By Leon Felkins, (email: firstname.lastname@example.org -- or see my homepage)
[Note: This essay was originally published in the ezine, pissedOff and may be accessed there by clicking here. Be sure to check out pissedOff as it has many more terrific articles by some of our best authors on the subject of USA culture.]
Well, I didn't remain in this state of insanity for very long! As I read on, I found that the reason that the military wants to cut back on troop strength is so they can purchase additional "sophisticated" weapons. So much for our savings. Based on the government's history on managing sophisticated weapons programs, not only will there not be any savings, but the cost is likely to be many times over what the troops cost.
Why would they want to do this? To be more capable in fighting any future wars? To diminish the nasty problem brought on by making the military "coed"? You dreamer you. Never would the motives of the government be that straightforward! No, the reasons are more consistent with the normal, self-interest, motivations of politicians, bureaucrats and those that thrive off of government hand-outs. Further reflection and the reasons why the so-called cut-back would be asked for became obvious.
Profitable to who? The Politician/Military/Industry Complex (PMIC), that's who. President Eisenhower first brought this horrid machine to our attention. While it hasn't received a lot of attention lately, that doesn't mean it has gone away. By no means -- it is stronger, more massive, and more devious than ever. Let me elaborate.
Building weapon systems is a huge business in the USA. It represents a major part of our gross national product (GNP). Any operation in which such a massive amount of money is involved does not leave its success or failure up to amateurs, the citizens, or the needs dictated by the status of affairs between nations. The fact that the Soviet Union went away, and the fact that its existence was given as the basis for our massive military buildup in no way provided justification for making extensive cutbacks in our military spending! In a matter of seconds after the Soviet Union collapsed, the military and the politicians were able to come up with solid reasons why we shouldn't get in any hurry about cutting back the size of our operations.
To the politician, keeping the large military systems companies in business means votes and financing. A politician is well aware of the jobs at stake if she has military facilities or large aero-space/weapons systems manufacturers in his district or state. She dare not ever suggest cutting back any of these essentially industrial welfare programs in her district! In fact, politicians and the industrial cohorts are clever enough to spread out the procurement for most major systems over as many states of the union as possible. Now the politicians of any state that has a small piece of the multi-billion dollar pie, say a few million dollars, will be hesitant to suggest cancelling the project. Very clever.
The financing of the campaigns and other possible financial benefits is also greatly enhanced by a cozy arrangement between the politician and the industrial partners. The exposure of President Clinton's financing has given us a view of just how despicable the business of campaign financing really is. You will be closer to reality if you accept that this sort of thing is going on with essentially all politicians than you will be if you think only Clinton is guilty.
While most communities will fight to keep some useless military base intact as long as they can and the politician will be concerned about the votes lost if they lose, there are even more potential votes related to having military systems manufacturers in the community. Not only does industry provide more jobs, but the jobs pay more and are more interesting, in general. Again, the politician benefits by shifting funds to industry from troops.
The relationship between the military executives, the politicians, and the industry leaders is very intimate. The perks that all enjoy -- all paid for by you and me -- are extremely extravagant which we don't have the space to dwell on here. But we should look at the cozy phenomenon called "The Revolving Door". When politicians get booted out, get bored, or just see that grass a little greener on the other side, they make sure their lucrative pension is in order, leave the government and head straight over to one of the large industries that they have been "monitoring" for the last many years for we citizens. There they accept a high paid position in management or -- more often -- become a lobbyist in Congress for the company. You see, a retired politician enjoys special privileges as a lobbyist. They get to go wherever they want to and meet who ever they want to. You and I -- again -- pay their wages!
The high up military that have been making sure that certain huge contract awards go to certain companies, once they have earned their nice retirement, can now be rewarded with a fat job with one of the big industrial companies. The company is willing to pay them an inflated salary -- not just for the good service in the past -- but for the special influence that they will have in getting new contract awards from their peers and associates still at the Pentagon. And you thought awards were based on competition and merit didn't you. You are so innocent!
This is an important factor. Everyone, including politicians, is impressed by the sophistication in modern weapon systems. Think about how much TV time during the Gulf War was devoted to the pinpoint destruction (maybe exaggerated just a bit) wrought by the intelligent missiles launched by our military compared to what the troops were doing. Politicians and the Pentagon thrive on attention. They get it with sophistication -- not the primitive activities of a bunch of dog-faced soldiers.
Complex systems require highly educated and trained personnel to support them. This in turn requires that universities turn out more scientists and engineers. You need very little of that with the troops.
Politicians like vagueness when it comes to spending -- the more the better. They also like situations in which money has to flow but there is "little they can do about it". Notice how they slobber over each other with delight whenever there is a natural disaster.Surely no one can object to spending (in excess of the budget) when some part of the contrary has been hit by a natural disaster! That would be heartless. When a large military system's budget is out of control, we have a similar situation.
First off, the spending is massive for military projects. We have planes now that cost more than a thousand million dollars each! The more massive, the less attention is paid to an overrun in absolute amounts. That is if you have a two million dollar project and it over runs by a million, then people notice. But what if it is a billion dollar project? One million overrun is insignificant.
And the higher the stakes the more difficult it is to limit the spending. If we have already spent 50 billion dollars on some flaky new guided missile system that still doesn't work, do we want to cancel the program? Tough decision. And they know it.
On the other hand, consider how straightforward the spending for troops is. There is no gamble. With a simple spreadsheet you can pretty well determine what your costs will be. Just multiply the average salary of each troop by the total number and add a little for provisions and retirement. Not too difficult. That's why they don't like it.
Of course, both the military and the politicians like to use their resources. For one thing, it is fun to play war games and for another, you can't buy new stuff unless the old stuff is used up (or becomes obsolete!). The problem is that the folks back home -- particularly the "Soccer Moms" that are the source of so many votes -- are likely to get bent out of shape over a few hundred troops getting pulverized. Not so, with missiles, radars, and tanks. Who cares if they are blown up are simply left to rot somewhere (billions of dollars worth of stuff was trashed and/or abandoned in Vietnam in our hasty exit).
While guiding a multi-million dollar missile through the exhaust vent of a communications building from 200 miles away is quite an impressive feat for the TV audience, it is actually not all that effective in a real war. In spite of the success of these techniques in the barren deserts of Iraq, bombing is notoriously ineffective in most wartime situations. The troops of World War II were hit with massive resistance in the islands of the Pacific after they had been pulverized for days with continuous bombing. It seems to be most effective against civilian targets. In a real war, hand-to-hand combat by the foot soldiers would still be necessary -- as was demonstrated by our failed war in Vietnam.
But we Americans have lost the will to combat in a face to face situation. We prefer to drop our load of bombs from 15,000 feet and let "God pick up the pieces". That is, the killing of civilians and other random destruction that results from high altitude carpet bombing does not bother our conscience like face-to-face killing does. It is a characteristic of humans, at least modern humans, that extensive mayhem with much death and destruction, not actually seen is not acknowledged by our consciences. This, of course, is a great benefit for the highly sophisticated weapon systems. Not so good for the innocent civilian on the ground, however.
The government never, never makes any cutback for your benefit and mine. There is always a selfish reason, usually not stated. The TV Talking Heads state that the reason for the troop cutback is to make the military more "efficient". Nonsense. In time of war, trained troops may turn out to be very useful. The point to remember is that the concept being blathered about has not been proven. And it is not likely to be. Because they are simply not interested.
What they are interested in is the marketing of large, complex, expensive weapon systems. There is profit to be made all around and votes to be harvested by the contributing politicians (not just votes either, they have been known to accept small financial contributions).