Military Keynesianism Marches On

Photograph Source: Pfc. Cameron Boyd/Released – CC0

Our elected representatives do not have to be bribed with campaign contributions from weapons makers to support the Department of Defense budget. They may, shockingly, be representing our nation. Australian political scientist David T. Smith states: “The National Security State maintains democratic legitimacy because of the way it disperses public and private benefits while shielding ordinary Americans from the true costs of high-tech warfare.”

Some support for our military’s activities and its budget can be attributed to propaganda, or veteran nostalgia, or the glorification of violence in our history books, schools, and patriotic parades. In addition, a multitude of interests sustains the military and its budget, and encourages silence about its activities.

The “free enterprise” economy, although always government supported, has been increasingly weakened by foreign competition, outsourcing, automation, consumer satiation, rustbelting, poverty, and demographic changes. A “mixed economy” then fills the breach. Public-private entities in the form of local economic development councils have been created because the “free enterprise dynamic system” can do “everything better,” (so its advocates claim), except keep the economy going. Capitalism must be saved by massive national, state, and local government investment and intervention in education, research, health care, highways and other infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, urban planning, environmental remediation, social services, recreation, business incubators, prisons, and much else.

“Military Keynesianism” is a major part of our “Blood Red” New Deal; some of its practices recall the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. (Not coincidently, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power project served munitions production, and later, at Oak Ridge and Hanford, supported the enormous energy that nuclear fuel required.)

Unfortunately, the mission of the US military, according to its Defense Strategy Review is to “build a more lethal force” and “With our allies and partners, we will challenge competitors by maneuvering them into unfavorable positions, frustrating their efforts, precluding their options while expanding our own, and forcing them to confront conflict under adverse conditions.”

Our military is not particularly concerned with the welfare of persons or the environment, nationally or internationally. Its strategy does not propose using cooperation, diplomacy, or international law to reduce the threat to human civilization. Do not think that I come to praise this state of affairs; I come to bury it. But first we must see what sustains our Romanesque empire.

Certainly DoD contracts with weapons makers and their subcontracts provide a sharp economic stimulus. (Lobbying and excessive weapons acquisition is a gigantic part of the problem, but as the subject has been well covered in CounterPunch, Center for Defense Information, Center for International Policy, TomDispatch, and other sources, that aspect will have only a brief mention here.)

The NH Business Review reported that: “In New Hampshire, the F-35 program supports 55 suppliers – 35 of which are small businesses – and over 900 direct jobs, much of them located at BAE Systems in Nashua. The F-35 program generates over $481 million in economic impact in the state” (9-21-17). In contrast to the widespread urban decay in the US, “Nashua is the best place to live in New Hampshire, according to a new survey. Money Magazine said it selected the ‘charming’ Gate City for the top spot due to its ‘up-and-coming’ downtown, recreation options and proximity to Boston” (1-17-18). The city of Nashua’s website informs us that BAE is the largest employer in the city, and in addition: “A total of 130 defense contractors were awarded contracts between 2000 and 2012, which is indicative of how robust the defense industry has become in Nashua.”

The New York Times reported that unlike many rustbelt cities, St. Cloud, MN “sustained its prosperity through a mix of the right investments, favorable geography and sheer serendipity.” It did not mention the bevy of military contracts in the area; a filtered search by zip code + Department of Defense in explained the anomaly.

Rebecca Thorpe’s book, The American Warfare State: The Domestic Politics of Military Spending, relates that after WW II many rural and semirural areas became economically dependent on defense spending; their representatives filled the bill regardless of an absent or negative national security impact.

The juicy profits create oases of civilized existence in terms of social services, education, and the arts. Their lucrative investment returns enrich many museums, charitable institutions, churches, and public workers’ pension funds. Contractor philanthropy supports the arts, education, and environmental and social justice efforts.

Weapons are just one part of the picture; construction, technology, cybersecurity, and intelligence firms also secure huge contracts. Logistics represent a large chunk of the budget: food, transport, janitorial, guarding, and others. For example, DoD contracts for janitorial services, clothing, and furniture with Goodwill Industries, Lighthouse for the Blind, and other nonprofit corporations employing disabled people, veterans, and people with chronic difficulty finding work. These form a significant part of the lowest income working class, and are similar to jobs programs of the depression-era Works Progress Administration. As Nancy Rose explains in Put to Work, our government back then also used contractors, including for-profit businesses, as administrators.

The DoD’s landscaping and environmental remediation needs provide work for businesses such as Environmental Alternatives, Inc. in Swanzey, NH, which provides nuclear decontamination. In addition, enormous contracts and grants are awarded to The Nature Conservancy and other nonprofit environmental organizations for services that include preventing encroachment near bombing ranges. Trout Unlimited also gets hooked into the picture.

Support or silence for militarism is purchased by every kind of thing the military establishment needs: daycare, velcro, textbooks, conference hotels, safer cribs for family housing, microwave ovens, et al. In 2018 The New York Times noted that Granite Industries of Vermont in Barre “makes 3,500 to 4,000 headstones a year for Arlington [National Cemetery]—a steady line of business in a town that has seen its stonework fortunes decline over time.” Nick Turse’s fine book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, includes many more examples.

