U.S. militarism: some evidence
Bob Sheak, October 13, 2021
In this post, I review evidence establishing that the U.S. is a militaristic society and power. It is one of a number of major problems besetting the society, but it is among those that have existential implications. Militarism is not only the result of a military-industrial complex, but also of citizens who tend to glorify the armed services and who have little concern for the destruction and civilian deaths and casualties that accompany U.S. wars. At the same time, millions of U.S. troops have suffered the physical, mental, and moral injuries of ill-fated wars initiated by political and military leaders (see, for example, David Wood, What We Have Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars, or Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman, Betraying Our Troops). With some pauses and despite anti-war movements, militarism and its damaging effects have grown since WWII.
This analysis doesn’t call for the end of our military services. Rather, it calls for a reduction in military spending; independent audits of the military budget and spending; more effective congressional oversight; a reevaluation of whether the U.S. really needs over 800 foreign bases in 70 countries to ensure the safety and security of the U.S.; stopping the revolving door between the weapons makers and military officers; giving more focus to building up the State Department with the goal of enhancing U.S. diplomatic assets; ending the space force; joining with other countries to phase out nuclear weapons; and finding ways to better educate American citizens about the history of the country’s wars, the options to war, and generally about the limits of military power. By recognizing such limits and rethinking the country’s priorities, resources can then be made available to address the non-military crises that beset the U.S.
A bevy of crises
There are many developments that threaten to further destabilize U.S. democracy and economy, while putting at risk the health and wellbeing of citizens, including: the climate crisis; the rampant pollution of the environment; industrial agriculture and depleting soils; soaring class, racial, ethnic, and gender inequalities; the ongoing pandemic and a large number of people opposed to being vaccinated; an inadequate social safety net; gross educational inequalities; the extremist Trump-dominated Republican Party and their millions of supporters; the growth of violent white supremacist groups; etc. I have discussed many of these issues in earlier posts, which can be accessed at: https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com)
The problem of excessive military power: an overview
In this post, I consider how the society is affected by the enormous power of the military-industrial complex, about which President Dwight Eisenhower first warned us in his last speech to the nation on January 17, 1961.
This power is reflected in the authority of the president to initiate war without congressional approval or without the support of the U.N.’s Security Council, which is justified by the ambiguously conceived “Authorization for the Use of Military Force.” (Karen J. Greenberg discusses the origin and impacts of the AUMF in her book, Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump).
It is reflected in the large military budgets passed typically on a bipartisan basis by majority votes the U.S. Congress. It is reflected in the absence of independent audits of the budgets and failure to control the cost excesses of government military contracts. Mandy Smithberger writes: “Given the way the Pentagon has sunk taxpayer dollars into those endless wars, in a more reasonable world that institution would be overdue for a comprehensive audit of all its programs and a reevaluation of its expenditures. (It has, by the way, never actually passed an audit.)” (https://tomdispatch.com/mandy-smithberger-a-recipe-for-disaster).
It is reflected in the huge profits of the large military contractors. In article titled “Profits of War, William Hartung’s article, writes: “Corporations large and small have left the financial feast of that post-9/11 surge in military spending with genuinely staggering sums in hand. After all, Pentagon spending has totaled an almost unimaginable $14 trillion-plus since the start of the Afghan War in 2001, up to one-half of which (catch a breath here) went directly to defense contractors” (https://tomdispatch.com/the-profits-of-war)..
It is reflected in the over 800 hundred U.S. military bases around the globe. Professor David Vine has devoted a book to this topic. The title: Base Nation: How the U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. He points out that there has been “little investigation of the effectiveness of long-term deterrence, of the kind supposedly provided by U.S. bases overseas” (p. 325).
It is reflected in the revolving door between the military and big weapons makers that creates an implicit if not explicit conflict of interests. On this latter point, Mandy Smithberger writes:
“The infamous “revolving door” that regularly ushers senior Pentagon officials into defense-industry posts and senior defense-industry figures into key positions at the Pentagon (and in the rest of the national security state) just adds to the endless public-relations offensives that accompany this country’s forever wars. After all, the retired generals and other officials the media regularly looks to for expertise are often essentially paid shills for the defense industry. The lack of public disclosure and media discussion about such obvious conflicts of interest only further corrupts public debate on both the wars and the funding of the military, while giving the arms industry the biggest seat at the table when decisions are made on how much to spend on war and preparations for the same” (https://tomdispatch.com/mandy-smithberger-a-recipe-for-disaster).
It is fueled by how U.S. military and civilian policymakers continue to identify enemies that they say threaten the security of the society and that require ever-greater military budgets. Historian Alfred McCoy has some telling observations on this point (https://tomdispatch.com/the-winner-in-afghanistan-china).
