This is the last of an eight-part series on issues of War or Peace.
It’s several days before Labor Day, 2018, and I’m sitting outside in my back yard. I’m reading an article about a Native American poet, Layli Long Soldier, who wrote about the execution of 38 Sioux warriors, the largest “legal” execution in US history. President Lincoln approved the execution the same week he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Black people “emancipated,” red people exterminated.
Much later, the US “apologized” for its long policy of genocide toward native people in a series of “toothless clauses” in a Senate resolution, Long Soldier wrote. The resolution was cut by half and tucked into a defense appropriations bill. It was signed by President Obama on a December weekend with no announcement and no tribal representation.
As I’m reading this account, appropriately enough, the fighter jets are raging overhead. A mourning dove is perched placidly on a telephone wire. Is the dove mourning? Or perhaps pondering the unlikely notion of peace? Or does it care at all about what we arrogant, utterly stupid humans do?
As usual, I cannot actually see the jets, can only hear the awful, annoying, obnoxious roar of violence. It strikes me that the jet fighters are a metaphor for the military industrial complex itself, something pervasive that we cannot see, or at least choose not to see. Maybe Obama’s “apology” was a metaphor too, something evasive and meaningless.
▪ ▪ ▪
Fast forward to November, three days after the midterm elections, and the dust still hasn’t settled. Excerpts from a new memoir by Michelle Obama have just been released, in which she writes that she will “never forgive” President Trump for espousing the birther conspiracy in regards to her husband.
Trump wastes no time in responding, lambasting the former president for being weak on national defense. “I’ll never forgive him for what he did to our United States military by not funding it properly,” Trump ranted to reporters before boarding a plane for Paris. “It was depleted and everything was old and tired,” he said. “And I came in and I had to fix it, and I’m in the process of spending tremendous amounts of money. So I’ll never forgive him for what he did to our military.”
The truth, as the Yahoo News account pointed out, was that Obama had not neglected the military at all during his tenure. The story cited PolitiFact, which reported that military budget cuts under Obama were the result of troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, deployments that Trump had sharply criticized during his presidential campaign. It also quoted a Harvard professor, who noted that Obama had “laid out a trillion dollar plan to modernize every aspect of the US nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years.”
Of course, it is a common ploy of rabid Republicans to attack centrist Democrats like Obama, calling them leftists, socialists or commie sympathizers and, for the most part, it seems to work for them. But the sad fact is that there are frightfully few politicians on the right, center or liberal side who could be accused of being “soft” when it comes to national “defense.” The sad fact is that this country is suffering from a grievous addiction to war, violence and militarism. It makes our addictions to opiates, tobacco, sex, TV and smart phones pale by comparison.
▪ ▪ ▪
Only some predators are reprehensible in the warfare state
Late last year, Andrew Bacevich posted an article on TomDispatch where he talked about all the sexual predators in the entertainment industry, the media, politics and other professions who have been outed and, in some cases, held accountable for their crimes and indiscretions. We are all familiar with their names: Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump. The list goes on and on and now we can probably add a Supreme Court Justice.
But Bacevich, a Boston University history professor and former Army colonel, wondered why it was that some predators are raised up for public ridicule and held accountable for their crimes while others go free and do not even seem to penetrate the public consciousness. Their “predation” surges from year to year and some even wear the name Predator, though these were retired last year, to be replaced by Reapers (as in Grim Reaper). Yes, these predators and reapers do not rape or pinch butts; they are America’s robotic assassins. And these drones are just one minor part of America’s wars, 17 years and counting, that have fueled funding for the national security state and transformed Washington into a permanent war capital.
We are witnessing a profound change in this post-Weinstein world, Bacevich contends, where the once-empty slogan “zero tolerance has become a battle cry.” In “some matters, at least, the American people retain an admirable capacity for outrage. We can distinguish between the tolerable and the intolerable. And we can demand accountability of powerful individuals and institutions. “
“What’s puzzling is why that capacity for outrage and demand for accountability doesn’t extend to our now well-established penchant for waging war across much of the planet,” he continued.
Bacevich goes on to list a litany of “indisputable facts”: that recent US wars have spread disorder and instability, creating failed or failing states across the Middle East and Africa; that these wars have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and will ultimately cost US taxpayers many trillions of dollars; that, in the wake of these wars, many more, not fewer, jihadist groups have sprung up while acts of terror have soared globally.
“I feel a bit like the doctor telling the lifelong smoker with stage-four lung cancer that an addiction to cigarettes is adversely affecting his health,” Bacevich admits. “Nothing the doc says is going to budge the smoker from his habit. You go through the motions but wonder why. In a similar fashion, war has become a habit to which the United States is addicted.”
Tom Engelhardt, the editor of the TomDispatch website, similarly wondered last year why “a war effort that has already cost US taxpayers trillions of dollars does not involve the slightest mobilization of the American people? No war taxes, no war bonds, war drives, victory gardens, sacrifice of any sort or, for that matter, serious criticism, protest or resistance?”
“In our era, war, like the Pentagon budget and the growing powers of the national security state, has been inoculated against the virus of citizen involvement, and so against any significant form of criticism or resistance,” Engelhardt said.
There are various explanations for what Engelhardt calls the Demobilizing of America, including Nixon’s ending of the draft and the implementation of an all-volunteer military. This new army, which Engelhardt says is closer to an “American foreign legion,” now has a more secretive force embedded within it, a 70,000 strong Special Operations Command. The members of this elite crew, Engelhardt says, could be considered the president’s private army, “now regularly dispatched around the globe to train literal foreign legions and to commit deeds that are, at best, only half-known to the American people.”
And Americans, for the most part, do not care to know what their government is doing on their behalf, Engelhardt insists, (which is why, perhaps, they elected a president who himself represents the epitome of ignorance). “Americans have largely been convinced that secrecy is the single most crucial factor in national security; that what we do know will hurt us; and that ignorance of the workings of our own government … will help keep us safe from “terror.” In other words, knowledge is danger and ignorance, safety. However Orwellian that may sound, it has become the norm of twenty-first-century America.”
Under Bush, as he launched the Global War on Terror after 9/11, there would be no prying journalists in our wars, no body bags or body counts. There would be only two roles for American citizens: go shopping and thank and praise America’s warriors.
“In many ways, from its founding the United States has been a nation made by wars,” Engelhardt said at the end his piece. “The question in this century is: Will its citizens and its form of government be unmade by them?”
What does America’s addiction to war look like in practice? Tom Engelhardt chose to celebrate the new year back on January 4 by drawing a picture of it. Actually, he just published it. The map of Washington’s War on Terror was created by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. According to Engelhardt, it is “the first map of its kind ever.”
The map is actually limited to US “counter-terror” activity between 2015 and October, 2017, and thus omits a range of hostilities prior to that time, as well as certain categories of military activity. It does document four different types of military engagement: air and drone strikes, combat troops, military bases and training in counter-terrorism.
When Washington launched its war on terror in October, 2001, there was just one country targeted, Afghanistan. Now, 17 years later, the Costs of War Project identifies no less than 76 countries, nearly 40 percent of those on the planet, as involved in the global conflict. The war stretches from the Philippines through South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and West Africa. It includes Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, where US drone or other air strikes are normal and where ground troops (often Special Operations forces) have been directly or indirectly engaged in combat.
A separate study released by the Costs of War Project a year ago estimated the monetary cost to US taxpayers of the war on terror at $5.6 trillion, including some future expenses.
“It’s important to try to imagine what’s been happening visually, since we’re facing a new kind of disaster, a planetary militarization of a sort we’ve never truly seen before,” Engelhardt wrote.
“We are now in an era in which the US military is the leading edge—often the only edge—of what used to be called American “foreign policy” and the State Department is being radically downsized. American Special Operations forces were deployed in 149 countries in 2017 alone and the US has so many troops on so many bases in so many places on Earth that the Pentagon can’t even account for the whereabouts of 44,000 of them.”
John Dower, an emeritus professor of history from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Pulitzer Prize winner, has been praised by both Engelhardt and Bacevich for his scholarly explication of American war and terror since World War II. Dower refutes those mainstream scholars and statisticians who argue that the world since World War II is actually a safer and more peaceful place than it used to be. While conceding that the number and deadliness of global conflicts has declined, he maintains that the “so-called postwar peace was, and still is, saturated in blood and wracked with suffering.” He points to five devastating conflicts: in China, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and between Iran and Iraq. He lists over a dozen political mass killings and genocides in various countries including the Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Angola and Cambodia.
“Branding the long postwar era as an epoch of relative peace is disingenuous,” Dower says, “not just because it deflects attention from the significant death and agony that actually did occur and still does. It also obscures the degree to which the United States bears responsibility for contributing to, rather than impeding, militarization and mayhem after 1945. Ceaseless US-led transformations of the instruments of mass destruction—and the provocative impact of this technological obsession—are by and large ignored.”
“The more subtle and insidious dimension of postwar US militarization—namely the violence done to civil society by funneling resources into a gargantuan, intrusive and ever-expanding national security state—goes largely unaddressed in arguments fixated on numerical declines in violence since World War II,” adds Dower.
He also cites data from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in mid-2015 indicating that the number of people “forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations” had surpassed 60 million, the highest level recorded since World War II. Roughly two-thirds of these men women and children were displaced within their own countries; the rest were refugees and over half of these were children.
In 1996, the UN had estimated that there were 37.3 million forcibly-displaced people on the planet. At the end of 2015, 20 years later, the total of displaced had risen to 65.3 million, an increase of 75 percent.
A “largely unmeasurable” factor that the bean-counters of war and violence fail to take into account, adds Dower, is “the damage that war, conflict, militarization, and plain existential fear inflict upon civil society and democratic practice.” This has been “especially conspicuous” in the US since Washington launched its war on terror in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Dower cites data from the Global Terrorism Index indicating that more than 61,000 terrorism incidents claimed over 140,000 lives from the year 2000 till 2014. But people in Western countries experienced less than five percent of these incidents and only three percent of the deaths, even including 9/11. Dower points out that the 140,000 estimated lives lost to terrorism is roughly identical to the death toll from “a single act of terror bombing, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”
Dower poses an important question: “If the overall incidence of violence, including 21st Century terrorism, is relatively low compared to earlier global threats and conflicts, why has the United States responded by becoming an increasingly militarized, secretive, unaccountable and intrusive “national security state”? Is it really possible that a patchwork of non-state adversaries that do not possess massive firepower or follow traditional rules of engagement has, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared in 2012, “made the world more threatening than ever?”
