Stop the MADness

W.J. Astore

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is making a comeback as the Pentagon hypes a new Cold War with China and Russia. Threat inflation is a big part of this “new” war, just as it was in the old one. So too is greed. There’s much money to be made (a trillion or more dollars, perhaps) in building new nuclear missiles and bombers, even though these weapons represent incipient holocausts.

We need to stop this MADness. There is no need for a new Cold War, and there is no need for new nuclear weapons, weapons that could very well destroy human civilization and most of life on our planet.

This is the subject of my latest article at TomDispatch.com. What follows is an excerpt. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety here.

Stop the MADness. Seriously.

Only Fools Replay Doomsday

In the early 1960s, at the height of America’s original Cold War with the Soviet Union, my old service branch, the Air Force, sought to build 10,000 land-based nuclear missiles. These were intended to augment the hundreds of nuclear bombers it already had, like the B-52s featured so memorably in the movie Dr. Strangelove. Predictably, massive future overkill was justified in the name of “deterrence,” though the nuclear war plan in force back then was more about obliteration. It featured a devastating attack on the Soviet Union and communist China that would kill an estimated 600 million people in six months (the equivalent of 100 Holocausts, notes Daniel Ellsberg in his book, The Doomsday Machine). Slightly saner heads finally prevailed — in the sense that the Air Force eventually got “only” 1,000 of those Minuteman nuclear missiles.

Despite the strategic arms limitation talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the dire threat of nuclear Armageddon persisted, reaching a fresh peak in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. At the time, he memorably declared the Soviet Union to be an “evil empire,” while nuclear-capable Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles were rushed to Europe. At that same moment, more than a few Europeans, joined by some Americans, took to the streets, calling for a nuclear freeze— an end to new nuclear weapons and the destabilizing deployment of the ones that already existed. If only…

It was in this heady environment that, in uniform, I found myself working in the ultimate nuclear redoubt of the Cold War. I was under 2,000 feet of solid granite in a North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) command post built into Cheyenne Mountain at the southern end of the Colorado front range that includes Pikes Peak. When off-duty, I used to hike up a trail that put me roughly level with the top of Cheyenne Mountain. There, I saw it from a fresh perspective, with all its antennas blinking, ready to receive and relay warnings and commands that could have ended in my annihilation in a Soviet first strike or retaliatory counterstrike.

Yet, to be honest, I didn’t give much thought to the possibility of Armageddon. As a young Air Force lieutenant, I was caught up in the minuscule role I was playing in an unimaginably powerful military machine. And as a hiker out of uniform, I would always do my best to enjoy the bracing air, the bright sunshine, and the deep blue skies as I climbed near the timberline in those Colorado mountains. Surrounded by such natural grandeur, I chose not to give more than a moment’s thought to the nightmarish idea that I might be standing at ground zero of the opening act of World War III.  Because there was one thing I knew with certainty: if the next war went nuclear, whether I was on-duty under the mountain or off-duty hiking nearby, I was certainly going to be dead.

Then came 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cold War was over! America had won! Rather than nightmares of the Red Storm Rising sort that novelist Tom Clancy had imagined or Hollywood’s Red Dawn in which there was an actual communist invasion of this country, we could now dream of “peace dividends,” of America becoming a normal country in normal times.

It was, as the phrase went, “morning again in America” — or, at least, it could have been. Yet here I sit, 30 years later, at sea level rather than near the timberline, stunned by the resurgence of a twenty-first-century version of anticommunist hysteria and at the idea of a new cold war with Russia, the rump version of the Soviet Union of my younger days, joined by an emerging China, both still ostensibly conspiring to endanger our national security, or so experts in and out of the Pentagon tell us.

Excuse me while my youthful 28-year-old self asks my cranky 58-year-old self a few questions: What the hell happened? Dammit, we won the Cold War three decades ago. Decisively so! How, then, could we have allowed a new one to emerge? Why would any sane nation want to refight a war that it had already won at enormous cost? Who in their right mind would want to hit the “replay” button on such a costly, potentially cataclysmic strategic paradigm as deterrence through MAD, or mutually assured destruction?

Please read the rest of my article here.

How to Prevent a Coup in Washington

W.J. Astore

Three retired Army generals recently wrote an op-ed at The Washington Post on their fears of a coup in the aftermath of the next presidential election in 2024. Their scenario: Biden gets reelected, but Trump or a Trump-like candidate refuses to concede. A hyper-partisan military splits, with some units throwing their support to the loser, leading to a coup attempt. The three generals further suggest that the military must act now to prepare for, and thus to prevent, such a coup.

