Z-Net Piece on US MIlitary

Paul Flewers hatchet.job at virgin.net
Mon Sep 10 06:52:47 MDT 2001

List members may be interested in this Z-Net piece.

Paul F



By Edward S Herman

Just about the time George Orwell published his novel 1984, shortly
after the end of World War II, the U.S. "War Department" was renamed the
"Defense Department." This name change also coincided with the fact that
the United States was then the sole possessor of nuclear weapons and had
an overwhelming military superiority. In effect, therefore, the United
States had no "defense" problem at all. Its military establishment could
be and was designed to make war and to participate with the CIA in
aggression and subversion in distant places like Iran, Indochina, and
Indonesia, in the interest of enlarging the U.S. global domain,
certainly not to protect the United States against any military threat
to its own territory.

Its principal rival, the Soviet Union, had suffered devastating losses
in World War II, and while the Soviets had a large army they were in no
position to engage in military adventures abroad. The Soviets had to
worry about defending themselves against a U.S. attack, which was a far
more serious threat in the early post World War II years than any Soviet
invasion of Western Europe. A preemptive strike against the Soviet Union
with atomic weapons was debated intensively within the U.S. military
establishment, and the secret 1950 National Security Council Report 68
was clearly premised on the belief that the United States was well
positioned to destabilize the Soviet Union (which it was already engaged
in doing and pursued for many years). Nevertheless, the propaganda
system of the West successfully conveyed the notion that the Soviet
Union posed an imminent invasion threat to Western Europe as part of an
alleged plan of world conquest. This propaganda was known by informed
officials to be false, but they welcomed and cultivated it as a means of
mobilizing the population to accept Cold War militarization and
associated policies, such as the reimposition of a rightwing police
state in Greece and support of the French recolonization of Indochina in
the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Subsequently, as the Soviet Union acquired nuclear arms, and then even
obtained a missile capability, the preemptive strike option was made
more problematic, but the United States always maintained a huge
superiority in quality and strategic location of its weaponry, and in
many key sectors it had a quantitative edge as well. Despite this, the
members of the world's finest propaganda system reported and failed to
criticize the military-industrial complex (MIC) claim that Soviet
equality or superiority in nuclear arms justified a major arms buildup.
One of the sick-comic features of the years 1958 well into the 1980s was
the serial "gaps" alleged in U.S. weapons capability relative to the
menacing Soviets-- missile gaps, throw-weight gaps, windows of
vulnerability, etc.-- every one of them disinformation, but every one of
them effectively propagandized with the help of the mainstream media.
Tom Gervasi's The Myth of Soviet Military Superiority, published in
1986, is still worth reading for its demonstration of both the fraud of
the gap allegations and the mainstream media's service in allowing these
lies to be used to justify the Reagan arms buildup of the 1980s.
(Gervasi's book was never reviewed or mentioned in the New York Times
and was hysterically trashed in the Washington Post.)

Another closely related feature of U.S. "defense" policy from early in
the post World War II era was its aggressive pushing of the arms race.
The United States was ahead from the beginning and its leaders intended
to keep it ahead by constant innovation, at the expense of civilian
welfare (resources diverted from the civilian sector to arms), and even
at the expense of national security as an arms race featuring ever more
capable nuclear armaments was dangerous. Herbert York, selected by
President Eisenhower to be the first director of Pentagon research in
the 1950s, declared in his classic Road To Oblivion (1970), that U.S.
military power had advanced steadily since 1945, "while at the same time
our national security has been rapidly and inexorably decreasing." He
also stated that the nuclear arms race had been fueled by U.S.
initiatives at every critical point (pp. 226, 231- 2).

This arms race was also obviously costly to the rest of the world,
forced to follow in the U.S. wake, but the U.S. leadership didn't care
about this, and was actually pleased at its effects on the Soviet Union,
a poor country that could ill afford such expenditures that were
diverted from serving its civil society. There were even explicit
statements by U.S. officials dating from the mid-1950s, suggesting that
this beggaring of the Soviet Union was a real plus and aim of the U.S.'s
forcing of an arms race, a part of the long-term destabilization effort.