“What is it about this country and enemies? It can’t even pretend to do without them. Of course, it just lost one enemy, the Taliban, in a humiliating fashion, even as President Biden bragged that no country had ever airlifted itself out of a losing war quite so brilliantly. (‘No nation has ever done anything like it in all of history. Only the United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it, and we did it today.’) In the process, he also announced that the forever wars of the last 20 years were finally ending. But don’t panic — not, at least, if you happen to be a failed commander from those wars or a CEO in one of the many companies that make up the industrial part of the military-industrial complex. There’s so much more to come. As Biden said, ‘The world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia.”
McCoy continues: “Keep in mind that, in these last two decades, the U.S. has spent an estimated $8 trillion just on our forever wars (and the care of the veterans of those conflicts). Worse yet, possibly $21 trillion went into those conflicts and the militarization of American society that went with them. That scale of investment can’t continue without an enemy. Of course, from its earliest moments in office, the Biden foreign-policy team has been focused on “pivoting” from war-on-terror targets to provoking China. That’s included threatening naval gestures in the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea, a calling-together of allies to confront Beijing in an ever-more-militarized fashion, and greater support for Taiwan. It all adds up to an enemy-filled future in which Congress must continue to invest ever more staggering sums in the military-industrial complex rather than in this country’s true infrastructure or genuine needs.
“In fact, the House Armed Services Committee promptly endorsed a plan to add an extra $24 billion (above and beyond the staggering $715 billion the Biden administration had requested for the 2022 Pentagon budget). The equivalent Senate committee had already given a thumbs up to a similar sum, indicating that the next Pentagon budget will be in the range of $740 billion dollars. California Representative Ro Khanna was among the few who gave the measure a thumbs down. (‘We just ended the longest war in American history, now is the time to decrease defense spending, not increase it… We are already spending three times as much on our military as China did.’).
The military-industrial complex benefits from the interests of elected officials who gain jobs from the existence in their congressional districts of military bases and military contracts. Mandy Smithberger describes this situation.
“…the big defense firms carefully spread their contracts for weapons production across as many congressional districts as possible. This practice of ‘political engineering,’ a term promoted by former Department of Defense analyst and military reformer Chuck Spinney, helps those contractors and the Pentagon buy off members of Congress from both parties. Take, for example, the Littoral Combat Ship, a vessel meant to operate close to shore. Costs for the program tripled over initial estimates and, according to Defense News, the Navy is already considering decommissioning four of the new ships next year as a cost-saving measure. It’s not the first time that program has been threatened with the budget axe. In the past, however, pork-barrel politics spearheaded by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), in whose states those boats were being built, kept the program afloat.”
It is reflected in the results of opinion polls that show a majority of Americans think very highly of the military, more so than they do of other institutional sectors. The word “glorification” is sometimes used. It is reflected in a situation where the great majority of citizens never serve any time in the military and therefore don’t have to think personally about the dangers that accompany war. And it is reflected in how many Americans glorify the country’s wars and pay little attention to the civilian victims wrought by the U.S. wars. Public opinion polls confirm these points. According to Wikipedia,
“Militaries and especially their troops are held in high regard in most countries. In the United States, military officers are regarded as having one of the most prestigious jobs.” At the same time, there is some variation among countries on these issues. Accordingly, “[w]hile 10% of Canadians viewed the military as ‘not at all favorable,’ only 3% of Britons had a ‘low’ or ‘very low’ view of the military. 65% of Russians believe their military does their job ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time.’” The ratings are also very high in the United States, where “89% of white Americans had a ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ favorable opinion of the military, compared to 77% of Latinos and 72% of blacks.” (https://en.widipedia.org/wiki/Public_opinion_of_militaries).
As indicated, the U.S. is a highly militarized society
One way to summarize these realities is to say that, unfortunately, we have a militarized society. Wikipedia offers the following definitions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarization).
“Militarization, or militarisation, is the process by which a society organizes itself for military conflict and violence. It is related to militarism, which is an ideology that reflects the level of militarization of a state, and which is associated with the glorification of the military, armed forces and weapons and of military power, including through symbolic displays (e.g., parades of tanks and soldiers) and actual use of force, such as through warfare. The process of militarization involves many interrelated aspects that encompass many levels of society.” The Wikipedia entry continues.
“Another example is Paramilitarization (Quasi-militarization in some media). This however refers to organizations outside the Armed Forces such as security forces, intelligence agencies, border guards etc.”
The definitions apply to the U.S. It has a militarized foreign policy, a society that glorifies the military, its effects are widespread institutionally and culturally, and all of this has a profoundly negative effects on the country’s already fragile democracy and fiscal policies.
Now, consider some examples of the evidence supporting the contention that the U.S. is a highly militaristic society.
#1 – Military Spending
Military spending – the fuel of the military-industrial complex and U.S. militarism
The military budget, adjusted for inflation, has gone up and down, since the Eisenhower years, though it has always been a significant part of the federal budget. It rose in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, declined during the 1970s, and rose again during the Reagan years. Then, in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union and during the Clinton years, military spending fell. Then it increased in the Bush years and the first years of Obama, reflecting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (See http://earlysignal.com/2015/02/14/history-defense-spending-one-chart.) The base military budget increased during the years of the Trump administration (https://thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320).