I have several thoughts on this. First, and most obvious, is the military’s oath of office, which is to the U.S. Constitution. If the U.S. military, with all its authority in our society, and all the colossal sums of money we give it, can’t be trusted to honor its oath, then there is truly something fundamentally wrong with its leadership and its ethos. I would suggest immediate public firings and prosecution of any leaders who put political partisanship before the U.S. Constitution and the oath of office.

Second, what’s most striking to me is what these generals don’t say. They talk about partisanship and seem to assume the enemy is solely from the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party. If Trump would just disappear, along with his movement, America would be just fine. Really?

Here’s my take: Partisanship surely does exist, but it needs to be understood. It needs to be connected to America’s disastrous and dishonest wars and also to the greedy and dishonest behavior of the generals. If military veterans are dangerous, it’s because they feel betrayed. They believe their situation is hopeless — and thus many are alienated and angry. A Trump-like figure can exploit this alienation and anger precisely because the Democratic Party is doing so little to help the working classes, including military veterans. (Of course, Republicans are arguably doing even less.)

If you want fewer hyper-partisan veterans, give them something tangible, like higher wages, affordable health care, better job opportunities — some recognition that their sacrifices were not in vain. Show them you’re working to enrich all citizens, not just those who are already in the top 10%, or the top 1% for that matter. 

That said, I want to stress the culpability of the U.S. military in creating the potential conditions for a coup. The warrior ethos of today’s all-volunteer military is corrosive to democratic society. It’s the generals who advanced this warrior ethos, and it’s the generals who accepted, even applauded, the elimination of the draft. They didn’t want a citizen-military that would question the constitutionality of aggressive wars overseas. Now, a few of them admit to worrying about those demobbed “warriors” who’ve learned to believe less in the Constitution and more in the shock and awe of decapitating strikes.

These generals further fail to note the total lack of accountability within the senior leadership of the U.S. military for Iraq and Afghanistan, among other disasters. Indeed, the generals have, almost to a man, cashed in, none more so than General Stanley McChrystal, who actually was fired for cause. The vast majority of today’s generals retire with six-figure pensions and go immediately to work for the military-industrial complex. In place of Cincinnatus or George Washington, their role model is Gordon Gekko.

Want to stop future coup attempts? Admit to veterans that the wars they fought were based on, driven by, and perpetuated with lies. Unite to advance true democratic reforms. Act to ensure all future wars are defensive and authorized only by congressional declaration. And return to the citizen-soldier traditions of Cincinnatus and George Washington. Most of all, seek peace, among ourselves and with all nations.

Cincinnatus surrendered power and went back to the plow. George Washington has been called the American Cincinnatus. Today’s generals are much more fond of cashing in (Image courtesy of ohkylel @twitter)

Reading Defense Contractor Ads

W.J. Astore

I subscribe to a news feed called “Breaking Defense” (the name may be more ironic than the site creators intended). I saw this advertisement today, which sums up much of what is common in America, where jargon substitutes for thought:

Kratos’ next generation unmanned aerial target drones and their capabilities continue to evolve to represent ever changing, evolving threats from near-peer adversaries to best prepare the American warfighter while keeping costs down for the American taxpayer

I know nothing about the company (Kratos), but it does appear to have a good command of Pentagon jargon. Those “near-peer adversaries” (meaning China and Russia, mainly). Those “ever changing, evolving threats.” And of course the almost obligatory appeal to the “warfighter.”

From this ad (and others like it), it’s simply assumed that America will always be at war. There’s also an assumption that Americans fall into two basic categories: warfighters and taxpayers. Warfighters are the doers, the hard men and women on the front lines, deserving of everlasting support and praise, and the taxpayers are there to fund it all and cheer along. Naturally, there’s no mention of “peacemakers.”

If we truly want to keep costs down for the American taxpayer, maybe we shouldn’t buy any of these target drones?

In the same email send-out, here’s a sample of the articles at “Breaking Defense”:


For Space Force, it’s acquisition, acquisition, acquisition: 2022 Preview 

In 2022, the Pentagon will need to see real movement on acquisition reform to reduce long understood vulnerabilities that have been essentially ignored for many years.

The Pentagon’s new strategy might already be behind the times: 2022 Preview 

A Russian invasion of Ukraine could derail the Defense Department’s planning. 

For the Army, looming budgets and multi-domain everything: 2022 Preview 

Here’s the key Army storylines we’ll be tracking at Breaking Defense next year. 

