Another election during the Great American Chickenhawk War

Submitted: Nov 07, 2016
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 

 

 We turn in vain for the last time to the television for news rather than the obsessive handicapping of the election, called scientific opinion polling; we turn away from the latest odds, feeling defrauded of our citizenship because the election of the president is not just a horse race, regardless of how many fast-talking Jimmy the Geeks toss out the numbers for the "battleground states; and the little American citizen that lives inside us all is revolted. And our city's patriotic display for its veterans does not assuage the little citizen within because the  perpetual, undeclared series of wars our youth are fighting, which we will call the Great American Chickenhawk War in honor of those who started it and now perpetuate it, seems to benefit the profits of American arms manufacturers and the prestige of the chickenhawks, and to destroy everyone else.

 

So, on the eve of this revolting election, we contemplated the multiple crimes the chickenhawks have committed against our youth, soldiers and victims of a military-industrial complex that knows no limits in its completely immoral pursuit of profits. Daddy Warbucks cares no more for American soldiers than he does for any other soldiers just as long as whatever government they are fighting for pays well for his weapons.

The articles below describe various side to the problem of how our government treats is veterans. It is not an exhaustive list of abuses.

--blj

12-26-15

Time

WORLD ARMS

The U.S. Is Still No.1 at Selling Arms to the World

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http://time.com/4161613/us-arms-sales-exports-weapons/Sales

The United States remains the world’s preeminent exporter of arms, with more than 50 percent of the global weaponry market controlled by the United States as of 2014.

 

 

Arms sales by the U.S. jumped 35 percent, or nearly $10 billion, to $36.2 billion in 2014, according to the Congressional Research Service report, which analyzed the global arms market between 2007 and 2014.

Trailing the U.S. in weapons receipts is Russia, with $10.2 billion in sales in 2014, followed by Sweden with $5.5 billion, France with $4.4 billion and China with $2.2 billion, reports The New York Times.

 

 

The top weapons buyer in 2014 was South Korea, a key American ally, which has been squaring off with an increasingly belligerent North Korea in recent years. Iraq was the second biggest weapons buyer, as the country seeks to build up its military capacity following the withdrawal of the bulk of American ground troops there. Brazil was the third biggest buyer, primarily of Swedish aircraft.

 

 

 

12-20-04

New York Times

Op-Ed Columnist

War On The Cheap

Bob Herbert

Greg Rund was a freshman at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 when two students shot and killed a teacher, a dozen of their fellow students and themselves. Mr. Rund survived that horror, but he wasn't able to survive the war in Iraq. The 21-year-old Marine lance corporal was killed on Dec. 11 in Falluja.

The people who were so anxious to launch the war in Iraq are a lot less enthusiastic about properly supporting the troops who are actually fighting, suffering and dying in it. Corporal Rund was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Because of severe military personnel shortages, large numbers of troops are serving multiple tours in the war zone, and many are having their military enlistments involuntarily extended.

Troops approaching the end of their tours in Iraq are frequently dealt the emotional body blow of unexpected orders blocking their departure for home. "I've never seen so many grown men cry," said Paul Rieckhoff, a former infantry platoon leader who founded Operation Truth, an advocacy group for soldiers and veterans.

"Soldiers will do whatever you ask them to do," said Mr. Rieckhoff. "But when you tell them the finish line is here, and then you keep moving it back every time they get five meters away from it, it starts to really wear on them. It affects morale."

We don't have enough troops because we are fighting the war on the cheap. The Bush administration has refused to substantially expand the volunteer military and there is no public support for a draft. So the same troops head in and out of Iraq, and then back in again, as if through a revolving door. That naturally heightens their chances of being killed or wounded.

A reckoning is coming. The Army National Guard revealed last Thursday that it had missed its recruiting goals for the past two months by 30 percent. Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, who heads the National Guard Bureau, said: "We're in a more difficult recruiting environment, period. There's no question that when you have a sustained ground combat operation going that the Guard's participating in, that makes recruiting more difficult."

Just a few days earlier, the chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, told The Dallas Morning News that recruiting was in a "precipitous decline" that, if not reversed, could lead to renewed discussions about reinstatement of the draft.

The Bush administration, which has asked so much of the armed forces, has established a pattern of dealing in bad faith with its men and women in uniform. The callousness of its treatment of the troops was, of course, never more clear than in Donald Rumsfeld's high-handed response to a soldier's question about the shortages of battle armor in Iraq.

As the war in Iraq goes more and more poorly, the misery index of the men and women serving there gets higher and higher. More than 1,300 have been killed. Many thousands are coming home with agonizing wounds. Scott Shane of The Times reported last week that according to veterans' advocates and military doctors, the already hard-pressed system of health care for veterans "is facing a potential deluge of tens of thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq with serious mental health problems brought on by the stress and carnage of war."