Kimberly Amadeo delves into the components of the US military budget, as of Sept 3, 2020 (that is, the last Trump proposal), and considers why the official military spending account is under-stated (https://thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320).
She estimates military spending to be $934 billion in the last Trump budget, covering the period October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021.” This is much more, she writes, “than the $705 billion outlined by the Department of Defense alone2.” Continuing: “The United States has many departments that support its defense. All these departments must be included to get an accurate picture of how much America spends on its military operations.” To fully grasp the full amount of military spending, “you need to look at four components,” she maintains. There is also a fifth component that Amadeo recognizes but doesn’t include in her total military spending count has been a major contributor to the national debt – and the interest on that debt. Here I quote from Amadeo’s article.
“First is the $636 billion base budget for the Department of Defense. Second is $69 billion in overseas contingency operations for DoD to fight the Islamic State group. These two, added together, total the $705 billion budgeted by the DoD.
“Third is the total of other agencies that protect our nation. These expenses are $228 billion.3 They include the Department of Veterans Affairs ($105 billion). Funding for the VA has been increased by $20 billion over 2018 levels. That’s to fund the VA MISSION Act to the VA’s health care system. The other agencies are: Homeland Security ($50 billion), the State Department ($44 billion), the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy ($20 billion), and the FBI and Cybersecurity in the Department of Justice ($9.8 billion).4”
“Additional funding goes to each department for readiness development. This includes $31 billion to the Army, $48 billion to the Navy, and $37 billion to the Air Force.
Service members will receive a 3% pay raise and an increase in their housing allowance. Family members receive $8 billion for child care, education, and professional development.
DoD will spend $21 billion on building maintenance and construction.”
The fifth component: Military spending, the national debt, and interest on the debt
In an article for the “Costs of War” project at the Watson Institute, Brown University, Heidi Peltier takes up this issue of how the military adds to the national debt and the interest that is paid on it. As indicated earlier, the interest can be added to the four components of military spending about which Amadeo writes (https://watsonbrown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2020/Peltier%202020%20-%20The%Cost%20of%Debt-finance%20War.pdf).
By January 2020, through the “18 years the U.S. has been engaged in the ‘Global War on Terror,’ mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has financed this war by borrowing funds rather than through alternative means such as raising taxes or issuing war bonds.” This means that “the costs of the post-9/11 wars include not only the expenses incurred for operations, equipment, and personnel, but also the interest costs on this debt.”
The result is that, since 2001, “these interest payments have been growing, resulting in more and more taxpayer dollars being wasted on interest payments rather than being channeled to more productive uses.” Peltier calculates “that the debt incurred for $2 trillion in direct war-related spending by the Department of Defense and State Department has already resulted in cumulative interest payments of $925 billion. Even if military interventions ceased immediately, interest payments would continue to rise, and will grow further as the U.S. continues its current military operations.”
Peltier adds: “When war is financed through debt, the costs are much greater than when it is financed through taxation or other revenues, since interest payments must be made as long as the debt is outstanding. In fact, interest payments can sometimes grow to beyond the level of the debt itself, as will likely be the case with the post-9/11 wars. If war spending ceased immediately, interest payments on the $2 trillion of existing war debt would rise to over $2 trillion by 2030 and to $6.5 trillion by 2050. These interest payments will grow larger as the U.S. continues its post-9/11 military interventions and continues amassing debt to pay for the costs of war.”
#2 – Biden goes along with another increase in military spending
It’s perhaps too early to determine how much the Biden administration will be influenced by the military-industrial complex. But early signs are that Biden and many Democrats in the House and Senate support continuing increases in the already inflated military budget, as indicated by the reference to an article by Alfred McCoy earlier in this post.
Despite the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Afghanistan, the war there is not ending. It will now emphasize drone warfare, as considered in #3, the next section of the post. US military forces will continue to be stationed in the region. The threat of nuclear war will grow. And, if the Republican subversion of the electoral system advances, Republican influence in the Congress and the states will further heighten the society’s militarization. If Trump is re-elected in 2024, the society will move closer to a modern form of fascism, aligned with other authoritarian governments, and the society’s militarism will intensify.
#3 – The U.S. war on Afghanistan will continue with drone warfare
Author, retired law professor, and writer Marjorie Cohn makes this argument, contending that U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan isn’t over. Rather, it is taking the form of illegal drone strikes, which should also be ended (https://truthout.org/articles/war-in-afghanistan-isnt-over-its-taking-the-form-of-illegal-drone-strikes). Cohn’s argument includes the following seven points.
One, “Three weeks after his administration launched a drone attack that killed 10 civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Joe Biden addressed the United Nations General Assembly. He proudly declared, ‘I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years, with the United States not at war.’”
