Do We Really Want to Build and Defend an Empire?

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source : Possibilitator, February 7, 2017

As veteran defense analyst William Hartung notes yesterday, the new Trump administration is poised to put an already immense defense budget on steroids. He’s obviously thinks the condition of our military is deplorable and thus there will be endless flows of additional cash recommended, except perhaps for the boondoggle known as the F-35.

But while Trump is poised to offer a significant injection, all presidents since FDR and the end of WWII have been building our military apparatus in one way or another. As the former general turned Commander-in-Chief, Dwight Eisenhower so vividly warned us upon exiting the office he held for two terms, the behemoth engine of the military-industrial-complex(MIC), will drive us away from repairing and improving our own society.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The cost of one modern day bomber is the modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

And so it has unraveled as Eisenhower warned. Nary a president has escaped its clutches. Even the Nobel Peace President Obama, was arguing for a $1 Trillion dollar modernization effort of our nuclear weapons system, while launching a record number of drone attacks in countries all over the globe. The problems with military spending are so significant and embedded, that hardly anyone in elected office is willing to publicly take them on. The Washington Post reported just last November that the Pentagon’s on internal study found $125 BILLION was wasted. And of course, they tried to hide the report. But even since its release, there has been a deafening silence from the Washington beltway, as the lobbyists from McDonnell-Douglas, Lockheed Martin,Boeing, and other (too big to fail) behemoths spread their loot and influence in the halls of Congress.

Then of course there is the revolving door between the Pentagon and the MIC, where former officers move with their significant pensions, to rewards aplenty from the scions of military hardware. Those scions have strategically scattered their plants and contractors around the country to insure that any cuts in government contracts can bring the many impacted congressional districts elected representatives to rise up to thwart them. Thus the long failed history of the  F-35.

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Insulating this cozy brotherhood from any rational questions has been the role of  fear-mongers and empire builders who have argued as former West Point graduate, Lieutenant-Colonel and Professor of International Relations Andrew Bacevich  has written about extensively. In his 2010 book, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, Bacevich lays out the U.S. sacred trinity of  military policy and practice.

    an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism.” [page 14, emphasis in original].

Bacevich is one of the few scholars willing to stand up to the MIC. Some others have joined him and are sharing their writing through the  American Empire Project, The late Chalmers Johnson, Jonathan Schell  and Howard Zinn as well as contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Tom Englehardt, Nick Turse, Michael Klare and a few more fearless scholars and journalists.

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Fortunately we have a few think tanks that collect and scour the available data and help us make sense of it. As the Pentagon waste study mentioned above hints, the Pentagon is the only department in the government has not had an audit performed. Legislation to require such and audit has been introduced in past years, but even the good old deficit hawks aren’t interested is looking at the underbelly of defense pork.

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Nationally we have the National Priorities Project which continues to collect and to prepare useful charts and studies that give us a clue of how the splurging for military impacts us. Particularly useful is data on the impacts at the state level of that spending.

The Project on Government Oversight also hosts the Center for Defense Information where you can read much more on the troubled F-35 or numerous other serious investigations into the MIC.

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Globally we have the highly regarded SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) that annually gathers global data on militarism, arms sales, and other related information allowing some measure of comparison among nation states.


Former cold warrior, turned critic of American empire, the late Chalmers Johnson wrote a series of acclaimed and powerful books beginning with Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000) in which he documents the control of the MIC over our foreign and domestic policy and the resulting consequences of that policy and practice. In his final book published shortly before his death in 2010 Johnson summarizes the argument.

Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America’s version of the colony is the military base. By following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever larger imperial stance and the militarism that grows with it. Militarism and imperialism are Siamese twins joined at the hip. Each thrives off the other. Already highly advanced in our country, they are both on the verge of a quantum leap that will almost surely stretch our military beyond its capabilities, bringing fiscal insolvency and very possibly doing mortal damage to our republican institutions. (Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope).p.114

Johnson goes on in depth to show how this pursuit of empire, this ailment of American exceptionalism, not only robs from our own development and well-being, but sows the resentment that all imperial attempts to control other nations feeds. In a word, blowback. His concerns even before his untimely death were that the horrible events of September 11, 2001 were symptomatic of what will follow any nation that is hooked on militarism.

With the arrival and now solid ownership of the executive branch of government by the combination of the military mindset and the Goldman Sachs greed merchants, there is ample evidence to support the decision January 26th by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to move the Doomsday Clock two and a half minutes to midnight. We better heed the calls of Johnson, Bacevich, and others who have seen war and its consequences and question our unfettered support for militarism over human well-being. It’s not too late, but it’s close.

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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