Through the end of September, nearly 900 troops had been evacuated from Iraq by the Army for psychiatric reasons, included attempts or threatened attempts at suicide. Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, an assistant secretary of defense for health affairs from 1994 to 1997, said, "I have a very strong sense that the mental health consequences are going to be the medical story of this war."

When the war in Afghanistan as well as Iraq is considered, some experts believe that the number of American troops needing mental health treatment could exceed 100,000.

From the earliest planning stages until now, the war in Iraq has been a tragic exercise in official incompetence. The original rationale for the war was wrong. The intelligence was wrong. The estimates of required troop strength were wrong. The war hawks' guesses about the response of the Iraqi people were wrong. The cost estimates were wrong, and on and on.

Nevertheless the troops have fought valiantly, and the price paid by many has been horrific. They all deserve better than the bad faith and shoddy treatment they are receiving from the highest officials of their government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10-22-16

Los Angeles Times

Thousands of California soldiers forced to repay enlistment bonuses a decade after going to war

Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses. Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

David S. Cloud

 http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-national-guard-bonus-20161020-snap-story.html

Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war.

Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back.

Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.

Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets.

But soldiers say the military is reneging on 10-year-old agreements and imposing severe financial hardship on veterans whose only mistake was to accept bonuses offered when the Pentagon needed to fill the ranks.

“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran from Manteca, Calif., who says he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received. “People like me just got screwed.”

In Iraq, Van Meter was thrown from an armored vehicle turret — and later awarded a Purple Heart for his combat injuries — after the vehicle detonated a buried roadside bomb.

Susan Haley, a Los Angeles native and former Army master sergeant who deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, said she sends the Pentagon $650 a month — a quarter of her family’s income — to pay down $20,500 in bonuses that the Guard says were given to her improperly. 

“I feel totally betrayed,” said Haley, 47, who served 26 years in the Army along with her husband and oldest son, a medic who lost a leg in combat in Afghanistan.

Haley, who now lives in Kempner, Texas, worries they may have to sell their house to repay the bonuses. “They’ll get their money, but I want those years back,” she said, referring to her six-year reenlistment.  

The problem offers a dark perspective on the Pentagon’s use of hefty cash incentives to fill its all-volunteer force during the longest era of warfare in the nation’s history.

Even Guard officials concede that taking back the money from military veterans is distasteful.

“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard. “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law.”

Facing enlistment shortfalls and two major wars with no end in sight, the Pentagon began offering the most generous incentives in its history to retain soldiers in the mid-2000s.

It also began paying the money up front, like the signing bonuses that some businesses pay in the civilian sector.

They’ll get their money, but I want those years back.— Susan Haley, former Army master sergeant

“It was a real sea change in how business was done,” said Col. Michael S. Piazzoni, a California Guard official in Sacramento who oversaw the audits. “The system paid everybody up front, and then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”

The bonuses were supposed to be limited to soldiers in high-demand assignments like intelligence and civil affairs or to noncommissioned officers badly needed in units due to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The National Guard Bureau, the Pentagon agency that oversees state Guard organizations,  has acknowledged that bonus overpayments occurred in every state at the height of the two wars. 

But the money was handed out far more liberally in the California Guard, which has about 17,000 soldiers and is one of the largest state Guard organizations.

In 2010, after reports surfaced of improper payments, a federal investigation found that thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were given to California Guard soldiers who did not qualify for them, or were approved despite paperwork errors.

Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California Guard’s incentive manager, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Three officers also pleaded guilty to fraud and were put on probation after paying restitution.

Instead of forgiving the improper bonuses, the California Guard assigned 42 auditors to comb through paperwork for bonuses and other incentive payments given to 14,000 soldiers, a process that was finally completed last month. 

Roughly 9,700 current and retired soldiers have been told by the California Guard to repay some or all of their bonuses and the recoupment effort has recovered more than $22 million so far.

Because of protests, appeals and refusal by some to comply, the recovery effort is likely to continue for years.

In interviews, current and former California Guard members described being ordered to attend mass meetings in 2006 and 2007 in California where officials signed up soldiers in assembly-line fashion after outlining the generous terms available for six-year reenlistments.

Robert Richmond, an Army sergeant first class then living in Huntington Beach, said he reenlisted after being told he qualified for a $15,000 bonus as a special forces soldier.

The money gave him “breathing room,” said Richmond, who had gone through a divorce after a deployment to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003. 

In 2007, his special forces company was sent to the Iraqi town of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad in an area known as the “Triangle of Death” because of the intense fighting. 

