MIC on the Brain

W.J. Astore

Why write so much about the military-industrial complex?

Loyal readers may recall that in June of 2022 M. Davout and I posted a debate between the two of us on the Russia-Ukraine War. This debate is still worth reading, I think.

The other day, my old friend Davout quipped that I had MIC on the brain. Of course, I had suggested that he had Putin on the brain because of his keen support of Ukraine’s war of national liberation, so it was a fair retort. It was also one that I embraced, for as I wrote back to him:

You’re right that I have MIC on the brain. MICIMATT is a useful acronym.  The military industrial congressional intelligence media academia think tank complex.  Awkward, but it captures some of the scope of the MIC.

There’s a reason Ike warned us about the MIC in 1961.  It absorbs more than half of federal discretionary spending.  This year Congress gave it $45 billion more than even Biden and the Pentagon wanted.  And it just failed its fifth financial audit in a row.

Biden, back in the day, stated “show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” Looking at the federal budget, we see what they value.

The MIC’s budget is at least 14 times greater than the State Department’s.  And there are times when State acts as a salesman for U.S. weaponry overseas, as I wrote about here: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/our-state-department-a-ti_b_748658

Back when I wrote that article (2010), the Pentagon Budget was 10 times as great as State.  Now it’s 14 or 15 times as great. Progress!

So, yes, I have the MIC on my brain.  All Americans should.  That’s why Ike said “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” has any hope of keeping the MIC under control.

So far, we’ve failed, myself included.

Davout then made this reply:

What are the real problems with the MIC? 

That it functions as a mini-welfare state for many Americans is not a big problem for me. That it supports weapons systems we do not need and in numbers we do not need is a big problem. 

That it needlessly supports redundant bases across the country because of protection from members of congress worried about employment and small business in their congressional districts is not a big problem for me. That it provides military surplus to local police departments is a big problem.

The more crucial issue is to what extent and in which ways are military contractors like Boeing more corrupt, wasteful of US taxpayer dollars or endangering to the common good than Exxon Mobil or Philip Morris or Merck? 

Haven’t you squeezed enough meaning out of Ike’s speech by now? Why not do a deep dive into the Pentagon budget and give like-minded people better arguments to make to their congressional reps than the top line DOD budget figure and Ike’s warning?

To which I made this reply:

One “deep diver” on the Pentagon budget is William Hartung.  You can read his stuff at TomDispatch.com and Responsible Statecraft.  There are other deep divers as well.  One of my colleagues, Christian Sorensen, has done detailed work on the MIC.  Here’s one of his articles: https://www.businessinsider.com/military-industrial-complex-budget-us-security-profit-forever-wars-2021-5

Google his name for more “deep dives.”

“Deep divers” already exist.  I don’t need to duplicate their fine work.

I’m not sure of the relevance of comparing big oil or big tobacco to the MIC.  My focus is on the MIC because that’s what I know best.  Do I need to add nuance to my critique of the MIC by saying there are other bad corporate actors out there too?

You can see I was getting testy, but we’re old friends, so we don’t mince words.

Davout responded by saying:

The point I was making (inelegantly) about the one-sided focus on the MIC is that if one does not see it in the context of other factors, one might tend to deploy it as an explanation in cases where it doesn’t apply. (If one only has a hammer in one’s toolbox, then one might try to use it for tasks for which it is not fitted.) 

For example, you have suggested the US MIC is a major factor explaining the transfer of weapons from western countries to Ukraine. While I think the US MIC does benefit from those transfers (though not so much as one might think, given that some of that weaponry is drawing on overstocks of weapons systems no longer in use), it is not driving this war. Russian aggression, Ukrainian resistance, and NATO countries’ concerns about future Russian aggression are the prime factors driving those weapons transfers. 

To which I replied:

For a grimmer take on the Ukraine war and its implications for the US, consider this article by Chris Hedges: 

The Chris Hedges Report

Ukraine: The War That Went Wrong

And you’re wrong about the MIC and its profits here.  For example, in the case of M-1 tanks, the 31 going to Ukraine will be newly built, despite the fact that we have thousands of Abrams tanks in Army inventory.  Also, most of the weapons/ammo being sent from U.S. inventories have to be replaced.  (Yes, a few weapons systems are obsolete, like MRAPs and M113 APCs, but most aren’t.). Assuming we send F-16s, again these will be new, and Lockheed Martin has already announced they’re willing and eager to produce more.

Don’t worry: the MIC is doing very well indeed [from the Russia-Ukraine War].  It has decades of practice at this.

That was the end of our exchange. I’d add that the MIC profits far more from the atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety created by the Russia-Ukraine War than it does from the war itself. Even though Russia’s forces haven’t performed well in this war, even though Russia is arguably weaker today than it was before the invasion, the MIC and various preening politicians are exaggerating the Russian threat as a way of boosting military spending. And it’s working, hence the $45 billion extra given to the Pentagon by Congress in this year’s budget.

And so I will continue to have “MIC on the brain” because it continues to grow ever more powerful within our society, and ever more ambitious on the world stage. You might say it’s invaded my brain as well, though (so far) I haven’t sent it more than half of my discretionary income.

Davout and I don’t always agree, but we’re always willing to talk and to listen. We need more conversations among Americans about war and the MIC, for conversing leads to clarity and clarity can lead to a shared commitment to act.

Thinking About Nuclear War

W.J. Astore

This week, I was truly honored to talk with Robert Scheer about a subject that should be on our minds: nuclear war. I remember reading Scheer’s book, “With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush, and Nuclear War” when I was in college in the early 1980s. Back then, at least some of the “experts” surrounding Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush believed a nuclear war was “winnable” against the Soviet Union. Those were the days of the nuclear freeze movement and of deep concern about the possibility of a cataclysmic nuclear war. (Of course, any nuclear war would be cataclysmic.)

Today, few people seem that concerned about nuclear war even as the Doomsday Clock creeps ever closer to midnight. Why is this? Scheer and I talk about this as well as other subjects related to nuclear weapons and the military-industrial complex.

Can the Military-Industrial Complex Be Tamed?

W.J. Astore

Cutting the Pentagon Budget in Half Would Finally Force the Generals to Think

(Also at TomDispatch.com)

My name is Bill Astore and I’m a card-carrying member of the military-industrial complex (MIC).

Sure, I hung up my military uniform for the last time in 2005. Since 2007, I’ve been writing articles for TomDispatch focused largely on critiquing that same MIC and America’s permanent war economy. I’ve written against this country’s wasteful and unwise wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its costly and disastrous weapons systems, and its undemocratic embrace of warriors and militarism. Nevertheless, I remain a lieutenant colonel, if a retired one. I still have my military ID card, if only to get on bases, and I still tend to say “we” when I talk about my fellow soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen (and our “guardians,” too, now that we have a Space Force).