Research funds go to industry, think tanks, hospitals, medical institutes, and universities. All types of science and technology research is DoD supported; Silicon Valley is an outgrowth of this command economy. Social scientists are not neglected; for example, anthropologists were used to create the controversial Human Terrain System. The Minerva Research Initiative funds political scientists; a recent study asks: “How do citizens within countries hosting U.S. military personnel view that presence?” and concludes: “We find that contact with U.S. military personnel or the receipt of economic benefits from the U.S. presence increases support for the U.S. presence, people, and government.” That may very well be the case, but one wishes for an investigation funded by a neutral sponsor.

There has been fine reporting on problems and protests at overseas and US colony bases: books such as Gerson and Birchard, The Sun Never Sets; Lutz, The Bases of Empire; Vine, Base Nation; Turse’s article, “Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report;” and the video, Standing Army. However, a comprehensive and objective study of the political, cultural, and economic impact of occupation entities would require funding that is rarely available to those without ties to the national security state.

In addition to the bases, military contracts, including weapon parts, bioweapons research, and intelligence, have been outsourced throughout the world; thus we also export military Keynesianism. Construction firms employing US personnel, locals, and third country workers provide economic stimulus both over here and over there. The new NATO headquarters in Brussels, costing over a billion dollars, is a symbol of the capitalist democracies “command economies,” now with satellites under the “Uranium Curtain.”

In the US, the national security state apparatus goes far beyond the DoD. The Departments of Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security are obviously involved; Agriculture, Commerce, State, Interior, and others also get into the act. The Department of State coordinates overseas military training, which is required for all purchasers of weapons. Its most recent report indicates that in “Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, approximately 78,700 students from 155 countries participated in training.” In addition to direct aid and warfare “fairs,” the generous financing of foreign sales boosts contractor profits. Offshoring of supposedly obsolete weapons enables Congress to fund the next best lethal thing.

To insure a steady priming of the pump, there are organizations of contractor lobbyists, such as the National Defense Industrial Association, with chapters in most states.

One of the most militant is the Washington [state] Military Alliance; its membership includes industries and most of the state’s local economic development councils. It is supported both by the state and funds from the DoD (give those who lobby you a leg up). Washington state government also has a Military Department. The state is heavily militarized already, including the notorious Hanford site, but it wants these benefits to keep coming.

Economic stimulation, with its silencing effect, does not radiate solely from contractor locales. There is the military establishment itself. Estimated current personnel is 1.4 million active duty, 800,000 reserve and national guard, and 750,000 civilian employees. Veterans, numbering about 18 million, are prominent in businesses, nonprofits, and elected and appointed government positions. There is a large array of patriotic and veterans organizations, most of which, but not all (for example, Veterans for Peace) banging the drum for militarism. In addition to the traditional membership groups such as the American Legion, there are now many created by foundations and the DoD itself to assist in transition to civilian life. Some urge retired officers to seek leadership of nonprofit organizations; others convert “Troops to Teachers,” or with the Student Conservation Association, to careers in conservation. There is also one, the Armed Services Arts Partnership, for training as a stand-up comedian.

Educational institutes of the military exist far beyond the service academies. The National Defense University system has more than 150 components, including the Naval War College, the University of Health Sciences, and the Defense Acquisition University. Many of these, as well as the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation (formerly known as School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA) and the US Army JFK Special Warfare Center and School in Ft. Bragg, NC, also train foreign military and civilians.

Much training occurs overseas, through the State Department’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program or in institutes such as the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany or the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

The land-grant universities were always intended to include military research and training. Private institutions, such as Norwich University in Vermont, are also major military training centers. A ranking of the 100 most militarized universities in the US includes many of our distinguished institutions as well as some that are mostly distance learning and primarily feeders for national security agencies. In addition to research contracts, universities with ROTC (reserve officer training corps) programs receive DoD funding.

More than 3,000 U.S. high schools (and some junior high schools) have Junior ROTC programs. DoD funding can make a significant difference in these districts and permit clean and sharp facilities that contrast with poorly funded local schools. Chicago has 6 public high schools that are military academies; all students must be in JROTC. Often parents who are not particularly interested in the military aspect may nevertheless enroll their children in the newer and more disciplined academies. Not too many of these children end up as military officers, but all JROTC instruction has a military perspective.

The Army Corps of Engineers, also part of the DoD budget, entail vast expenditures for recreational sites, water projects, and military related construction. Throughout the nation there are ACE created and maintained places like the one near me:

Otter Brook Lake offers many recreational opportunities that everyone can enjoy. It offers a picnic area with 90 tables and 55 fireplace grills; swimming on a 400-foot-long beach; a boat ramp; boating for canoes, rowboats, sailboats, and motorboats (no wake); and sanitary facilities. During the winter, visitors enjoy cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.

Military bases in the United States and “territories” are significant hubs of economic stimulation. The most recent Base Structure Report lists 4,150 sites within the US, and 111 in territories, but not all are substantial bases. Of the 368 sites listed for California (which has the most bases), about 47 are considered major bases.

