peace sells but who’s buying 39

I recently found a movie on Netflix that I had never seen before.  Sean Penn narrates a devastating critique of America’s war footing since the end of World War II.

The film tackles one of our most detrimental myths by virtue of an honest and unemotional look at the historical record.  There are some obligatory mentions of the “anti-war” movement having been marginalized and really only had one guy being interviewed to supplement the narration, but I agree with the larger point that the true tragedy remains the overwhelming majority of Americans who were (and still are) gullible enough to believe the shit they’ve fed by a sophisticated and self-sustaining coup.  Not a coup in the traditional sense, but one founded in a combination of unrelated events that came together with horrific consequences.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy to create chaos.

President Eisenhower warned us almost fifty years ago of the Hell we had unleashed by not dismantling our war machine after World War II.  I realize this is probably the most linked to clip as a refutation of our war mentality, but it is a welcome reminder of the bipartisan nature of both our lust for war as well as our condemnation of its evils.


Both parties, under presidents both inspired and insipid, have pursued policies of perpetual war for perpetual peace.  The book of the same name by Gore Vidal is another eloquent critique of what has become our foreign policy staple with very little actual condemnation on the part of voters.  It costs nearly a trillion dollars a year to keep our war machine going and the idiots in Congress can’t find money to supplement a health care bill that will cost a couple hundred billion a year.  Is there something wrong with this picture?

How about this one?

afhgan child with automatic weapon

Our actions don’t match our stated goals and ideals.  Our nation has never once lived up to its obligations, foreign or domestic.  Our government speaks with a forked tongue and holds to no true standards.  Situational ethics rule the day.  No matter who is president or who our enemy-of-the-week happens to be.  Is this the legacy we want to pass along to our children?  Another century of seeking to dominate the planet militarily at the expense of all we keep saying we hold dear yet never find a way to achieve.

It’s easy to design a military that could kick anyone’s ass because it concentrates on how real wars are fought and plans for contingencies rather than reacts to them.  Do it at perhaps a tenth of the current budget by modernizing and focusing the military’s mission without sacrificing our ability to project power anywhere in the world if requested by the world community.  Now imagine a mandate from an imaginative president with a majority in Congress and a defense secretary from the opposition party who agrees with a slimmer, cheaper and more sustainable DoD.  Gates thoughts are purely for self preservation of some sort of military capability before the whole thing falls apart (sort of like the Soviet forces that still haven’t been revived and were never really affordable) but we should take opportunities where they exist and then expand them.

We could reopen bases in America and close them overseas, bringing those dollars back into the domestic economy and spreading opportunity to some of the hardest hit areas in the country.  We could simplify and shorten our supply lines across the services to make them cheaper and more efficient.  The defense industry could easily morph into something more productive and no less lucrative.  Lockheed can build solar farms as easily

missile systems.  General Dynamics can design wind turbines as easily as fighter jet turbines.  We need to start treating the most expensive part of the federal budget as if it actually matters how we spend the money.

President Obama could instruct Gates to design a slimmer, more accountable and responsive defense department even while selling the country (and industry) on the importance of shifting those dollars to health care and education and sustainable power without raising overall spending by a dime.  Perpetual ar delivers negative value for the dollars spent while a true defense policy would provide multiple benefits and a true return on investment.

It’s a win, win, win scenario.

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39 thoughts on “peace sells but who’s buying

  • miguelitoh2o

    Highly recommended Jason. It’s quite a fallacy to maintain that we can’t afford medical insurance for all our citizens, but that we can afford to spend over $600B/year to blow shit up. If anybody thinks the insurance industry has been a tough opponent in healthcare reform, fasten your seat belt when the defense industry pulls out the stops in quelling the ‘unrest’ you advocate.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      That’s why I think we need to distract them with new “boondoggles” they can pursue projects that actually give something back to the American people instead of more wasted funds. Effective spending costs the same as wasteful spending, which just get more for our money with the former than with the latter.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      PS: It’s the same reason why I find it funny that the weed legalization movement never recruited the tobacco lobby. Use their own self-interest to attain the results we need.

      • kenga

        Heh – it’s the same reason folks in Central America are a little reticent to ask the US for military intervention in internal disputes. Suspicion of ulterior motives.

        The tobacco companies took the time and trouble to trademark the street names of various weed varieties back in the day, so they could establish marketing monopolies. “Maui Wowie, from Philip Morris”, etc.
        Sure they have some clout in Congress, and plenty of money. But would you really want to invite them in, given their history?

        • Jason Everett Miller

          I am willing to imagine any number of scenarios that use corporate America’s self-preservation instinct (and resources) to attain society’s larger end goals. A more jujitsu approach to pushing for progressive change than has been utilized in the past. Tilting at windmills is exhilarating but largely ineffective.