So, when I talk to organizations that are antiwar, that seek to downsize, dismantle, or otherwise weaken the MIC, I’m upfront about my military biases even as I add my own voice to their critiques. Of course, you don’t have to be antiwar to be highly suspicious of the U.S. military. Senior leaders in “my” military have lied so often, whether in the Vietnam War era of the last century or in this one about “progress” in Iraq and Afghanistan, that you’d have to be asleep at the wheel or ignorant not to have suspected the official story.

Yet I also urge antiwar forces to see more than mendacity or malice in “our” military. It was retired general and then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, after all, who first warned Americans of the profound dangers of the military-industrial complex in his 1961 farewell address. Not enough Americans heeded Ike’s warning then and, judging by our near-constant state of warfare since that time, not to speak of our ever-ballooning “defense” budgets, very few have heeded his warning to this day. How to explain that?

Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex was also a call to arms to “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” (Image: WhiteHouse.gov)

Well, give the MIC credit. Its tenacity has been amazing. You might compare it to an invasive weed, a parasitic cowbird (an image I’ve used before), or even a metastasizing cancer. As a weed, it’s choking democracy; as a cowbird, it’s gobbling up most of the “food” (at least half of the federal discretionary budget) with no end in sight; as a cancer, it continues to spread, weakening our individual freedoms and liberty. 

Call it what you will. The question is: How do we stop it? I’ve offered suggestions in the past; so, too, have writers for TomDispatch like retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich and retired Army Major Danny Sjursen, as well as William HartungJulia Gledhill, and Alfred McCoy among others. Despite our critiques, the MIC grows ever stronger. If Ike’s warning wasn’t eye-opening enough, enhanced by an even more powerful speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1967, what could I and my fellow TomDispatch writers possibly say or do to make a difference?

Maybe nothing, but that won’t stop me from trying. Since I am the MIC, so to speak, maybe I can look within for a few lessons that came to me the hard way (in the sense that I had to live them). So, what have l learned of value?

War Racketeers Enjoy Their Racket

In the 1930s, Smedley Butler, a Marine general twice decorated with the Medal of Honor, wrote a book entitled War Is a Racket. He knew better than most since, as he confessed in that volume, when he wore a military uniform, he served as “a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” And the corporate-driven racket he helped enable almost a century ago by busting heads from the Caribbean to China was small-scale indeed compared to today’s thoroughly global one.

There’s an obvious lesson to be drawn from its striking endurance, never-ending enlargement, and distinct engorgement in our moment (even after all those lost wars it fought): the system will not reform itself.  It will always demand and take more — more money, more authority, more power.  It will never be geared for peace.  By its nature, it’s authoritarian and distinctly less than honorable, replacing patriotism with service loyalty and victory with triumphant budgetary authority.  And it always favors the darkest of scenarios, including at present a new cold war with China and Russia, because that’s the best and most expedient way for it to thrive.

Within the military-industrial complex, there are no incentives to do the right thing.  Those few who have a conscience and speak out honorably are punished, including truth-tellers in the enlisted ranks like Chelsea Manning and Daniel Hale. Even being an officer doesn’t make you immune.  For his temerity in resisting the Vietnam War, David M. Shoup, a retired Marine Corps general and Medal of Honor recipient, was typically dismissed by his peers as unbalanced and of questionable sanity.

For all the talk of “mavericks,” whether in Top Gun or elsewhere, we — there’s that “we” again (I can’t help myself!) — in the military are a hotbed of go-along-to-get-along conformity.

Recently, I was talking with a senior enlisted colleague about why so few top-ranking officers are willing to speak truth to the powerless (that’s you and me) even after they retire. He mentioned credibility. To question the system, to criticize it, to air dirty laundry in public is to risk losing credibility within the club and so to be rejected as a malcontent, disloyal, even “unbalanced.” Then, of course, that infamous revolving door between the military and giant weapons makers like Boeing and Raytheon simply won’t spin for you.  Seven-figure compensation packages, like the one current Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gained from Raytheon after his retirement as an Army general, won’t be an option. And in America, who doesn’t want to cash in while gaining more power within the system?

Quite simply, it pays so much better to mouth untruths, or at least distinctly less-than-full-truths, in service to the powerful. And with that in mind, here, at least as I see it, are a few full truths about my old service, the Air Force, that I guarantee you I won’t be applauded for mentioning. How about this as a start: that the production of F-35s — an overpriced “Ferrari” of a fighter jet that’s both too complex and remarkably successful as an underperformer — should be canceled (savings: as much as $1 trillion over time); that the much-touted new B-21 nuclear bomber isn’t needed (savings: at least $200 billion) and neither is the new Sentinel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile(savings: another $200 billion and possibly the entire Earth from doomsday); that the KC-46 tanker is seriously flawed and should be canceled (savings: another $50 billion). 

Now, tote it up. By canceling the F-35, the B-21, the Sentinel, and the KC-46, I singlehandedly saved the American taxpayer roughly $1.5 trillion without hurting America’s national defense in the least. But I’ve also just lost all credibility (assuming I had any left) with my old service.

Look, what matters to the military-industrial complex isn’t either the truth or saving your taxpayer dollars but keeping those weapons programs going and the money flowing. What matters, above all, is keeping America’s economy on a permanent wartime footing both by buying endless new (and old) weapons systems for the military and selling them globally in a bizarrely Orwellian pursuit of peace through war. 

How are Americans, Ike’s “alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” supposed to end a racket like this? We certainly should know one thing by now: the MIC will never check itself and Congress, already part of it thanks to impressive campaign donations and the like by major weapons makers, won’t corral it either.  Indeed, last year, Congress shoveled $45 billion more than the Biden administration requested (more even than the Pentagon asked for) to that complex, all ostensibly in your name. Who cares that it hasn’t won a war of the faintest significance since 1945. Even “victory” in the Cold War (after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991) was thrown away. And now the complex warns us of an onrushing “new cold war” to be waged, naturally, at tremendous cost to you, the American taxpayer.  

As citizens, we must be informed, willing, and able to act. And that’s precisely why the complex seeks to deny you knowledge, precisely why it seeks to isolate you from its actions in this world. So, it’s up to you — to us! — to remain alert and involved. Most of all, each of us must struggle to keep our identity and autonomy as a citizen, a rank higher than that of any general or admiral, for, as we all need to be reminded, those wearing uniforms are supposed to serve you, not vice-versa.