Seems like the “Space Force” will be spending lots of money in 2022 due to “vulnerabilities.” Meanwhile, a Russian invasion of Ukraine might “derail” the DoD’s “new strategy.” And the Army is looking at “multi-domains,” which I assume is a smart way for the Army to expand its budgetary reach in the new year.

Nice to know the Pentagon has a new strategy, but how could a Russian incursion into Ukraine derail it? If the U.S. invaded Mexico, would that derail Russia’s defense planning? Or China’s?

Here’s another ad from a different “Breaking Defense” send-out.

Systel’s fully rugged computing solutions are purpose-built for the most demanding environments and workloads. High performance, SWaP-optimized, single LRU solutions supporting edge AI and force-protection missions. MOSA/CMOA, SAVE, and GCIA-compliant. Fully rugged, configurable, and modular. Centralized sensor ingest and data fusion support.

Ah, the good old days of military acronyms! Again, I know nothing about Systel, but the company has a solid command of opaque acronyms. Even the ad has redundancy in the sense that it mentions “fully rugged” twice! Note the mission of “force-protection,” as in keeping U.S. “warfighters” safe while in harm’s way.

Maybe we should keep our troops safe by not putting them in harm’s way, unless the defense of America truly requires it?

There’s nothing special about these ads or stories, which is why I cite them here. Just another day in the American empire of warfighters buying weapons systems to force-protect and confront near-peer threats out to exploit our vulnerabilities across multiple domains. Or, put simply, multi-domain everything!

Happy New Year, everyone.

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?

Major Cuts in Military Spending Are the Best Way to Revive Our Democracy

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I argue for major cuts in military spending.

This year’s Pentagon budget is a staggering $778 billion, a sum that’s virtually unimaginable. That said, the real budget for “defense,” or, as we should say, the budget for wars and weapons, is well over a trillion dollars. This is madness. No self-avowed democracy can survive such a misappropriation of resources for domination and destruction. But of course America is not a democracy, it’s an empire, with a figurehead for a president and a Congress that acts as a rubber stamp for the generals and their weapons makers.

The military-industrial complex has become America’s fourth branch of government, eclipsing the roles and powers of the other three branches (executive, legislative, judicial). The only way to rein it in, I believe, is to cut its budget. In my article, I propose cutting that budget by $50 billion a year for the next seven years. Thus by Fiscal Year 2029, the Pentagon budget should be no more than $400 billion, still a vast sum, but roughly half of what we’re paying for war and weaponry today. Such cuts can be made sensibly and without harming America’s true defense needs. Indeed, a smaller U.S. military establishment will reduce adventurism and increase our security and safety.

Here’s the conclusion to my piece at TomDispatch.com. Please read the rest of it at the site. And I urge you as well to read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction, which provides stunning details about how America’s generals profit from endless wars and weapons production, so much so that “In wars and weapons we trust” could very well serve as America’s truest national motto.

Of Smoking Guns and Mushroom Clouds

What would real oversight look like when it comes to the defense budget? Again, glad you asked!

It would focus on actual defense, on preventing wars, and above all, on scaling down our gigantic military. It would involve cutting that budget roughly in half over the next few years and so forcing our generals and admirals to engage in that rarest of acts for them: making some tough choices. Maybe then they’d see the folly of spending $1.7 trillion on the next generation of world-ending weaponry, or maintaining all those military bases globally, or maybe even the blazing stupidity of backing China into a corner in the name of “deterrence.”

Here’s a radical thought for Congress: Americans, especially the working class, are constantly being advised to do more with less. Come on, you workers out there, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and put your noses to those grindstones!

To so many of our elected representatives (often sheltered in grotesquely gerrymandered districts), less money and fewer benefits for workers are seldom seen as problems, just challenges. Quit your whining, apply some elbow grease, and “git-r-done!”

The U.S. military, still proud of its “can-do” spirit in a warfighting age of can’t-do-ism, should have plenty of smarts to draw on. Just consider all those Washington “think tanks” it can call on! Isn’t it high time, then, for Congress to challenge the military-industrial complex to focus on how to do so much less (as in less warfighting) with so much less (as in lower budgets for prodigal weaponry and calamitous wars)?

For this and future Pentagon budgets, Congress should send the strongest of messages by cutting at least $50 billion a year for the next seven years. Force the guys (and few gals) wearing the stars to set priorities and emphasize the actual defense of this country and its Constitution, which, believe me, would be a unique experience for us all.

