Wednesday Worries

W.J. Astore

I’ve been meaning to post more about President Biden’s decision to throw $33 billion in weapons and money at Ukraine, followed by the decision in the House to boost that to $40 billion, and the vote that took place in which all Democrats, including the so-called Squad, voted for it, with a few dozen Republicans voting against. The implications of this are staggering. The U.S. has already committed more than $50 billion to the proxy war against Russia as Americans stagger under rising costs for everything.

We need Russia to attack the American working class — only then might workers in America get some financial relief from “their” government.

Democrats are “all-in” on being pro-war and pro-military (and pro-police, since Biden has called for even more police to be hired), leaving anti-war positions to a smattering of Republicans with various motivations. All credit to Senator Rand Paul for holding up the $40 billion Ukraine “aid” package. He wants an Inspector General to monitor and control how this immense sum of money will be spent for Ukraine. A smidgen of accountability — imagine that! I actually wrote a note to Senator Paul to salute him for this and for his opposition to the DHS Disinformation Governance Board.

More unaccountable billions for Ukraine and the military-industrial complex, more government censorship for Americans: a couple of worries for our Wednesday.

Anyhow, here are a few good articles I’ve been meaning to cite on this:

Caitlin Johnstone, “The Squad” doesn’t exist outside of social media https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/13/the-squad-doesnt-exist-outside-of-social-media/

The US House of Representatives has voted 368-57 to spend $40 billion on a world-threatening proxy war while ordinary Americans struggle to feed themselves and their children. All 57 “no” votes were Republicans. Every member of the small faction of progressive House Democrats popularly known as “The Squad” voted yes.

The massive proxy war bill then went to the Senate, where it was stalled with scrutiny not from progressive superstar Bernie Sanders, but from Republican Rand Paul.

This is because the left-wing Democrat is a myth, like the good billionaire or the happy open marriage. It’s not a real thing; it’s just a pleasant fairy tale people tell themselves so they don’t have to go through the psychological turmoil of acknowledging that their entire worldview is built on lies.

Glenn Greenwald:

The Bizarre, Unanimous Dem Support for the $40b War Package to Raytheon and CIA: “For Ukraine”

Video Transcript: “The US Anti-War Left is Dead. The Squad’s $40b War Vote Just Killed It.” Many Dems voting YES have long denounced exactly these sorts of bills. What happened?

What happened, indeed? Not a single Democrat has a principled stance against weapons and war.

Another article by Caitlin Johnstone details a war game on NBC News that addresses a war with China over Taiwan: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/16/pentagon-funded-think-tank-simulates-war-with-china-on-nbc/

Funded by the American taxpayer!

And then there’s this article by Dan Froomkin: “CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch”

CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch

Here’s the beginning of Froomkin’s article:

You could see something new playing out on the Sunday shows this past weekend: Some TV news networks are starting to raise questions about whether the U.S. involvement in the Ukraine might have some downsides.

But not on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

After hearing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who called for “more weapons, more sanctions” — and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova — who asked for “more military support, more sanctions” — “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan warmly welcomed Jim Taiclet, the chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, tossing him questions that weren’t even softballs, they were bouquets.

One can imagine how that might have come about. Earlier in the week, President Biden visited a Lockheed Martin factory in Alabama that makes Javelin anti-tank missiles, pitching his requests for $33 billion in aid to Ukraine and subsidies for American microchip production. So Ukraine and supply-chain issues were in the news, and Taiclet could address both.

But still, what it came down to was a major television network inviting onto its marquee news show the head of the largest weapons manufacturer in the world — the company that profits more from war than any other company worldwide — and not asking a single pointed question.

Watch the entire six-minute segment and ask yourself if state television in a totalitarian country would have done it any differently.

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the mainstream media occasionally did challenge the military-industrial complex. Those days are gone. I no longer see articles that criticize waste, fraud, abuse, threat inflation, and so on. The mainstream media, like the Democrats, have become pro-war and pro-weapons and pro-Pentagon. Rare indeed do you hear any sustained criticism or meaningful opposition. (You do get posturing from the Squad, but only when their posturing has no effect on legislation and money.)

