Taking On the Military-Industrial Complex

W.J. Astore

To Fight the Unbeatable Foe

To dream the impossible dream/To fight the unbeatable foe/To bear with unbearable sorrow/To run where the brave dare not go …

Whether you call it the military-industrial complex (MIC), the national security state, the MICIMATT,1 the blob, or something else entirely, taking on the MIC and trying to restrain its influence and power is akin to dreaming the impossible dream.

President Eisenhower warned us about the grave threat posed to liberty and democracy by the MIC in 1961. In the early 1980s, as a college student, I wrote against the growth of the MIC and massive Pentagon spending under President Ronald Reagan. After I retired from the military, I started writing articles, giving interviews, etc. against the MIC and militarism in America. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years, and it hasn’t made any discernible difference. Why should it?

The MIC is massive and massively powerful. It consumes more than half of the federal discretionary budget. It employs millions of people. It is wildly profitable for major military contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. It is sold as essential to America’s national security and safety. Its uniformed members are lauded as heroes. We are all as Americans immersed in a matrix of militarism and imperialism since birth; to fight against it, then, is often seen as un-American.

Spoiler alert: I have no easy answers. There are no silver bullets. Ike called for an alert and knowledgable citizenry (that’s us) who would act as guards against the growing anti-democratic power of the MIC. The MIC responded by making sure we are kept largely docile and ignorant of its plans and actions.

When brave Americans do speak up, they are punished. Not people like me—I’m small fry. I mean people like Martin Luther King Jr., who called America the world’s greatest purveyor of violence during the Vietnam War. That speech made him unpopular even among many of his followers; exactly one year later, he was shot and killed.

People who truly pose a threat to the MIC are taught a lesson. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, at the time also a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, was smeared by NBC News as a Russian asset when she announced her candidacy for president in 2020. Gabbard was the only mainstream candidate criticizing the MIC and its disastrous regime-change wars. Dennis Kucinich, who bravely advocated for a Department of Peace, was sidelined and silenced by his own party (the Democrats). Jill Stein, who ran in 2016 as the Green Party candidate for the presidency, was also smeared as a “useful idiot” for Russia because she called for major reductions to war budgets.

There are many examples of brave Americans fighting the MIC. Edward Snowden told the truth about abuses of power by U.S. intelligence agencies; he’s in exile in Russia. Chelsea Manning went to prison for bravely exposing war crimes in Iraq. Daniel Hale is in prison for exposing the murderous results of America’s drone wars. Even foreign journalists like Julian Assange aren’t safe. Assange embarrassed the MIC and partially exposed the hideous face of war to Americans, and for that he’s being held in a maximum security prison under conditions meant to break him physically and mentally.

What is to be done? It’s flattering to me that a few readers think I might have answers. I have none. I’m not an organizer, I’m not an agitator or protester, I’m just a retired military schmuck looking for a new way forward for our country (and, by extension, for the planet). A new cold war is not a new way forward. Indeed, a new cold war will only ensure a hotter future for us all, if not an irradiated one.

McGovern, a bomber pilot and war hero, never bragged about his war experiences

I think George McGovern had the right approach in 1972. “Come home, America,” McGovern said. Stop trying to dominate the world. Stop claiming that democracy can be spread by bullets and bombs. Downsize the military and the whole MICIMATT and with the money saved send a check to every American. Call it a true peace dividend.

Support our troops—bring them home, is a commonsense message that holds appeal. Returning to Eisenhower, Ike once said that only Americans can truly hurt America. We hurt America when we exaggerate threats overseas, when we give blank checks to warmongers, indeed when we forget how hellish war truly is and how corrosive it is to our democracy (what’s left of it) and our way of life.

I’ve written so much about this that I know I’m repeating myself. And I’m probably preaching to the choir as well. But the choir must keep singing, even when the dogs of war howl to drown us out.

America needs a reformation or a revolution. A restoration of liberty where war and militarism are seen as the antithesis of liberty. Why can’t America be a shining city on a hill? Why do we instead choose to be a dark fortress bristling with cannons?

