Sunday, November 30, 2003
Eisenhower warned us
Rise of militarism under George W. Bush puts America on the road to ruin
Professor of International Business, Graduate School of Management, U.C. Irvine
was in an article in the National Interest in 1989 that Francis
Fukuyama boldly asked if we had reached "The End of History." His
notion was that free-enterprise democracy had finally defeated both
communism and fascism. There would be no more real arguments about the
best way to organize society. That was decided.
But now, since George W. Bush's election, the
ideological/political battle has begun anew. This time, it's
free-enterprise democracy vs. militarism, and so far militarism is
winning. This is so despite acclaimed historian Paul Kennedy's clear
admonition about its perils. In his 1987 tome, "The Rise and Fall of
the Great Powers," Kennedy goes down the long list of countries that
overextended themselves internationally and militarily and thereafter
decayed internally. The story has replayed itself for at least the last
500 years - Ming China, Spain, Napoleonic France, Russia, Germany,
Britain, Japan and the Soviet Union all fit the pattern. And now it
looks like so will the United States.
External over-reaching and internal decay define
our day. Most recently we've seen not only another $87 billion for the
"minor combat" in Iraq but also the calling up of 80,000 reservists. So
now we've spent more than $150 billion on attacking Iraq - even though
it was clearly never a direct threat to the United States. The
connection to Osama bin Laden was never made. Given that the United
States has a $10 trillion economy, we've spent more than 1.5 percent of
our national earnings on a senseless military adventure. And we're not
nearly done yet. Indeed, as we run out of reserves, how far away can a
The internal decay is easy to see. Consider the
tragic story of Marine Lance Cpl. Sok Khak Ung. In April, he won a
Purple Heart for wounds suffered in the invasion/liberation of Iraq. He
recovered from the wounds only to die in his father's arms after being
ambushed at a barbecue in Long Beach's Little Cambodia in October. The
police said there was no apparent motive. Cpl. Ung's murder underscores
the grim reality that the danger is greater on American streets (from
the drug wars and such) than even in "war-torn" Iraq.
But instead of seeking to fix the many problems
within our borders, we look to flex our muscles abroad. With more than
$400 billion in defense expenditures, we outspend the next 20 countries
combined. Throw in homeland defense and we're up to about $500 billion.
It's no coincidence that that is about the same size as both our trade
and budget deficits.
President Eisenhower warned of the
military-industrial complex and its potential to take over the country.
We're ignoring his admonition. Congress won't let us close military
bases to save money. Worse yet, Congress is spending trillions of
dollars on weapons systems, the next fighter jet, national missile
defense, more aircraft carriers and nuclear missile submarines. The
justification for this gorging on weaponry is to defend against the
dangers of $1.49 box-cutters. What we really need, and what the CIA is
advertising for, is Americans who speak Arabic. At least the CIA seems
to understand what John Locke put so succinctly some 300 years ago,
"The best fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it."
My own experience in the Navy taught me three
lessons: (1) In the losing of a war, the government's appetite for
19-year-olds is insatiable. (2) Military spending naturally increases
at the unit level and therefore in the aggregate. My commanding
officers at Underwater Demolition Team No. 11 in Coronado always said
at the end of the quarter, "Spend whatever's left or they'll cut our
budget next quarter." (3) National leaders engaged in militarism lie -
often. In 1972, I was headed in harm's general direction, believing in
the "domino theory" and the need to stop communism. During my long
plane ride to the Philippines, I read the Pentagon Papers. I then knew
that we were fighting a war that could not be won. In Vietnam, tens of
thousands of 19-year-olds laid down their lives for presidential lies.
And now George W. Bush has delivered the ultimate, a lie trumpeted in
his State of the Union.
For me, the worst symptoms of the new dominance
of militarism can be seen everyday and everywhere here in America.
Millions of people seem to equate greatness with military strength,
proudly asserting that "America is the most powerful nation the Earth
has ever seen." Certainly billions are being spent on advertising to
make the point. There's the U.S. Army-sponsored drag racer, Tony
("Sarge") Schumacher. Or the Marines' TV commercials, which make it
seem as if their job were a video game. The absolute worst symptom is
that Forbes has named Northrop Grumman "2003 Company of the Year." And
that weapons maker's corporate slogan, so heavily advertised, is,
"Northrop Grumman, defining the future." Defining the future!
Perhaps history is over if a weapons maker is
defining the future. Still, let's hope we have some history yet to go.
Let's hope that teachers, scientists, journalists, philanthropists and,
yes, "we the people" can reclaim our rights to define our own future.