I know you hear otherwise. You’ve been told repeatedly in these years that it’s your job to “support our troops.” Yet, in truth, those troops should only exist to support and defend you, and of course the Constitution, the compact that binds us all together as a nation.

When misguided citizens genuflect before those troops (and then ignore everything that’s done in their name), I’m reminded yet again of Ike’s sage warning that only Americans can truly hurt this country. Military service may be necessary, but it’s not necessarily ennobling. America’s founders were profoundly skeptical of large militaries, of entangling alliances with foreign powers, and of permanent wars and threats of the same. So should we all be.

Citizens United Is the Answer

No, not that “Citizens United,” not the case in which the Supreme Court decided corporations had the same free speech rights as you and me, allowing them to coopt the legislative process by drowning us out with massive amounts of “speech,” aka dark-money-driven propaganda. We need citizens united against America’s war machine.

Understanding how that machine works — not just its waste and corruption, but also its positive attributes — is the best way to wrestle it down, to make it submit to the people’s will. Yet activists are sometimes ignorant of the most basic facts about “their” military. So what? Does the difference between a sergeant major and a major, or a chief petty officer and the chief of naval operations matter? The answer is: yes.

An antimilitary approach anchored in ignorance won’t resonate with the American people. An antiwar message anchored in knowledge could, however. It’s important, that is, to hit the proverbial nail on the head. Look, for example, at the traction Donald Trump gained in the presidential race of 2015-2016 when he did something few other politicians then dared do: dismiss the Iraq War as wasteful and stupid. His election win in 2016 was not primarily about racism, nor the result of a nefarious Russian plot. Trump won, at least in part because, despite his ignorance on so many other things, he spoke a fundamental truth — that America’s wars of this century were horrendous blunders.

Trump, of course, was anything but antimilitary. He dreamed of military parades in Washington, D.C. But I (grudgingly) give him credit for boasting that he knew more than his generals and by that I mean many more Americans need to challenge those in authority, especially those in uniform.

Yet challenging them is just a start. The only real way to wrestle the military-industrial complex to the ground is to cut its funding in half, whether gradually over years or in one fell swoop. Yes, indeed, it’s the understatement of the century to note how much easier that’s said than done. It’s not like any of us could wave a military swagger stick like a magic wand and make half the Pentagon budget disappear. But consider this: If I could do so, that military budget would still be roughly $430 billion, easily more than China’s and Russia’s combined, and more than seven times what this country spends on the State Department. As usual, you get what you pay for, which for America has meant more weapons and disastrous wars.

Join me in imagining the (almost) inconceivable — a Pentagon budget cut in half. Yes, generals and admirals would scream and Congress would squeal. But it would truly matter because, as a retired Army major general once told me, major budget cuts would force the Pentagon to think — for once. With any luck, a few sane and patriotic officers would emerge to place the defense of America first, meaning that hubristic imperial designs and forever wars would truly be reined in because there’d simply be no more money for them.

Currently, Americans are giving the Pentagon all it wants — plus some. And how’s that been working out for the rest of us? Isn’t it finally time for us to exercise real oversight, as Ike challenged us to do in 1961? Isn’t it time to force the Pentagon to pass an audit each year — it’s failed the last five! — or else cut its budget even more deeply? Isn’t it time to hold Congress truly responsible for enabling ever more war by voting out military sycophants? Isn’t it time to recognize, as America’s founders did, that sustaining a vast military establishment constitutes the slow and certain death of democracy?

Just remember one thing: the military-industrial complex won’t reform itself. It just might have no choice, however, but to respond to our demands, if we as citizens remain alert, knowledgeable, determined, and united. And if it should refuse to, if the MIC can’t be tamed, whether because of its strength or our weakness, you will know beyond doubt that this country has truly lost its way.

Even AI Is Suspicious of the Military-Industrial Complex

W.J. Astore

Asking a leading question of the computer gods

In my eclectic reading, I came across a couple of references to ChatGPT, an experiment in artificial intelligence (AI). You ask the AI bot a question, or give it a task, and it spits out an answer, and I must say a pretty good one judging from the task I gave it.

My task to the AI bot: “Write a critical essay on the military-industrial complex.” Here’s what it generated:

The military-industrial complex refers to the relationship between a country’s military and the defense industry that supplies it, seen together as a vested interest which influences public policy. This relationship has been a source of concern for many people, who argue that it can lead to an unnecessary expansion of military budgets and an over-reliance on military solutions to problems.

One of the main criticisms of the military-industrial complex is that it can result in the waste of taxpayer money. Military contracts are often given to a select group of companies, which can result in overcharging for goods and services. Additionally, the military often purchases weapons and equipment that are unnecessary or not well-suited for the tasks at hand. This can lead to a tremendous amount of waste and inefficiency, as resources are poured into projects that do not provide much value.

Another concern is that the military-industrial complex can distort foreign policy decision-making. Countries with a strong military-industrial complex may be more likely to engage in military action, even when diplomatic solutions would be more appropriate. This can lead to an escalation of conflicts and an increased risk of war.

The military-industrial complex can also have negative impacts on domestic policy. It can divert resources away from other important priorities, such as education and healthcare. Additionally, the influence of the defense industry on policy decisions can lead to the prioritization of the needs of military contractors over the needs of the general public.

Some have argued that the military-industrial complex represents a threat to democracy, as it can give undue influence to a small group of powerful interests. This can lead to a lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making, as well as a distorted political process.

In conclusion, the military-industrial complex is a complex and multifaceted issue that has the potential to have negative impacts on both domestic and foreign policy. It is important for citizens to be aware of the potential dangers of this relationship and to hold their elected officials accountable for ensuring that military spending is responsible and transparent.

Not bad! Firstly, I’m glad I’m no longer a professor actively teaching and grading papers. Something tells me more than a few students might be reaching for help from the AI bot on their assignments. Often, I was able to catch plagiarism (the giveaway was an essay written too well with too many “big words” used correctly) by searching for certain phrases or sentences that struck me as more than odd or much too advanced, but now with these AI programs I’m guessing it’s going to be a lot harder to ensure students do their own work.

Anyhow, the AI bot essay on the military-industrial complex makes some good points, don’t you think? Though there’s still room for a human here (at least I hope so).

So what does this human intelligence (that’s me) have to say?