Cohn points out that Biden misspoke and overlooks U.S. military engagement in many countries. Here are her examples. “The day before [made his statement], his administration had launched a drone strike in Syria, and three weeks earlier, the U.S. had conducted an air strike in Somalia. The commander-in-chief also apparently forgot that U.S. forces are still fighting in at least six different countries, including Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Niger. And he promised to continue bombing Afghanistan from afar,” or “over-the-horizon” attacks.
Two, “‘Our troops,” Cohn writes, “are not coming home. We need to be honest about that,’ Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) said during congressional testimony by Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month. ‘They are merely moving to other bases in the same region to conduct the same counterterrorism missions, including in Afghanistan.’”
Three, “As Biden pulled U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, his administration launched a hellfire missile from a U.S. drone in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, and then lied about it. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley immediately said it was a ‘righteous strike’ to protect U.S. troops as they withdrew.” However, a subsequent and extensive investigation conduced by The New York Times “revealed that Zemari Ahmadi was a U.S. aid worker, not an ISIS operative, and the ‘explosives’ in the Toyota that the drone strike targeted were most likely water bottles. Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, then called the strike “a tragic mistake.” The Times article also notes that past experience shows that “drone strikes” are “notoriously unreliable.” Cohn refers to a study “based on classified military data, conducted by Larry Lewis from the Center for Naval Analyses and Sarah Holewinski of the Center for Civilians in Conflict. They “found that the use of drones in Afghanistan caused 10 times more civilian deaths than piloted fighter aircraft.”
Four, there is continuity through recent administrations on the use of drone warfare. According to Cohn, “Biden is following in the footsteps of his four predecessors, all of whom also conducted illegal drone strikes that killed myriad civilians.”
Five, in addition to the lethality of drone warfare, Cohn continues, “[d]rone attacks mounted during the ‘war on terror’ are illegal. Although Biden pledged in his General Assembly speech to ‘apply and strengthen … the U.N. Charter’ and promised ‘adherence to international laws and treaties,’ his drone strikes, and those of his predecessors, violate both the Charter and the Geneva Conventions.”
Six, “Civilians can never legally be the target of military strikes,” but they are the victims. “Targeted or political assassinations, also called extrajudicial executions, violate international law,” according to Cohn. “Willful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions which is punishable as a war crime under the U.S. War Crimes Act. A targeted killing is only lawful if it is deemed necessary to protect life, and no other means — including capture or nonlethal incapacitation — is available to protect life.” Additionally:
“International humanitarian law requires that when military force is used, it must comply with both the conditions of distinction and proportionality. Distinction mandates that the attack must always distinguish between combatants and civilians. Proportionality means that the attack can’t be excessive in relation to the military advantage sought.”
“The United States has engaged in repeated violations of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. And the unlawful U.S. killing with drones violates the right to life enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, another treaty the U.S. has ratified. It says, ‘Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.’”
Seven, the society is not totally uninformed about drone warfare. Cohn gives the following example of anti-drone action. She writes there are those who condemn and protest drone warfare. Cohn cites how in June, “113 organizations dedicated to human rights, civil rights and civil liberties, racial, social environmental justice and veterans rights wrote a letter to Biden ‘to demand an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.’”
#4 – The U.S. government and military-industrial complex must find “enemies” to justify rising military budgets
In his introduction to an article by William Hartung, Tom Engelhardt makes this point (https://tomdispatch.com/the-profits-of-war). He writes: “Keep in mind that, in these last two decades, the U.S. has spent an estimated $8 trillion just on our forever wars (and the care of the veterans of those conflicts). Worse yet, possibly $21 trillion went into those conflicts and the militarization of American society that went with them. That scale of investment can’t continue without an enemy. Of course, from its earliest moments in office, the Biden foreign-policy team has been focused on “pivoting” from war-on-terror targets to provoking China. That’s included threatening naval gestures in the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea, a calling-together of allies to confront Beijing in an ever-more-militarized fashion, and greater support for Taiwan. It all adds up to an enemy-filled future in which Congress must continue to invest ever more staggering sums in the military-industrial complex rather than in this country’s true infrastructure or genuine needs.”
#5 – No one’s held accountable for the inflated costs of military weapons and services.
I draw again on Smithberger’s article. She writes:
“Here’s what we already know about how it all now works: weapon systems produced by the big defense firms with all those retired generals, former administration officials, and one-time congressional representatives on their boards (or lobbying for or consulting for them behind the scenes) regularly come in overpriced, are often delivered behind schedule, and repeatedly fail to have the capabilities advertised. Take, for instance, the new Ford class aircraft carriers, produced by Huntington Ingalls Industries, the sort of ships that have traditionally been used to show strength globally. In this case, however, the program’s development has been stifled by problems with its weapons elevators and the systems used to launch and recover its aircraft. Those problems have been costly enough to send the price for the first of those carriers soaring to $13.1 billion.
“Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet fighter, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, has an abysmal rate of combat readiness and currently comes in at more than $100 million per aircraft.”
