A Thin Red Line Of Heroes When The Band Begins To Play

Ed Raymond

Congress just passed a $662 billion defense budget to fight a war with Afghanistan, a country without fighter planes, tanks, aircraft carriers, and bombers.  It does have an untold number of snoopin’ and poopin’ fundamentalist religious fanatics carrying AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and cellphones that can be wired to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They have blown the limbs off and tsunamied the brains of thousands of our young men and women.

As of December 9, 2011 we have had 4,487 killed in our other foreign adventure in Iraq and 1,736 killed in Afghanistan. Over 22,000 have suffered serious physical wounds such as the loss of limbs that probably will require medical care and disability payments for the rest of their lives. On top of these casualties we may have as many as 300,000 with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and thousands of others with traumatic brain injuries who cannot be salvaged with interviews, bull sessions, and pills. Even many of the dogs used to sniff out IEDs and other explosives have PTSD.  The cost of these two wars has been estimated to be between $2 trillion and $3 trillion. 

For almost 45 years after World War II we were in an arms race with the Soviet Union. We finally drove the Soviets to financial bankruptcy, spending over $12 trillion to do it. It’s estimated the Soviets spent an equal amount. They almost got us first. When Ronald Reagan and Secretary of Defense  Casper Weinberger started to remodel and refurbish our WW II Navy battleships for war against the Soviets they only proved that generals and admirals have a tendency to fight the last war instead of the present one. At the end of the Cold War we came so close to bankruptcy we proved no nation on earth could afford guns and butter except cave dwellers.  The arms race came at the expense of our sick, disabled, hungry, and unemployed and under-employed. Just 20 years later we are going through the same cycle of moral and fiscal bankruptcy.

Ike: “The Problem With Defense Is How Far You Can Go Without Destroying...”

Many of us will remember Dwight Eisenhower’s famous comments about the powers of the military-industrial complex. In 2011 we are again faced with his warnings about how much to spend on national security and defense. Ike always connected defense strength with the economic strength of the country. He continually asked: “How much is enough?”  He  said such a determination  demanded hard choices. He also said there is no such thing as absolute security.

We can drive people crazy by forcing them to take off shoes,  suffer strip searches, and turn off cellphones  before boarding passenger jets, but we can never say they are “absolutely” protected. Ike said: “The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.” As an example, does the Patriot Act take away the very freedoms we are trying to maintain? Should water-boarding, defined around the world as torture except in the minds of George Bush, Dick Cheney and his cohorts, be used in the interrogation of suspected terrorists? Should we “bend” our own laws to provide “absolute” security?

Throughout his presidency Ike continued to define the difficult balance between military and economic strength: “This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities, (To keep one soldier in Afghanistan for a year we spend enough to build 20 elementary schools around the country.)  It (one bomber) is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000...A single fighter plane costs 500,000 bushels of wheat. We pay for a single (Navy) destroyer with new homes for 8,000 people. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. We...must avoid the impulse to live only for the day, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”  But now the United States spends as much on national security and military power as all other countries in the world combined--and six times more than second-place China, according to the Stockholm International Peace Institute. To keep a soldier in Afghanistan for one year costs us $1 million.

“When There’s Trouble In The Wind”

Republicans are always hearing the distant “drums of trouble on the wind.” Then they think we can solve every diplomatic problem by charging out of the trenches or dropping bombs from 40,000 feet. The simple fact is we have more military personnel just in marching bands than the State Department has in its foreign service. Haven’t we learned from the Vietnam and Iraq debacles that military power doesn’t solve modern political problems?  Here we are, leaving Iraq, and we still haven’t made a deal for their oil! 

In that we have to recruit the poor and the middle-class to supply IED fodder for our foreign adventures, the services have all updated their music. They still play blood-stirring marches, but many bands have been organized into rock, blues, salsa, jazz, brass, and even woodwind groups. They are often sent around the world to entertain the troops at the 560 military bases where troops are stationed. (We have another 177 bases scattered around the world that are maintained by small detachments.)

The Army pays for over 100 bands with 4,600 musicians. The Navy has 13 bands, the Air Force 12, the Air National Guard has 11, and the Marine Corps has 14 active-duty bands, one being  the United States Marine Corps Band, the special White House unit used for state dinners and other special occasions.

I’m not against bands, military or civilian. I even played the tuba for a year in high school..  I marched many a mile to the Second Marine Division Band’s martial tunes. I still get goose bumps when I hear “From the hall of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli...”, but shouldn’t we hire some more talkers for the State Department instead of more mouthpiece blowers for the bands?