What good is freedom of the press when the press muzzles itself on issues that could very well lead to a wider war, even a nuclear one? Why is America shoveling scores of billions of dollars to sustain a bloodletting in Ukraine? What is our strategy to end this war, rather than simply prolonging it and profiting from it?

So I worry.

Tuesday Thoughts

W.J. Astore

Today, I parked behind a car that had a “Semper Fi” sticker for the Marines, an American flag sticker, another sticker that said “Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump,” and a final sticker that read: “The Media Is the Virus” (in place of Covid-19, I assume). It’s nice that people identify themselves so readily in America, thereby making it easier to avoid them. I’ve traveled to a few countries and I’ve never seen this proclivity for bumper stickers and the like replicated in other lands. What is it about Americans that we want our cars and trucks and SUVs to scream our views? Doesn’t matter if you’re “liberal” or a Trumper or what-have-you. Americans are very much in your face about their beliefs. Because, ah, freedom?

Who will win in 2022 and 2024: the woke Republicans, otherwise known as Democrats, or the unwoke ones who generally support Trump? And if you think Democrats like Joe Biden aren’t like Republicans, consider this: Biden is pro-police, pro-military, pro-war, and anti-worker in the sense that we’ve seen no increase to the federal minimum wage, no student debt relief, no meaningful health care reform, and no concerted effort to reduce inflation or to lower gasoline prices. As the rich get richer under Biden, generally the poor get poorer. Worked the same way under Trump and Obama, didn’t it?

If we judge Biden by his deeds as well as his words, he’s emulated the pro-business Republican-lite policies of Barack Obama, but with none of Obama’s charisma.

Isn’t it time America had a second party to choose from, rather than two right-wing factions of the same corporate uniparty?

Biden has a new press secretary who’s a Black female and a member of the LGBTQ community. Will it feel any better being lied to by her rather than a white female or the typical cis white male? As Cornel West noted, it’s not enough to put Black faces in high places if they’re just as committed to the Establishment as the typical cis white male. We need more than optical diversity in this country.

That said, I’d love to see more women in Congress (indeed, more women in all positions of power), and more diversity across America. But, again, if the “civilian” Secretary of Defense is from Raytheon via a career spent in the U.S. Army, does it really matter that he’s Black when he’s thoroughly a man of the military-industrial complex?

What if all NFL players wore peace symbols on their helmets rather than American flags? Would their heads explode first, or ours?

There’s no escaping the military-industrial complex. This weekend, I watched the Red Sox play the Rangers in Texas. There’s a huge blue and white ad for Lockheed Martin in the outfield; even worse, the company logo was superimposed on the pitcher’s mound! Every pitch, almost every play, was sponsored by my friends at Lockheed Martin, maker of the F-35 jet fighter, among other weapons. How heartening!

Trevor Story makes a play for the Red Sox as Lockheed Martin looms in the background

Remember those old commercials: baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet? Chevrolet has been replaced by Lockheed Martin, with our president visiting weapons factories to promote the Javelin missile. With our president shilling for weapons and with Congress shoveling more than $50 billion to Ukraine to sustain a devastating war, tell me again how Democrats are making the world safer and more secure?

What will be the next galvanizing cause that forces people into the streets? The last one was Black Lives Matter and protests against police brutality that briefly led to a “defund the police” moment, which really meant to decrease police militarization while allocating more funds for mental health, family counselors, and other non-violent approaches to defusing trouble. President Biden has already said the answer is to fund the police, not defund them. How is this a “democratic” message? How is this even remotely adequate as a response to the very real anger and grievances of the BLM movement?

Fifty years ago, George McGovern asked America “to come home.” To end foreign wars. To focus on our problems here. To cut the Pentagon budget and to refund the savings to the American people. Was he the last real Democrat to run for President? Why do you never, ever, hear about his ideas today?

Why has every president since Ronald Reagan used the office to cash in after leaving? Kudos to Jimmy Carter for being a true, humble, and honorable public servant, and for having a brother who briefly brought us Billy Beer.

What are your Tuesday thoughts, readers?

