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Hardware Over People at the Pentagon (Again)

by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY

For a good example of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex’s (MICC’s) value system — which is hardware before ideas and people — read this New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof.

Note his opening paragraph:

Here’s a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

And here is Kristof’s penultimate paragraph:

We refurbish tanks after time in combat, but don’t much help men and women exorcise the demons of war. Presidents commit troops to distant battlefields, but don’t commit enough dollars to veterans’ services afterward. We enlist soldiers to protect us, but when they come home we don’t protect them.

In between, Kristof supports these statements with horrific detail.

Kristof’s op-ed is symptomatic of a deeper problem — one that evolved in the MICC’s cultural DNA during the give and take of budget battles fought over 40 years of Cold War and the subsequent 20 years of warmongering since 1991. This DNA shapes the MICCs behaviour, as I explained in The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War, in Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs (January-February 2011).

The proper order of priority in any military force should always be People – Ideas – Hardware, in that order — the opposite of that implied in Kristof’s penultimate paragraph

But you won’t won’t see P-I-H value system reflected in the actual decisions made in the Pentagon, the defense companies, or on Capitol Hill, or the mass of the juiciest stories in the defense media (like Aviation Week, Armed Forces Journal, Inside The Pentagon, etc. (or much of the mainstream media, to boot). By far, most of the energy, money, words, and time is spent debating the merits of the individual weapon systems, like the problem plagued, $500 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

During my 33 years in Department of Defense, this warping of values became steadily worse over time, notwithstanding the empty flag-waving rhetoric of supporting our troops. At the same time the nation has become ever more dependent on an the higher personnel costs needed to support an all volunteer force — a standing permanent military, something the Framers of the Constitution would have abhorred.

The growing costs of the all-volunteer force eat into the budget and displace money needed for new weapons. So, there is constant pressure to reduce the size of the force and training tempos, and reallocate the money to higher priority items, like the ever-more-expensive Joint Strike Fighter.

In the 1997 and 1998, the insensitivity of these priorities became transparently obvious. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in one of stupidest faux pas I have ever witnessed — and I have seen many — approved a poster celebrating Armed Forces Day that inadvertently became a metaphor for the MICC’s deeply entrenched, perverted value system.

What is missing?

People!!!!

Think of it. A day set aside to acknowledge the valor and sacrifices of our servicemen was announced by an official Defense Department poster that celebrated Hardware and ignored people.

If you think this mentality was an artifact of the Clinton Administration or the Democrats, think again. It was and remains bi-partisan. Ironically, Cohen was formerly a pro-defense Republican Senator from Maine (read shovel money to the warship builders at Bath Iron Works). After leaving the Spendagon, he flew through the revolving door and today, he is a high-powered consultant and ‘senior stateman’ making money by helping to lubricate the flow of funds through the halls of Versailles on the Potomac.  He was and remains an advocate of monstrous defense budgets.

When he took the job in 1997, Cohen promised to oppose President Clinton, if Cohen felt the Defense Department was being short shrifted. Moreover, in the 1980s, as a Republican senator, Cohen claimed to be a a member of the bi-partisan Military Reform Caucus. Of course, like most Senators, he never attended its meetings, because if he had, he might have realized the motto of the Reform Caucus was People – Ideas – Hardware — in that order!

But Cohen was not alone in poster obscenity. Significantly, at the time, no general or admiral in any military service objected publicly to this slanderous poster. In fact, it was not even noticed by anyone in the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill, or in the press, for a very simple reason:  The poster accurately accurately reflected the business-as-usual, core values of the MICC. After the second poster came out in 1998, Colonel GI Wilson, then an active duty Marine and close friend, and I went ballistic. We raised holy hell in emails, on the Internet, in meetings, in the halls, with news reporters, and any one who would listen.

We both can say with satisfaction that the poster outrage ended up in the dustbin of history, and by 1999, we had a poster with people on it.  When you consider the fact that we are proud of the fact that helped to people back on the Armed Forces Day poster, you get an idea of how deep the rot is.

If you think this is ancient history, read Kristof’s article carefully, in its entirety, and you will see that the value system that produced the obscene 1998 Armed Forces Day poster remains in place.   Then go on the Internet and google articles describing the current round of service downsizing plans (which means pushing people out the door) to make room for high cost cold-war inspired turkeys like the Joint Strike Fighter, nuclear submarines, ballistic missile defense systems, etc., simply because the rate of growth in the defense budget is being cut back.

And the next time you hear someone in the MICC waving the flag and saying the MICC’s top priority is supporting the grunts, slugging it out in mud and dust of war, remember the poster — and follow the money.

So I ask you, can there be any wonder why we neglect our veterans trying to cope with PTSD in the manner that Kristoff described or the ominous problems of moral hazard described by Major Tyler Boudreau in this paper?

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

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Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

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