Richmond conducted hundreds of missions against insurgents over the next year. In one, a roadside bomb exploded by his vehicle, knocking him out and leaving him with permanent back and brain injuries.

He was stunned to receive a letter from California Guard headquarters in 2014 telling him to repay the $15,000 and warning he faced “debt collection action” if he failed to comply.

I signed a contract that I literally risked my life to fulfill.— Robert Richmond, former Army sergeant first class

Richmond should not have received the money, they argued, because he already had served 20 years in the Army in 2006, making him ineligible.

Richmond, 48, has refused to repay the bonus. He says he only had served 15 years when he reenlisted, due to several breaks in his Army service. 

He has filed appeal after appeal, even after receiving a collection letter from the Treasury Department in March warning that his “unpaid delinquent debt” had risen to $19,694.62 including interest and penalties.

After quitting the California Guard so the money wouldn’t be taken from his paycheck, he moved to Nebraska to work as a railroad conductor, but was laid off.

He then moved to Texas to work for a construction company, leaving his wife and children in Nebraska. With $15,000 debt on his credit report, he has been unable to qualify for a home loan.

“I signed a contract that I literally risked my life to fulfill,” Richmond said bitterly. “We want somebody in the government, anybody, to say this is wrong and we’ll stop going after this money.”

Though they cannot waive the debts, California Guard officials say they are helping soldiers and veterans file appeals with the National Guard Bureau and the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, which can wipe out the debts.

But soldiers say it is a long, frustrating process, with no guarantee of success. 

Robert D’Andrea, a retired Army major and Iraq veteran, was told to return a $20,000 bonus he received in 2008 because auditors could not find a copy of the contract he says he signed.

Now D’Andrea, a financial crimes investigator with the Santa Monica Police Department, says he is close to exhausting all his appeals. 

“Everything takes months of work, and there is no way to get your day in court,” he said. “Some benefit of the doubt has to be given to the soldier.”

Bryan Strother, a sergeant first class from Oroville north of Sacramento, spent four years fighting Guard claims that he owed $25,010.32 for mistaken bonuses and student loans.

Guard officials told Strother he had voided his enlistment contract by failing to remain a radio operator, his assigned job, during and after a 2007-08 deployment to Iraq.

Strother filed a class-action lawsuit in February in federal district court in Sacramento on behalf of all soldiers who got bonuses, claiming the California Guard “conned” them into reenlisting.

The suit asked the court to order the recovered money to be returned to the soldiers and to issue an injunction against the government barring further collection.

In August, Strother received a letter from the Pentagon waiving repayment of his bonus.

“We believe he acted in good faith in accepting the $15,000,” a claims adjudicator from the Pentagon’s Defense Legal Services Agency wrote in the letter. He still owed $5,000 in student loan repayments, it said. 

Within weeks, lawyers for U.S. Atty. Phillip A. Talbert in Sacramento petitioned the court to dismiss Strother’s lawsuit, arguing that it was moot since most of his debt had been waived. A federal judge is supposed to rule on the government’s motion by January. 

“It’s a legal foot-dragging process to wear people out and make people go away,” said Strother. “It’s overwhelming for most soldiers.”

Indeed, some have just given up, repaying the money even before exhausting their appeals.

“It was tearing me up, the stress, the headaches,” said Van Meter, the former Army captain from Manteca who paid off his $46,000 debt by refinancing his mortgage. “I couldn’t take it anymore. The amount of stress it put us through financially and emotionally was something we wanted to move past.”

 

 

7-6-16

Report: Federal officials complicit in deportation of U.S. veterans

Cindy Carcamo and Tatiana Sanchez

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-deported-veterans-report-20160705-snap-story.html

The federal government lost, misplaced or failed to file the naturalization applications for dozens of foreign-born U.S. veterans who were later deported or face deportation, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

The report titled “Discharged, Then Discarded” documents 84 cases involving veterans.

 “They are members of what is unfortunately a growing brotherhood — veterans of the United States armed forces who have been unceremoniously deported,” the ACLU said in a statement.

“Many are combat veterans who sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts going back to the war in Vietnam. Many have been decorated for their service. But service records notwithstanding, the U.S. has seen fit to kick them out of the country, sometimes for minor offenses that resulted in little if any incarceration.”

Although military service entitled many of the men in the report to naturalization, the federal government failed to ensure that the service members became naturalized during their time in the military, the report alleges.

In many cases, federal officials failed to provide adequate resources and assistance to complete and file paperwork so the applications could be quickly processed, according to the ACLU report.

Some veterans mistakenly believed they became automatic U.S. citizens by virtue of taking the oath to protect the nation or due to their military service. Others said they were misled by recruiters to believe they’d become automatic U.S. citizens, the report said.

