Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Eisenhower, the sage

By Don Klein

The United States is a debtor nation, yet it sustains the most portentous and feared military force in human history. Oddly this phenomenon exists when it is not challenged by any enemy of comparable awesome power – not by a long shot (pardon the pun). Further there is no nation anywhere threatening it or on bad terms with the US. Not the Russians, not the Chinese, none at all.

To add to the absurdity of the scenario, the US is broke and owes hundreds of billions of dollars to other nations. It also suffers the burden of a crushing deficit which must be reduced.

Is there something in this package of facts that makes sense?

How can such an economically bereft nation maintain such a military monster for virtually no reason at all? Strangely enough President Dwight D. Eisenhower spelled out the reason more than a half century ago. The United States is afflicted with what may be a fatal malady. Ike warned us about it in his farewell speech. He described it as "the military-industrial complex."

Eisenhower was not a great president, but he was an honest man who knew all about war. During World War II he was the commanding general of millions of Allied forces in the European Theater. He might not have known much about social issues or other civilian matters, but he was an incontrovertible expert on the military.

This dichotomy reminded me of the fact that my whole life has been spent under the cloud of war. I was barely 10 years old when wars broke out in Asia and Europe and I was happy after WWII that there was no one left to fight. I was wrong.

There was the Korean War soon afterward, in which I served, then the tense near war over the Cuba missile threat, then Vietnam and Cambodia campaigns, the aborted war with Iran over the hostage situation, and the Reagan invasion of Grenada, the Lebanese Marine barracks debacle, the air attack on Libya, the Iran-Contra affair and deploying defensive missiles to Europe, followed by the Bosnian war and now for more than a decade, the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Almost every post-WWII president during the last six decades sent US forces into harms way on questionable missions. They seemed to act on the premise that we are the superpower, and have to demonstrate it by flexing our might.

I don't believe there has been a similar period of history that has had more wars affecting a single nation. War is an awful waste of humanity, of resources, of industrial clout, of intellectual potential. It is interesting how history seems to write its story despite all else.

Suddenly, after all these decades, Eisenhower, a bourgeois military man, comes away appearing to be a farsighted political sage. This country's future has already been derailed by the false belief that overwhelming military superiority will keep us safe from attack. Remember, it didn’t stop 9/11?

There is no major military power threatening us, yet we spend more on arms and military operations than all other nations combined. And if anyone suggests we slowdown we get the usual fear-peddling nonsense about being soft on security. The nation's gullible voters buy it hook, line and sinker and we continue casting ourself as the most well-armed pauper in the world.

In all fairness the US was not the only nation afflicted by wars. There were dozens of hostilities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America during what became the bloodiest century of all time. And that’s not even counting the two most lethal European conflicts – World War I and World War II.

In too many of these wars the US has played a part – if only as a materiel supporter of one side or another and, in others, like Iraq, WWI and WWII, as the principal adversary.

But with the decline of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century there is no substantial military power facing the country, and none are on the horizon. So why do we maintain such an awesome, and expensive, military force?

Eisenhower warned about it. Big industry makes tons of profits selling arms and other military supplies. The arms makers influence Congress with donations and high ranking professional warriors parrot fearful consequences to keep up the spending for wars that are not at all likely. Members of Congress in turn sell their warlike programs employing large doses of frightful dire consequences to the public and tamp down all political opposition by branding them "soft on security."

So the carousel keeps twirling with the US screwing itself into the ground. The thought of reducing the immense military drain on the budget to ease the economic crisis now facing the country is hardly ever mentioned, and when it is it is, it is couched in modest terms.

At the current rate we will be nation no different than a larger version of many third world countries which have a well-financed military supported by an undernourished, unskilled populace controlled by a puppet government owned by the biggest of all industrial claques, whose top executives live in pure luxury.

What we need to do is break the cycle. The first fiscal cuts should come out of an over-bloated military budget, cutting it back to the size a little bit larger than the tradition peacetime force maintained for centuries by the US. Cuts in other programs affecting civilians can follow once we correct the military-industrial imbalance.

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