  • clearthinker

    Make sure you check out WHY WE FIGHT as well.

    The predicted “peace dividend” with the collapse of the Soviet Union never really materialized.

    Nevertheless, the spending of the US is not wholly out of whack with the rest of the world when compared to GDP. And history bears this out: even Archimedes was funded by the military. The golden age of French mathematics and engineering was funded by Napoleon for his war machine. So, there is something much deeper here then nationality — the impetus to spend in this manner runs deep in our DNA.

    • Zipperupus

      I agree with the math the individuals put into this site. If you actually take the bare numbers provided by Wikipedia and do the math, the percentages don’t work out… the military budget would make the US GDP 17.827 trillion, while actual US GDP is in the 14 trillion neighborhood.

      Even so, it is not merely the expenditures, but the size of the standing army and its maintenance. I notice that you sneak the R&D dividends as a defense of Defense… which is cool. Lord knows we needed the laser… and the internet, and countless other innovations that have come from Defense. But the cost of maintaining a worldwide CENTCOM presence, which incorporates foreign aid as well, is overboard.

      And can you actually prove that defense spending and its consequent research is in our DNA? Do you know something about the human genome that I don’t?

      • clearthinker

        The dirty secret is that part of the reason for our present military is to ensure cheap energy for the country. It’s been shown time and again that the US will go in and make sure we have oil flowing. Everyone in the country benefits from this — because our way of life is “not negotiable”. And that is not a left/right issue. It’s precious few citizens who really want to give things up. Even at TPM, you bring up population control (simple things like cutting all fertility clinics) and you get older people up in arms (take away my “right” to be a grandparent? Never!).

        Prepare for continued resource wars to take place. Oil… and then possible water sources.

        RE: the DNA comment: you can look at the sequencing. Sheesh! On the other hand, care to explain how US citizens are somehow different than the rest of our species?

        • kenga

          Prepare for continued resource wars to take place. Oil… and then possible water sources.
          The US, as a whole, is in pretty good shape for water, which, unlike petroleum, is absolutely necessary for life. Some US regions are not, and of course the water has to be potable, but that’s not insurmountable.
          Other continents, with many many more people, are not in good shape for water over the short term, much less the next few centuries. And expecting anything other than massive displacement and conflict is dangerously naive.

          • Jason Everett Miller

            Which is exactly why this is a perfect time to close all bases outside the US and reopen them inside the US. We will want to ensure positive control over our actual country rather than our overseas “interests.”

    • Jason Everett Miller

      We have a lot vestigial impulses that should be tempered by rational thinking.

      I deny the entire premise that the only way to get to the scientific advancements we have seen us via military R&D. An effective space program could have deliver that and more. Do we have a history of not doing the right thing? Of course, but that should keep us from looking for new answers to age-old problems.

      Not sure how accurate that chart is that has us spending less as a percentage of GDP than Saudi Arabia, but the number can be parsed to reach whatever result one ones depending on how one calculates the numbers.

      What I do know is that we spend an awful lot of money with little or no return. Changing that paradigm should sell itself yet no one is even talking about it.

      • clearthinker

        It’s not the only way, but historically it’s been the only sustained way.

        NASA was very much built on the Air Force missiles. See the history of Gemini to realize this:

        While the transistor was developed at Bell Labs (part of a regulated monopoly), it was the DoD that kept pours tons of money into academia and industrial labs to get the silicon revolution rolling.

        JFK already told Jack Webb in 1963 to pull the plug on NASA as soon as we got to the moon. Why? Because there would be no sustained interest in tech advancement via NASA after we got there. JFK turned out to be very right — no one even cared about Apollo 13 until the failure. After 2 trips to the Moon, people were already jaded!

      • clearthinker

        Here’s another link… it’s teh CIA Fact book. Yes, I know, if you don’t want to believe the numbers it will be easy to discredit the source based on the name.

        Here’s some data showing US expenditures

        The Iraq/Afghan wars aren’t factored in to the later years, I don’t believe. Still, the trend is fairly clear.

        Of course, people can always monkey figures around to define “expenditure”. But if we are going to make a metric at all, this is probably the best we will have.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          Problem is most military spending is year to year and much never appears on the books at all as what it actually is. Then there are the indirect costs as well as service to the debt on spending from years past. No two ways about, our addiction to war will bankrupt us at some point, but perhaps not before our diets kills us first.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      PPS: A peacetime military could deliver the same benefits as one that bombs the crap out of everyone with none of the drawbacks, providing we exercise the proper oversight.

