Why A Military?

Government programs normally have an objective, a goal. There are funded programs to educate children, help the elderly, provide housing for the poor, build bridges and highways, etc. These programs normally have recognized, specific goals and are funded commensurate with the goals.
The government also has programs to provide security. Currently “homeland security” is a program to secure the ports and borders of the country, and there is also a program, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, as much as all other countries on the planet spend combined, to provide what are called conventional military forces.
The question is, do these very expensive military programs have an objective, a goal?

Ideally a determination of what the military is supposed to be able to do in the future would be based on a threat analysis, and this would determine the size and type of force that is needed.
Robert S. McNamara addressed this systematic approach in the 1960’s with his Planning, Programming and Budgeting System (PPBS). The idea was to analyze defense requirements systematically and produce a long-term, program-oriented Defense budget. Of course the results of PPBS were perverted by the Vietnam War but the approach was correct.
Has there been a threat analysis resulting in a long-term, program-oriented defense budget?
Let’s look at the most recent National Defense Strategy and see what it says about military threats to the US (extracts):

    Since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania seven years ago, we have been engaged in a conflict unlike those that came before. Violent extremist movements such as al-Qaeda and its associates comprise a complex and urgent challenge.The United States has worked with its partners to defeat the enemies of freedom and prosperity, assist those in greatest need, and lay the foundation for a better tomorrow.
    Violent extremist movements such as al-Qaeda and its associates comprise a complex and urgent challenge.
    Rogue states such as Iran and North Korea similarly threaten international order.
    We must also consider the possibility of challenges by more powerful states.
    China is one ascendant state with the potential for competing with the United States. For the foreseeable future, we will need to hedge against China’s growing military modernization and the impact of its strategic choices upon international security.
    Russia’s retreat from openness and democracy could have significant security implications for the United States, our European allies, and our partners in other regions.
    The President’s 2006 National Security Strategy (NSS) describes an approach founded on two pillars: promoting freedom, justice, and human dignity by working to end tyranny, promote effective democracies, and extend prosperity; and confronting the challenges of our time by leading a growing community of democracies.

As Porky Pig said many times: “Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-That’s all folks!”
There ain’t no more. We’ve got:

    o a non-military threat of terrorism, which is a crime better addressed with intelligence and police capabilities,
    o fabricated, non-existent threats from Iran and North Korea,
    o a fabricated potential threat from China and Russia, whose military budgets are about one-tenth of the US’s, and
    o vague goals of promoting freedom, justice, and human dignity.

In the meantime the US has invaded and occupied two countries in Asia (Iraq and Afghanistan) and is deeply involved in at least one African country (Somalia), which are costing hundreds of billions of dollars.
What US military forces are necessary to counter the identified military threats? Well, since no real military threats have been identified, one might say that the US doesn’t need a standing military.
Nevertheless, the “defense” budget has a life of its own.
The 2009 $491 billion Pentagon budget allocated about $179 billion to maintain the 2.2 million-member armed forces and increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps. The 2010 budget will be about $533.7 billion.
The Army is undergoing the largest transformational change since 1942. The active-duty Army end-strength is scheduled to reach 547,000 by 2011, as the Army’s fighting force will grow to 48 brigade combat teams from 33 in 2003. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the existing troop expansion will cost $101.3 billion over seven years. That equates to $1,101,086 per additional active-duty recruit. There is a similar expansion in the Marines and National Guard.
The Air Force, without a military threat anywhere, still has significant capabilities, which they describe best:

    * Global Attack: Because of technological advances, the Air Force can attack anywhere, anytime — and do so quickly and with greater precision than ever before,
    * Precision Engagement: The essence lies in the ability to apply selective force against specific targets because the nature and variety of future contingencies demand both precise and reliable use of military power with minimal risk and collateral damage,
    * Agile Combat Support: Deployment and sustainment are keys to successful operations and cannot be separated. Agile combat support applies to all forces, from those permanently based to contingency buildups to expeditionary forces.