  1. “Unnecessary expansion of military budgets”: that’s for sure! The latest Pentagon budget is $858 billion, and that doesn’t count roughly $45 billion in aid (mostly military) to Ukraine. It also leaves out much spending related to homeland security, policing, and the like. By some estimates, 2/3rds of the federal discretionary budget is devoted to military, security, and policing.
  2. “Over-reliance on military solutions”: bingo! Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, the whole “war on terror” was and is driven by the idea that America’s singular military strength can solve everything.
  3. A “vested interest” that “influences public policy”: I think the AI bot has read Eisenhower’s warning about the undue influence of the MIC and the danger it poses to freedom and democracy.
  4. A “tremendous amount of waste and inefficiency”: Looks like the AI bot has heard that the Pentagon is missing trillions of dollars and has failed five audits in a row. It’s probably heard about wasteful weapons like the F-35 and B-21 as well. (Coincidence: as I was typing “wasteful,” the computer corrected my initial misspelling to “hateful.” Yes, I suppose a nuclear bomber that can kill millions could be described as “hateful”).
  5. “Escalation of conflicts” and “an increased risk of war”: Well, I’m glad our leaders have the Ukraine situation firmly in hand and are seeking a well-considered diplomatic solution. (Yes, that’s sarcasm. Match that, AI bot!)
  6. “Negative impacts on domestic policy”: Well, I’m glad Americans have excellent and affordable health care, virtually no debt due to educational costs, and that John Q. Public is heard as much as Boeing and Raytheon in the halls of power. (More sarcasm from the human!)
  7. “Lack of transparency and accountability”: Boy, this AI bot is smart! When’s the last time you heard of a U.S. general or admiral being cashiered for losing a war?
  8. “Important for citizens to be aware of the potential dangers” of the MIC: Hooray for the AI bot! If only we still had citizens in America who were kept informed about the dangers of the MIC. We’ve all been reduced to passive consumers and occasional voters who are told by the mainstream media to cheer for war and to revel in the beauty of our missiles.

I think you’ll agree, dear reader, that the AI bot is less sarcastic and more dispassionate than I am. It also speaks with much greater probity of the dangers of the MIC than people like Biden or Trump or Pelosi or DeSantis. So I say “three cheers!” for our new robot master. ChatGPT for President in 2024!

Just be sure to ask it the right questions …

Dominating Everyone Everywhere All At Once

W.J. Astore

Defense? Nonsense. It’s All Offense.

Terminology is so important.  There was a time when America spoke honestly of a Department of War. But not everyone is keen on war, even Americans, so in 1947 the national (in)security state slyly changed its name to the Department of Defense (DoD). And who can be against “defense”?

The problem is that America’s fundamental vision is offensive. We speak openly of global reach, global power, global vigilance. We never speak of regional or hemispheric defense. Regional power? Forget about it! Everything has to be “global.” Indeed, not just global but soaring above it into space. And not just outer space but virtual space and inner space, into one’s mind, so-called information dominance. For that’s what “full-spectrum” dominance is all about. To be safe, to “defend” us, the DoD must dominate everywhere, so we’re told.

This vision serves to generate yearly budgets that consume more than half of federal discretionary spending. It’s used to justify 750 military bases around the world. It’s consistent with dividing the globe into commands headed by four-star generals and admirals, e.g. AFRICOM, CENTCOM, NORTHCOM, and the like. It generates U.S. involvement in wars that few Americans know anything about, e.g. Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. It’s a vision consistent with a state of permanent warfare driven by imperial ambitions. 

I don’t think there’s ever been a military more ambitious and vainglorious than the U.S. military and its various straphangers (industry, congress, intelligence agencies, the media, academe, think tanks, hence the term MICIMATT).1 No wonder its “thought” leaders keep demanding and getting more and more money: at least $858 billion for FY2023 alone. The DoD is supposed to be a means to an end. Clearly, it’s become an end in and of itself; it may yet lead to the end of everything.

He who has the gold makes the rules—and no government agency gets more gold to dominate rule-making than the DoD/Pentagon. It’s a golden fleecing of America, as the Pentagon after five attempts has yet to pass an audit. The war on terror, including failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost America as much as $8 trillion, yet those failures have already been largely forgotten, with no senior officials called to account.

Our future is being stolen from us by wanton military spending.  At the same time, our past is being rewritten.  Lincoln’s ideal that “right makes might” and Washington’s ideal of the citizen-soldier have been replaced by might makes right enforced by warriors. Orwell rules the moment as war is sold as peace, surveillance as privacy, and censorship as free speech.

I remember my military oath of office: to support and DEFEND the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I still believe in defending the Constitution. I just don’t see that we’re doing it when we spend $858 billion (and more) on a global quest to dominate everyone everywhere all at once.

Defense? Nonsense. It’s all offense.

1

MICIMATT: military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academia-think-tank complex. Awkward acronym that has the virtue of capturing the size and scope of Ike’s old military-industrial complex.

The Mainstream Media and the U.S. Military

W.J. Astore

How do we stop the next war built on lies from being waged?

(I prepared these notes for a talk I gave on “Truth-killers: The Corporate Media and the Military-Industrial Complex,” sponsored by Massachusetts Peace Action.  David Swanson also spoke.)

I served in the U.S. military for 20 years, and for the last 15 years I’ve been writing articles that are generally critical of that military and our nation’s drift into militarism and endless warfare.  Here are two lessons I’ve learned:

1.     I agree with I.F. Stone that all governments lie.

2.     As a historian who’s read and studied military history for most of my life, I agree that the first casualty of war is truth.

Because all governments lie and because lies are especially common during war, a healthy democracy must have an outspoken and independent media that challenges and questions authority while informing the public.

But the mainstream media (MSM) in America is neither outspoken nor independent.  The MSM in America serves as stenographers to the powerful.  Far too often, the U.S. military/government lies and leaks, the MSM believes and repeats. 

The result is clear: disastrous wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) from which little is ever learned, enabled by a media culture that is deeply compromised by, or openly in league with, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC).

Here’s the fundamental issue: We need a skeptical and powerful media to deter the MICC from wars, war profiteering, and folly.  The MSM should, and must, serve as a check on the MICC while holding it accountable when it fails.  By doing neither, it serves various “big lies,” enabling future abuses of power by the national security state.  There is no accountability for failure, so failure is neither punished now nor is it curtailed in the future.

Even when the MICC fails, and since the Vietnam War it has failed frequently, it gets more money. Consider the FY2023 Pentagon budget, which sits at $858 billion, a nearly inconceivable sum and which is roughly $45 billion more than the Biden administration asked for. 

The challenge, as I see it: How do we stop the next war built on lies from being waged?

Something to ponder: Could a more critical, more courageous, truly independent media have shortened or stopped the Vietnam War? Iraq? Afghanistan?