A part of the answer might be that it behooves the powers and principalities that we remain shackled and addicted to permanent war and its accompanying national security state, with its secrecy, unaccountability and intrusiveness.
When did the addiction start? If we can put a finger on when and how it was that we succumbed to this deadliest of all diseases, perhaps we can discover some clues on how to treat it.
James Carroll thinks he can pinpoint the genesis of the addiction, or at least the rise of the military industrial complex and the relentless surge toward permanent war. He posits that it all began one week in January, 1943, coincidentally about a week or so before he was born in Chicago.
Carroll is a prize-winning writer who was once a Roman Catholic priest and became friends with Dan and Philip Berrigan, priests, anti-war activists and founders of the Plowshares movement. (Carroll was also the son of a three-star general, the first director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.) Among his many books is the 2006 tome, House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power.
In the book, which was lauded by the Chicago Tribune as “the first great non-fiction book of the new millennium,” Carrol argues that four things happened that week in January “which generated a momentum that we’re still at the mercy of.” In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now in May, 2006, he outlined the four momentous events.
The first took place at Casablanca where “Franklin Roosevelt, really against the wishes of his partner, Winston Churchill, announced a new policy of unconditional surrender, the Axis powers would have to unconditionally surrender to the Allies, a position that would have disastrous consequences.”
“The second thing that happened that week was Los Alamos really was up and running … The Manhattan Project had been initiated the previous autumn, but it really began right then,” Carroll told Goodman.
“The third thing that happened that week, Churchill and Roosevelt together agreed on a joint bomber offensive between the R.A.F. and the Army air forces of the United States. It was the beginning of the American embrace of strategic bombing as a mode of war. The fire bombing attack by the Americans against a German city took place two weeks later.
“So, strategic bombing, nuclear weapons, a spirit of total war embodied in unconditional surrender, all joined to the other thing that happened that week: the beginning of the building, this mass bureaucracy, which itself then would take on a kind of life that was beyond the ability of any one person or group of persons to check it. The momentum that began that week really has flowed on essentially unchecked ever since, right through to the present catastrophe in Iraq,” said Carroll.
The $3.1 million Pentagon building was dedicated on the 15th of January, 1943. Ironically, construction contracts were approved and the ground-breaking ceremony occurred on September 11, 1941, “60 years, perhaps almost to the minute, before the building was hit by a hijacked airplane,” Carroll noted.
He was struck by other events that occurred on that same date. On September 11, 1945, Henry Stimson, US Secretary of War, proposed to President Truman, after Nagasaki, that the US “should share the atomic bomb with the Soviet Union and enter into an international agreement for its control … in order to “head off an armament race of a rather desperate character.” Stimson had presided over the military victories over Germany and Japan, as well as the creation of the atomic bomb.
One of the most important supporters of Stimson’s proposal, noted Carroll, was Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, who at that time was prone to trust the Soviet Union to a certain extent. Later, Acheson would evolve into “the most suspicious hawk in the Cabinet by the onset of the Korean War.”
Carroll told Goodman he borrowed the term “disastrous rise” in the subtitle of his book from Dwight Eisenhower, who had used it in his famous military-industrial complex speech. Ike was really referring to a much broader dilemma, Carroll said, a military-industrial-political-academic-economic-labor complex. (Today, we could add the mass media to that list, and today the complex has escalated into an addiction.) “All of the great pillars of American life were recruited into, conscripted, you could say, into the power of this military machine centered in the Pentagon,” said Carroll.
“At the crucial turning points of American history since World War II, again and again decisions have been made all too easily in favor of war and against creating structures of peace. It happened at the end of the war with the decision, the unnecessary decision to use the atomic bomb. It happened immediately after the war with the unnecessary militarization of the contest with the Soviet Union and so forth. At each of these crucial points, America misperceived the world and made decisions to protect against a threat that was more imagined than real.”
Carroll discusses a number of other “unnecessary decisions” in his book, decisions with grave repercussions that led the world away from peace and toward perpetual war. These include:
- The US refusal to dismantle its huge military establishment at the end of the Cold War. (Remember all the talk about a “peace dividend” when that war ended?) Carroll notes that the US sent its troops and bombers abroad within days of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
- Creation of a new “archipelago” of US military bases stretching across the Middle East into the heart of the Soviet Union, ending a tradition of defensively deployed forces, linked to allies and ready to respond to conflicts rather than initiate. (Andrew Bacevich has noted that the build-up of bases has served to constrict Russia’s borders more than any time since the 19th Century.)
- An overt disdain for international organizations including the United Nations, NATO and the International Criminal Court (ICC). One of George W. Bush’s first acts as president was to “unsign” the ICC Treaty, while Bill Clinton failed to argue in favor of it.
- A National Security Strategy, published in 2002, followed by a National Defense Strategy proclaimed in 2005, which take for granted “preventive” wars, wars waged by the US alone, military platforms in outer space, and other obscenities.
Carroll asserts in his book that there was nothing genocidal in what the Allies initially wanted to do in World War II. When the Germans and Japanese stopped, they would stop, was the reasoning. But the policy of unconditional surrender pushed the moment of stopping to the far extreme of destruction. Just then, Carroll says, “the human capacity for destruction was being revolutionized” (in what many now refer to as the Good War.)
The Red Army included the rape of women and murder of elderly and children as admissible targets, while the British and Americans “continued to define the savaging of noncombatants as crimes,” Carroll said, except when it occurred from the air.
“Americans deflected the realities of air warfare from the start, refusing to look directly at what bombardment was doing,” Carroll wrote. “The Red Army’s terror tactics were duplicated by the British and Americans, but impersonally, without the heat of passion and overt sadism. Terror from the air was humanely different from terror on the ground, but not morally.”
Which causes me to ask: which type of warfare is worse, the personal or the impersonal? Are they the same, or is it possible the impersonal is even more evil because it is easier for us to commit? Which makes me think again of Obama, the smooth-talking, professorial president who fashioned impersonal warfare into a fine art, following in the footsteps of that other Democratic terrorist, the much-admired Harry Truman.
Here are a few lines from a Wendell Berry poem, The Morning News, that speak to this:
To kill in hot savagery like a beast
is understandable. It is forgivable and curable.
But to kill by design, deliberately, without wrath,
that is the sullen labor that perfects Hell.
Speaking of Democrats, Carroll noted that in his 2004 presidential campaign, Senator John Kerry “found nothing to criticize in Bush’s conduct of the war [in Iraq] or, for that matter, in Bush’s warmongering responses to 9/11. Kerry, “reporting for duty,” as he put it to the convention that nominated him, showed with his staged salute that he, together with the Democratic Party, was as carried along by the irrational current toward savage violence as his Republican rival … Democrats could not hold up a mirror to the nation on this question because they had no more interest in a look at the truth than anyone else.”
Carroll mentioned a new “archipelago” of US military bases. There doesn’t seem to be definitive data on the number and extent of America’s overseas bases. Some sources appear to under-estimate the numbers while others exaggerate, based on how they define “bases” and even how they define foreign nations.
The Cost of War Project counts 44 countries hosting US military bases but their criteria may be too limiting. Another source, using Department of Defense (DoD) data from 2002, figured there were US troops and bases in 63 countries and troops in 156 countries. Perhaps the most accurate source might be a 2015 report in Politico magazine by David Vine, a professor of sociology at American University who authored a book, Base Nation: How US Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. Vine reported that, even after closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US still maintained nearly 800 bases in more than 70 countries and territories. For comparison, he noted that Britain, France and Russia combined had about 30 bases in foreign countries.
Let’s take a look at just one of the bases in the vast US “archipelago” to get a sense of the impact these bases have on those that “host” them. In an article in Foreign Policy in Focus several months ago, (reprinted on Truthout), Patricia Miguel and Ana Marrugo, public anthropology scholars from American University, revealed the case of Mauritius and the Chagos Archipelago.
Mauritius was the British Empire’s last-created colony but in 1965, when it was gaining its independence, the British government decided to “exclude” the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius territory in disregard of UN conventions. Then the US conspired with Britain to remove about 1,500 Chagossians from their home, where they had lived since the late 18th Century. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the two governments uprooted the natives of Diego Garcia from their homes, possessions and livelihoods in order to build what became a major US military base. The base played a key role in the two US Gulf Wars in Iraq and the US war in Afghanistan.
For 50 years now, the Chagossians have been struggling, through protests, strikes and in the courts, to obtain just compensation. The US did pay $14 million (of your tax dollars) to relocate the Chagossians, while hiding the mass deportation from Congress, British Parliament, the UN and the mass media. In June 2017, the UN General Assembly ruled overwhelmingly to send the case to the International Court, over the opposition of the US and UK.
John Dower suggests that the foreign bases are largely a legacy of World War II and the Korean conflict, with the majority of sites in Germany (181), Japan (122) and South Korea (83). The development of Special Operations forces is a Cold War legacy that expanded after the demise of the Soviet Union. But dispatching covert missions to three-fourths of the world’s nations is largely a manifestation of the “War on Terror,” he points out. Over the course of 2015, (the “peace president” was in power), US Special Operations forces were deployed in about 150 countries and the US provided military assistance to an even larger number of nations.
In my files, I have a list compiled by historian William Blum of all the countries the US has bombed between 1945 (the end of World War II) and 2003. About 20 lucky nations made the list, including the Congo, Peru, Laos, Libya, Grenada, Sudan and Yugoslavia. Some, such as Guatemala, China and Afghanistan, made it multiple times. Since 2003, when Blum presumably got tired of counting, we can add Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Syria, at a minimum.
Ask yourself if bombing all these countries has increased your personal sense of “security.” Blum noted that in none of these instances did a democratic government, respectful of human rights, result.