To dream the impossible dream/to fight the unbeatable foe …

1

Military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academia-think tank complex. An awkward acronym that does help to capture the size and reach of the national security state. The MIC itself is supported by the mainstream media, many colleges and universities that are funded by the DoD, and all those think tanks in the DC area that are often funded by major weapons makers. Truly a Goliath awaiting a David with a slingshot.

Why Did Eisenhower Fail in 1961?

W.J. Astore

Perhaps America, Home of the Brave, Simply Fears Too Much

In 1961, in his famous farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America about the military-industrial complex. He said it potentially posed a grave threat to liberty and democracy, noting that only an alert and knowledgable citizenry could keep its “disastrous rise” in check. In an earlier draft of his speech, Ike had included Congress as part of the complex, but he removed it from the final draft in the interest of parting with Congress on good terms.

Ike, of course, knew the military and loved it and had worked with industry as well. He knew of what he spoke. Every year when he was president, the military wanted more. So did the weapons manufacturers. And Congress was willing to give them more in the name of jobs and for that nebulous cause of national security. Ike did a decent job as president containing the ambitions of the military and the greed of America’s merchants of death. His speech in 1961 was his parting shot across the bow of the complex and a warning that’s largely been forgotten by Americans then and now. 

Ike, I think, would be dismayed but not shocked at how the military-industrial complex or MIC has expanded its “misplaced” power over the last sixty years. The MIC is now the MICIMATT, or the military industrial congressional intelligence media academia think tank complex, employing millions of Americans in pursuit of full-spectrum dominance across the globe. In fact, America has proudly become a warrior nation (the citizen-soldier ideal is long dead) with 750 bases around the world and military budgets that routinely touch or exceed a trillion dollars. Permanent war is the new normal in America, justified as always in terms of making the world safe for democracy.

In the spirit of Ike, we should recognize the military or industry or Congress alone is not the enemy. It’s the conjunction of an immense military establishment with powerful industrial interests, and the enabling of the same by Congress, that needs to be addressed and reformed.  

Yet, given its enormity and its power, the complex is remarkably resistant to change, let alone to being shrunk and weakened. It will take enormous national will, working against powerful propaganda forces that will paint every Pentagon budget reduction, large or small, as unsafe if not un-American.

So why did Ike fail?  Or why did we fail Ike?  He warned us in 1961.  Why have we as “an alert and knowledgable citizenry” failed to guard against the acquisition of “disastrous” power by the MIC?

For the truth is America has become an Orwellian country where war is peace.  War (or preparations for war) has been continuous since Ike’s speech.  Our government wages war in the alleged cause of peace.  It acts imperially in the name of democracy, and we collectively accept or tolerate the tale that Big Brother tells us.

Short of a revolution, what America needs is radical honesty. An awakening.  If we truly want as a people to pursue peace, we can’t do that by constantly waging war.  If we truly favor democracy, we can’t pursue one through militarism and imperialism.

What kind of nation — what kind of people — do we want to be? Judging by our federal discretionary budget and by the general affection for all things military in our nation, perhaps we want to be a bellicose empire. I’m not saying all Americans want this; even those who do probably wouldn’t state it so baldly. But maybe this is just who we are, a nation and a people convinced that it’s always at risk, and thus one that’s forever fearful, hyper-vigilant, coiled to strike and ready to rumble.

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” So says Roy Batty, the doomed replicant in Blade Runner, played so brilliantly by Rutger Hauer. There’s a lesson here for all of us. The first step to heeding Ike’s warning, as well as his marching orders to us, is to control our collective fear. To stop listening to threat inflation about China or Russia or Iran or terrorism or whatever. Fear is the mind-killer, Frank Herbert noted in Dune, thus to think freely requires us to master that which kills thought. Fear, Master Po said in Kung Fu, is the only darkness.

We will only begin to downsize the military-industrial complex and end our pursuit of militarism when we acknowledge our fear, stop being slaves to it, and head away from the darkness.