Key members of the U.S. Congress benefit
Smithberger continues: “And yet, somehow, no one ever seems to be responsible for such programmatic failures and prices — certainly not the companies that make them (or all those retired military commanders sitting on their boards or working for them). One crucial reason for this lack of accountability is that key members of Congress serving on committees that should be overseeing such spending are often the top recipients of campaign contributions from the big weapons makers and their allies. And just as at the Pentagon, members of those committees or their staff often later become lobbyists for those very federal contractors.”
The Project on Government Oversight (where Smithberger works) has been uncovering overcharges in spare parts since the founding of the organization, including an infamous $435 hammer back in 1983. I’m sad to report that what, in the 1980s, was a seemingly outrageous $640 plastic toilet-seat cover for military airplanes now costs an eye-popping $10,000. A number of factors help explain such otherwise unimaginable prices, including the way contractors often retain intellectual property rights to many of the systems taxpayers funded to develop, legal loopholes that make it difficult for the government to challenge wild charges, and a system largely beholden to the interests of defense companies.
“The most recent and notorious case may be TransDigm, a company that has purchased other companies with a monopoly on providing spare parts for a number of weapon systems. That, in turn, gave it power to increase the prices of parts with little fear of losing business — once, receiving 9,400% in excess profits for a single half-inch metal pin. An investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found that TransDigm’s employees had been coached to resist providing cost or pricing information to the government, lest such overcharges be challenged.”
#6 – The U.S. public trust military leaders more than elected officials – the downside
This is the topic of an article by Jessica D. Blankshain and Max Z. Margulies. Blankshain is an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College. Margulies is the director of research and an assistant professor at the Modern War Institute at West Point (https://nytimes.com/2021/09/16/opinion/americans-trust-us-military.html). Their central question is “How and why did we engage in war for so long with so little to show for it?”
They argue that it is not public apathy or that most Americans are “almost totally insulated from the human and financial costs of war,” and therefore pay little attention to or have little reason to care about to U.S. military policies Call this the ‘the military is at war, Americans are at the mall’ theory.” They reject this argument for several reasons. “First, the perception that most Americans are ‘at the mall’ is not new. ‘Off the base, it was as if there was no war taking place,” one veteran said of Korea, America’s original ‘forgotten war’ (despite the use of the draft and a large number of veterans in the population). ‘The war wasn’t popular, and no one wanted to hear anything about it.’ Second, policymakers are unlikely to implement policies like a war tax or draft in a way that imposes substantial political costs, as the American experience in Vietnam demonstrated. Finally, the logic of this argument — which shames the public while putting the military on a pedestal — may actually be making things worse.”
Rather, Blankshain and Margulies take another position, namely that “[t]he fundamental problem is a yawning gap between trust in the military and trust in civilian institutions of government. This, according to polls, has been true for decades.” They point to one recent survey which “found that Americans were significantly more likely to say that the military has done a good job in Afghanistan over the past 20 years than to say the same of any relevant presidential administration.”
This “trust gap” is “one reason the public doesn’t critically engage with military policy is that civilians have been convinced that they should defer to those with military experience and that criticizing the wars is akin to failing to support the troops.” They add: “Excessive deference to the military has made Americans less willing to weigh in on public debates where they believe they lack expertise or moral standing.” Furthermore, since the end of the draft in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, there have “concerted efforts both to reassure Americans that such a force does not threaten civilian control by emphasizing the military’s professional, apolitical nature and to attract recruits and public support by emphasizing the special honor and status associated with military service.”
As trust in civilian leaders has declined, “Civilian policymakers and politicians have exacerbated the trust gap by attempting to turn the military’s popularity to their own advantage, using the military and military advice as either a shield to defend their policy choices or a weapon to attack their opponents.” Finally, they maintain, “service members and veterans have a perceived moral competence. There is a perception that their service and sacrifice mean they have earned the right to weigh in on conflicts in a way civilians have not.” But, Blankshain and Margulies maintain, this perception “risks downplaying the importance of other forms of public service and civic engagement.”
#7 – Little concern with the destruction and death caused by U.S. military forces and their allies.
Much of the U.S. public seem little concerned about the death and destruction in other countries caused by U.S. wars. They are undoubtedly and understandably concerned about the wellbeing of U.S. troops. But the victims of U.S. aggression are of less or no concern.
Nick Turse offers some documentation of the civilian casualties of U.S. wars and “the names you will never know” (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/09/27/forever-wars-names-youll-never-know).
Turse begins his account with an example from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Here’s what he writes.
“As a parting shot, on its way out of Afghanistan, the United States military launched a drone attack that the Pentagon called a ‘righteous strike.’ The final missile fired during 20 years of occupation, that August 29th airstrike averted an Islamic State car-bomb attack on the last American troops at Kabul’s airport. At least, that’s what the Pentagon told the world.
“Within two weeks, a New York Times investigation would dismantle that official narrative. Seven days later, even the Pentagon admitted it. Instead of killing an ISIS suicide bomber, the United States had slaughtered 10 civilians: Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group; three of his children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; three children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal, Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.”
