In this season of peace, I want to talk about war. In particular, the cost of war.
Those of us who lived through the cold war between the super-powers of the United States and Russia, remember the hate-mongering, the constant state of keeping us scared, and the build-up of great arsenals of weapons. Big weapons – fleets of battle ships, wings of airplanes, missiles, tanks and every type of weapons. In addition to the perpetually heightened state of war, there was the nuclear MAD threat – mutually assured destruction.
The Soviet Union went broke and dissolved. We, however, continued our massive weapons build-up. Why? Outgoing President Eisenhower, formerly general of the allied forces, warned us: beware the military-industrial complex.
In other words, the industry was self-perpetuating. The industry made sure that every congressional district had some part in the manufacturing process. Some plants manufactured widgets for bigger weapons, or airplanes, or ships. Some assembled them. It kept towns and rural areas in jobs. It was economic development, before there was the concept. And the industry knew how to keep Congress informed of the value to their districts. Thousands of lobbyists walked the halls of Congress. And do to this day.
The cold war is over. The Soviet Union no longer exists. There is nothing to justify the continued build-up. But the machine goes on and even expands whenever it can convince the American people – and Congress – that the threat is ever present if we don’t keep feeding the monster.
There is another lucrative part of the scene – “foreign aid.”
Most of us think foreign aid is feeding starving people, or educating children, or building a water plant. We certainly don’t think of weapons that a dictator can turn on his own people. But that’s what most foreign aid is.
Just last month the administration was trying to decide whether to send fighter planes to Egypt as their foreign aid. Egypt is falling apart – what are they going to do with fighter jets? Well, nothing as it turns out – they have fields of them already and no use for them. Why did we want to send it there? Because the U.S. manufacturers are running the show. Turns out, the money doesn’t even go to Egypt. The planes (or tanks, or guns) are bought here in the U.S. from the manufacturer and shipped to Egypt, or whatever other country that doesn’t need them. Egypt could sure use something useful right now, but that is not considered foreign aid.
In the meantime, warfare has changed drastically. 21st century warfare is drones vs. roadside bombs. Essentially a guerilla war that has no use for giant battleships, or wings of airplanes, or tanks. And, the future is cyberwar. But instead of abandoning the cold war arsenal, the Pentagon is adding a department even bigger for cyberwar.
But weapons manufacturing continues unabated and the Pentagon asks for more of the same, employing the same scare tactics. And Congress buys into it because it means jobs in their home districts. We still have nuclear weapons on “trigger” alert even as reports emerge of lack of supervision, security failures, and degrading materials.
It is even worse than Eisenhower could have predicted. The tail is wagging the dog, and we stand by helplessly, watching money that could be used at home for schools, roads, clean water, disappear and worrying that another excuse to use more than the 800 bases, and drones and contractors will send more of our precious young people to be maimed or die. All for the industrial military complex.
Ellie Kinnaird is a former state senator and former mayor of Carrboro. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.