In his famous speech warning Americans about the MICC in 1961, Eisenhower (Ike) said that only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry could guard against the acquisition of power by the MICC.  This may indeed be why most citizens are not kept informed or are misinformed about the U.S. military and its wars.  It’s hard to act when you’re kept ignorant.  You’ll also be reluctant to act when you’re told to defer to the “experts” in the MSM, most of whom are deeply compromised, often by conflicts of interest that are kept hidden from you. 

Military Mendacity

Put simply, the U.S. military, in its upper ranks, lacks honor.  What matters most is reputation and budgetary authority.  Sharing negative news with the media is the absolute last thing the military wants to do.  Surprisingly, most in the MSM are willing to look the other way, assuming they even know of military mendacity and malfeasance.

What this means, essentially, is that the MICC is unaccountable to the people–the very antithesis of democracy.

Three big examples of MICC mendacity: The Pentagon Papers revealed by Daniel Ellsberg during the Vietnam War; the Iraq War and lies about WMD (weapons of mass destruction); and the Afghan War Papers.  Even as the U.S. military was losing these three wars, military commanders and government officials spoke publicly and confidently of lights at the end of tunnels, of corners being turned toward victory.  (Privately, however, they talked of serious problems and lack of progress.)

With “The Pentagon Papers,” Daniel Ellsberg revealed the lies that helped fuel the Vietnam War

The MSM (with notable exceptions) largely repeated the happy-talk lies.  Since 9/11, this is unsurprising, since the MSM leans heavily on senior retired military officers, CIA officials, and the like to “interpret” events in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  As journalist David Barstow showed, these “interpreters” were and are fed talking points by the Pentagon.  Whatever this is, it’s not honest reporting.  It’s not journalism.  It’s state propaganda. 

It’s not that the American people can’t handle the truth about “their” military.  It’s that the MICC prefers to keep a lid on the truth, because the truth is often unfavorable to their positions, power, prestige, and profits. 

There are many ways the MICC works with a complicit media (and a compliant Congress) to keep the truth from us.

1.     Bad news is not reported.  Or it’s classified or otherwise hushed up.  Consider the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam or the “collateral murder” video from the Iraq War revealed by Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks.

2.     Critical information is omitted.  Coverage is edited.  Consider the ban on showing flag-draped coffins by the Bush/Cheney administration, or official reports about drone strikes that omitted the true number of civilian/non-combatant casualties.

3.     The military has its own PAOs (public affairs offices and officers) who feed news of “progress” and similar “good news” stories to the media.  This is also true of the State Department. (See Peter Van Buren’s account, “We Meant Well,” of his Potemkin Village-like experience in Iraq.)

4.     Ever-present appeals to patriotism and warnings that critical information will give aid and comfort to the enemy.  Even worse, portraying critics as pro-Putin, as possible traitors, as in the NBC smear campaign against Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, abetted also by Hillary Clinton.

5.     Run-of-the-mill propaganda.  Consider, for example, how almost all U.S. sporting events include glowing coverage of the military and veterans.  If all military members are “heroes,” how dare we question them!  Instead, you’re encouraged to salute smartly and remain silent.

Media Complicity

Why is the MSM so hobbled and often so complicit with the MICC?

1.     Intimidation.  Critics are punished.  Examples include Ashleigh Banfield, Phil Donahue, and Chris Hedges in the early days of the Iraq War.  Think of Julian Assange today.  Edward Snowden.  Daniel Hale.  Smart journalists know (or learn) that critics and whistleblowers are punished; cheerleaders are promoted, e.g. Brian Williams, demoted for stolen valor but redeemed for declaring his awe at “the beauty” of U.S. missiles.

2.     Ratings/Economics.  Recall that MSNBC fired Phil Donahue over concerns that his critical coverage of the Iraq War was turning off viewers, i.e. that the network wasn’t being seen as “patriotic” as rivals like CNN or Fox News, thereby losing market share and money.

3.     Embedding Process.  Reporters who want to cover war are often embedded with U.S. military units.  They come to identify with “their” troops, who, after all, are protecting them from harm.  The embedding process forges a sense of dependency and camaraderie that interferes with disinterested and balanced reporting.

4.     Reliance on deeply conflicted experts from the MICC instead of independent journalists.  Whatever else they are, retired generals and CIA directors are not reporters or journalists.

5.     Corporate advertising dollars.  Why air a report critical of Boeing or Northrop Grumman when that company is a major advertiser on your network?  Why bite the hand that feeds you?

You don’t need a top secret “Mockingbird” project by the CIA to infiltrate and influence the MSM, as we witnessed during the Cold War and Vietnam.  Today, the MSM and its owners acquiesce in their own infiltration, hiring retired CIA agents and similar senior government officials to give/sell their “unbiased” opinions.

Again, military contractors pay for ads and sponsor shows on TV. The media is not about to challenge or criticize a big revenue stream. And it’s not always a weapons maker like Boeing or Raytheon. Think of ExxonMobil.  Their thirstiest customer is the U.S. military; ExxonMobil is unlikely to support media reports that criticize its biggest customer.

Meanwhile, there are precious few reporters and journalists willing to risk their careers to challenge the MICC.  With so-called access journalism, if you reveal uncomfortable facts, you’ll likely lose access to the powerful, alienate your bosses, and probably lose your job.

Food for Thought: Journalists are selected and groomed for compliance to mainstream militarized agendas. They’ve learned and internalized what is acceptable and what isn’t.  If they refuse to play along, they’re fired or shunted aside. (See Noam Chomsky and the manufacturing of consent.)

For the U.S. military, full-spectrum dominance includes information and the control of the same, including most especially in America.

A final shocking truth: The U.S. military lost in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere while avoiding responsibility. Indeed, its cultural authority and its command over the media have only grown stronger.  Worse, the military promulgates, or goes along with, various stab-in-the-back myths that exculpate itself while mendaciously blaming the few good media outlets for accurate reporting about the MICC’s failings.

A crucial step in preventing future disastrous wars is a media culture that sees the MICC for what it is: a danger to democracy and liberty, as Ike warned us in 1961 in his farewell address.  How we get there is a crucial issue; the failures above suggest remedies.

One remedy I wrote about in 2008: the major networks need to develop their own, independent, journalists who are experts on the military, rather than relying largely on retired military officers and other senior government officials.

We are told that America has independent media rather than state media like China or Russia.  Yet, if America had official state media, would its coverage differ from today’s content?  The MSM supports state and corporate agendas because that’s how it makes money even as it claims it’s “independent.”

A Couple of Anecdotes

A journalist colleague told me of his experience teaching students at one of America’s universities.  His sense: most students today don’t want to be Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  They aspire to be on-air personalities who make six-figure salaries while being invited to all the right parties.  They don’t want to afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted; they want to be among the most comfortable.  Crusading for truth isn’t what they’re about.  They seek to be insiders.