Some are critical of the deported veterans.  

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for immigration restriction group Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the veterans should have known that their legal status could be revoked if a crime were committed.

"Just because you have served in the military doesn’t mean you’re exempt from the consequences [of] subsequent actions," he said. "This is not a case of double jeopardy. You pay your debt to society for whatever offense you may have committed."

It’s unclear how many veterans have been deported. The ACLU report estimated there are more than 250 deported veterans in 34 countries. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they don’t keep track of that data.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency couldn’t comment on the ACLU’s report because it hadn’t gotten a chance to review it.

Kice did say, however, that the review of cases involving veterans is very deliberate.

“Any action taken by ICE that may result in the removal of an alien with military service must be authorized by the senior leadership in a field office, following an evaluation by local counsel,” she said in a prepared statement. “ICE specifically identifies service in the U.S. military as a positive factor that should be considered when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised.”

 

 

 

 

See the most-read stories this hour >>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An estimated 70,000 noncitizens enlisted in the U.S. military — about 4% of the armed forces — from fiscal year 1999 to 2008, according to the Center for Naval Analyses, a research and development center for the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps.

As of June 2010, fewer than half of the legal residents who joined the military during the same period had become citizens, according to the center.

Many of the veterans featured in the ACLU report were brought to the U.S. as children and spent decades in the U.S. in lawful status, serving in the military with legal documents.

A good chunk of the deported veterans now live in Tijuana and in other regions of northern Mexico, often with the help of the Deported Veterans Support House, also known as “The Bunker.”

The organization offers these veterans resources as they get acclimated in Mexico. Currently, the group is helping about 25 men, according to founder Hector Barajas-Varela, who worked extensively with the ACLU for this report.

Many of those in the ACLU report were swept up after the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 — and a series of other changes to immigration law — that greatly expanded the list of crimes that could make a legal immigrant subject to deportation.

For instance, crimes that could be considered a misdemeanor under state law became felonies under immigration law. A felony makes an immigrant who is not a U.S. citizen eligible for deportation. Minor drug offenses committed by legal resident veterans became aggravated felonies under immigration law. 

“Had they been naturalized, as they should have been after being honorably discharged, they would not have been forced to settle a second debt — lifetime banishment from the United States,” the ACLU stated.

Carcamo reported from Los Angeles, Sanchez from San Diego. Sanchez writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

8-17-13

The Mercury News

From military to police force: A natural transition?

Gary Peterson

http://www.mercurynews.com/2013/08/17/from-military-to-police-force-a-natural-transition/

Unlike many veterans who leave military service with no idea where their next job is coming from, Star Cazador had it all figured out — what she would do, where she would do it, and how much she would like it. Taking a cue from fellow Marines who sought careers in law enforcement after discharge, Cazador, who grew up in San Jose, applied to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. It seemed to her like a natural transition.

“There is a huge comfort level,” said Cazador, who served in the Marines from 2005 to 2009 and is now a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy. “In the academy my best friends were other prior military. We knew exactly how each other’s brains worked. We could just look at each other. We didn’t even have to communicate.”

Although many veterans feel that law enforcement is a natural fit, some former soldiers resent being typecast. Others say the profession is the least suitable career choice for veterans who are still working out emotional issues from deployments. And some veterans consider a career in law enforcement because they consider it one of the few viable options in a challenging job market.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t keep precise statistics on the number of veterans employed in law enforcement, instead lumping together the classification with wardens, school crossing guards and other security jobs. But the agency reports the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 7.7 percent in July, up from 7.2 percent in June. That’s 0.3 percent higher than the unemployment rate for the civilian labor force.

Veterans face challenges that civilians do not. Some are unsure how to express to potential employers how skills learned in the military translate to the civilian job market. Some return with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury and wonder if those conditions will be a deal-breaker if they reveal them when interviewing for a job.

So the notion of taking military skills to a civilian agency that has a similar structure can be appealing. And that’s a two-way street. Several job fairs for veterans have been held in the Bay Area over the past few months. They all seem to feature multiple law enforcement agencies looking to hire.

“The veterans we’re trying to reach out to, they have the set of skills, the discipline and the training where they would easily transition from the military to civilian law enforcement,” said San Francisco police Officer Gregory Pak, who manned an information table at a Hiring Our Heroes job fair in Walnut Creek in April, and on the USS Hornet in Alameda in August. “It’s a win-win.”

For Yeffiry Disla, 38, who is preparing for civilian life after spending four years in the Marines and 15 years in the Army, it’s more like a marriage of convenience.

“(Working as) a cop would be my fallback if I can’t do something else,” said Disla, who has served three deployments of 10 months or longer to Iraq and Afghanistan, “simply because I was an infantryman and those are my skills. Anything you want to see in a soldier, you want to see in a policeman.”