The Air Force is currently (figuratively) shaking in their flight boots over the investments in unmanned aerial vehisles, which are getting larger and more capable, and which will be able to fly oceans and fire missiles at any target anywhere in the world.
The Navy is in search of a maritime strategy. Its ten aircraft carrier groups, which are highly vulnerable to guided missiles, smart mines and quiet submarines, are sailing the world’s oceans as a sort of show of force which doesn’t seem to be impressing too many fellow world citizens. The new push in the Navy is for “littoral” ships that would be able to support combat activities near hostile shores, requiring the creation of hostile shores of course.
Lacking military threats, and recognizing that the current military occupations of Asian countries is a huge mistake, why is the Pentagon budget so large, and growing? Why a military?
Several reasons:

    o The huge five hundred billion dollar annual honey pot attracts all sorts of eager contractors, lobbyists and think-tankers eager to share in the risk-free profits.
    o The same honey pot attracts congress-critters that are interested in maintaining the huge dollar flows into their districts, and the campaign contributions and perks from government contractors aren’t bad either.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a peaceful country without foreign involvement or even a standing army, so the Constitution states that appropriations for the army can’t exceed two years (Article I, Section 8). Alas, our Constitution has been ineffective in curbing the war racket.
Essays published in New York under the name of ‘Brutus‘ over two hundred years ago are instructive:

    It might be here shown, that the power of the federal legislative, to raise and support armies at pleasure, as well in peace as in war, and their controul over the militia, tend, not only to a consolidation of the government, but the destruction of liberty.
    In despotic governments, as well as in all the monarchies of Europe, standing armies are kept up to execute the commands of the prince or the magistrate, and are employed for this purpose when occasion requires: But they have always proved the destruction of liberty, and [as] abhorrent to the spirit of a free republic.

And of course we must quote Smedley Butler:

    “I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”

Don Bacon is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler said, war is a racket. Other articles by Don Bacon may be found here and here.

16 thoughts on “Why A Military?”

  1. You are absolutely right. The objection to a Standing Army is one of the foundations of both the British and the US Constitutions.
    And not without reason: the modern state, the structure of its financing and the economy as a whole are all shaped by the ‘need’ to maintain a permanent military; which, historically has always been a source of every kind of corruption.
    The secret to the re-shaping of our economy and the renewal of society is the dismantling of the sort of military which we have. Unless that is done society will, inevitably, be dragged even deeper into a morass of authoritarianism and corporatism. The last shreds of democracy are becoming dangerously threadbare, we are close to a situation in which repair will be impossible.

  2. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”

    But go back to Iraq. Shouldn’t the neo-cons be held accountable for their views? Yes. Them and a whole lot of other people — Senators, Congressmen, and columnists, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, who seemly want to believe that the votes they cast and the articles they wrote in support of the war had nothing to do with how we found ourselves in it. Iraq was all the neo-cons’ fault, and blaming it on them absolves the rest of us. This is a convenient untruth for a lot of people in this town today.

    The fact is, Iraq was a long-standing problem over which reasonable people disagreed, and many of those reasonable people came to believe in the aftermath of 9/11 that war was the answer. That they did says less about the neo-cons, I think, than it does about the prevailing mood at the time in America, and especially in Washington — the willingness of many people, shocked by a national trauma, and seized by the transformational potential of American power, to support a high-risk course of action over the uncertainty of no action at all. Yes, there are serious criticisms to be made of the Bush administration’s case for war, but it’s worth going back and reading what Bill Clinton and Al Gore said about Iraq back in the 1990s. Most of their statements are indistinguishable from Bush’s.

    And here we are again. Obama is escalating America’s involvement in a distant war, and like Iraq in 2003 or the Balkans before that, he is doing so with considerable bipartisan support, only a small fraction of which comes from the neo-cons. I support this policy. Maybe it will end tragically. Maybe the critics will be proved right. If so, I won’t blame the positions I took on the Foreign Policy Initiative.

    The Shadow Government
    Unless there is a punishments then “the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.” will contenue

  3. Your summary of the Air Force’ position points to the problem : there is no “Department of Defense” there is only a “Department of Aggression”. The old-fashioned name, “War Department” was more nearly the truth. The only time they were called upon to defend anything was 9/11 and they failed utterly and completely.
    Think about the Air Force. They are optimized to wage war against civilians. They have been ever since WW II. They, all of them, are beyond control. As you point out the entire economy, what’s left of it, has bought into the Department of Aggression and War. Obama certainly has.
    This will not end until they have literally consumed us. The pigs are eating the seed corn as we speak. The Fed is literally printing money to buy US Government Bonds that no one else wants, the proceeds of which are to be publicly burnt on Wall Street, in Camp Victory, and in Af-Pak.
    Business as usual. Is going to come to an abrubt end very shortly.

  4. I remember seeing in almanacs the number of civilians killed in war by aerial bombing, primarily the US air force. It was a huge number. I haven’t been able to find those numbers in recent almanacs.
    The Wikipedia page on bombing (euphemistically called “strategic precision bombing”) in WWII lists 60,000 British civilians, 305,000-600,000 German civilians and 330,000-500,000 Japanese civilians as “casualties and losses”. Other nationalities weren’t included.

  5. Aerial bombing is pretty much the most indiscriminate form of warfare, and the one that produces the greatest damage and the highest proportion of civilian deaths and maimings, I believe.

