J. Astore

It’s worth pausing this month to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, marked by Adolf Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s unconditional surrender.  The Allied victory was a triumph of coalition warfare, the “Big Three” represented by the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain, joined by so many other countries and peoples.

The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent a disarmingly simple message to mark Germany’s total defeat and surrender:

“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”

It was a true “mission accomplished” moment — perhaps the last clear one America has had in any major war or conflict since then.

Eisenhower was a complex man who presented himself as a simple one.  One thing he knew was how to lead, to bring people together, to keep hotheads like Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General George Patton under control while maximizing their gifts.  It’s difficult to imagine a better coalition commander than Ike.

I love this image of Ike from May 7, 1945 (Ike is seen here with his deputy commander, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder of the Royal Air Force):

Ike

Note the simplicity of Ike’s uniform (just three rows of ribbons, and no badges, devices, or other military gewgaws).  The same can be said of Tedder’s uniform (a few ribbons, his wings, and that’s about it).  Compare their uniforms to America’s current Chairman of the JCS, Mark Milley:

mark-milley

With all this self-congratulation and self-glorification, is it any wonder America’s generals found stalemate in Korea and defeat in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

VE Day represented enormous sacrifices by peoples around the world to defeat a murderous fascistic regime in Germany.  Well should we remember it and learn from it.