▪ ▪ ▪
“A mean and dangerous place”
Writing this past May on TomDispatch, Michael Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies, predicted that a Third Gulf War was an entirely probable scenario, if not an inevitability. Donald Trump had just shredded the nuclear agreement with Iran and US Army Special Forces were secretly aiding the Saudi Arabian military against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. A “Third Gulf War—not against Iraq but Iran and its allies—will undoubtedly result in another American “victory” that could loose even more horrific forces of chaos and bloodshed,” Klare wrote.
Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been long-time recipients of tens of billions in US military aid, Klare noted, and Trump has promised to provide them with much more. Trump has filled his administration with Iranophobes and he himself “seems to harbor a primeval animosity toward the Iranians,” Klare said, “perhaps because they don’t treat him with the adoration he feels he deserves. [Trump] has a soft spot for the Saudi royals, who do.”
“While in Riyadh, he conferred at length with then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 31-year-old son of King Salman and a key architect of Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical contest with the Iranians. Prince Mohammed, who serves as the Saudi defense minister and was named crown prince in June 2017, is the prime mover behind the kingdom’s (so far unsuccessful) drive to crush the Houthi rebels in Yemen and is known to harbor fierce anti-Iranian views,” Klare added.
Six months after Klare published this piece, we know that Prince Mohammed bin Salman more than likely orchestrated the gruesome assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime and a Washington Post columnist. After first vowing to take strong action against the kingdom if it was revealed that the Saudis were implicated in the assassination, Trump, true to form, backed off. His transparent public statement revealed his flawless reasoning:
“After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great US defense contractors.”
“The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump declared at the start of his statement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed his comment. “It’s a mean, nasty world out there—the Middle East in particular,” he said.
Coincidentally, at about the same time I read these statements I came across an essay by Noam Chomsky, the great MIT linguist, historian and social critic. Written in early 2014, Chomsky was commenting on a WIN/Gallup International poll that posed the question: Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today? The US was the “champion” by a landslide, winning three times the votes of Pakistan, its nearest competitor.
In some parts of the world, Chomsky noted, the US ranked even higher as a perceived menace to world peace, such as in the Middle East, “where overwhelming majorities regard the US and its close ally Israel as the major threats they face, not the US-Israeli favorite: Iran.”
Yes, the world is indeed a mean and dangerous place, but not everyone agrees about who is to blame.
The first two Gulf Wars, Michael Klare said, were driven mainly by the geopolitics of oil. After the second world war, the US grew increasingly dependent on foreign sources of oil and thus drew even closer to Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil producer. Under the Carter Doctrine of January 1980, the US pledged for the first time to use force, if necessary, to prevent the interruption of the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations to the US.
“Ronald Reagan, the first president to implement [the Carter] doctrine, authorized the “reflagging” of Saudi and Kuwaiti oil tankers with the stars and stripes during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War … and their protection by the US Navy,” Klare recounted. “When Iranian gunboats menaced such tankers, American vessels drove them off in incidents that represented the first actual military clashes between the US and Iran. At the time, President Reagan put the matter in no uncertain terms: “The use of the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf will not be dictated by the Iranians.” “
Oil figured prominently in George H.W. Bush’s decision to intervene in the First Gulf War, Klare wrote. When Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait and appeared poised to invade Saudi Arabia, Bush announced he would send US forces to defend the kingdom and so played out the Carter Doctrine in real time. “Our country now imports nearly half the oil it consumes and could face a major threat to its economic independence,” Bush declared. “The sovereign independence of Saudi Arabia is of vital interest to the United States.”
But that was 1990. Today the US is still addicted to oil but manages to get some of its fix elsewhere. Klare believes oil has lessened significantly as a factor in Persian Gulf geopolitics. “Of greater significance … is an escalating struggle for regional dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia (with a nuclear-armed Israel lurking in the wings),” he reasons. “President Trump, clearly harboring deep antipathy toward the Iranians, has chosen to side with the Saudis big league … while Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, fearing Iranian advances in the region, has opted to weigh in on the Saudi side of the equation in a major way as well. The result, as suggested by military historian Andrew Bacevich, is the “inauguration of a Saudi-American-Israeli axis” and a “major realignment of US strategic relationships.” “
While major disasters in themselves, “the wars in Syria and Yemen have only added additional complexity to the geopolitical chessboard on which Washington finds itself [after the 2003 invasion of Iraq] and from which it has never extricated itself,” Klare said.
Since March 2015, the US has supported a coalition of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia in a civil war in Yemen. The brutal war to crush the Iran-backed Houthi rebels has included a blockade of the country, leading to mass famine and a relentless US-backed air campaign that often hits civilian targets including markets, schools and weddings. The result has been the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with 10,000 or more civilians killed, 14 million people on the brink of famine, and the largest and fastest-growing cholera epidemic ever documented. UNICEF says that a Yemeni child dies from a preventable disease every ten minutes.
“The United States is deeply engaged in this war,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in an op-ed this October. “We are providing bombs the Saudi-led coalition is using, we are refueling their planes before they drop those bombs, and we are assisting with intelligence. In far too many cases, the bomb’s targets have been civilian ones.”
Sanders cited reports from the Yemen Data Project that 30 percent of the coalition’s targets have been non-military. Another source cited indicated that civilian deaths have increased by 160 percent in one region.
Back in February, Sanders, along with Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), introduced a resolution calling on the president to withdraw from the Saudi-led war. The Senate voted 55 to 44 to delay consideration of the resolution. The congressmen reintroduced the resolution this November, after the Khashoggi assassination, and on November 29 the Senate voted 63-37 to move forward with legislation calling for an end to US involvement in the war. Two weeks later, on December 13, in a momentous action, the Senate voted 56-41 for legislation directing President Trump to end US support for the war in Yemen.
Peace Action’s statement that day said: “Beyond its significance for the people of Yemen, by successfully invoking the War Powers Act, this vote heralds the beginning of the end of Congress’ abdication of its war powers after nearly two decades with no meaningful oversight.” Let’s hope so.
“Article 1 of the Constitution clearly states that it is Congress, not the president, which has the power to declare war,” Sanders wrote in his op-ed. “Over many years, Congress has allowed that power to ebb. That must change.”
As Peace Action indicated, Congress had pretty much abdicated its war-making powers and responsibilities during the past couple decades. Bush and Obama found their own ways to make war without bothering to consult Congress, much less the wishes of the American people.
Last year, when Congress was considering legislation to authorize and appropriate over $1 trillion in “national security” spending, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), formerly the Center for Defense Information, published an article charging that Congress was afraid to assume responsibility for US wars. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) had offered an amendment to the House Appropriations Bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The 2001 AUMF had authorized the use of force in response to the 9/11 attacks, but has since been “twisted to cover a number of conflicts that had little or no connection” to 9/11, POGO noted. The Congressional Research Service found that the AUMF had been used to justify military activity in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia and Djibouti.
Djibouti? How many US citizens, I wonder, have ever heard of Djibouti? Like me, I suspect that most would need to Google it. Turns out, it’s a small, barren, nomadic country on the Horn of Africa, home to one of the saltiest lakes in the world. Is this our “national security” interest? Has the CIA gotten wind of an impending international shortage of sea salt? No. I read a little further. It’s the gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. It’s a former French colony and now hosts America’s largest military base in Africa, as well as Japan’s first military base since World War II.
Turns out, Djibouti has had its share of troubles: droughts, civil war, border disputes, and various internal and external conflicts. But now there is both a Chinese and Saudi base in the country, along with the US and Japanese bases. I’m sure all these foreign forces will look after the interests of the citizens of Djibouti, but I digress …
Surprisingly, the Lee amendment passed committee on a bipartisan vote but then the House Rules Committee “stripped the language from the [appropriations] bill in the dead of night before it could get to the Floor for a vote,” according to POGO. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said it was a “mistake” that the amendment had passed and that the appropriations bill was the wrong place to debate the issue. POGO pointed out that Ryan and his predecessors of both parties have repeatedly blocked votes on this issue on defense authorization bills and have not permitted stand-alone legislation to be considered either.
“Congress is truly broken if they think they can absolve themselves of responsibility for our war efforts,” the POGO article charged. “Large Pentagon budgets don’t show support for the troops so much as they do for defense contractors and campaign donors. Real support for our troops would be Congress giving serious consideration to where and why we send our men and women into harm’s way, and then having the guts to vote for it on the record.”
So what is the United States’ actual budget for what it euphemistically calls “defense”? Like counting the number of US troops or bases abroad, it’s not that easy to figure out. Tom Engelhardt reported as 2018 began that “the first Pentagon budget of the Trump era, passed with bipartisan unanimity by Congress and signed by the President, is a staggering $700 billion.”
But this probably only represents the budget item which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calls “National Defense.” In last summer’s issue of POGO’s newsletter, The Defense Monitor, it put this figure at $655 billion for 2017 (as enacted), and $677 billion (as requested) for 2018. Congress probably increased this figure beyond what the Pentagon requested, as it is apt to do.
But this is only the top half of what The Defense Monitor computes for total US National Security Spending. For this it includes mandatory spending, funding for nuclear weapons, veteran affairs, homeland security, international affairs and the share of interest on the national debt. Adding these items to the mix produces a budget of $1,045.5 billion for 2017 and $1,069 billion requested for 2018.
I was never much good at math. I have no idea what the number $1,069 billion really means. Is one thousand billion more than a trillion or less? All I know is that it’s mind-boggling and represents a hell-full of waste, misery and death. It’s sinful and abhorrent.
▪ ▪ ▪
$16 million per boom
In Andrew Bacevich’s article on America’s addiction to war, he has a paragraph about the war in Afghanistan. I doubt it was intentional but Bacevich describes the US’s longest war as if it is a junkie trying every drug he can get his hands on to see which will kill him quickest. “Short of using nuclear weapons, US forces … have experimented with just about every approach imaginable: invasion, regime change, occupation, nation-building, pacification, decapitation, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, not to mention various surges … a big troop presence and a smaller one, more bombing and less, restrictive rules of engagement and permissive ones.” Then came Trump, and “in the military equivalent of throwing in the kitchen sink, a US Special Operations Command four-engine prop plane … deposited the largest non-nuclear weapon in the American arsenal on a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan. “Although the bomb made a big boom, no offer of surrender materialized.”