From the Robert Redford movie, “Three Days of the Condor.”  If a whistleblower goes to the MSM (in the movie, it’s The New York Times), will the truth ever see the light of day?  More to the point, if the American people do see it, will they even care?

What we’re witnessing in America, according to Matt Taibbi, is an “elaborate, systematized method of censorship and opinion control.”  Taibbi mentions agencies like Homeland Security and Justice/FBI and their focus on “collecting domestic intelligence on a grand scale … seeking to distort the public’s perception of reality through mass moderation, via programs we’ve been told little to nothing about.”

While Taibbi, in his latest investigation, focused on social media and especially Twitter, the reality is that the MSM (and social media as well) is complicit with the government/military, collaborating on what “truths” are fed to the people while suppressing facts that are deemed dangerous, embarrassing, inconvenient, and otherwise not in the interest of the MICC.

With so many Americans now getting their news from social media sites rather than the MSM, that the government serves as a powerful content-moderator for what counts as “reliable” news on social media should disturb us all.

Again, it’s hard for Americans to serve as Ike’s “alert and knowledgeable” citizenry when they are fed lies, disinformation, and propaganda by the government and MSM. 

Even more fundamentally, when corporations are elevated and protected as super-capable “citizens” and when citizens themselves are reduced to passive consumers—when corporations own the MSM while profiting greatly from war and militarism—there’s little hope of fostering freedom and of ever escaping from a state of permanent warfare.

This is where we are today.

Escalatory Pressures in the Russia-Ukraine War

W.J. Astore

It’s time for a Christmas truce followed by negotiation

Three articles related to the Russia-Ukraine War caught my attention today.

The first, at NBC News, argues that Patriot missile batteries are not enough to defend Ukraine. The article urges the U.S. to provide Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine to enable attacks deep into the interior of Russia, including most especially bases where strategic bombers are located. The subtitle to this article is especially provocative: “Western limitations on providing Kyiv with long-distance offensive capabilities are becoming nonsensical.”

Did you get that? It’s “nonsensical” to be concerned about providing offensive weaponry that would exert more escalatory pressure on this war. 

The second article, also at NBC News, suggests that Ukraine in the near future may possess the military wherewithal to take Crimea from Russia. Some concern was expressed that Putin could respond with nuclear weapons if Russia’s hold on Crimea was threatened.

The third article from the British Guardian addresses recent Russian attacks on Kharkiv, as follows: “Kharkiv left without power, heating and water as Russian attack causes ‘colossal’ damage, says mayor. Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, is without power, heating and water after Russian missile strikes on Friday morning caused ‘colossal’ damage to infrastructure, its mayor Ihor Terekhov said.”

What this all adds up to is a war that is growing increasingly dangerous and destructive not just for Ukraine and Russia but possibly for Europe and indeed the world.

Meanwhile, a friend sent me this article from Vox about a recent party in Washington D.C. focused on Ukraine and the war. The party’s invitations were sponsored by major U.S. weapons contractors, in this case Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin.

Invitation obtained by Vox for a party supported by big hitters in the military-industrial complex

Strangely, I heartily approve of this invitation because the sponsors are, for once, obvious. Can’t say that I blame the corporations: they know a great opportunity when they see it.

What Russia and Ukraine need are not more pressures to escalate but more reasons to talk, to negotiate, to put an end to this war before it truly runs out of control.

Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. see more weaponry as the answer. One thing is certain: you won’t get an argument on that from those “supporters” listed on the invitation above.

Can we not, as Vera Brittain argued, find the courage to end these cycles of vengeance and violence? We must learn to say “no” to killing. “No” to war. In that spirit, I signed a declaration calling for a Christmas truce in Ukraine. Here’s an article from Codepink on the effort.

Here’s hoping for a Christmas truce that gains traction.

Peace Is Not Our Profession

The Madness of Nuclear Warfare, Alive and Well in America

W.J. Astore

(Here’s my latest for TomDispatch.com; If you haven’t subscribed, you should!)

Hey, cheer up because it truly is a beauty! I’m talking about this country’s latest “stealth bomber,” the B-21 Raider, just revealed by Northrop Grumman, the company that makes it, in all its glory. With its striking bat-winged shape and its ability to deliver a very big bang (as in nuclear weapons), it’s our very own “bomber of the future.” As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put it at its explosive debut, it will “fortify America’s ability to deter aggression, today and into the future.” Now, that truly makes me proud to be an American.

And while you’re at it, on this MAD (as in mutually assured destruction) world of ours, let that scene, that peculiar form of madness, involving the potential end of everything on Planet Earth, sink in. As a retired Air Force officer, it reminded me all too vividly of my former service and brought to mind the old motto of the Strategic Air Command(SAC), “Peace Is Our Profession.” Headed in its proudest years by the notorious General Curtis LeMay, it promised “peace” via the threat of the total nuclear annihilation of America’s enemies. 

SAC long controlled two “legs” of this country’s nuclear triad: its land-based bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. During the Cold War, those Titans, Minutemen, and MX “Peacekeepers” were kept on constant alert, ready to pulverize much of the planet at a moment’s notice. It didn’t matter that this country was likely to be pulverized, too, in any war with the Soviet Union. What mattered was remaining atop the nuclear pile. A concomitant benefit was keeping conventional wars from spinning out of control by threatening the nuclear option or, as was said at the time, “going nuclear.” (In the age of Biden, it’s “Armageddon.”)

Luckily, since the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world hasn’t gone nuclear again and yet this country’s military continues, with the help of weapons makers like Northrop Grumman, to hustle down that very path to Armageddon. Once upon a time, the absurdity of all this was captured by Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, the satirical 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, which featured a “war room” in which there was no fighting, even as its occupants oversaw a nuclear doomsday. Sadly enough, that movie still seems eerily relevant nearly 60 years later in a world lacking the Soviet Union, where the threat of nuclear war nonetheless looms ever larger. What gives?

The short answer is that America’s leaders, like their counterparts in Russia and China, seem to have a collective death wish, a shared willingness to embrace the most violent and catastrophic weapons in the name of peace.

Nuclear Bombers and ICBMs Return!

There’s nothing magical about the nuclear triad. It’s not the Holy “Trinity,” as a congressman from Florida said long ago. Even so, it’s worshipped by the U.S. military in its own all-too-expensive fashion. America’s triad consists of bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons (B-52s, B-1s, B-2s, and someday B-21s), those land-based ICBMs, and that most survivable “leg,” the U.S. Navy’s Trident-missile-firing submarines. No other country has a triad quite as impressive (if that’s the word for it), nor is any other country planning to spend up to $2 trillion over the next three decades “modernizing” it. The Air Force, of course, controls the first two legs of that triad and isn’t about to give them up just because they’re redundant to America’s “defense” (given those submarines), while constituting a threat to life on this planet.

