To Help the U.S. Military, Slash the Pentagon Budget

Isn’t it reassuring to know your taxpayer dollars are buying lots of “Ferraris” for the U.S. military?

W.J. Astore

If you truly want to help the U.S. military, slash its yearly budget.

It’s counterintuitive, right? We think more money will help the Pentagon field effective forces and to be better prepared to defend America. But that hasn’t proven to be the case. The more money the Pentagon gets, the more money gets spent on unnecessary and often poorly performing weapons systems. Take my old service, the U.S. Air Force. It doesn’t need the B-21 bomber. It doesn’t need new ICBMs. The F-35 fighter is a major disappointment, a “Ferrari” according to the Air Force Chief of Staff, i.e. an exotic and temperamental plane you fly only on occasion, which isn’t what the Air Force wanted or needed. Similarly, the Navy is building aircraft carriers that can’t launch planes effectively and “little crappy ships” that have no role at all. And the Army has thousands of M-1 Abrams tanks parked in storage that it’ll probably never use.

Do you have a friend with too much money? Maybe he got an inheritance or some other windfall. And the money makes him stupid. It’s stipulated in the inheritance that he must spend all of it within a year or two (the way Pentagon appropriations work), and if he fails to spend it, he’ll get less in the future. So he spends wildly, without giving it much thought, because he’s got the money and because he has to. And spending money on expensive “Ferraris” is fun. He’s not encouraged to think about how to use the money wisely, rather the reverse. So he just buys big ticket items willy-nilly.

Congress, of course, is the Pentagon’s enabler. Whatever the military wants nowadays, Congress is determined to give the brass more, in the false name of supporting the troops. It’s not the troops that see the money, it’s the industrial side of Ike’s military-industrial complex that profits the most. There’s something truly unseemly about Congress throwing money at the Pentagon while camp-following weapons contractors siphon it up.

Technically, incredibly, the U.S. military is no longer at war, i.e. “large-scale combat operations,” according to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Perhaps you missed the announcement that new U.S. troops coming on active duty wouldn’t automatically receive the National Defense Service Medal, as they have since 9/11 and the subsequent global war on terror. With those “large-scale” wars finally ended, shouldn’t the Pentagon’s budget decrease in a big way? Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were costing the U.S. over $100 billion a year, yet as they have ended, the Pentagon’s budget has increased by more than $100 billion. Talk about counterintuitive! Wars end as war budgets increase. Only in America.

There is no logic here. I’m reminded of a scene from the original Star Trek in which Spock is befuddled by an attack on Captain Kirk because there’s apparently no logic to it. As an alien patiently explains to Spock, “Perhaps you should forget logic and devote yourself to motivations of passion or gain.” It’s a telling lesson for anyone looking to explain the illogic of America’s defense budget.

Get rid of the passion and gain in the Pentagon’s budget, America. It’s time to use logic and make major cuts. Force the military to think rather than to spend. Who knows … we may end up with a leaner, even a smarter, military, one committed less to war and more to supporting and defending the U.S. Constitution.

A Modest Plea for a Sane Defense Budget

The Pentagon will never be forced to make choices if Congress keeps shoveling money its way

W.J. Astore

In the tradition of the U.S. Army, which talks about BLUF, or bottom line up front, here’s what I consider to be a sane defense budget for the United States: $333 billion.

I arrived at this figure by complex math. The U.S. population currently sits at just under 333 million. A reasonable figure to spend per person on national defense is $1000. Hence my figure for a sane defense budget.

How does this immense sum compare to other countries’ budgets? Russia’s defense budget (before its war with Ukraine) hovered around $70 billion a year. China’s defense budget hovered around $245 billion. So my “sane” defense budget easily surpasses the combined budgets of Russia and China, America’s main rivals, or so our military experts say.

Other countries that spend impressively on defense include Germany, France, and the U.K. But note that these are American allies; their spending should serve to lessen the need for our own.

Now, I wish to stress my budget is about defense, as in defending the U.S. against all enemies, foreign and domestic. My budget is not about projecting imperial power around the globe; it’s not about full-spectrum dominance; it’s not about spending more than a trillion dollars over the next thirty years on unneeded nuclear weapons, or more than a trillion to buy and maintain more underperforming F-35 jet fighters.

