A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Does Our Standing Army Stand For?

Come on people, let’s use our intelligence, courage, reason and observational capacities, all those things that we would often rather not use, and try to answer some simple and obvious questions.  You know cognitive dissonance, right, when the elements of a story don’t comport with other elements of the same story; like when your son arrives home in 45 minutes from 60 miles away and claims to have never gone over 65 miles per hour; and you really want to believe him.

What about needing to spend 1.2 trillion dollars a year on a standing army and national security (sic) apparatus (wars extra – obviously a moving army would cost more, you old silly!)?   Armies are for protecting – something – from an enemy; so there must be an enemy.  That would be, at the moment, Muslim terrorists (with the Ruskies and the Chinese hiding in the bushes).  So, 1.2 trillion dollars US (wars extra) for unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles (with missiles extra), urban use weapon systems, guided missile ships, smart shoulder arms, supersonic stealth aircraft, sub-lethal crowd control technologies (adaptable as lethal force multipliers), no fly lists, intelligence/spy agencies, plus a whole bunch more stuff all controlled by a professional army/police force and bureaucracies [1]– the world’s most highly trained professional soldiers!  This force of millions of GI soldiers and contractors, indomitable weapons and surveillance systems are for fighting a few thousand organized “terrorists” whose weapons are short range shoulder arms, improvised low yield bombs and stealthy methods…. Now just how fast were you going son?

Let us assume for a moment that the people driving this military/security bus are not completely insane, that there are real reasons for these expenditures and methods – just not the ones we are being told.  Three questions: (1) Who is being directly benefited by the present design of the security apparatus? (2) Who is the military/security apparatus protecting? (3) Who are the present and future targets of military action?

Who is being directly benefited: the most direct economic benefit goes to the suppliers of military/security needs and services, consumables and capital equipment (which in the case of war becomes consumable).  Politicians benefit by delivering economic development based on military supplying industries to their constituents. The officer/bureaucracy corps benefit more diffusely by employment, status and power, while the soldier/worker benefits much of the time by high levels of basic material and social support, employment and a paternal environment – I say, ‘much of the time’, since the soldiers may be required to take considerable risk for these benefits.

Who is the military/security apparatus protecting: Major General Smedley Butler (1881-1940), US Marines, gave his answer in the 1930s: the economic elite.  He claimed that he was an enforcer for American business.  That was, of course, at a simpler time when there was American business; today the situation is more complex and the US Military seems to be the international enforcer for multinational corporations [2].  This is not to say that the US military/security apparatus will not protect ‘the people’, but only to the extent useful to and desired by the economic elite. 

We are told that the military/security apparatus is protecting our way of life, but just whose way of life would that be? Is my personal way of life being protected by the actions currently being taken in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan [3]?  Perhaps I am being selfish, asking that the paltry sums of money that I pay in taxes be applied in ways that protect my way of life; then are these actions protecting the hundreds of millions of other inhabitants of this nation?  To answer that we would have to imagine what would happen if our military were to leave those places.

The unrest would continue without our military and security presence, so that part would not change.  People would still be mistreated and killed until new structures of equilibrium were formed; but such structures can’t begin to be created until outside influences either leave or become an accepted permanent part of the place, the latter an unlikely eventuality anywhere in the Middle East. 

So leaving or not would have little effect on the general form of the immediate situation in those countries since the conflicts are based mostly in civil strife, much exacerbated by the presence of an outside force – except that adaptation to a new stable structure could begin.  The economic elites supported by our military, however, would either lose power in the situation or would have to find new military powers to support them.  Oil and associated companies, construction contractors, military support contractors, private military and security companies: all of these and more could/would experience huge losses if the US left the middle east militarily and only engaged diplomatically.

Of course, many companies could continue to engage economically, but without the billions being put into the countries as a result of the military action and without the protection and persuasive power of the military, economic opportunity would not be as available or appealing.

To put it as simply as possible: claims of direct benefits of safety for the American people from these military actions are lies, damned lies; flagrant, horrific, disgusting, obscene lies. These actions steal our present, steal our future, enrage the world against us with the same kind of bigotry that we are expected to show towards “our enemies.”  That takes care of that question.