  6. Howard Zinn was second Lieutenant and bombardier, U.S. Army Air Corps; Zinn flew combat missions in Europe 1943-45.
    In April, 1945, he participated in one of the first military uses of napalm, which took place in Royan, France.
    The bombings were aimed at German soldiers who were, in Zinn’s words, hiding and waiting out the closing days of the war. The attacks killed not only the German soldiers but also French civilians, facts Zinn uncovered nine years after the bombings when he visited Royan to examine documents and interview residents.
    In his books, The Politics of History and The Zinn Reader, he described how the bombing was ordered at the war’s end by decision-makers most probably motivated by the desire for career advancement rather than for legitimate military objectives.
    Zinn is the author of A People’s History of the United States. In the spring of 2003, to commemorate the sale of the millionth copy of A People’s History, a dramatic reading was held at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Kurt Vonnegut read the words of Mark Twain at the event celebrating the work of Zinn, a fellow World War II veteran. Vonnegut read from Twain, who spoke out after President Theodore Roosevelt congratulated a general involved in the 1906 Moro Crater massacre in the Philippines.
    “It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make these people free and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way; and so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land,” Vonnegut quoted Twain during the reading. –Wikipedia
    Happy Easter to all Christians. May the Prince of Peace gain some respect, after all.

  7. I wish I could briefly summarize Chalmers Johnson’s exhaustive treatment of America’s monstrous military base empire (see his trilogy of books on the subject: Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis), but in light of what John Francis Lee has posted above, any concise statment of America’s imploding predicament certainly has to involve classic, institutional denial. Like, for example (from The Sorrows of Empire:

    “Whether the United States can afford to be everywhere forever is not considered an appropriate subject for national discussion; nor is it, in the propagandistic atmosphere that has enveloped the country in the new millennium, appropriate to dwell upon what empires cost or how they end.”

    Speaking only for myself, I recall an old imperial slogan from the long-defunct Third Reich, which basically explained the domineering presence of Germany’s military in so many other countries. It seems perfectly appropriate as a summary of America’s contemporary “foreign policy” as well:

    “Wherever the German soldier plants his boot, there he must remain.”

    Or, as we American boot-planters in Southeast Asia used to say many decades ago:

    “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.”

    The United States no longer has anywhere near the discretionary resources it had (vis-a-vis the rest of the world) thirty-five years ago when the now-relatively-inexpensive War on Southeast Asia so warped America’s economy.
    The real-world accounting of — and for — our now-far-more-profligate military adventurism in the Middle East will surely exact an even higher price from us: one that it does not look like we can even begin to pay. As America’s very own Louis XIV, Dauphin Dubya, might have put it had he an ounce of honesty or the ability to speak even one line of French:
    “Après moi, le deluge.”
    Welcome to Deputy Dubya’s flood, President Obama. I once thought you might have the good sense to head for higher ground than a roadside ditch in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it appears — after consultation with your General Motors generals — you have only decided to blow more holes in our nation’s already ruptured defenses.

  8. Talking about civilians loses using guided war planes read this:

    Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.

    Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three attacks conducted in 2007 had slain 66 Pakistanis, yet none of the wanted al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders could be hit by the Americans right on target. However, of the 50 drone attacks carried out between January 29, 2008 and April 8, 2009, 10 hit their targets and killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda operatives. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who had been spying for the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan.

    The remaining 50 drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children. The number of the Pakistani civilians killed in those 50 attacks stood at 537, in which 385 people lost their lives in 2008 and 152 people were slain in the first 99 days of 2009 (between January 1 and April 8).

    60 drone hits kill 14 al-Qaeda men, 687 civilians

  9. Don, talking about Aerial bombing giving WWII example it’s too old and obsolete in matter of technology and war planes.
    It might be better to bring more recent examples of Aerial bombing during gulf war 1991 and Highway of Death and then 2003 Iraq invasion war.
    In both cases there was very sever civilians loses and astrophysical consequences on the society in large.
    There is one story I told from 1991 war by friend he was in war zone at that time near Iraq/Saudi borders the story as I told:
    Iraqi solders left in the desert there without communications with their basses and they came out from their shelters when they heard US war plane in the sky they were so hungry and thirsty US war plane start throwing food and other stuff on area little distance from their location.
    Iraqi solders run to that are to collect and grab food and water when they came close and grouped around the food suddenly US plane through a bomb…!! then short time later same plane came down with a complete Craw of first aiders and medics with journalists and start filming US crew how they giving aid to Iraqi solders…

  10. A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan:
    A Comprehensive Accounting [revised]
    “What causes the documented high level of civilian casualties — 3,000 – 3,400 [October 7, 2001 through March 2002] civilian deaths — in the U.S. air war upon Afghanistan? The explanation is the apparent willingness of U.S. military strategists to fire missiles into and drop bombs upon, heavily populated areas of Afghanistan.”
    Professor Marc W. Herold, Ph.D., M.B.A., B.Sc.
    Departments of Economics and Women’s Studies
    McConnell Hall
    Whittemore School of Business & Economics
    University of New Hampshire
    Durham, N.H. 03824, U.S.A.