The bomb that made that big boom is named the GBU-43B, also known as the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), also known as the Mother of All Bombs. How much did the big mother, weighing in at 20,000 pounds, cost you? Just $16 million per unit—or per boom, if you prefer—and an additional $314 million to develop it.
Six days earlier, on April 7, 2017, Trump (or one of his mindless minions) launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria from two Navy destroyers. Mainstream media accounts of the attack were typically obsequious. “The Tomahawk is an intermediate-range, jet engine-powered missile that is launched from a ship or submarine,” ABC News politely explained. “It flies at low levels, up to 1,500 miles at 550 mph and can carry up to a 1,000-pound conventional warhead or nuclear weapon.
“With no pilot, its use ensures that US military personnel aren’t put in harm’s way. The long and lean missile, standing 18-20 feet, simply finds its target using GPS coordinates. But it doesn’t necessarily fly in a straight line. Rather, the US Navy describes the path as “an evasive route” designed by “several mission-tailored guidance systems.” “
When I first heard of the Tomahawk assault, it sounded like familiar news to me. I had just been sorting through old files of papers so I quickly found a front-page article from the Quad City Times in Davenport, Iowa, where I had been working for three years. The story was from December, 1998, and it was about all the weapons the US might use in the impending war with Iraq. There, leading the pageant of ten different missiles, with names like Hellfire, Sidewinder, Maverick and Sparrow, was the Tomahawk.
The price of the missile was listed at $1 million. I did the math, something even I could calculate in my head: 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles x $1 million each equals $59 million. I referred back to the ABC report and my calculations were confirmed: a nearly $1 million price tag for each missile, for a total spending spree of $59 million. The article went on to say that the Tomahawks were first used in the 1991 Gulf War “and they’ve been a mainstay of the military ever since.” After Iraq they were used in Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Syria.
▪ ▪ ▪
“One of my favorite things” … no, it’s not raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens
The response of media outlets like ABC to Trump’s first “show of force” seemed restrained compared to conservative pundits, who praised Trump for being willing to project American power, contrasting him with what they claimed was Obama’s caution and reluctance to use military force. Geraldo Rivera was ebullient when Trump dropped the big one. “One of my favorite things in the 16 years I’ve been here at Fox News is watching bombs drop on bad guys,” he said.
As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Trump accused Obama of grossly neglecting the military, forcing Trump to spend “tremendous amounts of money” to make things right again. Presumably, he would have preferred to spend that money on health care for all, good schools, mass transit, protecting the environment and re-settling immigrants from war-torn countries. But, as usual, Trump’s accusation had little, if any, truth to it.
As John Dower notes in his book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two, in 2014 the Obama administration unveiled a “modernization” of the US nuclear arsenal. The 30-year project would cost an estimated $1 trillion (not including the usual cost overruns), to “perfect a new arsenal of “smart” and smaller nuclear weapons, and extensively refurbish the existing delivery “triad” of long-range manned bombers, nuclear-armed submarines, and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads.”
Of course, Dower noted, “nuclear modernization” is just a portion of the American military machine. Obama said as much in his 2016 State of the Union address when he boasted: “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”
Indeed we do. Dower pointed out that the projected price tag for just the 30-year nuclear modernization program would be over $90 million a day, or nearly $4 million an hour. So much for neglecting our military.
▪ ▪ ▪
The Doomsday Machine
Many people know that Daniel Ellsberg was the military analyst who released the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the press and public in 1971. The 7,000-page document was a key component in ending the Vietnam War.
But many people may not know that ten years earlier, as a consultant to the Pentagon and White House, he helped draft plans to fight a nuclear war. He confessed all this in a book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, released this past December. Ellsberg talked about what it was like, making plans for Doomsday, on the Democracy Now show with Amy Goodman and Juan González.
When John Kennedy moved into the White House, Ellsberg had the job of briefing some of his staff on Eisenhower’s plans, then in effect, and determining how they could be improved. This wasn’t much of a challenge, he confided, because Ike’s “were the worst plans in the history of warfare.” Few civilians knew what the nuclear strategy was, he said, and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff couldn’t get many details from General Curtis LeMay at the Strategic Air Command.
There was a good reason LeMay and others kept the plans under wraps, Ellsberg explained; it was because “they were insane.” Eisenhower’s plans called for a first strike. He refused to consider plans for a limited war of any kind with the Soviet Union. His plan was for an “all-out war, in a first initiation of nuclear war, assuming the Soviets had not used nuclear weapons,” Ellsberg said.
“And that plan called, in our first strike, for hitting every city—actually every town over 25,000—in the USSR and every city in China. The captive nations, the East Europe satellites in the Warsaw Pact, were to be hit in their air defenses, which were all near cities, their transport points, their communications of any kind. So they were to be annihilated, as well.”
Ellsberg was aware at the time that the planners had calculated actual figures for the number of targets, how many planes would be required, and other details, but he could not believe there were calculations for the number of people who would be killed. Air Force brass that were friends of his said they had never seen actual figures. So he drafted a question that was sent to the joint chiefs in the name of the president. He asked: In the USSR and China alone, if you implement your nuclear war plans, how many will die? He expected that they would decline to answer or respond that they had not done the calculations. He was wrong.
“They came back with an answer very quickly: 325 million people in the USRR and China alone,” Ellsberg said. “Well, then I asked, “All right, how many altogether?” And a few days later, 100 million in East Europe, the captive nations, another 100 million in West Europe, our allies, from our own strikes, by fallout, depending on which way the wind blew, and, however the wind blew, a third 100 million in adjoining countries … a total of 600 million people. That was a time, by the way, when the population of the world was three billion. And that was an underestimate of their casualties—a hundred Holocausts.
“It was very clear that they hadn’t included—I hadn’t asked, actually, what would Russian retaliation be against us and against West Europe. They were thought, at that time—wrongly—to have hundreds of weapons against the US. But they did have hundreds of weapons against West Europe, no question. West Europe would go, under any circumstances. If we were defending West Europe—Germany, for example—we were planning to destroy the continent in order to save it.
“Six hundred million … a hundred Holocausts. And when I held the piece of paper in my hand … that they had sent out unembarrassedly, you know, proudly, to the president—“Here’s what we will do”—I thought, “This is the most evil plan that has ever existed. It’s insane.”
Much later in the interview, Ellsberg pointed out that these calculations failed to include the effects of fire, the biggest effect of thermonuclear weapons. “So the number would really have been, at that time, well over a billion, plus the Soviet retaliation against Europe. So we’re talking over a billion people, a third of the Earth’s population at that time.”
Ellsberg said he had heard Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb and inspiration for the fictional Dr. Strangelove, say that thermonuclear weapons would cause the death of one-third of the population, close to the calculation of the joint chiefs. “But the fact is, he was wrong … In fact, it would be three-thirds.”
Ellsberg went on to explain that the weapons targeted on the cities—targeted then and now—would burn the cities. There would be firestorms and smoke. In World War II, he said, there had been only three such firestorms: Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo. The fires were so widespread that they caused a column of air to rise suddenly into the stratosphere.
“And what had not been calculated before, till 1983, was that the millions and millions, possibly 100 million tons of smoke and black soot would be lofted into the stratosphere, where it would not be rained out ever, and it would spread quickly around the world, causing a blanket that would destroy—or, rather, absorb—most of the sunlight from reaching the Earth, 70 percent of the sunlight, killing all the harvests worldwide and preventing any vegetation, starving everyone on Earth, essentially—nearly everyone, let me correct that … extinction is very unlikely … But 98 or 99 percent of the people will go near extinction—close enough to be called a Doomsday machine.”
Ellsberg went on to list a few of the numerous “near misses” where the Doomsday machine was almost activated: during the Cuban missile crisis; in 1995 when a Norwegian weather rocket was mistaken by Russia as a nuclear missile and Premier Yeltsin nearly pulled the trigger; and when Truman made nuclear threats against North Korea but, since North Korea was not yet a nuclear state, he opted instead to burn it to the ground without using nuclear weapons.
What does all this cause me to think of, besides the fact that we are all extremely fortunate to be here? I think of all we have done, since 9/11, to destroy much of the Middle East, all the people the US has killed, all those driven from their homes to become refugees, all the harm and horror we have caused, and the national security state created that has stripped us of so much of our freedom here at home. And all this has ostensibly been done in the name of a “War on Terror.” And I have to ask myself: How can there possibly be anything that can begin to compare to the terror we began to beget—this Doomsday machine—back in 1945? As the cartoon character Pogo once stated so eloquently, “We have found the enemy and he is us.” The US is the terrorist state par excellence. As Obama would say, “Nobody else even comes close.”
Do you need a break about now? Here’s a few lines from a poem by Katherine Riegel entitled America:
Every country’s history is written in blood
but yours is boastful and too
close to me, the stink always on my skin.
America, your hands
are too hard, you have metal blades
for teeth. Maybe you were an idea once
but now you are a machine. Remember
humans live here, in our soft bodies.
America you are scaring me.
▪ ▪ ▪
Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. In an article published two years ago on CounterPunch, he talked about how the press spent a lot of time discussing George Bush’s supposed goal of “nation-building” after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“The stark truth is that the US really has no intention to build strong states in the Middle East or elsewhere,” Kovalik said. Time and time again, he wrote, “the goal of US foreign policy … is increasingly and more aggressively the destruction and balkanization of independent states.”
This is not just a contemporary phenomenon, he noted, citing the Korean War and quoting South Korean human rights scholar Dong Choon Kim, who argues that even back then the nation-building of Third World peoples was viewed as something subversive, to be “snuffed out.” Kim said the Korean War “was a bridge to connect the old type of massacres under colonialism and the new types of state terrorism and political massacre during the Cold War … The mass killings committed by US soldiers in the Korean War marked the inception of military interventions by the US in the Third World at the cost of enormous civilian deaths.”
This apparent pathological violence and destruction can be traced back to the post-WWII period, when George Kennan and others were framing US foreign policy. Kovalik points to oft-quoted 1948 remarks by Kennan concerning the role the US should play on the world stage.
“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population,” Kennan explained. “This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia … we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.”