Others aren’t so sure the gun connection is a logical connection. Army veteran Mike Magpusao works for Project Hired, a San Jose-based nonprofit that helps find employment for people with disabilities — including combat veterans.

“I could see how somebody would think that would be an easy transition,” he said at a recent jobs fair at the Concord Hilton. “It’s familiar. I work with guns, I know how to use them, why not get a job that uses the same equipment? But I’ve spoken with vets. And, myself, I think I’ve experienced enough of that, so I wouldn’t want to relive that type of experience.”

And Magpusao said some veterans resent being typecast.

“A lot of them get out, they’re intelligent, they use the G.I. Bill to get a degree,” he said. “It’s like, ‘I can do more than pull a trigger.'”

Jason Deitch, an Army Ranger who served multiple deployments to Africa and the Middle East, has a concern beyond familiarity or pride.

“I’m not saying there aren’t lots of vets out there who wouldn’t be extraordinarily good cops,” said Deitch, a tactical consultant to police forces when he first got out of the military and who now works as a veterans rights advocate in Contra Costa County. “(But) many people who have gone to combat for any amount of time have got some stuff that they need to work on.”

Deitch said there is no logical link between the two professions, and he urges caution.

“As a matter of fact, there are good reasons to seriously evaluate whether or not that is a good idea,” he said. “You’re going to continue to expose yourself to violence, tension, stress, anxiety. You come back and become a police officer, the potential for retraumatizing is very high.”

There’s a screening process for that, said Jennifer Bice, a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy.

“Part of the background process is the psychological testing,” Bice said. “(Veterans) have heard that it’s an automatic disqualifier, and it’s not. It’s a case-by-case basis. We’ve all experienced bad things in our lives and sometimes that happens to us personally without even going to war. So it really depends on the individual.”

The International Association of Chiefs of Police was concerned enough about “transitional obstacles” veterans might face if they pursued a career in law enforcement that three years ago it published guidebooks for veterans and any agencies that might consider hiring them.

But those concerns didn’t stop Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), an office of the Department of Justice, from offering 220 cities $114.6 million in incentive grants to hire post-9/11 veterans to fill 800 law enforcement positions.

“The benefits that I could see veterans bringing to a police force would be great,” Deitch said. “You are not going to find better leaders. On the other hand, I care about individual people.”

 

January/February 2011

The Atlantic

The Tyranny of Defense Inc.

In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower famously identified the military-industrial complex, warning that the growing fusion between corporations and the armed forces posed a threat to democracy. Judged 50 years later, Ike’s frightening prophecy actually understates the scope of our modern system—and the dangers of the perpetual march to war it has put us on.

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Andrew J. Bacevich

 

 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/the-tyranny-of-defense-inc/308342/

 

AMERICAN POLITICS IS typically a grimy business of horses traded and pork delivered. Political speech, for its part, tends to be formulaic and eminently forgettable. Yet on occasion, a politician will transcend circumstance and bear witness to some lasting truth: George Washington in his Farewell Address, for example, or Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural.

Fifty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower joined such august company when, in his own farewell address, he warned of the rise in America of the “military-industrial complex.” An accomplished soldier and a better-than-average president, Eisenhower had devoted the preponderance of his adult life to studying, waging, and then seeking to avert war. Not surprisingly, therefore, his prophetic voice rang clearest when as president he reflected on matters related to military power and policy.

Ike’s farewell address, nationally televised on the evening of January 17, 1961, offered one such occasion, although not the only one. Equally significant, if now nearly forgotten, was his presentation to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953. In this speech, the president contemplated a world permanently perched on the brink of war—“humanity hanging from a cross of iron”— and he appealed to Americans to assess the consequences likely to ensue.

Separated in time by eight years, the two speeches are complementary: to consider them in combination is to discover their full importance. As bookends to Eisenhower’s presidency, they form a solemn meditation on the implications—economic, social, political, and moral—of militarizing America.

DURING EISENHOWER’S PRESIDENCY, few credited him with being a great orator. Yet, as befit a Kansan and a military professional, Ike could speak plainly when he chose to do so. The April 16 speech early in his presidency was such a moment. Delivered in the wake of Joseph Stalin’s death, the speech offered the new Soviet leadership a five-point plan for ending the Cold War. Endorsing the speech as “one of the most notable policy statements of U.S. history,” Timereported with satisfaction that Eisenhower had articulated a broad vision for peace and “left it at the door of the Kremlin for all the world to see.” The likelihood that Stalin’s successors would embrace this vision was nil. An editorial in The New Republic made the essential point: as seen from Russia’s perspective, Eisenhower was “demanding unconditional surrender.” The president’s peace plan quickly vanished without a trace.

