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Nov. 30, 2003
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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

It 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 draft be?

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.

Welcome, egarris2!

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