Today, Kovalik noted, we compose about five percent of the world’s population and consume about one-quarter of its resources. “The only way the US has been able to achieve this impressive, though morally reprehensible, feat has been to undermine, many times fatally, the ability of independent states to exist, defend themselves and to protect their own resources from foreign plunder,” he said. “This is why the US has teamed up with the world’s most deplorable forces in destroying independent states around the globe.”
Kovalik cites US activity in Vietnam, the Congo, Colombia and Libya as a few examples of this behavior. In Libya, he said, the US “partnered with jihadists in 2011 in overthrowing and indeed smashing a state which used its oil wealth to guarantee the best living standards of any country in Africa while assisting independence struggles around the world. In this way, Libya, which under Gaddafi also happened to be one of the staunchest enemies of Al-Qaeda in the world, presented a double threat to US foreign policy aims. Post-intervention Libya is now a failed state with little prospects of being able to secure its oil wealth for its own people again, much less for any other peoples in the Third World.”
In Syria, Kovalik added, the CIA and Pentagon have backed opposing militant groups that are fighting each other. “The result is a drawn-out war which threatens to leave Syria in chaos and ruins for the foreseeable future.
“The US appears to be intentionally spreading chaos throughout strategic portions of the world,” Kovalik charged, “leaving virtually no independent states standing to protect their resources, especially oil, from Western exploitation. And this goal is being achieved with resounding success, while also achieving the subsidiary goal of enriching the behemoth industrial-military complex.”
Kovalik ended by quoting José Martí, the great Cuban poet and revolutionary hero, who once said, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love and create, and those who hate and destroy.” Kovalik added: “There is no doubt that the US has proven itself to be of the latter kind; indeed, the very nature of US foreign policy is destruction.
“There is only one proper goal, then, of people of good will—to oppose US military intervention with every fiber of our being.”
▪ ▪ ▪
Kicking the Habit of War
So how do we do that? How do we oppose military intervention with every fiber of our being? How do we overcome our addiction and kick the habit of war and militarism?
Granted, it won’t be easy. It will be a long and difficult struggle. We may not make much progress in our lifetime. But our children’s children’s future and the fate of the planet impel us to begin. So here are a few ideas, big and small.
The biggest idea, encompassing all the rest and hardly original, is that we need to build a massive movement that is potent enough to dismantle the empire piece by piece. Nothing less will do. We need to be realistic about the enormity of the evil we face and, consequently, be serious, shrewd and strategic in how we approach the task.
One place we might begin is with our language. Words are powerful and some more so than others. We can use them to inspire and to rally people to our side. As a friend suggested, we can use them to “express our dreams” for a more just, humane and peaceful world.
But some words are weak. One word that I suggest all peace activists (and activists of all stripes) banish from their vocabulary is the word protest. Whenever I hear this word, the image that comes to mind is of a three-year-old with his mother (or father) at the checkout counter of the supermarket (or Walmart). The child wants something he can’t have and so proceeds to throw a tantrum. It is the image of someone totally lacking in power. Did you ever notice how the media loves to identify us as protesters?
The Native American leaders at Standing Rock were explicit in informing journalists who visited the encampment that they were water protectors, not protesters. They were too dignified to see themselves as lacking in power or their activity as merely a “protest”. I think the time has come for the rest of us, white, brown and black, to see our work as having power, purpose and dignity. We don’t want to protest, (at least I don’t); we want to have power over our own lives and our own future and we want to take power away from those who have abused it. We should speak as if we were already powerful.
It is time we begin to learn from the right-wing in this country, which is adept at using language to control the message that the public hears.
Nonviolence: Strategy and Way of Life
The mass-based movement we create must be a nonviolent movement, but here I feel obliged to provide a caution. Non-violence should not be interpreted as passive, complacent or peaceful. I think it is a dishonor to King and Gandhi to see our work as merely symbolic. We should have a specific goal with nonviolence as a means to that goal, not the goal itself. Using symbols is fine but if our goal is only to feel sanctimonious and pure, then it is not worth much.
With a lot of help from the mass media, most people seem to have forgotten that King and Gandhi were, first and foremost, community organizers. King died while helping sanitation workers organize to gain a better livelihood and Gandhi was the leader of a successful independence movement. Neither one of them was killed for standing alone on a street corner holding a “protest” sign. They died because they were a significant threat to the principalities and powers of their time.
The most important reason to rely on nonviolence, besides the fact that violence begets violence, is because it works. Gene Sharp, the world’s most prominent scholar and proponent of nonviolence as a political strategy, died early last year. In an opinion piece in the New York Times shortly after his death, Tina Rosenberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, pointed out that Sharp’s primary message was that nonviolence is usually the most effective strategy for winning power. That is why King and Gandhi chose nonviolence, not because, as a Baptist preacher and a Hindu, they were hoping the Catholic Church would anoint them saints.
“When Sharp began studying the history of nonviolence,” Rosenberg wrote, “it was seen—and dismissed—as a tactic used by saints and pacifists: sitting in front of bulldozers, appealing to the consciences of men with none.” (Of course, there’s plenty of places where we should sit in front of bulldozers because they’re usually up to no good: like in our forests and our mountains, or where tar sands pipelines are being laid, or when people’s homes are being demolished in Palestine. But better to sit-in in front of Caterpillar’s doors in Deerfield and Peoria, Illinois.)
“Sharp’s major contribution was to demonstrate that nonviolent struggle is not only effective, it’s superior to armed struggle in most circumstances,” said Rosenberg. “Research studies support this point. As a way to topple dictators, nonviolent struggle has double the success rate of violent resistance. And the bigger the role played by mass nonviolent resistance, the freer the country and the more durable the freedom that emerges.”
King and Gandhi, of course, were leaders motivated by a strong faith. Faith leaders played a significant role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, in the anti-war movement. I think it is imperative that faith leaders assume a pivotal role in a new movement to dismantle the warfare state. The challenge will be for them to place more emphasis on effectiveness than on appearing saintly.
Just as King and Gandhi inspired millions of people to action through their strong faith and spirituality, today we need our faith leaders to study the lessons that nonviolence has to offer and then take a lead in the struggle against the warfare state.
The Radical Sickness of Empire
David Hilfiker, a retired physician, writer and justice worker, wrote a remarkable article in The Other Side right after the second Iraq War. The article presented a challenge and guidance to people of faith on how to respond to a crumbling empire that has forsaken a loving God in favor of the worship of technology, affluence, domination and violence. Hilfiker’s advice was to face the truth, tell the truth, denounce the idolatry, act boldly and create communities of resistance, recognizing that we are in this world but not of it.
“Far from being proof of righteousness, the Iraqi war is symptomatic of a profound sickness that permeates our national life,” he wrote. “The same small group of CEOs and policy-makers who pushed for the multi-billion-dollar orgy of bombing now will reap multi-billion-dollar contracts to rebuild (all at taxpayers expense).
“We must tell the truth that, in invading Iraq, the United States ignored four hundred years of international law, the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Accords, and the clearly articulated will of the rest of the world, seriously destabilizing international relations,” Hilfiker said. “We must unveil the core immorality of the new “Bush doctrine,” in which the United States unabashedly reserves the right to attack any country preemptively, to overthrow any government that we perceive as a threat.
“We have sabotaged a long list of international treaties: the Kyoto accords, a treaty to ban land mines, the ABM treaty with Russia, an agreement to reduce international “small arms” sales, the International Court, and others. Against the rest of the world we have financed and supported, virtually without constraint, Israel’s occupation of Palestine. With new military bases planned for Iraq and the new bases in Asia resulting from the war in Afghanistan, we now have military semicircles ringing both Russia and China.
“All of these, as disturbing as they are,” he added, “are still only symptoms. We must learn to name the deadly sickness itself: It is nothing less than empire.”
Hilfiker went on to describe the nature and the driving engines of the empire. “Recent events have served to unmask a raw and unapologetic form of US imperialism that is unlike anything that came before. This new imperialism is a political and economic threat to the world—and a spiritual threat that we must take seriously.
“US empire is fed ultimately by our affluence and consumerism, which demand a disproportionate share of the world’s resources. Our standard of living is neither just nor sustainable and depends upon economic and political structures that impoverish others, structures that can be maintained only by domination. Addicted to consumerism, the American people often fail to see the connection between our lifestyle and the recent deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and soldiers … In order to maintain our affluence, we have committed ourselves, with almost religious zeal, to an extreme free-market economics … Within the last generation, we have forced the rest of the world to accept this same economic structure, damaging the local economies of many poor countries.
“US economic power, and the resultant injustice, cannot ultimately be maintained without force,”Hilfiker continued. “Consequently, the United States has found itself on the wrong side of almost every conflict in the developing world, as we have militarily supported non-democratic governments that accede to our economic interests.”
The US empire is a “prime manifestation of the powers and principalities” in our time, but it is nothing new, according to Hilfiker. Like all empires, it controls the military and the media and is controlled by and for the wealthy few, while exploiting the poor. What is different, he argued, is that we now “have the technological sophistication for unthinkable death and environmental devastation. Since 1945, we have had, for the only time in human history, the capacity to wipe ourselves out—and that capacity grows every year.”
“We are developing tools that we are not, as a species, capable of handling,” he continued. “There is a race between our technological growth and our spiritual growth. It does not look good.”
But what can we do and how can we act hopefully? he asked. For starters, read the “signs of the times,” he answered. Despite its economic, political and military might, the US is in that “stage of inevitable decline” that marks any empire that neglects justice for the poor. Second, we must recognize that Gospel values of love and forgiveness aren’t just “spiritual niceties” today but also “political necessities.”
Non-military solutions to conflict must be found or “technologically sophisticated violence will engulf us all,” he said. “Issues such as global warming, corporate globalism and US national security strategy all must be addressed in a coherent way, not as isolated arenas of resistance and organizing. They are of one cloth.”
“Third,” he said, “we must recognize how thoroughly the empire contaminates each of us.” (He recommends studying Bonhoeffer and the Book of Revelation.) A life in community “becomes utterly essential” in order for us not to be overwhelmed by the evil powers all around us.
Then he asked: How do we remain (or become) an alternative community in opposition to the dominant imperial culture? “For most of world history,” he responds, this wasn’t a problem. “You opposed the powers, and you were persecuted and likely killed. But our society has refined co-optation to an art form. Walter Brueggemann has suggested that if Moses was alive today, Pharaoh would make him a talk-show host.”