Largely overlooked by most commentators was a second theme that Eisenhower had woven into his text. The essence of this theme was simplicity itself: spending on arms and armies is inherently undesirable. Even when seemingly necessary, it constitutes a misappropriation of scarce resources. By diverting social capital from productive to destructive purposes, war and the preparation for war deplete, rather than enhance, a nation’s strength. And while assertions of military necessity might camouflage the costs entailed, they can never negate them altogether.

“Every gun that is made,” Eisenhower told his listeners, “every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Any nation that pours its treasure into the purchase of armaments is spending more than mere money. “It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” To emphasize the point, Eisenhower offered specifics:

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities … We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

Yet in Cold War Washington, Eisenhower’s was a voice crying in the wilderness. As much as they liked Ike, Americans had no intention of choosing between guns and butter: they wanted both. Military Keynesianism—the belief that the production of guns could underwrite an endless supply of butter—was enjoying its heyday.

At the time, the idea that militarizing U.S. policy might yield economic benefits outweighing the costs seemed eminently plausible. The authors of the National Security Council report “NSC-68,” the 1950 blueprint for U.S. rearmament, had made this point explicitly: boosting Pentagon spending would “increase the gross national product by more than the amount being absorbed for additional military and foreign assistance purposes.” Building up the nation’s defenses could serve as a sort of permanent economic stimulus program, putting people to work and money in their pockets. The experience of World War II had apparently validated this theory. Why shouldn’t the same logic apply to the Cold War?

So Americans disregarded Ike’s brooding about a “cross of iron” and a trade-off between guns and butter. The 1950s brought new bombers and new schools, fleets of warships and tracts of freshly built homes spilling into the suburbs.

Eisenhower and his fellow Republicans were more than happy to pocket the credit for this win-win outcome. Yet the president, if not his party, also sensed that beneath the appearance of Ozzie-and-Harriet prosperity, momentous and not altogether welcome changes were taking place. The postwar boom in which the American middle class took such satisfaction was reconfiguring, redistributing, and redefining American power. Washington itself ranked as a principal beneficiary of this process—and, within Washington, the several institutions comprising what some were calling the “national-security state.”

This national-security state derived its raison d’être from—and vigorously promoted a belief in—the existence of looming national peril. On one point, most politicians, uniformed military leaders, and so-called defense intellectuals agreed: the dangers facing the United States were omnipresent and unprecedented. Keeping those dangers at bay demanded vigi­lance, preparedness, and a willingness to act quickly and even ruthlessly. Urgency had become the order of the day.

In his 1956 book, The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills, a professor of sociology at Columbia, dubbed this perspective “military metaphysics,” which he characterized as “the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military.” Those embracing this mind-set no longer considered genuine, lasting peace to be plausible. Rather, peace was at best a transitory condition, “a prelude to war or an interlude between wars.”

Perhaps nothing illustrates military metaphysics more vividly than the exponential growth of the U.S. nuclear stockpile that occurred during Eisenhower’s presi­dency. In 1952, when Ike was elected, that stockpile numbered some 1,000 warheads. By the time he passed the reins to John F. Kennedy in 1961, it consisted of more than 24,000 warheads, and it rapidly ascended later that decade to a peak of 31,000.

As commander in chief, Ike exercised only nominal control over this development, which was driven by an unstated alliance of interested parties: generals, defense officials, military contractors, and members of Congress. True, Eisenhower had established “massive retaliation”—the threat of a large-scale nuclear response to deter Soviet aggression—as the centerpiece of U.S. national-security doctrine. Yet even as this posture was intended to intimidate the Kremlin, the president expected it to offer Americans a sense of security, thereby enabling him to rein in military expenditures. In that regard, he miscalculated badly.

DURING THE EISENHOWER YEARS, military outlays served as a seemingly inexhaustible engine of economic well-being. Keeping the Soviets at bay required the design and acquisition of a vast array of guns and missiles, bombers and warships, tanks and fighter planes. Ensuring that U.S. forces stayed in fighting trim entailed the construction of bases, barracks, depots, and training facilities. Research labs received funding. Businesses large and small won contracts. Organized labor got jobs. And politicians who delivered all these goodies to their constituents hauled in endorsements, campaign contributions, and votes. Throughout the 1950s, unemployment stayed tolerably low and inflation minimal, while budget deficits ranged from trivial to non-existent. What was not to like? As a result, Pentagon budgets remained high throughout the Eisenhower era, averaging more than 50 percent of all federal spending and 10 percent of GDP, figures without precedent in the nation’s peacetime history.