Again, my sane budget is not a war budget, an imperial budget, or a budget to enrich U.S. weapons makers. It’s a budget intended to DEFEND our country.

So, let’s now compare my sane budget to the actual “defense” budget planned for FY2023. It appears that budget will likely exceed $833 billion, more than half a trillion higher than mine!

What could America do with half a trillion dollars? Think of how many good-paying jobs we could create, how much better our country could be, with safer roads and bridges, more alternative sources of energy, improved schools and hospitals, a cleaner environment. How about drinking water without lead in it? The list is long because we have so many needs as a country.

It wasn’t that long ago that $300 billion was considered more than enough for national defense. But since 9/11 the budget has spiraled upwards as the U.S. government pursued forever wars like Iraq and Afghanistan that ended disastrously. Things are now so bad that the Pentagon can’t even begin to pass a basic audit. Send a small army of accountants to the Pentagon and the brass surrenders instantly.

$333 billion is still an enormous sum of money, yet there will be many who’ll suggest this figure isn’t close to being enough for the brass, all those wearing stars who call the shots. My response: try it. If it doesn’t work, you can always boost the budget. But if you really want the Pentagon to think creatively, cut the budget to $333 billion and watch the real wars begin within the five-sided puzzle palace on the Potomac.

The Pentagon Cowbird

W.J. Astore

Three years ago, nature provided me a lesson in bird parasitism and its repercussions. Unbeknownst to me and especially to the yellow warblers I was watching, a cowbird snuck an egg into the warbler nest. The result is what you see in this photo I took:

Guess which one is the cowbird hatchling?

Cowbird chicks generally hatch quicker, and of course they’re bigger and can fight harder for food. What generally happens is what happened to the nest I was watching. The yellow warbler chicks died as the cowbird chick ate just about all the food provided by its warbler “parents.” All that was left in the end was a rather surly-looking cowbird chick that was incongruously bigger than the warbler “parents” that fed it. Nature can be cruel.

And, as I wrote about here, that cowbird chick made me think of a certain entity in Washington DC that always clamors for money, and which in its sheer bellicosity and bottomless appetite always dominates the nest and crowds out and kills its weaker yet more deserving rivals for sustenance. Yes, you guessed it: the Pentagon and the National Security State.

There’s something about the gaping mouth of that cowbird that says it all. For example, the Biden administration was planning on spending $813 billion on the Pentagon in FY2023, an already enormous sum, only for it to be revealed this week that a bipartisan effort in the Senate is seeking to increase this by $45 billion. That’s on top of the $55 billion or so provided to Ukraine, roughly half of which is going directly to America’s merchants of death.

As Jimmy Dore points out in this segment, at the same time as the Pentagon cowbird cries for and consumes all the money, smaller, vulnerable programs (our yellow warbler chicks) like money for free school lunches for 10 million needy kids are allowed to wither and die.

Dore’s segment here is excellent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crNrmEP2lt8

Imagine allowing kids in schools to go hungry because of alleged lack of funds but then funneling nearly a trillion dollars yearly to the parasitic Pentagon cowbird in our midst.

Nature can be cruel. So too is America’s political process.

Military Spending Robs Workers and the Poor

Ike was unafraid of plain and cruel truths

W.J. Astore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Dominating the World Stage

W.J. Astore

“Make love, not war!” on the helmet of Marine Corporal Billy Winn, Vietnam, 1967 (Photo by William Eggleston)

In the 1960s, in response to the Vietnam War, young Americans vowed to “make love, not war.” Ever since 9/11, if not before, America has a new vow: Make War, Not Love.

The American empire believes it must dominate the world stage. Partly this is due to hubris unleashed by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. As Colin Powell put it that year:

“We no longer have the luxury of having a threat to plan for. What we plan for is that we’re a superpower. We are the major player on the world stage with responsibilities around the world, with interests around the world.”

When you define the world as your “stage” and define yourself as a military and economic “superpower,” as the major player, a hubristic and militaristic foreign policy almost naturally follows. And so it has.

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I detail five reasons why America remains addicted to hubristic war; what follows is an excerpt that focuses on America’s vision of itself as the best and purest actor on the world stage. Please read the entire article at TomDispatch.com.

