Chapter Two: Don’t Blame Military for Military-Industrial Complex
“Worse than traitors in arms are the men who pretend loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the nation while patriotic blood is crimsoning the plains of the south and their countrymen are moldering in the dust.”—Abraham Lincoln
The excesses in defense spending and consumerism cannot be blamed on our men and women in uniform who try so hard to guard our freedoms and protect our liberties. We are in a century with unusual enemies and a different mission for our armed forces. We no longer face totalitarian empires like the former Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.
Warfare today is asymmetrical. Lone wolves and small criminal organizations using the pretext of religion are the danger to global peace. Whether it is the international narcotics trade or religious terrorism, large armies are not what the world is fighting.
We have an international crime problem, not a conflict with fascism or communism. We are fighting suicide bombers and international drug dealers, not well-armed soldiers with uniforms, planes, tanks and heavy battleships. Intelligence and detective work, not aircraft carrier battle groups, will win the day.
Large nation states, like India, China, Pakistan and Brazil have their hands full just managing their large populations. These countries have major economic ties to the West. The Chinese are interested in developing their economy and internal stability, not in ruling the world. With a population of over 1.3 billion, the Chinese government has massive internal political, economic and environmental problems.
In the last century, our politicians often used our military as the enforcer for big business. As Major General Smedley Butler, U.S. Marine Corps., observed in 1933:
“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.
“I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.
“I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.
“There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its ‘finger men’ to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its ‘brain men’ to plan war preparations, and a ‘Big Boss,’ Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
In a world where major multinational corporations transcend the legal reach of any nation state, the American military machine no longer has the role of protecting the free world from the dangers of global communism. Far greater dangers come from international viruses like AIDS, Ebola and from economic dislocation from globalization. Both are here to stay and will not be eradicated or controlled any time soon.
The military does not set public policy. They are asked to do the unpleasant task of carrying out political objectives, regardless of how ill-advised. If that means the angry jungles of Vietnam or the hot deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, then our military is there and ready. It also means the troops are stuck with weapon systems they don’t want, programs they don’t need and military hardware that is not appropriate for today’s challenges. The history of weapons procurement in Washington is one of intrigue, duplicity and pork barrel politics.
If a credible threat does not exist, then lie to justify the spending. In the words of the infamous Hermann Goring (1945): “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and then denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism.”
Politics was the decisive factor in going forward with major defense programs, from the B-70 bomber to the B-1, the B-2, various nuclear submarines, the Nimitz aircraft carriers, the MX weapons system, the Osprey helicopter to the missile defense system and the F-22 fighter and F-35 fighter program. With subcontractors in numerous congressional districts, these weapon programs have popular appeal. The funding by Congress of the various weapon systems meant major financial gain as each system costs millions of dollars per product.
The B-1 cost over $200 million per plane without armaments or support bases. These planes provided handsome profits for Rockwell International, the builder, and General Electric, one of the world’s largest corporations, which provided the engine. Northrop Grumman did well as the prime contractor of this expensive plane. The subcontractors were spread out throughout the nation to force the program down the public’s and the military’s throat. These bombers succeeded politically as well as technologically. The B-2 bomber was a political pork barrel project, not a military necessity. In the end, the bomber was found not to be as effective as far less expensive alternatives.
These impressive weapons systems are the wrong solution for the challenges of this century. Major weapons systems were absolutely necessary for the last century when America was fighting the Nazis, Japanese imperialism in Asia and competing with the Soviet Union. They do not work against religious extremists who are determined to kill others even if they have to kill themselves in the process. Today’s suicide bombers, international drug dealers and lone wolf killers cannot be stopped by nuclear submarines, expensive fighter planes or aircraft carrier battle groups.
A $12-billion aircraft carrier will do wonders for the defense contractors who build this massive weapons system. It will not make the nation or the world safer from criminals. Much of the defense budget has more to do with the projection of American power and protection of American interests. The military is left out of the policy equation and is too often saddled with weapons systems and bases that are not necessary for the mission at hand. Politics, not military necessity, will continue to fuel defense spending.
Congress will refuse to close military bases in politically powerful districts despite the Pentagon wanting to shut them down. Congress will allocate more fighter planes then the Air Force needs. Congress, not the military and not the Executive branch, has control of the purse strings. This political reality existed prior to September 11, 2001, and continues today.
But simple things like suggesting an increase in military pay create a firestorm of controversy. There are lobbyists for fighter planes, ships and artillery pieces. But paying a competitive salary to our soldiers to stay in the military is not always a high priority with Congress. Like schoolteachers, we expect a lot from them but are unwilling to properly pay for their services. The people who protect this country are willing to give their lives to insure we have a Bill of Rights and that our homes and streets are safe. They do not keep the profits that come from major weapons systems and they do not get votes for their re-election.
Despite the criticism of these expensive weapon systems being inappropriate in the days of suicide bombers and snipers, the defense industry pushes forward. With allies in Congress they continue to make a mockery of the defense needs of this country and the free world. Our young men and women in the military love our country and do wonderful work all over the world.
Our military is a global force for good, from providing aid to the victims of the devastating tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Thailand and Indonesia to protecting school children in Iraq. Our men and women who serve this nation should be paid and paid well. Our defense contractors are well paid. Let’s pay the people who are actually protecting us more money. They are worth it.