Every year or so, I listen again to Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex speech. In those final moments of his presidency, Ike warned Americans of the “grave implications” of the rise of an “immense military establishment” and “a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions,” the combination of which would constitute a “disastrous rise of misplaced power.” This country is today suffering from just such a rise to levels that have warped the very structure of our society. Ike also spoke then of pursuing disarmament as a continuous imperative and of the vital importance of seeking peace through diplomacy.

In his spirit, we should all call on Congress to stop the madness of ever-mushrooming war budgets and substitute for them the pursuit of peace through wisdom and restraint. This time, we truly can’t allow America’s numerous smoking guns to turn into so many mushroom clouds above our beleaguered planet.

Link to the entire article here.

The Pentagon as Pentagod

W.J. Astore

The other day, retired General Michael Flynn called for “one religion under God” in the United States.

Ah, General Flynn, we already have one religion of militant nationalism and imperialism, and we already have one god, the Pentagod, which is the subject of my latest article for TomDispatch.com.

First, one religion. This weekend I watched the New England Patriots play the Cleveland Brown during which a Pentagon recruiting commercial broke out. The coaches wore camouflage jackets and caps, the game started with military flyovers of combat jets, and there even was a mass military swearing-in ceremony hosted by a four-star general and admiral. That same general claimed during an on-field interview during the game that the military is what keeps America free, which might just be the best definition of militarism that I’ve heard.

(Aside: In a true democracy, the military is seen as a necessary evil, because all militaries are essentially undemocratic. The goal of a true democracy is to spend as little as possible on the military while still providing for a robust defense.)

Here’s an illustration, sent by a friend, of America’s one religion:

So, according to the NFL and the mainstream media, “all of us” need to honor “our” military and indeed anyone who’s ever worn a uniform, no questions asked, apparently. I wore a military uniform for 24 years: four years as a cadet, twenty as a military officer, and I’m telling you this is nonsense — dangerous nonsense. Don’t “salute” authority. Question it. Challenge it. Hold it accountable and responsible. At the very least, be informed about it. And don’t mix sports, which is both business and entertainment, with military service and the machinery of war.

OK, so now let’s talk about America’s god. As I argue below, it certainly isn’t the Jesus Christ I learned about by reading the New Testament and studying the Gospels in CCD. America has never worshipped that god. Clearly the god we worship — at least as measured by money and societal influence — is the Pentagod, which leads me to my latest article at TomDispatch. Enjoy!

The Pentagon As Pentagod

Who is America’s god? The Christian god of the beatitudes, the one who healed the sick, helped the poor, and preached love of neighbor? Not in these (dis)United States. In the Pledge of Allegiance, we speak proudly of One Nation under God, but in the aggregate, this country doesn’t serve or worship Jesus Christ, or Allah, or any other god of justice and mercy. In truth, the deity America believes in is the five-sided one headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

In God We Trust is on all our coins. But, again, which god? The one of “turn the other cheek”? The one who found his disciples among society’s outcasts? The one who wanted nothing to do with moneychangers or swords? As Joe Biden might say, give me a break.

America’s true god is a deity of wrath, whose keenest followers profit mightily from war and see such gains as virtuous, while its most militant disciples, a crew of losing generals and failed Washington officials, routinely employ murderous violence across the globe. It contains multitudes, its name is legion, but if this deity must have one name, citing a need for some restraint, let it be known as the Pentagod.

Yes, the Pentagon is America’s true god. Consider that the Biden administration requested a whopping $753 billion for military spending in fiscal year 2022 even as the Afghan War was cratering. Consider that the House Armed Services Committee then boosted that blockbuster budget to $778 billion in September. Twenty-five billion dollars extra for “defense,” hardly debated, easily passed, with strong bipartisan support in Congress. How else, if not religious belief, to explain this, despite the Pentagod’s prodigal $8 trillion wars over the last two decades that ended so disastrously? How else to account for future budget projections showing that all-American deity getting another $8 trillion or so over the next decade, even as the political parties fight like rabid dogs over roughly 15% of that figure for much-needed domestic improvements?

Paraphrasing Joe Biden, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you worship. In that context, there can’t be the slightest doubt: America worships its Pentagod and the weapons and wars that feed it.

Prefabricated War, Made in the U.S.A.

I confess that I’m floored by this simple fact: for two decades in which “forever war” has served as an apt descriptor of America’s true state of the union, the Pentagod has failed to deliver on any of its promises. Iraq and Afghanistan? Just the most obvious of a series of war-on-terror quagmires and failures galore.

