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Wednesday, July 5, 2006 04:22 am

Caging the beast

Think the U.S. military is on our side? Think again.

Kill every buffalo you can . . . every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” — Col. R.I. Dodge, Fort McPherson, 1867
We are going to fight them and impose our will on them and we will capture them or . . . kill them until we have imposed law and order in this country. We dominate the scene and we will continue to impose our will on this country.” – L. Paul Bremer, U.S. administrator of occupied Iraq, 2003
The American way of life is predicated on a permanent war economy. Our society would collapse without perpetual violence against weaker nations and rape of the natural world. From the beginning, our national psyche has been occupied by warmongers and our foreign policy dictated by war profiteers. Democratic control over the American military/capitalist complex was always tenuous, but the beast has now put the leash on its master. We do not control the military; it controls us. The Nigerian poet Ben Okri once wrote that a nation is the stories it tells itself. If these stories are lies, the nation will suffer the consequences of those lies. One of our nation’s lies is that our military is somehow unique, that whatever American soldiers do is by nature good and a blessing for the country they are destroying. Perhaps the most dangerous lie of all is the belief that they are “our” troops and that they serve “us.” The U.S. military is a state within a state, in many ways similar to the Reichswehr¬†of Germany’s Weimar Republic. It is a parallel society of like-minded people whose collective worldview is far to the right of that of the society that finances it. Politically this organization is untouchable. Not a single politician at the national level has the courage to challenge the Pentagon and its corporate masters. We civilians pay for the military, but it takes its orders from ExxonMobil, General Electric, Boeing, and a host of other corporations. And how we pay! The Pentagon’s budget for 2007 stands at a $462.7 billion, not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This amounts to 52.7 percent of discretionary spending (not including Social Security and Medicare) by the federal government. If one includes funding for what is now known simply as “the long war,” we spend more on our military than do all other nations on Earth combined. Some more perspective: Whereas military spending represents 52.7 percent of discretionary spending, education accounts for 6.5 percent ($57 billion) and health gets 6.1 percent ($53 billion). According to the National Priorities Project, the $290 billion spent in Iraq so far would have been enough to hire 5 million new public-school teachers or provide 14 million full-ride scholarships to public universities. This is a moral scandal, yet there is absolutely no chance that our democratic system will address, much less correct, this problem. The interests that own the military are the same interests that control the American political system. Politicians who challenge the military/capitalist complex quickly lose funding and are removed from Washington. The Soviet Politburo was not less democratic than the system we have now. Foreign threats have a tendency to miraculously appear whenever the phrase “peace dividend” is tossed around in Congress. In 1950, America was making plans to divert military spending to social programs when the Korean War began. No sooner than that conflict had ended was it decided that the supposed Soviet “missile gap” of the late ’50s was cause for increased military spending. Vietnam was wrapped up when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, once again opening the floodgates for money to the Pentagon. The Soviet Union was falling apart when it was decided that we absolutely had to oust Saddam Hussein from that bastion of democracy, Kuwait. There is no civilian control over the Pentagon. Iraqi resistance fighters have more influence over our foreign policy than we Americans do. It appears likely that American troops will ultimately prove to be “dead-enders” (as Donald Rumsfeld would say) in Iraq, but the military/capitalist complex will continue to operate outside of civil control. Short of economic collapse or complete military defeat, there is no way that the beast can be put back in its cage. The road ahead could be rough.