America is the home of the brave, so we say. Isn’t it time we acted like it?

Dammit, Where’s My Peace Dividend?

W.J. Astore

Just over 30 years ago, as a young captain in the Air Force, I was celebrating the collapse of the Soviet Union and the arrival of “the new world order.”  Those were the days!  We talked seriously about peace dividends, about America becoming a normal country in normal times, as in peaceful times.  Money on wars and weapons would be redirected to infrastructure improvements and repairs, to critical research in medicine, to improving health care, to renewable sources of energy.  America was ready to vault into the 21st century, no longer haunted by a cold war that could end the world in a heartbeat with nuclear war.

Leave it to America to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  For we truly have defeated ourselves since 1991 in our embrace of militarism, weaponry, and war.  And now we face renewed fears of nuclear war without any serious movement to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Indeed, the U.S. military speaks of “investing” in more nuclear weapons as if they’re a growth stock, as if there are dividends awaiting us when we cash them in.  We’ll all cash in our chips, that’s for sure, if the missiles fly.

We seem possessed by a form of MADness, a certain fondness for mutually assured destruction (MAD).  Or, perhaps not fondness but resignation bordering on defeatism, which makes me think of those old posters we had as kids about nuclear war that reminded us there was little we could do once the missiles were launched, so we may as well kiss our ass goodbye.

But the world nevertheless remains full of surprises.  Color me amazed by America’s new love of Ukraine, formerly a Soviet republic that most Americans still can’t place on a map.  (I’ve seen Americans quizzed on the street who place Ukraine in Mexico or Australia.)  We love Ukraine so much that we’re willing to pledge $100 billion or more in aid, most of it in the form of military weapons and training.  America has never had a “special relationship” with Ukraine, so what gives?  My friends tell me we must defend democracy in Ukraine, but democracy doesn’t exist there (nor does it in America, but that’s another story).

The words of Darth Vader come to mind: “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side [of the Force].  I must obey my master.”  And in the case of Congress, that master is obviously the national security state, the MICIMATT of which Congress is a card-carrying member. (MICIMATT: Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank Complex.) Think of it as the real “evil empire,” and good luck trying to resist its power and influence.    

Yet, how can America have turned to the “dark side”?  Isn’t America a collection of Jedi knights fighting for freedom?  It sure would be nice to think so!  But when you look at America’s wars in places like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, what you see is an incredibly rich empire throwing almost everything at countries and peoples who had little if anything compared to the wealth and power of the U.S. and its ferocious military machine.  You also see enormous profiteering, especially by the “industrial” side of the America’s militarized complex, and incessant lying by the U.S. government about progress and “winning” in its various misbegotten wars.

Only when military defeat is nearly total do U.S. troops finally come home, after which the peace advocates, relatively few in number, are blamed for weakening fighting spirit at home.

Promises of peace dividends, whether after World War II or the Cold War, have simply withered away as wars of conspicuous destruction (Vietnam, Iraq, etc.) fed a society engaged in conspicuous consumption.  A militarized form of Keynesianism provided jobs and wealth for relatively few Americans at the expense of a great many.

Paradoxically, even as America’s wars went bad, no one was ever held accountable.  When the warmongers admitted they were wrong (a rarity), they argued they were wrong for the right reasons.  And those who were truly right, whether about Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan, were obviously right for the wrong reasons.  Those “wrong” reasons included preferring peace to war or daring to question the purity of U.S. motives and methods when it came to foreign wars.

And so we’ve come to the point when the so-called Progressives in Congress quickly cave to pressure and withdraw a milquetoast and mealymouthed letter that argued a tiny bit for diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration to end the Russia-Ukraine War.  It was as if they’d become quislings; as if calling for negotiation was equivalent to bowing and scraping before Vladimir Putin.

So, I return to my question: Dammit, where’s my peace dividend?  And the answer is nowhere because powerful forces in America simply love their war dividends — and they’re not about to surrender them.

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