“To Jaw-Jaw Is Always Better Than War-War”

Sure, bands inspire the troops, help sustain morale, serve at ceremonies, and build good will among service families and base neighbors. And we mustn’t forget service funerals. But Winston Churchill in the 1950's uttered a phrase our politicians should memorize and repeat: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war. Appease the weak, defy the strong. Appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only way to world peace.”

Churchill always quoted Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” poem when he ordered British troops into battle. In the battle of Balaclava in the 1854 Crimean War, 637 British light cavalry charged an enemy force in open terrain that proved to be suicidal for 247 of the force. One stanza gives the central message:

                               “Forward, the light Brigade! Was there a man dismay’d?

                                Not tho’ the soldier knew some one had blundered:

                               Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why,

                               Theirs but to do or die, into the Valley of Death

                               Rode the six hundred.”


How The American Empire Compares With The Roman And British Empires

Chalmers Johnson in his book “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Empire” has estimated, that regardless of the difference in war-making devices, it takes about 35 to 40 major foreign bases and installations to dominate the world for a period of time. It’s fascinating to think that in 117 A.D. the Romans had 37 major bases to control countries from Britain to Egypt to Hispania to Armenia. In 1898 Great Britain had 36 major bases to control an empire that almost stretched around the globe. It is ironic that the American Empire presently has 38 large and medium-sized air and naval facilities around the globe. Actually we now have 737 bases in other countries. In the last fiscal year we had 1.8 million people in uniform supported by about 475,000 Defense Department civil service employees, backed up by 203,000 local employees scattered around the 737 overseas bases. Our Pentagon is by far the world’s largest landlord, owning 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and assorted buildings–and leasing another 16,527 buildings. The bases cover 29,819,492 acres of the world. The Pentagon estimates the bases are worth $658 billion.

The Airplane That Congress Refuses To Have Crash To Earth

The most expensive fighter plane ever developed has never fired a shot or missile at an enemy, even if we have been in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade. Our F-22 was conceived in the mid 1980's because it was rumored our Cold War enemy was developing a fighter much better than our F-16. Although several Secretaries of Defense and many defense experts tried to kill the project in the 1990's, Lockheed Corporation had cleverly ordered parts from 1,100 subcontractors located in 44 states. Congressmen from those 44 states refused to be pall bearers at the funeral of “their”  F-22.  The F-22 was placed on permanent life support because it created jobs in all those states.

The problem with the F-22 is that it costs $412 million, or 10 new medium-sized high schools, and still doesn’t want to fly. There have been seven major crashes, two fatalities, and numerous problems with the pilot oxygen system.  At one time 158 F-22s, $65 billion worth,  were all grounded because of a whole mess of problems.  I suppose one could say that’s good because we never needed it anyway. Isn’t that a very expensive backup?  The Air Force wants 2,443 F-22s. Air Force generals are always fighting the last war. They should read more Eisenhower, who at one time wore five stars. The Gulf and Iraq wars were probably the last wars where pilot-manned planes were used extensively. We are now into attack helicopters and drones. Drones don’t need oxygen systems or “G” force limits.

My Marines Are Also Trying To Build A Lemon For The Last War

In this age of missiles, will Marines be making World War II-like landings on fortified islands in open landing craft? I don’t think so. China claims it has developed a guided missile that will sink one of our aircraft carriers with one hit. I would think that would be rather easy, even if they are spending one-sixth of what we do on defense. Developing a missile to sink a $22 million, 40-ton landing craft the Marines want should be a piece of cake. The Marines want 600 of them! It is designed to hold 17 Marines and has the power to hit 30 mph. No wonder it costs $22 million each–or three elementary schools with libraries and computer rooms. Even Palestinian militants have missiles that can destroy a naval ship at 75 miles. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the advances in anti-ship missiles have “destroyed’ the concept of the landing craft, and represents a “no lessons learned” attitude on the part of the Marine Corps. He’s right.

And Eisenhower was right 50 years ago. The military-industrial Mafia has to be put back on the scales and weighed against our economic potential. Because of huge wasteful expenditures for impractical military equipment (including $16 billion for “equipment” to find Taliban and Iraqi IEDs–which never worked) we have neglected the sick, homeless, hungry, addicted, and poorly educated citizens of this once great country.

Overkill often rules defense decisions. During the Cold War we built 300 10,000-pound nuclear bombs, 600 times more powerful than “Little Boy” dropped on Hiroshima. Each one would have created a fireball several miles in diameter. Such insanity should not be rewarded.