Militarism Run Mad

W.J. Astore

Remember President Biden’s request for $33 billion in “aid” to Ukraine? That $33 billion package has become $40 billion and has already been approved by the House. More than half of this “aid” is in the form of weapons or in support of deploying more U.S. troops and equipment to Europe. And even that $40 billion isn’t high enough for some members of the Senate, who are calling for even more “aid,” i.e. more spending at the expense of the American taxpayer that will likely serve to prolong the Russia-Ukraine War.

More and more money for war recalls a famous quip by Winston Churchill in the age of navalism, when industrial interests in the UK pushed for more and more battleships to be built so that Britain could continue to rule the waves and not be slaves.

As Churchill famously said: The Admiralty had demanded six ships; the economists offered four; and we finally compromised on eight.

America has embraced a militarized Keynesianism that is very good indeed for weapons makers like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. It’s also very good for the Pentagon, whose budget projections keep rising when they should be falling.

Think about it. Overall, the Russian military hasn’t yet distinguished itself in Ukraine, and the longer the war lasts, the weaker that military becomes. If the U.S. military budget was actually based on an honest assessment of threats, the budget should be decreasing as Russia becomes less of a threat.

Another interesting aspect of this is that it’s mainly been Republicans voting against the $40 billion package in “aid.” Democrats, no matter how “progressive,” are eagerly voting for it, even as inflation soars in America and people struggle to make ends meet.

Perhaps it’s time to build more battleships to help the poor and struggling? We can house the unhoused in ships!

Housing for the unhoused! The HMS Dreadnought battleship

Listening to Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange

W.J. Astore

I’ve caught a couple of videos featuring Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange and want to share insights I gleaned from them.

Let’s start with Julian Assange, currently being punished for being a journalist who actually challenges powerful people by telling uncomfortable truths. When asked what the number one enemy is, Assange replies that it’s ignorance. People are ignorant because the vast majority of the media are “awful,” relying on deliberate distortion and lies to advance narratives that reinforce the already powerful. As Assange notes, nearly every war is the result of lies facilitated by the mainstream media. This is unsurprising, since the media has been coopted by the military-industrial complex. Generally, people don’t like wars (surprise!), but it’s relatively easy to lie and manipulate most people into supporting them.

You can see why Assange had to be locked up in a maximum security prison and effectively gagged.

Awful media coverage is not just about lying; it’s also about eliding the truth. Consider blanket coverage of the Russia-Ukraine War and contrast that with the dearth of coverage of an ongoing genocide in Yemen, of slave markets in Libya, of starvation in Afghanistan, of U.S. occupation of oil fields in Syria. How can you speak out against the latter when there’s a relentless and all-consuming focus on Ukraine as the good guy and Russia and Putin as pure evil?

Chomsky’s insights into the media complement those of Assange. Media talking heads, Chomsky notes, are screened and selected for their obedience and conformity: their willingness to be subordinate, to go along to get along. They are boot-licking careerists, essentially, who learn quickly that there are certain things you just don’t say. And if you should stray and start to color outside the lines, you are slapped back into line, and if that doesn’t take, your crayons are confiscated and you’re demoted, fired, or otherwise silenced. Think again of the Iraq War in 2003 and how Phil Donahue was fired, Jesse Ventura was hired then put on ice because NBC belatedly discovered he was antiwar, Ashleigh Banfield was demoted for speaking out against the one-sided, pro-America coverage that almost entirely ignored Iraqi casualties and suffering, and so on.

Jesse Ventura, paid millions of dollars not to have a show because he was critical of the Iraq War

Along with these insights, I have an anecdote of my own. I know a skilled journalist who actually courts controversy by challenging prevailing narratives. He told me how he visited a journalism school and spoke to a class of would-be journalists. Did these student-journalists want to be the next Assange, or even Woodward or Bernstein of Watergate fame? Of course not! They aspire to be well-paid anchors or opinion-mongers on cable news, or so my friend told me. They’re in it for the money, for access to power, for fame. They’re not in it to call the powerful to account; they want to be among the powerful, and profiting from the same.

And that’s the way it is, as Walter Cronkite might have said.