  11. Don
    I am not sure you can totally do without a military. The plight of the last Emperor in the East illustrates the problem.
    The Turkish sultan, Mehmed II, advanced on Constantinople on the beginning of 1453. Troops came from every region of the Empire, including thousands of irregulars, from many nationalities, who were attracted by the prospect of looting. The regular troops were well equipped and well trained. The elite corps of the Janissaries composed of abducted Christian children, forcibly converted to Islam, and subsequently trained as professional soldiers, constituted the spear-head of the Ottoman army. The besieging army included a number of artillery pieces, which were made with the help of a Hungarian named Ourvanos. The hugest canons faced the Military Gate of St Romanus, and was expected to cause heavy damage to the 1000 years old walls in that area. The army, accompanied by crowds of fanatic Dervishes, started moving slowly towards Constantinople. A few small towns, still in Greek hands, near the capital were soon occupied by the Sultan’s army. Of those towns Selyvria resisted longer. His army included finally 200000 soldiers (29000 of them were Europeans).
    Constantinople was defended only from 10000 soldiers (3000 of them were Europeans mostly Italians). Among the Europeans who had come to help was the brave Giovanni Giustiniani. He was from Genoa were he had recruited 400 men and another 300 he had recruited on the island of Chios. Others were the cardinal Isidoros who was of Greek origin, the latin bishop of Chios, Leonardos, the venetian captains Kokkos, Trevizas, Aloisio, Contarini and others. Also great was the help of German engineer Johannes Grant who managed to destroy all the tunnels that Sultan attempted to build in order to enter to the City. So the greatest christian city was defended only by some Greeks and some Italians. No other European leader accepted the emperor’s appeal for help.
    The defenders lacked in training and armament but possessed fighting spirit. Indeed, most were killed fighting. The civilian population supported the Emperor overwhelmingly. The alternative was disastrous. The people, men and women, participated in the repairs of the walls and in the deepening of the foss, volunteers manned observation posts, food provisions were collected, gold and silver objects held in the churches were melted to make coins in order to pay the foreign soldiers. With the exception of about 700 Italian residents of the city who fled on board seven ships, on the night of February 26, no one else imitated them. The rest of the population, Greek and foreigner, fought until the bitter end. On April 2, 1453 the city’s harbor, the Golden Horn, was shut by a huge chain, and ten galleys were put behind to protect it.
    Bands of Ottoman soldiers began now looting. Doors were broken, private homes were looted, their tenants were massacred. Shops in the city markets were looted. Monasteries and Convents were broken in. Their tenants were killed, nuns were raped, many, to avoid dishonor, killed themselves. Killing, raping, looting, burning, enslaving, went on and on according to tradition. The troops had to satisfy themselves. The great doors of Saint Sophia were forced open, and crowds of angry soldiers came in and fell upon the unfortunate worshippers. Pillaging and killing in the holy place went on for hours. Similar was the fate of worshippers in most churches in the city. Everything that could be taken from the splendid buildings was taken by the new masters of the Imperial capital. Icons were destroyed, precious manuscripts were lost forever. Thousands of civilians were enslaved, soldiers fought over young boys and young women. Death and enslavement did not distinguish among social classes. Nobles and peasants were treated with equal ruthlessness.
    According to Historian Frantzis the invaders broke the heads of those women who resisted, on the floor of the churches and they raped them dead. The famous icon of Apostole Loukas was totally destroyed. The sultan asked for the young sons of Duke Loukas Notaras. Their father refused and Mehmed was ready to take their heads. Notaras asked him to kill him after his sons so that he was sure that they were dead and not disgraced from the pervert sultan. And this is what happened.
    There are two problems with US defence thinking.
    The first is the remnant of the forward defence thinking where WWIII was to be fought in Germany with me and my colleagues holding the line by fighting furiously day and night for ten days while the US flew a million men to the battlefield. This meant that there was a permanent garrison of US troops in Europe facing East.
    The second is the same as the problem of the German Armies in 1918. Unlike the Spanish Tercios at Rocroi, they had not been defeated in the field but had been defeated by the collapse of the German Economy which didn’t seem quite fair.
    The parallels to today may be apparent.
    The consequence in Germany was the political violence in the Weimar era between the Communists and the organisations of ex soldiers. The old FeldMarchal Hindenburg eventually appointed the Austrian ex-Unteroffizier Schittelgruber as Kanzeller and the rest as they say is history.
    As Charlie Marx says History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
    Ambrose Bierce is adequately cynical
    HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools

  12. Why A Military? : Well in the USA, all of these reasons “defense” (- hah), even imperialism, are basically peripheral to the main reason for the military – Military Keynesianism. A tool for stimulating the economy in the short run, and helping make rich people richer. In the late 40’s, the US decided on drastic cuts in the military budget, about 75%, and for a few months started carrying them out. But then it seemed like a recession / return of the great depression threatened, and the cuts were rescinded.. That was an obscure but enormously important decision for the postwar world. Nowadays inertia and brainwashing is so great that even when the US military and its hi-jinks manifestly endanger and impoverish rather than protect and enrich the US population, the “defense” budget is sacrosanct, with 75% cuts unimaginable. Much like Israel – the occupation, the military, the empire has taken on a life of itself, and controls and is in the process of destroying its host.

  13. IMHO War and militarism are a plague – a corrupt cancer on the soul of humanity.
    As Michael Murry pointed out, Chalmers Johnson’s trilogy is an excellent source for understanding just how deeply this plague is entrenched in the viscera of the US. James Caroll’s ‘House of War is another excellent tomb, as are the books by Andrew Bacevich including his ‘The New American Militarism – how Americans are seduced by war’.
    There is in fact no end it seems to the excellent books and writings (Smedley Butler included) which uncover this corrupt and deadly disease that infests us.
    But what, I ask myself, is the solution ….. ?
    My thought is, that if the cancer was cut out completely from the body of the US, then the US would in some sense cease to be! Its bombs, weapons systems, full spectrum dominance, etc., have become now its raison d’etre. I suppose what I’m saying is simply that the US has fully and irrevocably become a true ‘Military Empire’ in every sense – even economically! And as Rome’s humble ‘republican’ beginnings were forever lost, so the pattern of History rolls on.
    Chalmers Johnson seems to be of the opinion that only the complete financial collapse of the ‘Empire’ can bring this war machine to its end. I think I agree.

  14. Today the military was used to deliver defense and justice against the moslem Somali leeches bent on a parasitical life of hijackings and blackmail of property and humans. Today we celebrate finally having used that resource as it was intended. If our fearless Hussein Obama gets the EU to accept the Turks into the EU (against the stated desires of the main EU countries) Turkey would have the largest military in the EU.
    Maybe it is time to ask these profound questions of the moslem world, starting with Turkey, and on to every other retrograd country that sustains a strong military as a way to stay in power and distract their peoples by starting some nonsensical friction with their neighbors to deflect internal blame.
    As for Europe, they have been enjoying a free ride for decades and it may be time to let them either deter themselves the Russian and Moorish threats, or be overrun as they deserve. Even a simple police function they can’t get right poor Britons. From murdering the poor Brazilian electrician now to the chief honcho showing to the press the top secret memos of the next wave of Pakistanis being surveilled. Helena as a fruit does not fall far from the British tree.

  15. Thanks for the irony, Titus. I hadn’t gotten my quota for the day until I read this:

    Maybe it is time to ask these profound questions of the moslem world, starting with Turkey, and on to every other retrograd[e] country that sustains a strong military as a way to stay in power and distract their peoples by starting some nonsensical friction with their neighbors to deflect internal blame.

    I mean, who with not and ounce of embarrassment could ask these “questions” of “the moslem world”? Certainly not the U.S.A. and/or its pet parasite the Apartheid Zionist Entity. The “moslem world” would have nothing more difficult to do by way of answer than simply holding up a mirror to their arrogant hyper-militarist accusers.

  16. Off the news ticker:
    * U.S. Strikes In Somalia Reportedly Kill 31 — Jan 9, 2007
    * US forces launched a third consecutive day of air strikes in Somalia today — Jan 10, 2007
    * A US warship overnight bombed targets in northeastern Somalia in the second known direct military intervention by Washington in the Horn of African nation since the powerful Islamic Courts were ousted from power in December. — Jun 2, 2007
    * Two missiles hit a house in southern Somalia on Monday, in an attack the United States said was directed at “a known al Qaeda terrorist” . . .Residents and police in the southern town of Dobley said a home was destroyed and at least eight people, including four children, were seriously injured. — Mar 3, 2008
    But they’re only “leeches”.

Comments are closed.