Most Americans don’t know anything about these victims, let alone their names. Turse asks: “Twenty years after 9/11, with the Afghan War declared over, combat in Iraq set to conclude, and President Joe Biden announcing the end of ‘an era of major military operations to remake other countries,’ who will give their deaths another thought?” But this history of not-knowing goes back hundreds of years, as “Americans have been killing civilians since before there was a United States.” Turse gives this overview.
“At home and abroad, civilians—Pequots, African Americans, Cheyenne and Arapaho, Filipinos, Haitians, Japanese, Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, and Somalis, among others—have been shot, burned, and bombed to death. The slaughter at Sand Creek, the Bud Dajo massacre, the firebombing of Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the My Lai massacre—the United States has done what it can to sweep it all under the rug through denial, cover-ups, and the most effective means of all: forgetting.”
“Names Remembered and Names Forgotten”
“Over the last 20 years,” Turse writes, “the United States has conducted more than 93,300 air strikes—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen—that killed between 22,679 and 48,308 civilians, according to figures recently released by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. The total number of civilians who have died from direct violence in America’s wars since 9/11 tops out at 364,000 to 387,000, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.” These figures likely underestimate the true extent of the problem, as they say nothing about civilian casualties or the destruction of their communities.
Turse gives the names and circumstances of some of these U.S. war victims in Afghanistan. Here are a few examples, among others.
“There’s Malana. In 2019, at age 25, she had just given birth to a son, when her health began to deteriorate. Her relatives were driving her to a clinic in Afghanistan’s Khost Province when their vehicle was attacked by a U.S. drone, killing Malana and four others.
“Then there was Gulalai, one of seven people, including three women—two of them pregnant—who were shot and killed in a February 12, 2010, raid by Special Operations forces in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province.”
The killing sometimes occurred when the U.S. Air Force “carried out ‘signature strikes’ that executed unknown people due to suspicious behavior…like holding a weapon in places where, as in this country, firearms were ubiquitous—and then counted them as enemy dead.”
Then there were similarly imprecise targeted assassinations. Turse refers to secret documents obtained by the Intercept Secret, which is about a drone strike campaign called Operation Haymaker in 2011 and 2012. The strike was intended to “assassinate 35 high-value al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, [but] ended up killing 200 people.” Turse adds: “Of course, we don’t know who they were. But there were many other Afghans killed in airstrikes simply because all ‘military-age males’ were “automatically be classified as combatants unless proven innocent.”
Further, for two decades American-funded warlords and militiamen “murdered, raped, or shook-down the very people this country was supposedly protecting. Again, “no one knows the names of all those killed by such allies who were being advised, trained, armed, and funded by the United States.”
In 2020, Turse wrote “4,500 words for the New York Times Magazine about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso. As I noted then, that nation was one of the largest recipients of American security aid in West Africa, even though the State Department admitted that U.S.-backed forces were implicated in a litany of human-rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.”
Through it all, the U.S. government builds “memorials and monuments commemorating America’s wars and fallen soldiers. As one example, among others, Turse refers to “one of the most celebrated monuments in Washington, D.C. More than 58,000 men and women are represented on the visually arresting black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.” Citing celebrated Vietnam War photographer Philip Jones Griffiths, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial spans a total of 400 feet, but it would take a memorial nine miles long for just the Vietnamese dead, not “the countless Cambodians, Laotians, Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, and Yemenis.”
Turse conclusion is mixed. On the one hand, he writes, “there have always been anti-war and pacifist groups opposed to all of the post-WWII wars.” However, “they have mostly failed to affect the overall trends and advances to war by the propaganda of the military-industrial complex.” On the other hand, “the military policymakers have not eliminated anti-war movements
Delving into history, U.S. citizens mis-remember post-WWII wars
John Dower, professor emeritus of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has done award-winning research on America’s wars after WWII. His book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II (2017), provides an exemplary analysis of the military aspect of U.S. foreign policy during this period in U.S. history. In an article on Tom Dispatch (August 2, 2021),“Memory Loss in the Garden of Violence,” he considers how the “memory” of Americans about the post-WWII wars and how it reflects a distorted reality of the causes and effects of these wars (https://tomdispatch.com/memory-loss-in-the-garden-of-violence).
Such memories are shaped by policymakers who want public support for the misbegotten and counterproductive wars they advance. They lie and do whatever they can to encourage pro-war public sentiments. Nonetheless, they need public support to legitimate their war initiatives. By the way, Joseph Masco does a masterful job in identifying the details on how public opinion has been manipulated in his book, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2014).
Back to Dower, who finds that Americans generally have a selective remembrance of America’s wars. And such memories are preserved and reinforced by “war memorials and memorial days.” U.S. soldiers are thought of as the victims of war – and they are, but they are hardly the only ones.
Dower continues: “Still, the American way of remembering and forgetting its wars is distinctive for several reasons. Geographically, the nation is much more secure than other countries. Alone among major powers, it escaped devastation in World War II, and has been unmatched in wealth and power ever since. Despite panic about Communist threats in the past and Islamist and North Korean threats in the present, the United States has never been seriously imperiled by outside forces. Apart from the Civil War, its war-related fatalities have been tragic but markedly lower than the military and civilian death tolls of other nations, invariably including America’s adversaries.”