Pimps of War

W.J. Astore

You would think that a U.S. president would have better things to do than to tour and tout a missile-production facility in Alabama, but then you’d be forgetting the power of the military-industrial complex and the profitability of war. Yesterday, President Biden toured a Lockheed plant that makes the Javelin missile, which I’m sure is working overtime given the number of missiles (about 5500) this country has shipped to Ukraine in its war against Russia. I was asked for a quick comment before Biden’s visit, and here’s what I came up with:

You don’t defuse a war by sending more and more weapons to the war zone.  You don’t send a message of peace by visiting a missile-making facility.  President Biden spoke of inspiring other nations with the power of our example, but he’s opting instead for examples of our power.  In so doing, he’s betraying his own promise to America and to the world.  Statesmanship, not brinksmanship, is what’s required to end the disastrous war in Ukraine.  Negotiation, not militarism, is the correct path forward.  But it’s hard indeed to play the statesman and to foster negotiation when you pimp yourself out to the weapons makers.

Incredibly, or perhaps not so incredibly, Noam Chomsky has praised Donald Trump for his willingness to call for a negotiated settlement to the war. By contrast, the Biden administration appears content to let the war drag on in the cause of weakening Russia. In short, Ukraine is the administration’s proxy, and Biden & Company are willing to fight and die to the last Ukrainian while supplying plenty of arms to the same. Indeed, the latest aid package for $33 billion for Ukraine includes $20 billion in weaponry.

Should weapons really be identified as “aid”? No matter. The U.S. media is pimping for war, the president is visiting missile plants and praising the wonders of our weapons and how many Russian tanks they’ve destroyed, and we’re all supposed to accept this as business as usual in America. Which it is.

Higher Military Spending Leads to Less Security

W.J. Astore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum: these are the words Ike spoke in 1953

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

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

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

What Would It Take for the Pentagon Budget to Shrink?

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I examine what it would take for the Pentagon budget to go down. You can read the entire article here. What follows is the concluding section.

Ever since 9/11, endless conflict has been this country’s new normal.  If you’re an American 21 years of age or younger, you’ve never known a time when your country hasn’t been at war, even if, thanks to the end of the draft in the previous century, you stand no chance of being called to arms yourself.  You’ve never known a time of “normal” defense budgets.  You have no conception of what military demobilization, no less peacetime might actually be like. Your normal is only reflected in the Biden administration’s staggering $813 billion Pentagon budget proposal for the next fiscal year.  Naturally, many congressional Republicans are already clamoring for even highermilitary spending.  Remember that Mae West quip[Too much of a good thing can be wonderful]?  What a “wonderful” world!

And you’re supposed to take pride in this.  As President Biden recently told soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division now stationed in Poland, this country has the “finest fighting force in the history of the world.”  Even with the mountains of cash we give to that military, the nation still “owes you big,” he assured them.

Well, I’m gobsmacked.  During my 20-year career in the military, I never thought my nation owed me a thing, let alone owed me big.  Now that I think of it, however, I can say that this nation owed me (and today’s troops as well) one very big thing: not to waste my life; not to send me to fight undeclared, arguably unconstitutional, wars; not to treat me like a foreign legionnaire or an imperial errand-boy.  That’s what we, the people, really owe “our” troops.  It should be our duty to treat their service, and potentially their deaths, with the utmost care, meaning that our leaders should wage war only as a last, not a first, resort and only in defense of our most cherished ideals.

This was anything but the case of the interminable Afghan and Iraq wars, reckless conflicts of choice that burned through trillions of dollars, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops killed and wounded, and millions of foreigners either dead or transformed into refugees, all for what turned out to be absolutely nothing.  Small wonder today that a growing number of Americans want to see less military spending, not more.  Citizen.org, representing 86 national and state organizations, has called on President Biden to decrease military spending.  Joining that call was POGO, the Project on Government Oversight, as well as William Hartung at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.  And they couldn’t be more on target, though they’re certain to be ignored in Washington.