For its beneficiaries, girding for war was a gift, and one they expected would never stop giving. The presumption that military capabilities qualifying as adequate today would surely not suffice tomorrow—the Reds, after all, weren’t standing still—generated a ceaseless quest for bigger, better, and more. Every ominous advance in Russian capabilities offered a renewed rationale for opening the military-spending spigot. Whether the edge attributed to the Soviets was real or invented mattered little. The discovery during the 1950s of a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap,” for example, provided political ammunition to air-power advocates quick to charge that the nation’s very survival was at risk. Alarm bells rang. Congressional committees summoned expert witnesses. Newspapers and magazines nervously assessed the implications of these new vulnerabilities. Ultimately, appropriations poured forth. That both “gaps” were fictitious was beside the point.

None of these developments—the excessive military outlays, the privileging of institutional goals over the national interest, the calculated manipulation of public opinion—met with Eisenhower’s approval. Knowing at the time that the United States enjoyed an edge in bomber and missile capabilities, he understood precisely who benefited from threat inflation. Yet to sustain the illusion he was fully in command, Ike remained publicly silent about what went on behind the scenes. Only on the eve of his departure from office did he inform the nation as to what Washington’s new obsession with national security had wrought.

In 1961, as in 1953, his central theme was theft. This time, however, rather than homes or schools, Ike suggested the thieves might walk off with democracy itself.

The Cold War, he emphasized, had transformed the country’s approach to defending itself. In the past, “American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well.” But this reliance on improvisation no longer sufficed. The rivalry with the Soviet Union had “compelled” the United States “to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.” As a consequence, “we annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.”

The “economic, political, even spiritual” reach of this conglomeration was immense, Eisenhower explained, extending to “every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.” Although the president could not bring himself to question explicitly the need for this shift in policy, he warned of its implications. “Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved,” he said. “So is the very structure of our society.” With corporate officials routinely claiming the Pentagon’s top posts, and former military officers hiring themselves out to defense contractors, fundamental values were at risk. “In the councils of government,” Eisenhower continued,

we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.

Having defined the problem, Eisenhower then advanced a striking solution: ultimate responsibility for democracy’s defense, he insisted, necessarily rested with the people themselves. Rather than according Washington deference, American citizens needed to exercise strict oversight. Counting on the national-security state to police itself—on members of Congress to set aside parochial concerns, corporate chieftains to put patriotism above profit, and military leaders to hew to the ethic of their profession—wouldn’t do the trick. “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Reaction to the president’s speech was tepid at best. The headline in TheBoston Globe reported “Ike Says Farewell After Half Century in U.S. Service” and left it at that. With the country agog over Jack and Jackie, the mood of the moment did not invite introspection. Eisenhower’s insistence that citizens awaken to looming danger attracted little attention. His valedictory qualified, at the time, as a one-day story.

So Ike departed, but military metaphysics survived intact and found particular favor in the upper echelons of the next administration. On the campaign trail, Kennedy had promised higher defense spending, enhanced nuclear capabilities, and a reinvigorated confrontation with Communism. Once in office, he proved as good as his word.

IN THE FIVE decades since Eisenhower left the White House for his retirement home in Gettysburg, much has changed. The Soviet Union has disappeared. So too, for all practical purposes, has Communism itself. Yet in Washington, an aura of never-ending crisis still prevails—and with it, military metaphysics.

The national-security state continues to grow in size, scope, and influence. In Ike’s day, for example, the CIA dominated the field of intelligence. Today, experts refer casually to an “intelligence community,” consisting of some 17 agencies. The cumulative size and payroll of this apparatus grew by leaps and bounds in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Last July, TheWashington Postreported that it had “become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.” Since that report appeared, U.S. officials have parted the veil of secrecy enough to reveal that intelligence spending exceeds $80 billion per year, substantially more than the budget of either the Department of State ($49 billion) or the Department of Homeland Security ($43 billion).

The spending spree extends well beyond intelligence. The Pentagon’s budget has more than doubled in the past decade, to some $700 billion per year. All told, the ostensible imperatives of national security thereby consume roughly half of all federal discretionary dollars. Even more astonishing, annual U.S. military outlays now approximate those of all other nations, friends as well as foes, combined.

In Ike’s day, competition with the Soviet Union provided the rationale for such outsized expenditures. Today, with no remotely comparable competitor at hand, devotees of military metaphysics conjure a variety of arguments to justify the Pentagon’s budgetary demands. One such, usually made with an eye toward China, is that relentlessly outspending any and all would-be challengers to U.S. preeminence will dissuade them from even mounting an attempt. A second transforms modest threats into existential ones, with the mere existence of a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Osama bin Laden mandating extraordinary exertions until the United States eliminates every last such miscreant—a day that will never come.