So the quest for arms superiority was useful in beggaring rivals by
forcing them to spend for what was REALLY "defense" for them. It was
also useful in allowing small rivals to be crushed militarily, ending
any "threat of a good example" in Nicaragua and the effective pursuit of
a non-market-oriented development path in Vietnam and elsewhere. Posing
a security threat to them also made these rivals more authoritarian,
weakening both their flexibility and attractiveness to others as well as
to their own citizens.

Arms superiority also facilitated control over allied regimes and
independent Third World countries, partly by the use of military
alliances like NATO as a control device, partly by cultivating
relationships with military establishments that were used as beachheads
or proxies to overthrow social democratic governments (done
systematically in Latin America after World War II, as described in
Penny Lernoux's Cry of the People [1980], and my Real Terror Network
[1982]). Military power complemented financial power in forcing
countries into the global economic system and neoliberal dependency.

Although it was estimated during the Cold War years that at least 50
percent of the U.S. military budget was to counter Soviet power, the
collapse of the Soviet Union and reduction of the Russian GDP to the
level of the Netherlands has not produced a "peace dividend" for the
U.S. public; the military budget dropped by some 12 percent from its
peak in 1989 to a trough in 1996, but has now recovered those losses and
with bipartisan help the MIC is pressing for more. It is clear once
again that this has nothing to do with "defense" but is grounded in the
ability of the MIC to command resources, and, in addition to sheer
boondoggling in the interest of profits, in its search for offensive
capability to project U.S. power across the globe. (Despite the
conservatives' devotion to giving "the people" what they want, a
rationale for major tax reductions, the fact that the public wants a
"dramatic reduction in defense spending--on the average, by 24 percent"
according to public opinion analyst Steven Kull--does not affect
conservative [i.e., Republican and New Democrat] actions in actual
spending decisions; these are shaped by higher considerations.)

The irrelevance of the public interest in such decision-making is
dramatically evident in the Bush team's push for a National Missile
Defense (NMD). This project is deeply  irresponsible and literally
insane in terms of public welfare at home and abroad. Its rationale in
terms of the "rogue" threat is laughable--a throwback to the Nixon era
defense of an early missile program as needed for a China threat, long
before China even had a single missile with which it might commit
national suicide--and Bush has had to behave harshly toward North Korea
in order to preserve a rogue to do the threatening! The "China problem"
today is how to reconcile the China lobby's interest in reaching that
gigantic market and the MIC lobby's need for a rogue and threat big
enough to justify vast and destabilizing expenditures with a pretended
"defense" need.

There is extensive evidence in government reports that its sponsors not
only know very well that the NMD program has an offensive potential, but
that this is what they understand to be its main role (see Joseph
Gerson's "In Dark Times: The politics and geopolitics of missile
'defenses'," Z Magazine, July-August 2001). They are also well aware
that it will force other governments to respond in a new arms race. So
this program is not about "defense," but beyond the sheer boondoggling
aspect is rather an attempt to advance the U.S. offensive capability in
order to allow this country to impose its will on foreigners.

But the mainstream media, while allowing moderate criticism of the rush
to an NMD and the imminent unilateral abrogation of the ABM treaty, do
not stress, and rarely even mention, that this new system will have an
important offensive capability and that its Pentagon supporters give
this heavy weight in urging its adoption. The media pretend that it is a
defensive weapon and that the main issue is whether it will be effective
in this defense role. This helps make the system seem almost reasonable,
as we certainly want "national security" protection against rogues. It
is thus a kind of normalization of irresponsibility and insanity,
perfectly in line with past media performance that failed to challenge
either the fraudulent "gaps" and arms race based on them, or the
numerous boondoggles past and present.

The corporate community, including the MIC contractors and global firms
benefiting from U.S. offensive power in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and
elsewhere, supported George W. Bush with enthusiasm, as he will keep
those environmentalists and peaceniks in check and aggressively push the
corporate agenda. A strong offense serves their interests, if not that
of ordinary citizens. But we ordinary citizens, left out of this
corporate and lunatic military calculus, should be fighting this agenda
furiously. A first step, surely, must be to laugh at the notion of a
"defense budget." Let us call it by its right name--an "offense budget,"
or even an "offense and boondoggle budget."

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