Look, what matters to the American military-industrial complex isn’t either the truth or saving your taxpayer dollars but keeping those weapons programmes going and the money flowing.
What matters, above all, is keeping America’s economy on a permanent wartime footing both by buying endless new (and old) weapons systems for the military and selling them globally in a bizarrely Orwellian pursuit of peace through war.
How are Americans, Ike’s “alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” supposed to end a racket like this? We certainly should know one thing by now: the MIC will never check itself and Congress, already part of it thanks to impressive campaign donations and the like by major weapons makers, won’t corral it either.
Indeed, last year, Congress shovelled $45 billion more than the Biden administration requested (more even than the Pentagon asked for) to that complex, all ostensibly in your name. Who cares that it hasn’t won a war of the faintest significance since 1945.
Even “victory” in the Cold War (after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991) was thrown away. And now the complex warns us of an onrushing “new cold war” to be waged, naturally, at tremendous cost to you, the American taxpayer.
As citizens, we must be informed, willing and able to act. And that’s precisely why the complex seeks to deny you knowledge, precisely why it seeks to isolate you from its actions in this world. So, it’s up to you – to us! – to remain alert and involved. Most of all, each of us must struggle to keep our identity and autonomy as a citizen, a rank higher than that of any general or admiral, for, as we all need to be reminded, those wearing uniforms are supposed to serve you, not vice-versa.
I know you hear otherwise. You’ve been told repeatedly in these years that it’s your job to “support our troops.” Yet, in truth, those troops should only exist to support and defend you, and of course the Constitution, the compact that binds us all together as a nation.
When misguided citizens genuflect before those troops (and then ignore everything that’s done in their name), I’m reminded yet again of Ike’s sage warning that only Americans can truly hurt this country. Military service may be necessary, but it’s not necessarily ennobling. America’s founders were profoundly sceptical of large militaries, of entangling alliances with foreign powers and of permanent wars and threats of the same. So should we all be.
No, not that “Citizens United,” not the case in which the Supreme Court decided corporations had the same free speech rights as you and me, allowing them to co-opt the legislative process by drowning us out with massive amounts of “speech,” aka dark-money-driven propaganda. We need citizens united against America’s war machine.
Understanding how that machine works – not just its waste and corruption, but also its positive attributes – is the best way to wrestle it down, to make it submit to the people’s will. Yet activists are sometimes ignorant of the most basic facts about “their” military. So what? Does the difference between a sergeant major and a major, or a chief petty officer and the chief of naval operations matter? The answer is: yes.
An antimilitary approach anchored in ignorance won’t resonate with the American people. An antiwar message anchored in knowledge could, however. It’s important, that is, to hit the proverbial nail on the head.
Look, for example, at the traction Donald Trump gained in the presidential race of 2015-2016 when he did something few other politicians then dared do: dismiss the Iraq War as wasteful and stupid. His election win in 2016 was not primarily about racism, nor the result of a nefarious Russian plot. Trump won, at least in part because, despite his ignorance on so many other things, he spoke a fundamental truth – that America’s wars of this century were horrendous blunders.
Trump, of course, was anything but antimilitary. He dreamed of military parades in Washington, DC. But I (grudgingly) give him credit for boasting that he knew more than his generals and by that I mean many more Americans need to challenge those in authority, especially those in uniform.
Yet challenging them is just a start. The only real way to wrestle the military-industrial complex to the ground is to cut its funding in half, whether gradually over years or in one fell swoop. Yes, indeed, it’s the understatement of the century to note how much easier that’s said than done.
It’s not like any of us could wave a military swagger stick like a magic wand and make half the Pentagon budget disappear. But consider this: If I could do so, that military budget would still be roughly $430 billion, easily more than China’s and Russia’s combined, and more than seven times what this country spends on the State Department. As usual, you get what you pay for, which for America has meant more weapons and disastrous wars.
Join me in imagining the (almost) inconceivable – a Pentagon budget cut in half. Yes, generals and admirals would scream and Congress would squeal. But it would truly matter because, as a retired Army major general once told me, major budget cuts would force the Pentagon to think – for once. With any luck, a few sane and patriotic officers would emerge to place the defence of America first, meaning that hubristic imperial designs and forever wars would truly be reined in because there’d simply be no more money for them.
Currently, Americans are giving the Pentagon all it wants – plus extras. And how’s that been working out for the rest of us? Isn’t it finally time for us to exercise real oversight, as Ike challenged us to do in 1961? Isn’t it time to force the Pentagon to pass an audit each year – it’s failed the last five! – or else cut its budget even more deeply?
Isn’t it time to hold Congress truly responsible for enabling ever more war by voting out military sycophants? Isn’t it time to recognise, as America’s founders did, that sustaining a vast military establishment constitutes the slow and certain death of democracy?
Just remember one thing: the military-industrial complex won’t reform itself. It just might have no choice, however, but to respond to our demands, if we as citizens remain alert, knowledgeable, determined and united. And if it should refuse to, if the MIC can’t be tamed, whether because of its strength or our weakness, you will know beyond doubt that this country has truly lost its way.
- A TomDispatch report / By William J. Astore – retired officer in the US army