***

About 15 years ago, I got involved in a heartfelt argument with a conservative friend about whether it was wise for this country to shrink its global presence, especially militarily. He saw us as a benevolent actor on the world stage.  I saw us as overly ambitious, though not necessarily malevolent, as well as often misguided and in denial when it came to our flaws. I think of his rejoinder to me as the “empty stage” argument.  Basically, he suggested that all the world’s a stage and, should this country become too timid and abandon it, other far more dangerous actors could take our place, with everyone suffering. My response was that we should, at least, try to leave that stage in some fashion and see if we were missed.  Wasn’t our own American stage ever big enough for us?  And if this country were truly missed, it could always return, perhaps even triumphantly. 

Of course, officials in Washington and the Pentagon do like to imagine themselves as leading “the indispensable nation” and are generally unwilling to test any other possibilities.  Instead, like so many ham actors, all they want is to eternally mug and try to dominate every stage in sight. 

In truth, the U.S. doesn’t really have to be involved in every war around and undoubtedly wouldn’t be if certain actors (corporate as well as individual) didn’t feel it was just so profitable. If my five answers above were ever taken seriously here, there might indeed be a wiser and more peaceful path forward for this country. But that can’t happen if the forces that profit from the status quo — where bellum (war) is never ante- or post- but simply ongoing — remain so powerful. The question is, of course, how to take the profits of every sort out of war and radically downsize our military (especially its overseas “footprint”), so that it truly becomes a force for “national security,” rather than national insecurity. 

Most of all, Americans need to resist the seductiveness of war, because endless war and preparations for more of the same have been a leading cause of national decline.  One thing I know: Waving blue-and-yellow flags in solidarity with Ukraine and supporting “our” troops may feel good but it won’t make us good.  In fact, it will only contribute to ever more gruesome versions of war. 

A striking feature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that, after so many increasingly dim years, it’s finally allowed America’s war party to pose as the “good guys” again. After two decades of a calamitous “war on terror” and unmitigated disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and so many other places, Americans find themselves on the side of the underdog Ukrainians against that “genocidal” “war criminal” Vladimir Putin.  That such a reading of the present situation might be uncritical and reductively one-sided should (but doesn’t) go without saying. That it’s seductive because it feeds both American nationalism and narcissism, while furthering a mythology of redemptive violence, should be scary indeed.

Yes, it’s high time to call a halt to the Pentagon’s unending ham-fisted version of a world tour.  If only it were also time to try dreaming a different dream, a more pacific one of being perhaps a first among equals. In the America of this moment, even that is undoubtedly asking too much. An Air Force buddy of mine once said to me that when you wage war long, you wage it wrong. Unfortunately, when you choose the dark path of global dominance, you also choose a path of constant warfare and troubled times marked by the cruel risk of violent blowback (a phenomenon of which historian and critic Chalmers Johnson so presciently warned us in the years before 9/11).

Washington certainly feels it’s on the right side of history in this Ukraine moment. However, persistent warfare should never be confused with strength and certainly not with righteousness, especially on a planet haunted by a growing sense of impending doom.

War and Weapons Are Strictly Business

W.J. Astore

“Strictly Business”

In “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone, played brilliantly by Al Pacino, says that killing a rival mobster and crooked police captain who conspired to kill his father is nothing personal — it’s strictly business. Something similar can be said of America’s wars and weapons trade today. As retired General Smedley Butler said in the 1930s, U.S. military actions often take the form of gangster capitalism. Want to know what’s really going on? Follow the muscle and the money!

America has “invested” itself in the Russia-Ukraine war, and I use that word deliberately. U.S. weapons makers like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are making a killing, literally and figuratively, on the ongoing war, whether by sending arms to Ukraine or in the major boost forthcoming to Pentagon spending supported by Democrats and Republicans in Congress. (Who said bipartisanship is dead?) For all the blue-and-yellow flags that America is flying in symbolic solidarity with Ukraine, the true colors of this war, as with most wars, is red for blood and green for money.

Economic sanctions against Russia, meanwhile, are meant to damage the financial wellbeing of that country, possibly leading to instability and even collapse. And who would profit from such a collapse? And who is profiting now from restricting fossil fuel exports from Russia? As war drags on in Ukraine, disaster piles on disaster, and capitalism has a way of profiting from war-driven disasters. Why do you think America’s disastrous Afghan War lasted for two decades?