The US mainland has the largest military bases in the world, some like small or medium size cities. The largest of all is Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, which has been excellently portrayed by anthropologist Catherine Lutz in Homefront. Other giants are Fort Hood, TX; Fort Benning, GA; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA; and Fort Campbell, KY. Some bases are villages with bombing ranges or seaside training areas. Among the 4,000+ DoD sites are listening posts, drone bases, armories, medical centers, educational institutes, recruiting stations, etc., but there are probably more than 400 bases with substantial acreage and personnel.

One way that communities near bases have increased prosperity is through DoD contracts for operating elementary and high schools for base children; administrative costs are included. This is especially welcome to poor school districts, but the 1% is not neglected. The Town of Lincoln, Massachusetts, has a 2 year $32 million contract to run Hanscom Air Force Base schools. Hanscom, despite its location near a superwealthy part of the country, is a superfund site. The military is an equal opportunity polluter.

Many personnel live off base, and that benefits real estate sales and rentals, and hotel-motel chains, which offer housekeeping suites specifically for military families. Military personnel and civilian employees are customers for car rentals, supermarkets, restaurants, entertainment, Walmarts—the whole suburban mall scene. These businesses along with museums and recreational and historical sites, have ads on the bases’ websites.

Base expansion and construction is itself a boon to local real estate interests. Frequent improvements to buildings, technical capacity, and measures against encroachments to bombing ranges also require expenditures, often massive, that benefit local as well as multinational corporations. For example, upgrades for cyber warfare at the Buckley AFB in Aurora, Colorado, part of the Air Force Space Command, have entailed many billions worth of contracts for weapons, technology, and construction companies.

Team Buckley strives to be bold information technology investors who shape operations in, through and from cyberspace. Our emphasis is toward functioning and fighting as cyber warriors, defending our networks and core missions from attacks and preparing for offensive operations to execute when appropriate authorities direct.

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, another city-sized base in North Carolina, has “11 miles of amphibious operations beachfront.” The Student Conservation Association has recently been awarded a $13 million DoD grant for conservation assistance, with a special concern for the protection of endangered sea turtles.

Closed and shrunk bases, often superfund sites, are still economic hubs. For one thing, the cleanup crews will be there for decades, and they also require local goods and services. Although billions have already been spent on base cleanup, the Government Accountability Office warns that much more must be spent to deal with “emerging contaminants.”

New Boston Air Force Station, N.H, near my home, is a former bombing range and a superfund site. Now it is a more compact remote tracking station. The Air Force has determined that it has been cleaned up and currently offers much of its 2,600 acres for camping and recreational activities (for those with a military connection). It has 50 campsites, four ponds, and equipment rental including skis, snowboards, poles, boots, snowmobiles, popup trailers, kayaks, canoes and boats. Pease Air Force Base, another NH superfund site, was officially closed in 1991. Part of it is now an Air National Guard Base, while some of the area designated clean is a civilian commercial center.

Upgraded, downgraded, or degraded, military sites have economic significance. The most unlikely tourist attraction is Hanford Nuclear Site, a decommissioned nuclear fuel production facility operated by the Department of Energy. Currently, the DOE

“offers a variety of tours of the Hanford Site focusing on Hanford’s environmental cleanup mission. Hanford Site tours provide visitors the opportunity for a firsthand look at the progress of our environmental cleanup efforts, projects and facility operations.”

If you are hotfooting it to Richland, WA for one of these tours, you are required to wear closed-toe shoes.

Elected and appointed government officials, at all levels, and local economic development councils, are aware of the vital impact of the military budget, which often clouds their thoughts on the lethal activities that it supports. Even citizens with no direct connection to contracts, bases, contractor philanthropy, veterans’ benefits, et al, understand that without these their area might be a notch away from rustbelt status. Young people in many normal US towns see a military career as an alternative to a dead-end job. Retirees living a quiet life note the job opportunities for their children in military-related work, whether they are disabled, mechanics, environmentalists, scientists, or perhaps entertainers or artists in a charming city of weapons contractors.

Yet this military economic salvation promotes Scarred Lands, Wounded Lives, as in the film of that name. The National Priorities Project and others have determined that government funding supporting the well-being of humans and the environment would have greater economic benefit, without the destruction of whole countries as well as our own land and people.

How to make the change is the question; the problem is gigantic. It may be that our Romanesque empire is also a Greek tragedy. The ancient Athenian (semi)democracy was likewise influenced by propaganda and economic benefits. It voted for war, a likely destroyer of the Athenian experiment. Perhaps democracy—even the best of them are now increasingly militarized—is too much shaped by propaganda and majorities with benefits.

Joan Roelofs is Professor Emerita of Political Science, Keene State College, New Hampshire. She is the translator of Victor Considerant’s Principles of Socialism (Maisonneuve Press, 2006), and author of Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (SUNY Press, 2003) and Greening Cities (Rowman and Littlefield, 1996) and translator, with Shawn P. Wilbur, of Charles Fourier’s anti-war fantasy, World War of Small Pastries, Autonomedia, 2015. Web site:  Contact: