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The Pentagon and the Suckers

Gargantua’s Mouth

by SAUL LANDAU And NELSON P. VALDES

The perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government to be always  prepared to repel it; its armies must be numerous enough for instant  defense. The continual necessity for their services enhances the importance  of the soldier, and proportionally degrades the condition of the citizen.  The military state becomes elevated above the civil. The inhabitants of  territories, often the theatre of war, are unavoidably subjected to frequent  infringements on their rights, which serve to weaken their sense of those  rights; and by degrees the people are brought to consider the soldiery not  only as their protectors, but as their superiors. The transition from this  disposition to that of considering them masters, is neither remote nor  difficult; but it is very difficult to prevail upon a people under such  impressions, to make a bold or effectual resistance to usurpations supported  by the military power."

-Alexander Hamilton

 "In the councils of government, 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."

-Dwight Eisenhower, January 17,  1961 Farewell Address.

During pre game Super Bowl ceremonies Queen Latifah sang America the  Beautiful. Following her, American Idol winner Carrie Underwood began  warbling the Star Spangled Banner. Four jet fighters swished over the  stadium. Did any of the cheering crowd or the tens of millions watching on  TV ask how much it cost to have the thrill of two screaming jets offer the  public supersonic foreplay before extra large men smashed and bashed through  the thin membrane (the line) to reach the tantalizing quarterback?

In his farewell address, Eisenhower would not have dreamed of adding  military sports/entertainment complex to his now fabled military industrial,  military scientific and academic complexes. Rather, he called for  "statesmanship" by which he meant molding, balancing and integrating "these  and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic  system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society."

Empty rhetoric? Now, 44 cents of every taxpayer’s dollar feeds the military  budget at a time when no nation has a military capable of challenging us.  Maybe Obama should call for a national holiday just to appreciate the  failure of Presidents and Congresses to take Ike’s warning seriously.

The Orwellian name change from War Department to Defense Department should  have sparked national skepticism. Since 1947, DoD holds the world record for  spending, but has yet to defend the United States. Under the pretext of  defense, Truman sent troops to Korea (Eisenhower stopped U.S. involvement in  that war). Subsequently, U.S. troops have attacked and occupied more than a  dozen countries, none of whom threatened U.S. territory. (Korea, Dominican  Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Somalia, the  former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan)

The DoD, however, cannot claim victory in its four major wars: Korea  (1950-3), Vietnam (1964-75), Afghanistan (2001-?) and Iraq (2003-?). Before  each invasion, war advocates shook the impending "domino" effect. Now it’s  the spread of terrorism. During the Cold War, all Asia would somehow fall  under red rule if the Chinese or Vietnamese Communists won in Korea or  Vietnam. The Communist Party still rules in China and Vietnam, both major  U.S. trade partners. U.S. forces triumphed in Grenada and Panama where they  met no major and ongoing resistance, and during Gulf War I, when Iraqi  troops retreated and got "turkey shot.")

Last December despite the DoD’s no-win record when the enemy fights back and  without any sign that a rival nation plans an attack against us or any of  our vulnerable allies, Congress passed without debate the highest "defense"  budget in human history.

Since 1988, as the Soviet Union neared collapse and no major power  threatened, the military has ingested some $5.1 trillion. From 1999 to 2010,  the DoD budget increased 153%. After 2001, when 19 suicidal men armed with  box cutters hijacked and crashed planes into buildings, the Pentagon spent  more than it did in Cold War years.

Every two years since 2001, the military budget has grown approximately $100  billion. Did this reasoning presume more military prowess would defeat  civilian suicide bombers? Add to the Pentagon budget, $17 billion in  military-related items from the Department of Energy plus, $70 billion for  Homeland Security (isn’t that redundant with Defense Department?), $38  billion from the Military Retirement Funds found within the Department of  the Treasury, and military-related aid within the Department of State: the  present budget exceeds $1 trillion.

By 2008, total weapons acquisition "cost growth" had reached nearly $300  billion over initial estimates. In other words, cost overruns of weapons  alone surpassed the total 2000 defense budget! Why did the United States  government invest more, and at an increased rate, than when it faced all the  Soviet divisions and 20,000 nuclear weapons?

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, "the USA  is responsible for 41.5 per cent of the world’s total defense spending,  distantly followed by China (5.8% of world share), France (4.5%), the UK  (4.5%), and Russia (4%)."

In 2005, the total value of DoD assets was estimated at $1.3 trillion, with  $1.9 trillion in liabilities. The Department has a workforce of over 2.9  million of military and civilian personnel, much larger than any other  organization worldwide.

Wal-Mart, the largest corporate employer, has 1.8 million on payroll. The  Pentagon’s workforce is twice as large. The net income of the top ten global  Fortune 500s (including Exxon, Wal-Mart, BP, and Chevron) do not reach even  50% of DoD’s budget.

Last year, the Pentagon had 539,000 facilities (buildings, structures and  linear structures), and 5,570 military sites; it also occupies 29 million  acres of land, almost half the size of the United Kingdom.

The United States also has 837 overseas military bases, not including  undisclosed secret bases. The Pentagon has 716 bases in 150 of the 192  countries in the world; others in U.S. territories abroad. The DoD does not  count facilities with value of less than $10 million or those occupying less  than 10 acres. The Pentagon itself claims the record for biggest building in  human history (6.5 million square feet), 37 times larger than the Capitol.

Business scams promise high rates of return at little risk to investors. The  Pentagon, however, pledges only to keep the nation well defended from all  outside threats. Since no military threats have existed for almost two  decades, DoD officials and their neo-con cousins invent them. And the  suckers — U.S. taxpayers — invest.

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow whose A BUSH AND BOTOX  WORLD was published by Counterpunch.

Nelson P. Valdés is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.