Dower uses the concept “asymmetry” to call attention to how U.S. troops are praised, while civilian causalities are largely disregarded. Here’s what he writes. “Asymmetry in the human costs of conflicts involving U.S. forces has been the pattern ever since the decimation of Amerindians and the American conquest of the Philippines between 1899 and 1902. The State Department’s Office of the Historian puts the death toll in the latter war at “over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants,” and proceeds to add that “as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.” (Among other precipitating causes for those noncombatant deaths, U.S. troops shot most of the water buffalo farmers relied on to produce their crops.) Many scholarly accounts now offer higher estimates for Filipino civilian fatalities.
“Much the same morbid asymmetry characterizes war-related deaths in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War of 1991, and the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq following September 11, 2001.”
The American asymmetrical views of casualties is linked to the view that the U.S. is an “exceptional” country. Dower puts it this way: “In paeans to ‘American exceptionalism,’ it is an article of faith that the highest values of Western and Judeo-Christian civilization guide the nation’s conduct — to which Americans add their country’s purportedly unique embrace of democracy, respect for each and every individual, and stalwart defense of a ‘rules-based’ international order.”
Such beliefs rest on and reinforce selective memory. Dower gives the example of “Terror,” which “has become a word applied to others, never to oneself. Though, he reminds us, that during ‘World War II, U.S. and British strategic-bombing planners explicitly regarded their firebombing of enemy cities as terror bombing, and identified destroying the morale of noncombatants in enemy territory as necessary and morally acceptable. Shortly after the Allied devastation of the German city of Dresden in February 1945, Winston Churchill, whose bust circulates in and out of the presidential Oval Office in Washington (it is currently in), referred to the ‘bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts.’”
The U.S. also engaged in carpet bombing in Japan, “pulverizing 64 cities prior to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.” Dower notes: “Few if any American public figures recognized or cared” care about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, where the bomb’s blast and radiation poisoning killed around 140,000, and of Nagasaki, where 60,000 to 70,000 were killed.
Dower also goes touches on subsequent terror bombing wages by the U.S. Air Force in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He makes the point again that Americans have little or no recollection of these wars. He refers to the following evidence.
“The official history of the air war in Korea (The United States Air Force in Korea 1950-1953) records that U.S.-led United Nations air forces flew more than one million sorties and, all told, delivered a total of 698,000 tons of ordnance against the enemy.” According to one estimate, three million civilian Koreans were killed in the process.
“The payload of bombs unloaded on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos between the mid-1960s and 1973 is commonly reckoned to have been between seven and eight million tons — well over 40 times the tonnage dropped on the Japanese home islands in World War II. Estimates of total deaths vary, but are all exceedingly high. In a Washington Post article in 2012, John Tirman noted that ‘by several scholarly estimates, Vietnamese military and civilian deaths ranged from 1.5 million to 3.8 million, with the U.S.-led campaign in Cambodia resulting in 600,000 to 800,000 deaths, and Laotian war mortality estimated at about 1 million.’”
#8 – The U.S. government supports the continuation and improvement of the nuclear arsenal
Here, as follows, are excerpts from a post I sent out on February 7, 2020
The current post was inspired by the 2020 annual report of the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists specifying its decision to move the minute hand on the “doomsday clock” closer to midnight (end-game for humanity) than ever before in the over 70 years of such decisions. This year’s decision was based on their assessments of the chances for nuclear war and the ongoing cataclysmic advances of the climate crisis.
In hindsight, the creation of atomic bombs in the early 1940s appears to have been an expression of the height of human folly by many knowledgeable people and scientists. Whatever, these terribly destructive weapons are a part of present day reality and most civilian and military leaders in the US and Russia, which alone have 93% of the warheads, view them as vital and necessary components of their military arsenals, while basing their views on a hollow and ultimately counter-productive conceptions of nationalism, “national security,” a vapid patriotism, and the self-serving assumption that nuclear arsenals can be managed in ways that deter the use of these weapons. (Richard Falk takes issue with the view that the existing nuclear arsenals can be managed and makes an argument for banning these weapons: https://popularresistance.org/contesting-management-or-transformation-an-urgent-challenge.
While the issue does not attract much mainstream media attention, it continues to be of utmost importance with 15,500 nuclear weapons stockpiled in the world, according to the Arms Control Association. That includes nuclear warheads that are on delivery vehicles and ready to be launched and thousands of warheads in non-operational status that can readily be made operational (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).