Recently, when the Air Force unveiled that B-21 Raider, its latest nuclear-capable bomber, we learned that it looks much like its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit, with its bat-like shape (known as a “flying wing” design) driven by stealth or the avoidance of radar detection. The Air Force plans to buy “at least” 100 of those planes at a projected cost of roughly $750 million each. Count on one thing, though: with the inevitable delays and cost overruns associated with any high-tech military project these days, the flyaway cost will likely exceed $1 billion per plane, or at least $100 billion of your taxpayer dollars (and possibly even $200 billion).

Four years ago, when I first wrote about the B-21, its estimated cost was $550 million per plane, but you know the story, right? The F-35 was supposed to be a low-cost, multi-role fighter jet. A generation later, by the Air Force’s own admission, it’s now a staggeringly expensive “Ferrari” of a plane, sexy in appearance but laden with flaws. Naturally, the B-21 is advertised as a multi-role bomber that can carry “conventional” or non-nuclear munitions as well as thermonuclear ones, but its main reason for being is its alleged ability to put nuclear bombs on target, even without Slim Pickens (“Major Kong” in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangeloveriding down on one of them.

The main arguments for expensive nuclear bombers are that they can be launched as a show of resolve but also, unlike missiles, recalled, if necessary. (Or so we hope anyway.) They have a “man in the loop” for greater targeting flexibility and so complicate the enemy’s defensive planning. Such arguments may have made some sense in the 1950s and early 1960s, before ICBMs and their sub-launched equivalents were fully mature technologies, but they’re stuff and nonsense today. If nuclear-capable nations like Russia and China aren’t already deterred by the hundreds of missiles with thousands of highly accurate nuclear warheads in America’s possession, they’re not about to be deterred by a few dozen, or even 100, new B-21 stealth bombers, no matter the recent Hollywood-style hype about them.

Yet logic couldn’t matter less here. What matters is that the Air Force has had nuclear-capable bombers since those first modified B-29s that dropped Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the generals are simply not about to give them up — ever. Meanwhile, building any sophisticated weapons system like the B-21 is sure to employ tens of thousands of workers. (There are already 400 parts suppliersfor the B-21 scattered across 40 states to ensure the undying love of the most congressional representatives imaginable.) It’s also a boondoggle for America’s many merchants of death, especially the lead contractor, Northrop Grumman.

A reader at my Bracing Views Substack, a Vietnam veteran, nailed it when he described his own reaction to the B-21’s unveiling:

“What struck me in my heart (fortunately, I have a great pacemaker) was the self-assured, almost condescending demeanor of the Secretary [of Defense], the Hollywood staging and lighting, and the complete absence of consideration of what cognitive/emotional/moral injuries might be inflicted on the viewer, never mind experiencing exposure to the actual bomber and its payload — add in the incredible cost and use of taxpayer money for a machine and support system that can never actually be used, or if used, would produce incalculable destruction of people and planet; again, never mind how all that could have been used to start making America into a functioning social democracy instead of a declining, tottering empire.”

Social democracy? Perish the thought. The U.S. economy is propped up by a militarized Keynesianism tightly embraced by Congress and whatever administration is in the White House. So, no matter how unnecessary those bombers may be, no matter how their costs spiral ever upwards, they’re likely to endure. Look for them flying over a sports stadium near you, perhaps in 2030 — if, that is, we’re still alive as a species.

As the Air Force buys new stealth bombers with your tax dollars, they also plan to purchase a new generation of ICBMs, or a “ground-based strategic deterrent” in Newspeak, to plant in missile silos in garden spots like rural Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The Air Force has had ICBMs since the 1960s. Roughly 1,000 of them (though that service initially requested 10,000) were kept on high alert well into the 1980s. Today’s ICBM force is smaller, but ever more expensive to maintain due to its age. It’s also redundant, thanks to the Navy’s more elusive and survivable nuclear deterrent. But, again, logic doesn’t matter here. Whether needed or not, the Air Force wants those new land-based missiles just like those stealth bombers and Congress is all too willing to fund them in your name.

Ka-ching! But hopefully not ka-boom!

Just as the purchase price for the B-21 project is expected to start at $100 billion (but will likely far exceed that), the new ICBMs, known as Sentinels, are also estimated to cost $100 billion. It brings to mind an old saying (slightly updated): a hundred billion here, a hundred billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. In a case of egregious double-dipping, Northrop Grumman is once again the lead contractor, having recently opened a $1.4 billion facility to design the new missile in Colorado Springs, conveniently close to the Air Force Academy and various other Air and Space Force facilities. Location, location, location!

Why such nuclear folly? The usual reasons, of course. Building genocidal missiles creates jobs. It’s a boon and a half for the industrial part of the military-industrial-congressional complex. It’s considered “healthy” for the communities where those missiles will be located, rural areas that would suffer economically if the Air Force bases there were instead dismantled or decommissioned. For that service, shiny new ICBMs are a budget bonanza, while helping to ensure that the real “enemy” — and yes, I have the U.S. Navy in mind — won’t end up with a monopoly on world-ending weaponry.

In the coming decades, expect those “Sentinels” to be planted in fields far from where most Americans live under the guiding principle that, if we keep them out of sight, they’ll be out of mind as well. Yet I can’t help but think that this country’s military is out of its mind in “planting” them there when the only harvest can be of mass death.

It’s a MAD Old World

As MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman would undoubtedly have said, “What, me worry?”

Oh, MAD old world that has such nukes in it! Color me astonished, in fact, that America’s nuclear weapons mix hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. That sort of world-ending persistence should tell us something, but what exactly? For one thing, that not enough of us can imagine a brave new world without genocidal nuclear weapons in it.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev actually did so. They came close, in fact, to reaching a deal to eliminate nuclear weapons. Sadly, Reagan proved reluctant to abandon his dream of a nuclear space shield, then popularly known as “Star Wars” or, more formally, as the Strategic Defense Initiative. Since Reagan, sadly enough, U.S. presidents have stayed the course on nukes. Most disappointingly, the Nobel Prize-winning Barack Obama spoke of eliminating them, supported by former Cold War stalwarts like Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, only to abandon that goal, partly to solidify support in the Senate for a nuclear deal with Iran that, no less sadly, is itself pretty much dead and buried today.