      Imagine newly opened bases in the US that contract defense firms to build the next generation of solar power generators and geothermal systems and energy efficient retrofitting of old buildings? Why not use the mechanism of war to deliver the trappings of peace? Use the need for at least a nominal defense (if only from mother nature) as a way to drive innovation in other areas.

      I feel like we keep having the same conversations every ten years and get fed the same half-baked solutions and artificial deadlines.

      • clearthinker

        The DOE is another place that has military foundations: it was out of the old nuclear bomb development. This is where research could easily go on at a DOD scale, but doesn’t. (And Chu comes out of DOE!)

        The NSA and CIA pour a lot of money into telecommunication technology, going back to their inceptions and spy satellites. Your cell phones wouldn’t exist without dual use technology. But it is apparently hard to politically justify giving money to R&D engineers and scientists without the cover of “defense”. Most people aren’t bright enough to think abstractly (apparently) but if you tell them it’s to make them more secure, they will buy into it. This isn’t an American issue, it’s universal.

        Fear is a strong motivator in humans.

  • brantlamb

    “It’s easy to design a military that could kick anyone’s ass because it concentrates on how real wars are fought and plans for contingencies rather than reacts to them. Do it at perhaps a tenth of the current budget by modernizing and focusing the military’s mission without sacrificing our ability to project power anywhere in the world if requested by the world community. ”

    No, it really isn’t. If you’re fighting any sort of grass-roots resistance, it isn’t even possible to go to someone else’s country and defeat them, if you are trying to stay there and impose your will on them. It’s nigh impossible.

    You can ruin their country (as we have so perfectly demonstrated in Iraq) and then either stay (very expensive and generally ineffective), or leave (very bad PR and horrible for the country that you destroyed). But you won’t have tranformed the country that you fought with, you will have simply destroyed it.

    But as far as “winning” a war against them, and then modifying their behavior? Hasn’t worked since the Second World War, and only worked then because minority governments had taken over the countries that we fought against, and the majority of the populations were with us anyway.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      You are missing the context of that quote. To design an effective and efficient forward deployable force (that spends most of its time doing peacetime activities as training) at a reasonable price requires a huge shift in foreign policy thinking.

      Our crack troops combined with our allies crack troops to address multinational security issues is very doable and was similar to our posture during Clinton’s years. The only time this equation breaks down is if you go around invading others people’s countries. I though I made it clear that sort of policy is ultimately self-defeating.

  • brantlamb

    “The golden age of French mathematics and engineering was funded by Napoleon for his war machine. So, there is something much deeper here then nationality — the impetus to spend in this manner runs deep in our DNA.” Sorry, no. Many nations have never gone this route. Sweden, Finland, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, many African and South American countries, Nepal. It isn’t DNA-based, Einstein. It’s ignorance-based.

  • Don Key

    Gates just announced that the army will increase forces by 22,000 (strange, at a time when we’re supposedly ending a war and withdrawing forces). Congress will probably vote this week for additional F-22s as they have for other multi-billion dollar programs that experts say aren’t needed. Perhaps Obama will veto Gates proposal as he says he will veto the additional F-22s. Our military is and has been larger than the rest of the world’s put together. Just how paranoid are we? Just how power hungry are we? If defense spending is a sacred cow, then I guess we’ve become a military state.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      What Zipper said. The key is how do we pull back the empire in a way that doesn’t encounter fierce resistance? Giving the military a new mission is one way as well as allocating that spending toward different priorities but perhaps with the same firm under a stricter regulatory envidonment. We will never get rid of “defense” spending but we can moderate its impact and transfer its rewards to something a little less martial.

      • Don Key

        Ezra Klein:
        My friend Chris Hayes likes to say that “non-defense discretionary spending” is the most pernicious phrase in Washington. It means, essentially, that there’s spending, which we can cut, and then there’s defense spending, which we cannot cut, and shouldn’t even talk about.

        • Jason Everett Miller

          Exactly. No reason we can’t decide they spend that money on a different mission. Nothing gets cut, just put to new uses.

  • matyra

    Jason, not much point in telling you how much I agree. But my question is how do we begin? Health care wouldn’t even be a factor if we insured the change with a realigned military. There’s so many better, more productive, more building ways in America that we could spend our money.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      I think we begin by changing our expectations and then changing the expectations of others.

      If we start voting in the primaries in the same percentages as we currently vote in the general, the system can’t help but change as new voices make it through the process. As it is now, 94% of all incumbents are reelected without a credible challenge because only 16% of us vote in the primary elections.

      Until we get that trend moving in the right direction I don’t see a whole lot of hope for sustainable and substantive change on any number of very important issues.

    • Jason Everett Miller

      Hopefully I could provide some new information, gasket. There is actually too info sometimes which is why I think they keep getting away with such idiocy.