Let’s Not And Say We Did

Sen. Lindsay Graham unwittingly makes the anti-war crowd’s point:

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., translated Cheney’s argument that defense spending is “not a spigot you can turn on and turn off, that you need to keep money flowing in a predictable way so you can plan for the next war.

Ah, yes! We must “plan for the next war”! This is what we call the Permanent War Economy. Because if we didn’t “plan for the next war,” then what? What other options might be at our disposal the next time some uneducated people from a rudimentary Third World country terrorize the nation armed only with boxcutters? Amazing to think of the possibilities.

Indeed, this was the entire point of Rachel Maddow’s excellent book, Drift. If we’re constantly planning for the next war then war becomes inevitable. This was not what the founders of our nation intended — far from it.

In Drift, Maddow writes of Thomas Jefferson’s opposition to standing armies thusly:

“Were armies to be raised whenever a speck of war is visible in our horizon,” he warned Congress in his sixth annual presidential message, “we never should have been without them. Our resources would have been exhausted on dangers which never happened, instead of being reserved for what is really to take place.”

Of course, America’s history is not one of being on a permanent war footing, as Maddow notes. Far from it. We didn’t plan for World War II — World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars,” remember? Consumers sacrificed, industries were nationalized, men signed up for the armed services, Rosie The Riveter went to the factory, Mom canned produce from the victory garden, families bought war bonds, and Hollywood went to work churning out the propaganda. In less than four years it was all over. Amazing, isn’t it? Our soldiers returned victorious and we rewarded them with an incredibly generous thank-you: the GI Bill offered low-interest mortgages, business loans, tuition and living expenses for those wishing to go to college or vocational school, unemployment compensation, and more.

Fast forward to 2008, and we have Republicans like Sen. John McCain and Pres. George W. Bush opposing a new GI Bill for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans because it “will hurt the military’s efforts to retain its troops.”

Yes of course. Because you don’t stand down in the Permanent War Economy. Wars never end. Occupations never end. We must feed the beast. We must give people an incentive to sign up for military service, and removing other viable options for employment and opportunity are a great way to go about that. In the Permanent War Economy, we must keep “planning for the next war.” The cycle never ends.

Or does it? Alternately, we can take Graham and Cheney at their word and realize what they’re really saying: war is a choice. We really don’t need to “plan for the next war.” Our military is already 10 bazillion times bigger than that of every other nation on earth combined. Can’t we just say we’re done and call it a day?

Instead of planning for the next war, why don’t we:

• Plan to be global leaders in alternative energy via that “Apollo project for green energy” we’re always hearing about;

• Plan to feed and educate every one of our citizens;

• Plan to cure cancer, which as we all know isn’t just one disease but thousands of diseases;

• Plan to create a network of bullet trains around the nation so you can go from, say, Los Angeles to Las Vegas or San Francisco in an hour and a half;

• Bring high-speed internet to every rural community in the country;

• Cut the population of stray dogs and cats in this country by 75%;

• Jet packs. Dammit, shouldn’t we have our jet packs by now?

Those are just a few thoughts off the top of my head. I just think there’s a bunch of better stuff we could be planning for besides the next war.


Filed under defense, peace, Pentagon, war economy

10 responses to “Let’s Not And Say We Did

  1. Mark Rogers


    “We didn’t plan for World War II — ”

    Ms. Maddow is correct. In 1938 the US had one of the smallest armies in the world. We had a large navy but one that had not kept up with technology or with nations like Japan and Germany that ignored treaties that should have prevented a naval arms race.

    To a great extent the existence of the military industrial complex is counter to the American tradition of isolationism and small armies. But the world of 1945 was very different from the world of 1801. Isn’t that the point liberals make when they want to justify some change in American tradition?

    The result was, when war did come, we suffered numerous defeats and lost thousands of men precisely because we were so unprepared. In North Africa American tanks were at the mercy of superior German tanks and artillery. In the Pacific American ships and carrier-based planes were outclassed by the Japanese, leading to a series of disastrous defeats. Even our decisive victory at Midway was more the result of superior intelligence work and luck than military superiority.

    As a journalist and not a historian, Ms. Maddow would not be likely to know how close America and the Allies came to losing WWII. From 1940 through 1943 the outcome of the war either favored the Axis or was, at best, a toss-up. All the factors you mentioned were important from the participation of women in industry to the willingness of people to sacrifice to the large number of enlistments to the management of the war economy.

    Still, had our enemies not made some amazing mistakes, the war would have almost certainly ended differently. For example:

    If the Germans had treated the Ukrainians and other ethnic groups who suffered at the hands of Stalin {something that the American Left continued to deny through the 50s}, the German army would have faced fewer problems with partisans and been able to recruit huge numbers of new troops.

    If Hitler had approved production of the ME 262 jet as a pure fighter in 1943, the Allies would never have gained air superiority to bomb German war production or to achieve tactical advantage on the battlefield.

    If the Japanese had chosen to invade Hawaii, American power in the Pacific would have been reduced to the West Coast. That would have made turning the tide of the war in Asia even more difficult and extended it for years.

    If Hitler had focused on submarines rather than battleships before 1940, England could have been isolated and starved into submission long before America could have come to her aid.

    And if Hitler had not declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor, FDR would have faced a difficult problem seeking to declare war on Germany. That would have left England alone and deeply endangered.