If saintly Reagan and saintly Obama couldn’t do it, what hope do ordinary Americans have of ending our nuclear MADness? Well, to quote a real saint, Catholic peace activist Dorothy Day, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” It’s hard to think of a system more filthy or rotten than one that threatens to destroy most life on our planet, so that this country could in some fashion “win” World War III.

Win what, exactly? A burnt cinder of a planet?

Look, I’ve known airmen who’ve piloted nuclear bombers. I’ve known missileersresponsible for warheads that could kill millions (if ever launched). My brother guarded ICBM silos when he was a security policeman in SAC. I sat in the Air Force’s missile-warning center at Cheyenne Mountain under 2,000 feet of solid granite as we ran computerized war games that ended in… yep, mutually assured destruction. We were, at least individually, not insane. We were doing our duty, following orders, preparing for the worst, while (most of us, anyway) hoping for the best.

A word of advice: don’t look for those within this nightmarish system to change it, not when our elected representatives are part of the very military-industrial complex that sustains this MADness. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry, with real freedom, could act to do so for the benefit of humanity. But will we ever do that? 

“We’re going backwards as a country,” my wife reminds me — and I fear that she’s right. She summarized the hoopla at the B-21’s recent unveiling this way: “Let’s go gaga over a mass-murder machine.”

Collectively, it seems that we may be on the verge of returning to a nightmarish past, where we lived in fear of a nuclear war that would kill us all, the tall and the small, and especially the smallest among us, our children, who really are our future.

My fear: that we’ve already become comfortably numb to it and no longer can take on that culture of mass death. I say this with great sadness, as an American citizen and a human being.   

No matter. At least a few of us will have profited from building new ultra-expensive stealth bombers and shiny new missiles, while ensuring that mushroom clouds remain somewhere in our collective future. Isn’t that what life is truly all about?

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore

The Disastrous War in Ukraine

W.J. Astore

A blank check of support is often a dangerous thing, especially in war

Remarkably, U.S. aid to Ukraine may soon exceed $100 billion if the Biden administration’s latest ask is approved. And more than a few Americans believe Ukraine merits this vast sum—and more.

They argue the Ukraine war is a necessary one and applaud the Biden administration for taking a firm stance against Russian aggression.  They see Putin as a dangerous dictator who seeks to revive a Russian empire at the expense of Europe, and they wholeheartedly approve of U.S. and NATO military aid.  They argue Ukraine is winning the war and that, once the war is won, Ukraine should be invited to join NATO.  They see NATO as a benign presence and dismiss Russian concerns that NATO expansion is in any way provocative. And they see negotiation with Putin as at best premature and at worst as rewarding Putin for his Hitlerian aggression.

My stance is different.  Yes, I denounce Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and hope that he loses, but I’d prefer to see a negotiated settlement.  The longer the war lasts, the more people die, Russian and Ukrainian, and the greater the chance of miscalculationfollowed by escalation, possibly even to nuclear weapons.

I don’t think the U.S. government cares a whit about defending democracy in Ukraine; heck, it barely defends democracy in America. I think the government and specifically the MICC (military-industrial-congressional complex) has several goals:

1.     To weaken Russia militarily and economically via what some term a proxy war.

2.     To sell more natural gas to Europe (hence the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines).

3.     To sell massive amounts of weaponry to Ukraine.

4.     To elevate Russia to an “evil empire” once again, ensuring higher Pentagon spending.  Notice how there’s been no “peace dividend” in the aftermath of the Afghan War. Indeed, Pentagon budgets have soared since the Russian invasion.

5.     To support the narrative of a new cold war against Russia and China, ensuring even more spending on weapons and wars.

6.     Finally, as Biden stated openly, the desire to effect regime change in Russia, i.e. the overthrow of Putin by his own people.

Again, I’m no Putin fan, and I truly wish he’d give up and withdraw his forces. But I very much doubt he’ll do that. It seems more likely that both sides, Ukraine and Russia, will continue launching missiles and drones at each other while the war escalates further. Consider recent reports of Ukrainian attacks on Russian barracks in the Crimea even as Russia targets infrastructure in Odesa.

So, while it’s true U.S. and NATO aid will keep Ukraine in the war, it’s also true Ukrainians and Russians will continue to suffer and die in a war that is already escalating in dangerous ways. It all has the makings of a far-reaching disaster, but what we’re encouraged to do is to ask no questions while flying the Ukrainian flag just below our American ones.

A blank check of support is often a dangerous thing, especially in war.

A Peculiar Form of American Madness

W.J. Astore

Heroification of the military is a strange mindset for any self-avowed democracy

America is touched by a peculiar form of collective madness that sees military action as creative rather than destructive, desirable rather than deplorable, and constitutive to democracy rather than corrosive to it.

This madness, this hubris, this elevation or heroification of the military and war has to end, or it will most certainly end America, if not the world.

Related to this, America advances and sustains a historical narrative based on triumphalism, exceptionalism, and goodness. We Americans see total military dominance as something to crow about, even as we insist that it’s our birthright as “exceptional” Americans. This mindset, or Zeitgeist if you will, enables and empowers a national security state that easily consumes more than half of federal discretionary spending each year. As long as this mindset persists, the MICC or MICIMATT will persist and continue to grow in reach and power.

So that’s my first big step in taming the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academia-think-tank complex. America’s mindset, its culture, must change. Change the mindset and you begin to change the deference if not adulation granted to the MICIMATT.

Change the mindset, weaken the blob. That was what Dwight D. Eisenhower had in mind in his “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953.1 Our peculiar form of militarized madness is simply no way of life at all for democracy or for the planet.

It won’t be easy because we’re taught to salute the military and support “our” beloved troops. We’re taught that corporations like Boeing and Raytheon are job-creators, even citizens. We look to Congress to represent us, even as its members thrive on corporate campaign contributions (bribes) while genuflecting to the generals and admirals. We look to the media for news and information even as those outlets are fueled by advertising dollars from companies like Boeing, if not owned by them. We look to “liberal” academia for new ideas even as colleges and universities compete for Pentagon research and development dollars. We look to think tanks for fresh approaches even as they’re funded by weapons contractors.

Under these conditions, it’s not surprising that the U.S. no longer sees peace as possible or even as desirable. Peace is rarely mentioned by U.S. political candidates or by the mainstream media. War is simply taken for granted; even worse, it’s seen as the health of the state.

That war is now seen as the health of the state is indeed a peculiar form of American madness. As the Christmas season approaches, is it too much to ask for sanity as in peace on earth and good will toward all?

1

Ike’s “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953 was brilliant in its clarity and power. Can you imagine any U.S. politician saying these words today?

“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.”