That ultimate deity can’t even pass a simple financial audit to account for what it does with those endless funds shoved its way, yet our representatives in Washington keep doing so by the trillions. Spectacular failure after spectacular failure and yet that all-American god just rolls on, seemingly unstoppable, unquenchable, rarely questioned, never penalized, always on top.

Talk about blind faith!

To read the rest of my article, please go to TomDispatch here. Here’s my conclusion:

Yet, before I bled Air Force blue, before I was stationed in a cathedral of military power under who knows how many tons of solid granite, I was raised a Roman Catholic. Recently, I caught the words of Pope Francis, God’s representative on earth for Catholic believers. Among other entreaties, he asked “in the name of God” for “arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity, because it foments violence and war, it contributes to those awful geopolitical games which cost millions of lives displaced and millions dead.”

Which country has the most arms manufacturers? Which routinely and proudly leads the world in weapons exports? And which spends more on wars and weaponry than any other, with hardly a challenge from Congress or a demurral from the mainstream media?

And as I stared into the abyss created by those questions, who stared back at me but, of course, the Pentagod.

Being Right For the Wrong Reasons

W.J. Astore

Were you against the Afghan War? The Iraq War? Events proved you right, of course, but for the wrong reasons. And if you were pro-war in both cases, you were of course wrong but for the right reasons. Therefore you will still be celebrated and featured on mainstream media outlets, whereas those “right” people will still be ignored because, again, they may have been right about those disastrous wars, but their reasons were all wrong.

I think I heard this formulation first in Jeremy Scahill’s book “Dirty Wars.” An official said opponents of the war on terror had been “right for the wrong reasons,” but that proponents of war, the Kristols and Krauthammers of the necon world, had been “wrong for the right reasons.”

Nick Turse picks up on this theme in his latest for TomDispatch.com. In 2010, Turse edited a book of essays: “The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan.” In his latest essay, and with tongue firmly in cheek, Turse asks why he’s not being invited to speak on the mainstream media networks, why he’s not being celebrated for his prescience, why he’s not being lauded for being right. And of course Turse knows the answer: he was right — but for the wrong reasons.

If you’re confused, allow me to translate. It’s OK, even laudable, to argue that the Pentagon will win; that wars should be fought; and that U.S. generals are so many reincarnations of Napoleon and Alexander and Caesar.  Because being “wrong” here means that the Pentagon grows ever more powerful; that the U.S. always looks tough (if perhaps dumb); and that America’s generals are celebrated as the “finest” while never being called to account. Again, all these things are “right,” even when, indeed especially when, they’re so obviously wrong.

But it’s not OK, indeed it’s deplorable, to suggest the Pentagon will lose; that wars should not be fought; that U.S. generals are mostly time-serving mediocrities.  Because being “right” here means a weaker Pentagon; it means America fights fewer wars, an obvious sign of national weakness and a calamity to the military-industrial complex; it means holding generals responsible for their self-serving lies and obfuscations.

Being right about all this weakens militarism in America and could lead to lower “defense” budgets and fewer wars. And we can’t have that in America!

So, remember, in America it’s better to be wrong and thus feed the military-industrial complex than to be right and thus possibly to chart a wiser and less bellicose course. To paraphrase Mister Spock, it is not logical, but it is often true.

Sorry, Nick: You were right but for the wrong reasons

Support Our Troops — But How?

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

W.J. Astore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a Real Peace Dividend

W.J. Astore

On “Two Minutes to Midnight,” I talk about some of the themes I’ve developed at this site. Produced by Catalysta, the idea behind the series is to encourage fresh thinking on the challenges confronting us in a rapidly changing world.

Here is the Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTc7Qj4AXWU&t=59s

In this interview, I explain how and why America spends way too much on weaponry and wars, and how we can shift the narrative and revive the idea of peace. Echoing George McGovern, it’s time to “come home, America,” to invest in our country and ourselves, rather than to fund more weaponry and more overseas wars.

Near the end of the video, I make an appeal to younger generations of America to lift their voices against the military-industrial-Congressional complex. I urge them not to be intimidated and to speak their mind, explaining that many veterans are just as fed up as they are. Collectively, we need to act. And perhaps the first and most critical step is getting big corporate money out of politics even as we work to make major cuts to the U.S. war budget.

Special thanks to Edward Goldberg at Catalysta.net for inviting me and offering me a chance to share my views with a wider audience.

The Pentagon Gets More Money

W.J. Astore

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

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

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

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

William Astore, A Bright Future for Weapons and War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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