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Posts Tagged ‘military’

The worldwide economic meltdown has focused a lot of attention on the role and power of banks and insurance companies in our country.  In addition, the current debate on health care legislation also highlights the power of the health insurance companies.  In the part 1 and part 2 of this series I wrote about the way these money-making industries use their financial power to influence our government, through the intermediaries we call lobbyists, to essentially purchase legislation that is beneficial to the bottom line of these companies, at the expense of the American citizen.

There is another group of wealthy people we don’t often think of as wealthy because they prefer to stay in the background.  They don’t have the names or jobs of the famous robber barons of the past, names like Rockefeller and Morgan, but they are quietly there nonetheless and we were warned about them many years ago by one of our presidents.  It was a warning our government chose to ignore. I am talking about the military-industrial complex. The warning about this group of for-profit businessmen was issued by President Eisenhower. Over the years since World War II, our U.S. military industrial complex has grown rich – bloated might be a better word.  In spite of President Eisenhower’s warning this industry has grown so large that it is potentially a larger factor and therefore a larger potential danger to the economic well being of the country than the banks and the insurance companies put together.

Today the total budget of the United States is about $3.1 trillion dollars.  Of that amount, about half, $1.49 trillion dollars will be spent this year on military-related costs. When George Bush was president he attempted to hide the growth in this part of the budget by keeping the costs of the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War out of the budget. These costs are instead appropriations.  He went even further to distract attention from the total military costs in our budget by making the “Global War on Terror” a separate line item in the defense budget, separate from the line labelled “Department of Defense”.  It’s like having a budget for a fire department where we might have a set of costs labelled “Fire Department” and another set of costs labelled “Putting out fires”.

The simple fact that defense spending, one way or another, eats up half of our tax dollars shows implicitly the effect the military-industrial complex has on our economy.  The point here is not that we are spending a lot of money on a war that was started by our enemies. The point is that we are spending a lot more money on “defense” that is unnecessary.  A good example is the USS George H W Bush, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier that was launched at the end of the George W Bush administration.  This aircraft carrier is a dinosaur, a creature of an age of Soviet/American tensions and it is designed to provide a deterrent against a foe that doesn’t even exist anymore.  In an age when our primary strike weapons have become stealth bombers that fly non-stop from the U.S. and remote controlled drones that launch missiles directed by operators sitting in control rooms in the U.S. mainland, the aircraft carrier is headed for extinction, just as the battleship did before.

However, it is not about aircraft carriers and battleships that I am concerned.  It is our the decisions that are made to produce weapon systems that are either outdated, ineffective, inappropriate, or just the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I am concerned about the decision making process in military procurement that creates a condition where we send in soldiers to Iraq using Humvees as their primary patrol vehicle while these vehicles are without any armor at all.  Meanwhile we spend huge amounts of money building tanks and other armored vehicles that are of little use.

The list of useless, ineffective, inappropriate, and just plain awful products that our military buys from the industrial complex is a very long one.  And some people get very rich selling these products to the government while other, more effective products, are shunted aside and never purchased at all.  Why? Because it is all about connections.  Connections between the wealthy owners of the manufacturers of the weapons and the people who sign the purchase orders.  It is about connections between lobbyists and Congressmen when decisions are made about what to buy and what not to buy.  There is a flow of money, just as in the banking and insurance industries, from the military equipment manufacturers, via lobbyists, to our elected representatives and that is how decisions are made: not to buy the best product for the best price, but to buy the product that will put money in someone’s pocket.

And that, in a nutshell, is how your government spends about half of your tax dollars.  On the other hand there are other countries, European countries, that spend far less of a percentage of their national budget on “defense”.  Did you ever wonder what those countries do with all of their excess money that they don’t waste on frivolous defense expenditures?  Here’s one thing they do: a lot of them provide free medical care for their citizens.  Here’s another thing: some of them also provide 100% free college costs for their citizens.  While our government lurches from “crisis” to “crisis” the rest of Western civilization is pursuing a more constructive path, making better lives for their citizens.  That’s because they are not burdened by a system of power that starts with the wealthy and proceeds, via a group of lobbyists, directly to our elected representatives.  In many countries the elected representatives actually try to help the people and not just help themselves to a bigger piece of the pie.

