The Military Society

A Navy fleet arrives on Memorial Weekend for its annual New York celebration, an event widely covered by the print and broadcast media with great enthusiasm. As the crew stands in crisp white formation, the amphibious assault vessel U.S.S. Wasp leads the parade of ships entering New York harbor for the start of Fleet Week.

A young man in Iowa, inspired by the movie Saving Private Ryan, paints a 56-ton boulder he calls Freedom Rock with murals depicting the sacrifices of America’s service members. Local businesses encourage visits to the rock, and viewing the mural has become a Memorial Day ritual for thousands of people. The tableau receives extensive national press coverage.

A prominent investment banker-statesman warns that, unless we get “entitlement” costs under control, Social Security spending will inevitably undermine national security. He says that as in prior wars, Americans deserve the truth about the costs of protecting the nation – “a burden they’re likely to tolerate if they’re given the unvarnished facts.”

A noted architect and environmentalist gushes in a feature profile of him, “Imagine our military bases covered with solar thermal collectors that could generate steam and electricity.”

A letter to the editor of The New York Times from a man in Florida states, “We must reorganize our armed forces to provide the capability to launch strikes anywhere in the world at any time. Unfortunately, the civilian populations that harbor terrorists will become unintended victims.”

The House Armed Services Committee works through $646 billion in proposed spending for the Defense Department and war operations. Halfway through markups for the 2008 defense authorization bill, the committee has approved efforts to add ships, Boeing cargo planes and fighter engines to the Pentagon’s budget request. The Senate Armed Services Committee cuts $12 billion from President Bush’s $142 billion request for war funding to use for other programs such as increases in Army and Marine Corps troops.

A newspaper headline shouts, “Army wants more elbow room – sights set on 4.9 million more acres of U.S. turf for high-tech exercises.” The accompanying photo shows a U.S. soldier prone on the ground in full battle gear firing at targets in a simulated Iraqi village on a training site the military wants to triple in size.

The Pentagon unveils three new programs with extensive media fanfare: the Joint Strike Fighter, its largest aviation program with an eventual cost of more than $600 billion; Future Combat Systems, a vast satellite computer battlefield network with sensors, drones, etc. with a price tag of $230 billion; and the MQ-9 Reaper, the world’s first remote-controlled robot attack squadron, carrying 14 air-to-ground weapons or four Hellfires and two 500 pound bombs with initial targets in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Less known is the fact that the U.S. has more than 700 military bases in 130 countries and deploys 13 naval task forces, fleets of long-range bombers, a half million soldiers, agents, technicians, teachers, dependents and civilian contractors – plus 234 military golf courses – around the world.

The United States also possesses thousands of active nuclear warheads and keeps almost half of them ready to launch within 15 minutes. To cover all fronts from all directions, the U.S. maintainsa triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and strategic bombers.U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories receive more money than ever, with the federal government’s “weapons activities budget” at $6 billion annually.

At a Washington press conference, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stands between the former heads of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Army War College. She is introducing legislation that would add 100,000 soldiers to the Army, declaring that it should be a national priority to field a significantly larger military.”She understands the weaknesses in the Democratic Party perhaps better than anyone else,” observes a “centrist” Democratic strategist. ”The party will not be taken seriously by the American people unless it believes it will defend them.”

According to Barack Obama’s 2008 Web site, he is“committed to helping the heroes who defend our nation today and the veterans who fought in years past,“ and he will lead us to “rebuild and transform the military to meet 21st-century threats.” There is no talk about the Pentagon budget.

The many candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president next year all bark: cut taxes, increase military spending, reduce “entitlements” of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Meanwhile, the ghost of C. Wright Mills haunts library shelves across the country where his inconvenient words still resonate: “The military order, once a slim establishment in a context of distrust fed by state militia, has become the largest and most expensive feature of government, and, although well versed in smiling public relations, now has all the grim and clumsy efficiency of a sprawling bureaucratic domain. There is a political economy linked, in a thousand ways, with military institutions and decisions. The military manipulation of civilian opinion and the military invasion of the civilian mind are now important ways in which the power of the warlords is steadily exerted.”

Of the 100 largest U.S. defense contractors, the top six – Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Halliburton – collectively receive some $80 billion annually from the federal government. A leading contractor in Iraq, Blackwater USA, holds contracts worth about $800 million a year.

Between 1990 and 2006, American defense contractors contributed a total of $111 million to Democrats and Republicans, with 60 percent going to the GOP. In 1990, $7 million was contributed to the two parties. In 2006, the defense industry gave $16 million total – from individuals, political action committees, soft money – with $6 million going to Democrats and $10 million to Republicans.

A bleak nightmare now engulfs our mighty republic. The land is awash in guns, with thousands killed by bullets every year. Thousands more Americans and others die in Iraq from bullets and shrapnel as images of fallen heroes and grieving families blink on nightly television. Political phantoms chasing money and votes are silent about the prospect of gun control or moving billions from the Pentagon to help fund health care and Social Security. With megaphones blaring, America’s tin leaders are on parade, marching in unison in the “war on terror” while the Founding Fathers shriek in the night.

GEORGE H. STRAUSS holds a Ph.D. in political science from New York University, a Master’s in Public Affairs from The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and a B.A. in government and economics from Oberlin College. He is the author of articles and position papers on various public policy issues and has been involved in electoral politics at the national, state and local levels. He is the author of a collection of satirical poetry and short stories, Welcome to the Bozo Club, and runs a non-political communications firm based in New York. He can be reached at:


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