Who are the present and future targets of military action:  The US has a huge military/security apparatus requiring more than a thousand billion dollars a year to support it.  Millions of people are a part of it.  Even if it tried, it couldn’t be a benign presence waiting for the bad behavior of some foreign leader or the organized rejection of some value that the US thinks vitally important.  It has become its own ‘animal’; nominally, as in General Butler’s day, the tool of the economic elite, but only so long as it is fed and exercised well.  It has only one clear and constant enemy, those who would diminish its size, power and influence, and that enemy is an educated, politically powerful electorate supporting the Constitution of the USA and the needs of the people.

Since the US spends, on its military/security apparatus, as much as or more than the rest of the 190 or so nations staking out territory on this little globe combined, there is at least the possibility that we could, say, cut that amount in half, using the money for the direct benefit of the citizens of the country.  That would be 600 billion dollars worth of the people’s labor returned to their needs rather than collected into great big piles by defense contractors, ‘friendly’ dictators, security specialists and mercenary armies.  And remember wars are extra; that would be another couple of hundred billion plus change if we just stopped the demonstrably illegal wars – we could leave in place legal occupations and actions at least for a time.

Of course, the military/security apparatus would not take this lying down; they are a standing army!  What would you do to your fellowman for 800 billion dollars and all the power in the world...?  Well, so would they! And since the military’s work has been and is the protection of elite interest, just what do you think the response would be to serious challenges to those elite interests; like environmentalists acting against extractive industries or like union organizing.  We know the answers.  Men and women devoted to the preservation of natural ecologies are now called terrorists.  Women and men devoted to honesty and equity in work are called terrorists.

The answer to the question is: should the people demand the kinds of changes that would allow the vast numbers of the human species to live with personal dignity, that would allow the recovery of the earth’s vast, varied and essential ecologies, then the people would become the expressed enemy of the military/security apparatus, the apparatus that we have built and presently pay for with our labor (converted into taxes) and our blood.  There is nothing else on the earth, other than the Great Many, of sufficient number and power that would require the size, power and lethal capacity of that apparatus to control.

Social unrest will be the “enemy” of the future, the consequence of the increasing disclosure and effect of both wealth inequity and the processes in place that will result in a new fascist feudalism.  The language is in place: we now fear and fight terrorists; and all who reject the elite social and economic model can be, and are more and more often, called terrorists.  And the force structures are increasingly in place: professional armies, security systems and militarized police forces are devoting equipment and training to crowd control and the depersonalizing of lethality so that ‘collateral damage’ can seamlessly become the real goal.

The fear of a standing army expressed by the framers of the USA’s founding documents was fully warranted; history told of standing armies always becoming a danger to the people as they became the tools of a political, religious or economic elite. 

First comes understanding, then planning, then opportunity and then action.  It is essential that a critical mass of people come to this understanding and lose the Santa Claus myth of military benignancy.  Returning the military to a size and power appropriate to our real security needs and to civilian control, meaning democratic control by the people, is our greatest immediate need and most dangerous enterprise.

[1] Police forces are becoming militarized; the military is performing mixed military and policing functions in international situations.  The distinctions between criminal behavior  and misuses of national and international power are blurring; and therefore so are the distinctions between the forces intended to meet those threats to social stability.  Lost in these changes is the structure of incentives that have placed and continue placing all of these forces in the common control of the economic elite.

[2] “There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss": Super-Nationalistic Capitalism. It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” (Smedley Butler, 1933)

[3] If you believe the propaganda that the Muslim hordes are chomping at the bit to “kill Americans” and “destroy our way of life”, then you have not been paying attention to either the history or the present situation.


Michael Dawson said...

Not only does the killing force work for the overclass, but military spending is a vital pillar of economic normalcy. Take it down to size, and capitalism is in major Depression.

Hence, few things are farther "off the table."

James Keye said...

The obstacles are formidable, perhaps impossible, and certainly impossible if we also wish to maintain our present "way of life." Confrontation has been criminalized, even confrontation that has long been, and expected to be, appropriate and necessary. So, confrontation --while some will try it -- will serve only to prove, yet again, how vicious the powers that be can be. Somehow the beast must be starved of its servants and its opportunity.

You are certainly right, Michael, that in the present form there will be no popular control of the military/security apparatus.

Michael Dawson said...

I'm not against the idea, of course. Like everything else that could matter, it just requires a new social movement to force it onto the agenda.

To me, the great question is whether a world enthralled by commercial audio-visual media will be able to wake up and fight again. TV is as dangerous as fission.