Curiously, investment-speak in the U.S. military is quite common. Generals and admirals talk of “investing” in new nuclear missiles and immense ships. They further talk of “divesting” in certain weapons that have proven to be disasters in their own way, like the F-22 fighter. What’s with all this “investing” and “divesting” in the U.S. military? One thing is certain: Generals won’t have to change their language as they retire and move through the revolving door to join corporate boards at major weapons contractors.

Today’s generals and politicians never display the honesty of President Dwight Eisenhower, who explained nearly seventy years ago that weapons represent a theft from the people and their needs, not an “investment.” Those who say there’s no business like show business may be right, but Hollywood’s a piker compared to the Pentagon, where there’s truly no business like war business.

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?

The New Cold War

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch, I tackle the new cold war and the consensus in Washington that future Pentagon budgets must soar ever higher in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. You can read the entire article here. What follows is the concluding section of the article.

Your Role as a Loyal American in the New Cold War

My fellow Americans, in this new cold war of ours, the national security state expects both all too much and all too little of you. Let’s start with the little. It doesn’t expect you to enlist in the military if you’re rich or have “other priorities” (as former Vice President Dick Cheney said about the Vietnam War). It doesn’t expect you to pay close attention to our wars, let alone foreign policy. You don’t even have to vote. It does, however, expect you to cheer at the right times, be “patriotic,” wave the flag, gush about America, and celebrate its fabulous, militarized exceptionalism.

To enlist in this country’s cheerleading squad, which is of course God’s squad, you might choose to wear a flag lapel pin and affix a “Support Our Troops” sticker to your SUV. You should remind everyone that “freedom isn’t free” and that “God, guns, and guts” made America great. If the godly empire says Ukraine is a worthy friend, you might add a blue-and-yellow “frame” to your Facebook profile photo. If that same empire tells you to ignore ongoing U.S. drone strikes in Somalia and U.S. support for an atrocious Saudi war in Yemen, you are expected to comply. Naturally, you’ll also be expected to pay your taxes without complaint, for how else are we to buy all the weapons and wage all the wars that America needs to keep the peace?

Naturally, certain people need to be collectively despised in our very own version of George Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate.” So, when Putin’s visage comes on the screen, or Xi’s, or Kim Jong-un’s, or whoever the enemy du jour is, be prepared to express your outrage. Be prepared to treat them as aliens, almost incomprehensible in their barbarity, as if, in fact, they were Klingons in the original Star Trek series. As a peaceful member of the “Federation,” dominated by the United States, you must, of course, reject those Klingon nations and their warrior vision of life, their embrace of might-makes-right, choosing instead the logic, balance, and diplomacy of America’s enlightened State Department (backed up, of course, by the world’s greatest military).

Two Minutes’ Hate: Still from the movie “1984”

Again, little is expected of you (so far) except your obedience, which should be enthusiastic rather than reluctant. Yet whether you know it or not, much is expected of you as well. You must surrender any hopes and dreams you’ve harbored of a fairer, kinder, more equitable and just society. For example, military needs in the new cold war simply won’t allow us to “build back better.” Forget about money for childcare, a $15 federal minimum wage, affordable healthcare for all, better schools, or similar “luxuries.” Maybe in some distant future (or some parallel universe), we’ll be able to afford such things, but not when we’re faced with the equivalent of the Klingon Empire that must be stopped at any cost.

But wait! I hear some of you saying that it doesn’t have to be this way! And I agree. A better future could be imagined. A saying of John F. Kennedy’s comes to mind: “We shall be judged more by what we do at home than what we preach abroad.” What we’re currently doing at home is building more weapons, sinking more tax dollars into the Pentagon, and enriching more warrior-corporations at the expense of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. Where’s the democratic future in that?

Sheer military might, our leaders seem to believe, will keep them forever riding high in the saddle. Yet you can ride too high in any saddle, making the fall that’s coming that much more precipitous and dangerous.

Americans, acting in concert, could stop that fall, but not by giving our current crop of leaders a firmer grasp of the reins. Do that and they’ll just spur this nation to greater heights of military folly. No, we must have the courage to unseat them from their saddles, strip them of their guns, and corral their war horses, before they lead us into yet another disastrously unending cold war that could threaten the very existence of humanity. We need to find another way that doesn’t prioritize weapons and war, but values compromise, compassion, and comity.

At this late date, I’m not sure we can do it. I only know that we must.