    Finally, it was America’s intention to reduce the military after WWII. Had the Soviets not broken their treaties and enslaved Eastern Europe with a continued huge military presence, there would have been no Cold War. Had the Russians not given North Korea the green light to invade South Korea, there would have been no reason to send troops there.

    Our emphasis on military spending is a recognition that the next major war will not give us several years to catch up no matter how organized the government is or how willing we are to sacrifice. Welcome to the modern world and modern war.

    Now certainly we can make serious cuts to the defense budget. We can do a much better job of weeding out fraud and other corruption by defense contractors. We can make our allies spend more in their own defense {Europe and the Gulf States in particular}.

    What we cannot do is go back to the days of isolationism and the belief that we have all the time in the world to catch up. That almost didn’t work for us in 1941 and it won’t work today.

    • I think what you haven’t mentioned is that our enemies are far different from 1941, nor is modern warfare anything close to what it was back then. The idea that we need to maintain massive standing armies all around the world or throw our money away on failed ideas like the “Star Wars” missile shield when the last attack on American soil was perpetrated by guys with boxcutters is ludicrous.

      • Mark Rogers

        I agree that modern warfare is much different from 1939-1945. But the real transformation in American military planning could not occur until 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. The collapse of the Soviet Empire allowed the US to reduce conventional forces {armor, armored infantry, artillery} in favor of the sort of elite small units we have developed.

        Other than Europe, we don’t have any large conventional forces on permanent deployment except Korea, and that is a necessity. Once we are our of Afghanistan and Iraq, something that should never have taken as long and for which the Bush Administration deserves major blame, our need to keep more than very limited forces abroad will be greatly reduced.

        We could get deeper cuts by creating more standing units that can be filled with National Guard and other reserves if needed.

        As for Star Wars, we are actually seeing real success in the interception of missiles from nations with limited arsenals. Nothing would stop a Russian strike but could effectively deter Iran or North Korea.

      • ….we don’t have any large conventional forces on permanent deployment….

        Except Iraq and Afghanistan of course. And let’s not forget the privatized army, er, I mean “security contractors” who are doing the work our military once did, especially in Iraq. We never really stand down. Taxpayers still pay for it. So much hinky and funky about that, which I’ve written about elsewhere.

        The moral quicksand this permanent war economy places this country on is astonishing.

  2. UU4077

    Mark – If … if … if …

    That’s no different in peacetime (is there peacetime anymore?) than during war. Winning frequently turns on some stupid decision, or just plain bad luck (or, good luck).

    Meanwhile, in the military-industrial complex, millions suffer so a few can live in luxury.

    • Mark Rogers


      My point was that our unpreparedness put us in the position where we had to get lucky multiple times to win the war. Today we don’t have that luxury.


      I agree with you that the military is too large and over-extended. Having the Europeans and the Japanese take more responsibility would help. We can reduce spending on unneeded systems and reduce cost over-runs on others. Stopping the revolving door from the Pentagon to the defense industry.

      As for the private armies, those are the modern version of mercenaries. I oppose the American government contracting out services to them. But if they can turn a dollar or a pound sterling or a euro or a yen or whatever in another country working for non-Americans, good luck to them. Mercenaries are unreliable but they are not inclined to be as destructive as national armies.

  3. “My point was that our unpreparedness put us in the position where we had to get lucky multiple times to win the war. Today we don’t have that luxury”

    And having the largest nuclear arsenal, the most up to date machines of war, a military that is larger and better trained than most armies on the planet (larger than most, better trained than most) did fuckall to keep the boxcutterboyz off the planes.

    The Abrams tank and its successors have proven to be of little use in the current situations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    The mujahideen and Al-queda in their various iterations are doing what the knuckleheads in the MurKKKan Militia Movement THINK they’re doing. They’re killing and dying for their beliefs. They also don’t seem to give a rat’s ass who else around them dies when the drones rain hellfire on them.

    War is what you have left when you can’t work shit out.

    Do you read history? The japanese were, on December 7th, 1941, pretty close to the zenith of their power. We never devoted more than about a quarter of our military forces to the Pacific theater.

    The reason, btw, that our military was in such shitty shape prior to 1941 has a lot more to do with GOP isolationism than a lack of will on the part of our military. As has been the case, pretty much throughout history, the “conservatives” are incredibly adept at fucking with foreign policy in order to help their friends in the business sector, but curiously reticent when it comes to making sure that the military is PROPERLY funded in times of NONwar*. Charles Lindbergh was a lifelong republican, an anti-semite and a bit too cozy with nazi principles of eugenics.

    * Peace is not the right word.

  4. The future of warfare will be in cyberattacks. Hell, it’s not even the future. It’s here now.

    The idea that we need old fashioned WWII style forces to take out our enemies is laughable. We don’t need to blow up bridges when we can write a computer virus to take out country’s power grid, water supply, etc. This is where we’re vulnerable, too.

  5. Randy

    In regard to the post…I suspect most of you have viewed Eisenhower’s televised address to the nation as he was leaving office and warns of the seductive nature of having the worlds most sophisticated military and the temptation to get drawn into regional conflicts. Ole Ike looks more prescient daily.

    Maybe humanity should just agree killing each other is a poor choice for conflict resolution.

  6. Excellent post ( and excellent comments too. )