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I’ve been wondering: if we still had the draft, would our soldiers still be in Iraq?

On July 1, 1973, after much debate, President Richard Nixon signed legislation creating the all volunteer military that we have today. Until then the majority of people who served in the armed forces (and there were millions and millions) in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam were draftees. So why did President Nixon decide that we needed to completely change the makeup of our armed forces? His explanation was that we were in a different world now: our nation was confronted by highly trained, professional armies of other nations that were certainly far more effective than ours. Hey, we lost in Viet Nam, remember? These foreign professionals (I wonder if he was referring to the Viet Cong here? Probably not, I guess. Actually, I’m not sure who he was referring to, come to think of it – maybe the Russians or the Chinese? He didn’t say; it was just “them”.) They were better trained, they were bigger, they were stronger, they were smarter, they were faster, and therefore, much more likely to be successful in armed engagements because they were – well, they were just superior, professional forces!

That Dick Nixon was a smart one, but, you know, not everybody trusted him, and in retrospect, I have to admit that they were sort of right about that. He was our only President to be impeached and then resign in disgrace. It was all about that Watergate thing and how the Republicans hired these burglars who got caught breaking in to the Democratic campaign headquarters, or something like that. Seems that Dick might have OK’d the whole thing in advance. Hey, is that so bad? Anyway, his successor, Gerald Ford, as his first act as President, pardoned Nixon for all his misdeeds and then Dick retired into obscurity. So that was all set straight. Today, Nixon is pretty much forgotten, but his legacy of an all-volunteer army lives on. Did you know they used to call him “Tricky Dick”? I wonder why people said that?

It is interesting to note that our current President, George Bush, has heartily endorsed Nixon’s all volunteer army. He wrote on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Nixon’s establishment of the new armed forces that, “For the last 30 years, we have been fortunate to have a military composed entirely of volunteers.” Yes, George, that sure has turned out to be a good idea hasn’t it?

The Iraq war is our first major war since Viet Nam, but the remarkable thing is how differently people have reacted to it on the home front. Remember the marches in the streets with hundreds of thousands of people protesting the Viet Nam war? Remember the slogan’s like “Hell no, we won’t go!” Remember all the people who burned their draft cards and all the people who fled to Canada to avoid fighting in the Viet Nam war? Remember all the news reports of the slaughter in the jungles, the daily reports of American dead, the photos of dying soldiers, and flag-draped coffins? It was a time of war and riots in the streets. Remember how the National Guard soldiers shot and killed those student protesters at Kent State University? It was pretty clear that a lot of Americans were very unhappy about the war, but they were even more unhappy about the prospect of being drafted to fight in a war that they thought was unjustified and immoral.

Good old Dick Nixon, he was an unrecognized genius. His solution has eliminated all the messy protests and gave future Presidents a well trained military force that can be used almost anywhere for any reason, and no one is going to complain about it. He decided that if we make it attractive enough, (you know, give soldiers good pay, good tuition benefits, free housing, free medical care, good schools for their families, exclusive stores where they can buy stuff at prices much less than any other U.S. citizen, a great retirement plan, and a lot more) we can get lots of people to join the military and have long, fruitful careers as “volunteer” soldiers, willing to fight when told without all the needless questioning of whether this was a moral war or not. After all, what does morality have to do with it anyway?

Dick’s plan is working just fine. We now have a well-trained, all-volunteer, military in Iraq. Nobody is protesting in the streets because no one is being dragged off to fight in a war they don’t believe in. The news of the war is carefully managed without all those upsetting photos of dying soldiers, napalm attacks, public executions of Viet Cong, burned babies, and funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, and such. I mean, do we really want to see all that anyway? Isn’t there something else on TV, like a football game or something? I think I can see why the Bush-Cheney team likes this. Let’s face it we don’t object to the Iraq war because it really doesn’t involve us. Not only are the casualties of little interest, but so are the secret CIA rendition flights, the torture of prisoners, and the utter destruction of a country that had absolutely no involvement in the 9/11 attacks and absolutely no weapons of mass destruction. I could go on, but really – who cares?

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