Some of these warheads are on missiles located on launching pads in the US, on submarines, and on large bombers – and are ready to be launched in just minutes. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that “the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert….around 3,500 total—are deployed on other submarines or bombers, or kept in reserve” (http://www.ucs.usa.org/nuclear-weapons/hair-trigger-alert#.WGbjjeQzXIU). In the meantime, the US military is planning to introduce “‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons on submarine-launched ballistic missiles – weapons that could cause as much damage as the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The relatively lower-yield of such warheads makes them more likely to be used in a wider range of situations considered to be threatening by the US military command (http://truth-out.org/news/item/43460-pentagon-to-allow-nuclear-responses-to-non-nuclear-attacks).
Perhaps the gravest hotspot, or potential nuclear war situation, is in the highly rancorous and hostile relations between Pakistan (130 nuclear weapons) and India (120 nuclear weapons), particularly over the disputed control of Kashmir. These are two nuclear powers whose troops are within miles of one another. Any slight, accidental, or misunderstood provocation could be the spark that leads to the use of nuclear weapons. And it appears that the Trump administration is aching for the opportunity to wage war on Iran.
There are other nuclear powers, including England, France, China, Israel, and North Korea. At the same time, dozens of countries have the capacity to build nuclear warheads and the means to use them. At one time, six other countries had nuclear weapons but agreed to give them up (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa, Iraq, and Libya). There were four other countries on their way to having nuclear weapons and then “shelved their nuclear weapons’ programs” (Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan). These figures come from: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).
“Virtually any industrialized nation today has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons within several years if the decision to do so were made. Nations already possessing substantial nuclear technology and arms industries could do so in no more than a year or two. The larger industrial nations (Japan and Germany for example) could, within several years of deciding to do so, build arsenals rivaling those planned by Russia and the U.S. for the turn of the millennium….” (http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq7-5.html).
The point is that the human world is already in a situation in which any one of the nuclear states could use their weapons for any one of a number of reasons – to extend power, preserve a perceived credibility, destroy an “enemy,” avoid a military defeat, or by accident.
It can be safely assumed that most citizens who even think about these weapons have no idea of how fragile nuclear weapons launching technology and procedures are. Couple this with a president who thinks in tweeter-length thoughts, who likes being right and winning every time, who glories in the spotlight, and you end up with an irrational and accident-prone nuclear weapons control and command system.
In a recent article published September 26, 2021 on Common Dreams, Jake Johnson reports on how United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons in order to avoid “nuclear annihilation” (https://commondreams.org/2021/09/26/un-chief-warns-humanity-unacceptably-close-nuclear-annihilation). According to Johnson, Guterres made the statement at a disarmament conference on September 23 where “he urged all nations that possess nuclear technology to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which—if enacted—would prohibit ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.’ The United States—the only country that has used nuclear weapons in war—is among the eight nuclear-equipped nations that have yet to ratify the CTBT.”
This “international day” was marked in the U.S. by anti-war veterans who implored President Joe Biden to adopt a ‘no first use’ policy and ‘make that policy credible by publicly decommissioning U.S. ICBMs that can only be used in a first strike.” In an open letter, the advocacy group Veterans for Peace reads,
“We represent millions of people who want nothing more than to see the United States make a dramatic ‘Pivot to Peace.’ What better place to start than to step back from the brink of nuclear war? The billions of U.S. tax dollars saved could be applied to the very real national security threats of the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. What better legacy for the Biden administration than to begin a process that could lead to worldwide nuclear disarmament.”
However, the Biden administration is paying little or no attention to such pleas. Johnson points out that “the Biden administration’s first budget request ‘would continue the expensive and controversial nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization efforts pursued by the Trump administration pending the outcome of the Nuclear Posture Review.” The administration “also recently announced a new ‘security alliance’ with Britain and Australia that will help equip the latter nation with nuclear-armed submarines.
While many U.S. historians and commentators advance the idea that the U.S. is an exceptional country that wants to foster peace in the world, the record belies such claims. It would take nothing less than a transformational shift in the present militaristic foreign policy along the lines referred to in the “Introduction.”
The Biden administration seems unlikely to undertake such a task. In the meantime, there will continue to be citizens, groups, and movements that are “anti-war.” Wikipedia has an entry, “List of anti-war organizations” from around the world, including the U.S. (https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti_war_organizations).
“These groups range from temporary coalitions which address one war or pending war, to more permanent structured organizations which work to end the concept of war and the factors which lead to large-scale destructive conflicts. The overwhelming majority do so in a nonviolent manner. The following list of anti-war organizations highlights past and present anti-war groups from across the world.” There are on the list 63 anti-war groups of some size located in the U.S.
Such anti-war groups helped, for example, to end the Vietnam War, end ground-level nuclear bomb testing, end intermediate nuclear weapons capabilities in Europe. As the saying goes, they helped keep the option of peace alive. However, the evidence in this post indicates that they have been by and large unsuccessful.
Perhaps, it will take a war in which nuclear weapons are used to jolt Americans into thinking differently about war and peace and then electing peace-minded elected representatives to Washington. This is the sad lesson of the novel, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, authored by Elliott Ackerman and Admiral Jim Stavridis. Perhaps, we can avoid such madness and find peaceful paths to a better world.