Consider the recent disastrous end to the Afghan War.  Viewing that conflict in the aggregate, what you see is widespread corruption and untold waste, all facilitated by generals who lied openly and consistently to the rest of us about “progress,” even as they spoke frankly in private about a lost war, a reality the Afghan War Papers all too tellingly revealed.  That harsh story of abysmal failure, however, highlights something far worse: a devastating record of lying on a massive scale within the highest ranks of the military and government.  And are those liars and deceivers being called to account?  Perish the thought!  Instead, they’ve generally been rewarded with yet more money, promotions, and praise.

So, what would it take for the Pentagon budget to shrink?  Blowing the whistle on wasteful and underperforming weaponry hasn’t been enough.  Witnessing murderous and disastrous wars hasn’t been enough.  To my mind, at this point, only a full-scale collapse of the U.S. economy might truly shrink that budget and that would be a Pyrrhic victory for the American people.

In closing, let me return to President Biden’s remark that the nation owes our troops big.  There’s an element of truth there, perhaps, if you’re referring to the soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen, many of whom have served selflessly within its ranks. It sure as hell isn’t true, though, of the self-serving strivers and liars at or near the top, or the weapons-making corporations who profited off it all, or the politicians in Washington who kept crying out for more.  They owe the rest of us and America big.

My fellow Americans, we have now reached the point in our collective history where we face three certainties: death, taxes, and ever-soaring spending on weaponry and war.  In that sense, we have become George Orwell’s Oceania, where war is peace, surveillance is privacy, and censorship is free speech.

Such is the fate of a people who make war and empire their way of life.

To read the entire article, visit TomDispatch.com.

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

W.J. Astore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tackling the Military-Industrial Complex

W.J. Astore

Sixty-one years ago, in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America of the threat posed by the military-industrial complex (MIC). To that complex, Ike had rightly added Congress, whose members are generally supportive of immense military spending, especially when it occurs in their district. Americans, in the main, haven’t heeded Ike’s warning, mainly due to government/corporate propaganda, military lobbying and threat inflation, wars and rumors of war, the naked desire for global dominance in the stated cause of keeping the “homeland” safe, and, well, greed.

Ike in 1959

How does “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” tackle such a beast?  I was part of a discussion this week on strategies to “dismantle” the MIC; more on that in a moment. First, a caveat. When I use the term “military-industrial complex,” I know what I’m referring to and talking about, and so too do my readers. But what about your average American, who perhaps has barely heard of President Eisenhower, let alone his farewell address in 1961?  And what about those who prosper from the MIC, whether they know it or not?  Why should they support calls for “dismantling” a big part of their livelihood?

Random example. I went to the doctor’s office today. The receptionist noted my military background as she told me about her son, whose work on red blood cells is funded by the Department of Defense, and her husband, whose work is connected to Raytheon, a major weapons contractor.  Another example is my previous dental hygienist, whose husband proudly worked on the helmet system for the F-35 jet fighter. So many of our fellow Americans are connected to the MIC; lots of my friends are, especially if they served.  As a retired military officer who writes articles that are generally critical of the MIC, I’m the exception.  Many of my peers are still employed by the MIC in good-paying positions that would be difficult for them to replicate in the private, civilian sector of society.

This is not an argument for how wonderful the MIC is. But reformers need to recognize that significant cuts to MIC funding, desirable as they are, will impact ordinary people first, rather than retired generals and corporate CEOs, who will be just fine no matter what happens.

Whatever your reforming zeal, terminology is vitally important.  To me, talk of “dismantling” the MIC is a non-starter.  Like “defund” the police, it’s doomed to fail because its message is so easily twisted. Recall that for most Americans, the military remains a trusted institution within our society, much more trusted than Congress and the President.  “Support our troops” is almost the new national motto, an adjunct to In God We Trust.  Indeed, Jesus is often envisioned as a warrior-god who’s always on America’s side.

To be persuasive, we shouldn’t say “defund” the Pentagon; “dismantle” also sounds wrong in this moment.  But if we talk of a leaner military, a smarter one, more agile, more cost-effective, more bang for the buck, those phrases will resonate better.  Let’s talk as well of a military focused on national defense, motivated by high ideals, and aligned with liberty, freedom, and democracy.