The threat inflation that led to the bomber and missile “gaps” of the 1950s remains a cherished Washington tradition. In memos written after September 11, then–Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged his staff to “keep elevating the threat” and demanded “bumper sticker statements” to gin up public enthusiasm for the global war on terror. The key, he wrote, was to “make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists.” What worked during the Cold War still works today: to get Americans on board with your military policy, scare the hell out of them.

In the meantime, the revolving door connecting the world of soldiering to the world of arms purveyors continues to turn. For those at the top, the American military profession is that rare calling where retirement need not imply a reduced income. On the contrary: senior serving officers shed their uniforms not merely to take up golf or go fishing but with the reasonable expectation of raking in big money. In a recent e-mail, a serving officer who is a former student of mine reported that on a visit to the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army—in his words, “the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Military Industrial Complex”—he was “accosted by two dozen former bosses, now in suits with fancy ties and business cards, hawking the latest defense technologies.”

If anything, Eisenhower’s characterization of the cozy relations between the military and corporate worlds understates the contemporary reality. C. Wright Mills came closer to the mark when he wrote of “a coalition of generals in the roles of corporation executives, of politicians masquerading as admirals, of corporation executives acting like politicians.” Add to that list the retired senior officers passing as pundits (often while simultaneously cashing the checks of weapons manufacturers), policy wonks pretending to be field marshals, and journalists eagerly competing to carry water for heroic field commanders. Throw in the former members of Congress who lobby their successors on behalf of defense contractors, and the serving members who vote in favor of any defense appropriations that send money to their districts, and one begins to get a sense of the true topog­raphy.

With what result? Not peace, and not prosperity. Instead, American soldiers traipse wearily from one conflict to the next while the nation as a whole suffers from acute economic distress. What has gone amiss?

In the wake of 9/11, when the George W. Bush admin­istration committed the United States to a global war on terror, it was blithely confident that the U.S. military could win such a conflict handily. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan have since demolished such expectations. The irrefutable lesson of the past decade is this: we know how to start wars, but don’t know how to end them. During the well-armed Eisenhower era, American weapons were largely silent. Today, engagement in actual hostilities has become the new normal, exacting a steep price. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost at least $1 trillion—with the meter still running. Some observers estimate that total costs will eventually reach $2 trillion or even $3 trillion.

Furthermore, military Keynesianism has proved to be a bust. In contrast to the 1950s, military extravagance is depleting rather than adding to the nation’s wealth. In the Eisenhower era, the United States, a creditor nation, produced at home the essentials defining the American way of life—everything from oil to cars to televisions. Today, we import far more than we export, with ever-increasing debt as one result. Furthermore, in the 1950s, we were mostly at peace; today we are mostly at war—and, as a result, more of the resources provided to the military go abroad and stay there.

Certain enterprises flourish, notably private security firms such as DynCorp, MPRI, and, of course, the notorious Blackwater (now known as Xe). At MPRI, they like to say “We’ve got more generals per square foot here than in the Pentagon.” But even if those generals are doing fine, the grandchildren of Ozzie and Harriet, coping with 9.8 percent unemployment and contemplating the implications of trillion-dollar deficits, see little benefit from our exorbitant Pentagon outlays. If paying Pashtun drivers to truck fuel from Pakistan into Afghanistan is producing any positive economic side effects, the American worker is not among the beneficiaries.

In short, the guns-and-butter trade-off that Eisenhower foresaw in 1953 has become reality. To train, equip, and maintain one American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan for just one year costs a cool million dollars. Meanwhile, according to 2010 census figures, the number of Americans falling below the poverty line has swollen to one in every seven.

Thanks to its allies and abettors, the military-industrial-legislative war complex remains stubbornly resistant to change­—a fact President Barack Obama himself learned during his first year in office. While reviewing his administration’s policy in Afghanistan, the president repeatedly asked for a range of policy alternatives. He wanted choices. According to Bob Woodward of TheWashington Post, however, the Pentagon offered Obama a single path—the so-called McChrystal “surge” of additional troops. As recounted in Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars, the president complained: “So what’s my option? You’ve given me only one option.” The military’s own preferred option was all he was going to get. (Just months before, Woodward himself had helpfully promoted that very option, courtesy of a well-timed leak.)

No doubt Dwight Eisenhower would sympathize with President Obama, having himself struggled to exercise the prerogatives ostensibly reserved to the chief executive. Yet Ike would hardly be surprised. He would reserve his surprise—and his disappointment—for the American people. A half century after he summoned us to shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship, we still refuse to do so. In Washington, military metaphysics remains sacrosanct. No wonder we continue to get our pockets picked

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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