“Finally,” Hilfiker concluded, “we must find ways to act.” It is the nature of the powers to always appear invincible. But “there is no such thing as objective powerlessness,” he insisted. “Our belief that we are powerless is a sure sign that we have been duped by the powers.”
He ends by saying: “Our task is paradoxical: to live in a society that will probably collapse, yet continue to work with hope for peace, for justice, and for more humane, democratic structures … The primary task of the church is to be a community of resistance. I am convinced that it is only within such community that we will have the strength and fortitude to continue the long struggle. Our little, raggedy groups are our only chance.”
▪ ▪ ▪
Taking Down the Empire … One Leg at a Time
Is the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) the same as the empire? I suggest it’s the primary tool of the empire, its means toward the end of domination. We could picture the empire as the table and the Military Industrial Complex as the legs. Let’s work on removing the legs and it’s likely the table won’t stand.
So how can we actually oppose and resist the MIC? Actually, it shouldn’t be that hard because it is so pervasive. Like a giant octopus, its tentacles extend into every sector of our society. Joan Roelofs, a political science professor, wrote a fascinating article on The Political Economy of the Weapons Industry. It was first published on CounterPunch and then reprinted last July on the website of Paul Craig Roberts. Roelofs writes that almost every department and level of government is connected to the military industry, along with business, many charities, social service, environmental and cultural organizations.
“Contracting out” is one way the MIC spreads its influence throughout the country and the world. Lockheed, currently the largest weapons contractor, sources parts to many countries for projects like the F-35 fighter plane. Some businesses have enormous multi-year contracts (in the billions), she notes, despite the constitutional proviso that Congress not appropriate military funds for more than two years. Construction companies build huge bases in the US and abroad, often with high-tech surveillance or operational capacity, and hire locals or third country nationals to do the work. “Medium, small and tiny businesses” including minority-owned ones, are drawn into the web, providing services for the military such as landscaping, dry cleaners and child care. Even educational book publishers like Scholastic and Pearson receive large DoD contracts.
“Much of what is left of organized industrial labor is in weapons manufacture,” Roelofs writes. Labor “PACs fund the few “progressive” candidates in our political system, who tend to be silent about war and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Unlike other factories, the armaments makers do not suddenly move overseas, although they do use subcontractors worldwide.”
The military provides well-paying jobs and the military economy “yields a high return on investment.” Lucrative mutual funds like Vanguard and Fidelity are heavily invested in weapons manufacturers. Not just the wealthy but the middle-class and working class, along with churches, benevolent and cultural organizations, reap these rewards.
Ordinary people may not know where the money in their funds’ portfolio is invested but more than likely some is invested in war. Roelofs mentions that World Beyond War [https://worldbeyondwar.org/divest] has a campaign to encourage divestment of military stocks in the pension funds of state and local government workers. I visited the site and discovered that Wisconsin is one of several states highlighted.
The Wisconsin Investment Board (WIB), it turns out, was 24th on the list of world’s largest pension funds in 2015. The World Beyond War folks had done some research and posted a list of 17 of the top weapons dealers in the world that were part of WIB’s investment portfolio, included in both their Core Retirement Investment Trust and their Variable Retirement Investment Trust. (Don’t ask me how the core differs from the variable.) The website showed the total shares and total fair value for all of the weapons corporations for the year ending in December, 2014.
I then went to the Wisconsin Investment Board’s website and found the investment reports for the year ending last December. Scrolling through the list of 63 pages of corporations, I was able to locate the same weapons corporations for the core account; scrolling through 72 more pages, I found the same corporations for the variable account. I just focused on eight of the top weapons-makers: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Airbus Group and Honeywell International.
I noticed that, in the three years between the two reports, the number of shares owned in the eight corporations (in both accounts) often went down, but the fair value rose, more times than not, sometimes by a considerable amount. With Lockheed Martin, for instance, the Core Retirement Investment Trust showed 225,673 shares for 2014 and only 218,948 shares for 2017. But the fair value of the stock jumped from $43,457,850 in 2014 to $70,293,255 three years later.
Now I know about as much about investments as a fish knows about water polo, but this seems to be telling me that the weapons manufacturers are doing pretty well. War is a bullish business. By the same token, teachers and other public servants are also doing very well, investing in a “secure retirement” by having their earnings invested in weapons-makers who someday soon may see us all “retire” permanently from the planet we share.
In all, there were 186 pages of investments listed in WIB’s 2017 portfolio report. Who knows how many more of the hundreds of corporations not among the 20 researched by World Beyond War are also dealing in death and destruction? The report lists $55,211,579,128 in total equity in the first fund, and $8,029,481,921 in the second. It might be a “profitable investment” of time for anti-war activists to carefully research public pension funds and then mount campaigns to demand divestment from the war industry. It will not be easy though. Some countries actually forbid pension funds from engaging in boycott, divestment or sanctions (BDS) against other countries or defense industries; the State of Wisconsin recently passed legislation preventing businesses from using BDS to oppose Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Roelofs’s article also notes that many nonprofit organizations and educational institutions are engaged with the military in one way or another. Some of the biggest weapons-makers have provided financial support to groups like the NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; CEOs and board members of major weapons manufacturers serve on the boards of many nonprofits.
Roelofs pointed out that The Nature Conservancy claims it is “nonpolitical,” yet it has benefitted from millions of dollars in grants and contracts from DoD and other government agencies.
In Wisconsin, according to Roelofs, the Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin had $906 million of DoD contracts between 2000 and 2016. This Goodwill, which includes much of Northern Illinois and the Chicago area, is the largest of over 160 Goodwill organizations in the world, according to their website.
World Beyond War and CODEPINK and dozens of other organizations around the country are organizing around divestment campaigns as a way for individuals and institutions to sever their ties to the war machine. Wisconsin is not generally seen as a state that is heavily reliant on the weapons industry, but there are still a number of ways that a resurgent peace movement could exert pressure on corporations and individuals who are tied to or benefit from the merchants of death.
▪ ▪ ▪
Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane. No, it’s the military industrial complex!
I live on the north side of Madison, Wisconsin now. It’s probably just a mile or less—as the crows and the jets fly—from the local airport and Truax Field, home of the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. The fighter planes stationed here have been patrolling and training over much of the upper Midwest since 1948, the year I was born.
I’m in the flyway of the war jets, which today are F-16 Fighting Falcons. When the jets fly over, the whole neighborhood seems to shake. There are plenty of sounds in the city to shatter the silence and serenity, but none quite compare to this. It is a violent invasion of the senses. I always feel a wave of fear and anger when I hear it.
The eerie thing is that I never actually see the jets, I just hear them. I don’t know why this is and I don’t want to know. I think it has something to do with the flight patterns.
What do I think of when I hear them? I think of innocent people being slaughtered in sundry countries around the world. I think of the wealth of our nation being squandered on weapons whose only purpose is to cause misery to others. I think of our sullied and beleaguered planet, which desperately needs our loving care and instead is subjected to more violence, the most abhorrent form of violence.
But these Fighting Falcons that fly over every so often are now considered “obsolete” by the powers and principalities. They are to be replaced with more proficient and probably louder instruments of death.
The bigger and better solution for how best to efficiently annihilate people is called the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. It will be the most expensive weapons system in US history. The price tag for each jet currently runs around $100 million each, but the military pledges that the cost per unit will drop once the assembly line is revved up. (More on that in a minute.)
Early this year, the Air National Guard held a dog-and-pony show near the airport, a first step in the process of preparing and approving an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposal to “bed” two squadrons of F-35A jets in Madison. The two squadrons would consist of 40 planes.
Members of the Guard were stationed at different display tables in the hall to answer citizens’ questions. I approached one and inquired, as innocently as I could: “Isn’t there still a lot of concern and controversy regarding these planes?” The officer assured me that this was not the case. Everything was ready to roll.
The reality that the Air Force and Guard probably prefer citizens not know is that the F-35 Joint Strike project has been mired in controversy and delay since its inception. “The F-35 program’s record of performance has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance,” said US Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in opening remarks at an April 2016 hearing on the F-35 program. “It’s a textbook example of why this Committee has placed such a high priority on reforming the broken defense acquisition system.”
“Those F-35 aircraft being delivered are not being delivered as promised,” he continued. “They have problems with maintenance diagnostic software, radar instabilities, sensor fusion shortfalls, fuel system problems, structural cracks from service life testing, engine reliability deficits, limitations on the crew escape system that cause pilot weight restrictions, and potential cyber vulnerabilities. This list is as troubling as it is long.”
Of course, McCain (God bless his soul) did nothing during his service here on earth to actually stop the program. Up in heaven, I’m confident, he’s being rewarded for his role in attempting to create more efficient and effective death machinery. The more innocent lives the empire is able to dispose of, the fuller heaven gets. They do charge rent up there, don’t they?
This past September 28, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that an F-35 stealth fighter had crashed “for the first time” near a Marine Corps base in South Carolina. The crash came just one day after the F-35 was used in combat for the first time in Afghanistan, the article noted.
On the same day, the London Telegraph reported, in almost giddy fashion, that F-35 jets had touched down on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier “eight years after a fighter jet last landed on a British carrier.” The UK’s Defence Secretary gushed: “The largest warship in British history is joining forces with the most advanced fighter jets on the planet. This marks a rebirth of power to strike decisively from the seas anywhere in the world.”
It was, he said, “a monumental moment in our country’s proud military history” and, of course, clear evidence of Britain’s “determination to promote peace and prevent war.” The article noted that Britain was poised to purchase 138 F-35B jets. The Brits had skin in the game, The Telegraph noted, because “British industry giant BAE Systems” produces 15 percent of each F-35 and employs 2,250 people on the project.
A story by Reuters this November reported that Japan was preparing to buy at least 40 of the Lockheed Martin F-35s, worth about $4 billion. Global arms dealers were showing off their wares at an international aerospace exhibition in Tokyo.
Japan was expected to accelerate defense spending increases that would push it “beyond a self-imposed limit of one percent of gross domestic product,” Reuters noted. Although Japan ostensibly has a “pacifist constitution,” the island nation already ranks as one of the world’s biggest military spenders.