Look: The MIC has a big advantage over would-be reformers and cost-cutters: the clarity that comes with a common goal, which for the Complex is profit/power.  We live in a capitalist society that values those things. I don’t think we can compete on the money field with the MIC, but we can compete in the realm of ideas and ideals, and the military can be an ally in this, so long as its members remember the ideals of their oaths to the U.S. Constitution.

What do I mean here?  We need to tell Americans their very future is being stolen from them by wanton military spending.  At the same time, their past is being rewritten.  We’re forgetting past American ideals like “right makes might” and the citizen-soldier as a public servant.  Instead, it’s might makes right as enforced by warriors and warfighters.  We are in yet another Orwellian moment where war is peace, surveillance is privacy, and censorship is free speech.

In fighting against this moment, we need to use all tools at our disposal. Somehow, we need to bring people together at a moment when our “leaders” are determined to divide us, distract us, and keep us downtrodden.

“Come home, America” is a famous speech given fifty years ago by George McGovern. He wanted to cut military/war spending and send rebate checks directly to the American people.  Let’s advocate for that!  Let’s put money back in the pockets of Americans as we make a leaner, smarter, cheaper U.S. military that can pass a financial audit.  (I’d cut all Pentagon funding until it passed an honest and thorough audit.) Most Americans would support major reforms if they were pitched in this way.

At the same time, I’d like to see a revival of the Nye Commission from the 1930s and the “merchants of death” idea.  Whatever else it is, selling weapons is not a way to peace, nor is it life-affirming.  Harry Truman made his mark in Congress during World War II by attacking fraud and waste related to military spending. Again, today’s Pentagon can’t even pass an audit!  We need to show the American people that the Pentagon brass is stealing from them and hiding behind a veil of secrecy that is undemocratic and probably illegal as well. Here, I would love to see Members of Congress act in the spirit of William Proxmire and his “Golden Fleece” awards.  The American people are being fleeced by the MIC, and we should be reminding them of this fact, every single day.

In the 1930s, General Smedley Butler, a Marine veteran who was twice awarded the Medal of Honor, saw how war was a racket, and that to end it, you had to take the profit out of it.  How can America do that?  Can we “nationalize” defense contractors?  Can we make weapons building into a non-profit activity?  Can we reverse Citizens’ United and outlaw weapons lobbying as a form of protected speech (it’s really legalized bribery)?

How about slowing the revolving door between the U.S. military and weapons contractors?  Make it so that retired officers in the grade of major and above must forfeit their pensions if they join a weapons/war firm.  Naturally, no one employed by, and especially on the board of, a defense contractor should ever be approved by Congress as the civilian Secretary of Defense.

Another idea: All retired military officers, CIA-types, etc., who appear on TV and media should be required to reveal their conflicts of interest (if any).  For example, if retired General John Q. Public appears on TV and works for Raytheon, that should be identified in the on-screen chyron, and by the general himself if he has integrity.

It’s high time the Pentagon shares more information with the American people. Secrecy is a huge problem that the MIC hides behind and exploits. Democracy doesn’t work without transparency, which is why the MIC is at pains to hide the truth from us of malfunctioning weaponry and disastrous and murderous wars.

I would add that tackling the MIC is not a liberal issue, it’s not a progressive issue, it’s not a partisan issue: it’s an American issue.  My readers, I’m guessing, are not fans of Fox News or commentators like Tucker Carlson.  But if they’re against war and want to see major reforms to the MIC, recruit them!  Work with them.  They are not the enemy.  Not even the MIC is the enemy.  I was, after all, part of it for 20 years.  The real enemy is war.  The real enemy is spending trillions of dollars on weaponry that could, and just might, destroy us all.  If we can’t set aside our differences and get together to save ourselves and our planet from war’s destructiveness, we’re pretty much doomed, don’t you think?

The MIC is united by profit and power.  Maybe we can find unity in the preservation of our planet and love for the wonderful blessings it has bestowed on us.

Come on people now, smile on your brother everybody get together try to love one another right now.  Right now.  Right now.

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

W.J. Astore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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