Apparently, the F-35 will be a lucrative cash cow for US arms dealers, but it is still unclear how much the jet fighter will cost American taxpayers. In mid-2017, it was reported that the cost of the jet fighter program could grow by seven percent to $406.5 billion. The overall average per-jet acquisition cost—the most complete measure of a weapon’s cost— rose to $164.6 million per plane, according to figures submitted to Congress. The long-term operations and support cost to keep the planes flying until 2070 increased over $35 billion to an estimated $1.1 trillion. By 2018, this overall program cost estimate had risen to $1.5 trillion.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin was claiming it was reducing the unit cost of the jets through a procedure known as “block-buying”. But in an article in September, 2017, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) labeled block-buying “irresponsible”.
“Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act authorize a block buy of 440 F-35s … even though the planes are still being developed and the testing necessary to prove they are operationally effective won’t be completed for years,” POGO charged. “Until that testing is done, all the American people will get for their money is a pile of parts for an unproven prototype …
“The problem, of course, is that even the Pentagon admits that costs for the program are going up, not down. The program is also entering its most complex stage of development and testing, particularly when it comes to the software essential for these planes to be effective in combat, which will likely involve expensive fixes.”
POGO also argues that program managers were hiding information concerning safety of the jets. The plane’s ejection seats posed “a heightened risk of fatal whiplash” and new $600,000 helmets only aggravated the risk. “The premature rush into production before development and testing is complete” would create what POGO called “concurrency orphans,” whereby aircraft purchased at full price would be too expensive to fix to make them combat ready. In McCain’s congressional statement back in 2016, he had called “concurrency” a “long nightmare.” He defined it as “the ill-advised simultaneous development, testing, and production of a complex and technologically challenging weapons system that the Department estimates will end up costing the American taxpayer $1.8 billion.”
POGO published another article a month later in which it detailed how the American taxpayers would be taken to the cleaners through “concurrency orphans.” The watchdog organization reported that the Vice Admiral in charge of the F-35 program was considering “leaving 108 aircraft in their current state because the funds to upgrade them to the fully combat-capable configuration would threaten the Air Force’s plans to ramp up production.” There were also 81 more F-35s purchased by the Navy and Marine Corps during the same period, POGO said. “If they are left in their current state, nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for. What makes this particularly galling is the aircraft that would be left behind by such a scheme were the most expensive F-35s purchased so far. When the tab for all the aircraft purchased in an immature state is added up, the total comes to nearly $40 billion. That is a lot of money to spend on training jets and aircraft that will simply be stripped for spare parts.
“The American people spent approximately $21.4 billion for those 108 orphaned F-35As,” the article continued, “slightly more than was spent on a four-year fight against ISIS.”
The F-35 program is one of the most “concurrent” in US history, POGO claims, pointing out that the military will have nearly 800 F-35s in hand or in the manufacturing pipeline before the design is fully proven. The article cited former Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall as calling it “acquisition malpractice.”
It also quoted a now-retired Director of Operational Test and Evaluation who warned that the armed services would need to send aircraft back to maintenance depots for modification. The Air Force had already listed 213 change items in its FY2018 budget request. The Government Accountability Office had identified $1.8 billion in retrofitting costs for the program in 2016, with $1.4 billion going to already known problems and another $386 million for anticipated fixes yet to be identified. “These figures are almost certainly much lower than the true cost to retrofit the aircraft already purchased because, as the testing process continues, it’s natural that more and more problems will be revealed,” POGO noted.
It makes one wonder: what kind of planes will be flying over Madison’s friendly skies? They almost certainly will be “training” planes, and those appear to be the ones that were rushed into production. Perhaps residents of Madison’s neighborhoods near Truax Field will have a lot more to be apprehensive about than just the hellish noise. Perhaps the National Guard could see to it that each resident is issued one of those $600,000 helmets that the pilots will be wearing.
So our Democratic politicians who represent our liberal cities are going to get us out of this mess? Right. Fat chance. Not unless we organize and exert a lot of pressure and convince them it’s in their interest to do what progressive politicians should be doing: actively opposing this incursion of the military industrial complex into our communities.
There probably aren’t many cities in the country ostensibly more progressive than Burlington, Vermont, home of Independent Senator Bernie Sanders. Yet Democrat and progressive leaders there are diligently pushing the US war machine in the form of the F-35. The entire mostly-Democratic “leadership” of the state has devoted more than a decade trying to force an F-35 airbase on the community of South Burlington, according to William Boardman, a professional writer who spent 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy has been “enthusiastic about militarizing his hometown from the start,” Boardman reports, and Sanders and Democratic congressman Peter Welch have hedged slightly, but neither has opposed the project. Governors of both parties have been cheerleaders, as well as Burlington’s Democratic mayor.
Burlington owns the airport in South Burlington and would probably need to bulldoze houses there to “meet environmental standards for imposing the quiet-shattering F-35 jet on a community that doesn’t want it and won’t benefit from it,” Boardman wrote early this year. Residents calling themselves Save Our Skies from the F-35s organized and then presented a petition with 3,000 signatures to the city in order to get the question on the ballot.
Several Democratic and “progressive” members of the City Council tried to substitute their own resolution at the last minute, but ultimately the SOS resolution was approved by the council on a 10-2 vote. In a March vote on the advisory resolution, 55 percent of Burlington voters opposed the F-35 base siting, as well as 75 percent of the City Council. Unfortunately, Boardman reported later, the mayor “betrayed” the citizens, not by vetoing the resolution but by refusing to sign it. He also attached a cover letter to the Air Force that was disingenuous and dishonest and undermined citizen efforts to stop the militarization of their community.
In Madison, our soon-to-be-former governor, Scott Walker, has said he is looking forward to hearing the F-35 Lightning II jet take off from Truax Field, describing the noise as the “sound of freedom,” according to the local Isthmus newspaper.
Another local official who apparently can’t wait to hear the sound of F-35s thundering over our neighborhoods is US Senator Tammy Baldwin, the darling of most Madison liberals. I’m not sure what it is she has done to win the admiration and affection of so many well-meaning people. One thing I am certain of is that she is not an opponent but rather a friend and enabler of the military industrial complex. She is not a progressive, if that term has any meaning at all, but rather one little cog in the war machine.
I have a friend in Milwaukee, Bob Graf, who wrote to Baldwin earlier this year regarding the F-35. He expressed his concerns about air pollution and other environmental danger that would accompany the fighter jets, but I’m sure his primary concerns had to do with war and peace and the common wealth of our country being squandered in order to feed the insatiable appetite of the empire. Bob was one of the Milwaukee 14, a group of clergy and other young men who entered a Selective Service office in downtown Milwaukee in September 1968, raided file cabinets and dumped draft files in bags and carried them outside to a small park, where they burned them with homemade napalm.
Now, 50 years later, Bob was concerned because he had friends who couldn’t afford to send their daughter to college, even though she had generous scholarship offers. As he wrote to some friends, he knew that Baldwin and others in the Senate had voted for a bipartisan $700 billion defense budget. It was $54 billion more than what President Trump had requested, enough “to make tuition free at public colleges and universities.”
Baldwin’s response to Graf’s letter explained that the planes deployed in Madison were “some of the oldest fighter jets still in service.” Not getting the new, improved war weaponry “would jeopardize operations at Truax Field, resulting in job losses and a significant, negative impact on the regional economy.”
Taking that extra step to support the war economy seems to be a trait with Baldwin. As The Defense Monitor, POGO’s newsletter, reported in their summer 2017 issue, the Pentagon’s 2018 budget had originally included “a small victory for taxpayers: it reduced its request for the troubled Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to only one ship for $1.2 billion.”
“The Navy doesn’t want them,” POGO quoted the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as saying. But two senators did: Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Baldwin. The LCS program currently produces two variations of the ship, POGO noted, one made by Austal in Mobile, Alabama and the other by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wisconsin.
Baldwin appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and argued that cutting that one ship out of the budget would result in job losses in Wisconsin, “harm the American taxpayers,” and endanger national security.
POGO’s article noted that Baldwin’s concerns were exaggerated and “run counter to the reality of the program.” I watched the video of the subcommittee hearing and this appeared to be the case. Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley assured the committee that jobs would not be impacted in the near future. He explained that the two shipyards had built ten ships between them but that 20 more were in the “backlog,” for a total of up to 30 ships.
POGO noted that the LCS program had already been forced into multiple changes due to “large cost overruns, lack of combat survivability and lethality discovered during operational testing and deployment, and the almost crippling technical failures and schedule delays.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that taxpayers could have saved $12 billion if the program had been cancelled.
A few hours after the appropriations hearing, the White House announced they would add another LCS to the budget. It was “record-breaking speed in pork pressure politics,” POGO charged. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain said. The Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith (D-WA), put it more bluntly: “They pulled that ship out of their asses.”
Yes, Tammy is good at bringing home the pork. Would that it were a nice, grass-fed pig raised on a small organic farm, rather than a rancid strip of bacon. If Baldwin really cares about creating industrial jobs, as well as protecting the pocketbooks of taxpayers, how about creating jobs to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure? To build mass transit systems like the one that Walker spurned? To build green energy systems? To build schools and hospitals? To put young people on our farmland? To help people start small businesses? No, that would all require creativity as well as courage. Better to go along as an obsequious servant to the empire and continue to feed the war behemoth.
I need to be blunt about this: we are too far down the road to total annihilation of the planet to mince words. Baldwin is not a friend to peace; she is a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the military industrial complex. Yes, I know what you’re going to say, she’s “the lesser of two evils.” Granted, her Republican opponent in November’s election was ten times worse. Americans are adept at voting for “the lesser evil” because our so-called democratic system does not provide any other options.
(For those of you who were not aware, Baldwin did have another opponent, an Independent named Mary Jo Walters, who opposed the F-35 and took a stronger stand on all the issues progressives should be concerned about. All she lacked was the $14 million that Baldwin had at her disposal. And, of course, voting for Walters would have meant “throwing your vote away.”)
Those jets that Baldwin dismissed in her letter to Graf, the F-16s currently stationed in Madison, may be old but historically they’ve left their mark, making obscene amounts of money for Lockheed Martin and causing unimaginable amounts of misery around the world.
Two women associated with CODEPINK, Ariel Gold and Haley Pedersen, penned an article a year ago November where they enumerated some of the ways Lockheed Martin “makes a killing off of killing.” The F-16 has proven to be one of the exemplary items in its product line.
Lockheed Martin has been selling arms to Israel since 1971, according to the company’s website. “The company’s notorious F-16 fighter jet came into Israel’s possession in 1980,” Gold and Pedersen noted. “Since that time, the company’s fighter jets have been integral to Israel’s brutal military campaigns in Lebanon and Palestine.”
The article goes on to mention the F-16s wide use in the 2006 invasion of Lebanon and the 2008-09 and 2014 assaults on Gaza. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN and other organizations investigated, documented and condemned all these campaigns for their high rate of civilian casualties and general failure to distinguish between military targets and civilians, including children.
As the article noted, Israel is not the only controversial country that is a valued Lockheed customer. A US State Department arms deal negotiated with Egypt under Obama was worth an estimated $3.2 billion and Lockheed was the primary contractor. In May 2017, Trump signed a $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, and Lockheed was slated to get over $29 billion of the package.
According to the article, Lockheed Martin grossed $43.4 billion in arms sales in 2016 and its CEO, Marilyn Hewson, earned $20 million. The federal contracts Lockheed received totaled more than the budgets of 22 US states. It is the largest weapons manufacturer in the world.
Before Obama left office, he increased military aid to Israel to $3.8 billion a year. The deal required Israel to use 100 percent of the funds to buy from US companies; part of the funds were to be used to update “the lion’s share” of its military aircraft. Included would be the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets. The first of the F-35s began arriving in Israel in December, two years ago, and Israel was the first country outside of the US to receive them.
So, maybe Baldwin’s reasoning is: If Israel can have them, why shouldn’t Madison? Perhaps we could even find some small villages of Lebanese or Palestinians out around Verona or Cross Plains that the pilots could practice on with their brand-new F-35s. It may also be a boon for economic development, if Epic doesn’t mind the noise.
Seriously, what options do we have besides throwing our vote away or throwing it at the military industrial complex? We can attempt to reform the democratic system, such as it is, but we should be clear about what we are up against. We should also begin to build a viable, powerful, local peace movement. Baldwin gets contributions from Lockheed Martin, (the arms merchant is 16th on the list of her contributions from PACs and individuals). But frankly, it’s a pittance compared to the blood money the company could afford to dish out and compared to what she receives from all sorts of do-gooders: teachers, attorneys, health professionals, university employees and such. What the peace movement needs to do is to organize all of these do-gooders to actually do some good and withhold their future support until she pledges to cut her ties to Lockheed Martin and the military industrial complex.
We can demand that all our Wisconsin leaders refuse to support the F-35 and instead work to create good industrial jobs in Marinette (and elsewhere) that are divorced from the military industrial complex.
▪ ▪ ▪
In bombs we trust
We should also divest ourselves of the delusion that Democrats are for peace and Republicans are for war. There is nothing in history to support this notion. In fact, you could build a good case for the opposite. This is a dangerous mythology that has impeded liberal-minded people from developing any coherent strategy to build a peace economy that will meet human needs and help make the world a safe place. It’s pathetic but probably true that the only alternative vision in terms of foreign policy that mainstream Democrats have put forward since Trump took power is to re-start the Cold War with Russia. How is that for progress?
I want to quote now a few paragraphs from a piece of paper I came across recently in order to make the point of how far we’ve regressed. It’s from the Congressional Record, just a snippet of a much longer speech in the US Senate. See if you can guess who is speaking.
Peace through strength is a fallacy, Mr. President, for peace is not simply the absence of a nuclear holocaust. Peace is not a nation which has seen its teenage suicide rate more than double in the past two decades. Peace is not a nation in which more people die every two years of gunshot wounds than died in the entire Vietnam War. Peace is not the town in Pennsylvania which last year was forced to cancel its high school graduation because officials believed that a group of students planned to commit suicide at the ceremony. And peace is not here in Washington where, after leading the Nation in murders last year, children are beginning to show the same psychological trauma as children in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Can we really believe that the decisions we have made—and are making—do not have a direct relationship to the violence which plagues our Nation?
I suggest that we consider changing the motto on our coins, Mr. President. It now reads: In God We Trust—but by blindly pursuing the nuclear arms race, by putting the destruction of life over the preservation of life, we have forsaken our trust in God. We have shaken our fist at God—as E.B. White once put it, we have stolen God’s stuff. Our motto ought to be: In Bombs We Trust. That is our national ethic—that is the example we are setting—here, on this floor …
But is there no ethical dimension to the arms race—to our abuse of our natural and human resources, to our waste of scientific genius, to the bankrupting of the Federal Treasury to pay for weapons of mass destruction?
Is there no ethical dimension to our decision, our conscious decision, to add more and more weapons to our stockpiles, while millions of people in our own country have no roof over their heads, when we cannot fund our homeless programs, when we cannot fund our war on drugs? Is there no ethical dimension to the violent examples we are setting for our children? Is there no ethical dimensions to the definition of national security that we are passing on to the developing nations of the world, where arsenals are now as bloated as the bellies of the Third World’s children?
If you are a younger person, you probably will not have the foggiest notion who this was speaking on the floor of the US Senate. A few clues: it was not a Democrat nor an Independent. And the year was 1989, nearly thirty years ago. His name was Mark Hatfield, a Republican from Oregon. He had been a Lieutenant in the Navy and had commanded landing craft in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II. He was one of the first US military personnel to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.
As the Governor of Oregon, despite warnings of political suicide, he had cast the only vote at the 1965 National Governor’s Conference in opposition to a resolution supporting President Johnson’s Vietnam War policy. In 1981, he cast the lone vote in the Senate in opposition to enormous increases in the Department of Defense budget. He was known as the father of the Nuclear Freeze movement and was a strong opponent of the US colonial wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
How far have we come, or should I ask how far we have to go? Nowadays a “progressive” Democrat is one who represents one of the most “liberal” cities in the country and argues for more money for the war machine than even the Pentagon desires, in order to “create jobs.” As if the most powerful nation on earth can’t figure out a better way to create jobs.
Can you imagine anyone today who could or would make a speech like Hatfield’s in the Senate or the House? Perhaps Bernie Sanders would, if he could muster the courage (or whatever it takes) to make the connections between our domestic and our foreign policy.
One of the few people in the US Legislature today to articulate a consistent anti-intervention and anti-national security state message, and one of the only ones to speak out against Obama’s despicable drone warfare, has been Rand Paul (R-KY), someone most liberals would probably dismiss with disdain as a Tea Party fanatic.
I think it’s time we rethink who our friends are and who we may be able to build alliances with as we create a powerful peace movement. We should not assume that Democrats will be our allies because most have more allegiance to Wall Street than they do to the people who vote for them. As the saying goes, politicians never lead; the people must lead and the politicians will follow. Ultimately, we can’t depend on politicians to do what is right; we must rely on each other.
I admit that I’ve failed to offer a very clear roadmap on how we kick the war habit and build a peace movement. But hopefully you’ve found a few ideas here on where we might start. Allow me to summarize:
- Let’s use powerful language and develop a powerful message that speaks to people’s sense of decency and yearning for peace, dignity and security. (Let’s not “protest” any more, if we can help it.) Let’s set our sights on gaining power.
- Let’s use nonviolent direct action as a powerful tool to disrupt the system and ultimately transform it. We need to build strong, working coalitions with grassroots organizations that share our values and are concerned about issues of peace, gun violence, environmental justice, government surveillance and human needs. Let’s find creative ways to work together.
- Let’s focus on local manifestations of the military industrial complex, like the F-35, and also organize divestment campaigns so that we, our friends and neighbors, and our organizations begin to systematically withdraw our support from the war economy.
- For those of you who want to focus on taking over the Democratic Party, more power to you. (Hopefully you will succeed while there is still something left to save.) For those who want to start a new party that will better represent our ideals, values and aspirations, more power to you. Let’s work together from the “inside” and the “outside” to take back our political system and our democracy.
▪ ▪ ▪
Let’s hear from Smedley one more time
I think I will end this essay the same way I began it way back on Memorial Day, by hearing from our old friend Major General Smedley Darlington Butler. Just like Mark Hatfield, Butler knew what war is like from first-hand experience. Writing in 1935, he was the most decorated Marine in US history. Here are a few timely words from the end of his essay on war and peace. See how his words resonate for us today.
“Either the army is undermanned or under-equipped. Indeed, there is not a general in active service today who would dare state that we are properly armed. The appetites of the military for new material, for more men, is insatiable.
Add up these phases of the war racket we harbor and encourage, and the result is a pretty picture. We support armed forces that have all the evils of the old-time European prussianized military systems. They point out “enemies” for us. The speediest and most deadly branch, the Air Corps, is engaged in activities liable to drag us into a world crisis. The intelligence branch of the army is engaged in collecting useless and incendiary information abroad and in reprehensible activities at home. And industry has been invited into partnership with our armed forces so that the advent of war cannot be less than welcome to it …
We must give up the Prussian ideal—carrying on offensive warfare and imposing our wills upon other people in distant places. Such doctrine is unAmerican and vicious. War plans must be made defensive plans only. The hypnotic influences of pointing out enemies must be eradicated …
Finally, the clique that has fastened itself upon Washington and which is responsible for these powerful militaristic influences must be uprooted and sent back to work for the true defense of the country. There must be no more reactionary and destructive intelligence work. The true domestic enemies of our nation—hunger, injustice and exploitation—should concern the military intelligence—not the subversive shadows of their own creation.
Such a policy will involve a change in our industrial plans for a future war. As the plans now stand, we must fight an offensive war on a grand scale ever to see these plans used. We need no gigantic procurement scheme to supply an army which can keep our shores inviolate …
The true effectiveness of our defensive preparations is being handicapped by the instability and incongruity of our military policies and activities. Nations should consider whether, after all, their best defense might not be to divert to social welfare the effort, energy and money spent preparing for offensive war.”
▪ ▪ ▪