The United States has built the most powerful military force in human history. Our annual military spending is roughly equal to that of the rest of the world combined. Our nuclear triad is unmatched. We have all the best aircraft carriers. We have the best drone fleet. SEAL Team Six…
Yet polls show that roughly half of Americans are unconvinced, or unaware, of our military might. Partially due, no doubt, to the fact that our approach to national security is so incredibly stupid.
Our approach to Daesh (ISIS) and the War on Terror is entirely counterproductive. The ways we deal with conventional weapons systems, terrorist organizations, and lone-wolf attacks, are nonsensical. Our data-analytics and threat-assessment are pitiful.
The main problem, of course, is that War is a Racket. War equals ratings, clicks, and large font for media conglomerates. They cheerlead war by prominently featuring neoconservative so-called experts, fear-mongering politicians, and retired generals who are paid by defense contractors and see the US military as a hammer in a world full of nails.
Another problem is that we don’t take seriously the fact that our president represents civilian control of the military. Commander-in-chief (meant for times of war) and the term defense have become permanent propagandistic terms of militarism.
We’ve gotten rid of the draft, so the children of the elites – who decide whether to send poor kids to die in foreign lands – are allowed to go unscathed. With our voluntary force, only one percent of the population has served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Images of the human carnage in Vietnam turned public opinion against the war. We showed new, supposedly accurate rockets being fired during Desert Storm. Now, news media show the rubble where the rockets landed. But over-classification allows the government to hide more uncomfortable realities from the public.
We’ve allowed war to become an abstract notion to the vast majority of the county. Something for other people to worry about.
We’ve also allowed it to become impolitic, post-9/11, to criticize or question anyone in uniform. We used to poke fun at Gomer Pyle and Barney Fife, and Maxwells Smart and Klinger.
Out of irrational fear, we’ve become a nation of boot-lickers. We put Support Our Troops sticker on our cars, and wrap ourselves in Stars & Stripes on holidays; yet we completely and utterly fail our veterans. We saddle our military with diplomatic missions. And victors tend to keep fighting the last war. So we have all the best aircraft carriers and all the best bombers.
However, our government, political parties, and businesses keep getting hacked. Yet the government threatens (both pointlessly and counter-productively) to ban encryption rather than strengthening cyber-security.
We’ve lapped the field to the point that no one would dare attempt to best us with conventional weapons.
China has a humongous military, but their weapons systems are inferior. Russia has fancy nukes, but actually using them would require a suicidal determination for mutual annihilation. (We can’t get Europe or China to level sanctions against Russia, so we are once again at an impasse. Oh, and they have all the fancy ice-breakers, so they already claimed the Arctic.)
Our situation is as old as the Art of War. Our Revolutionaries knew they couldn’t stand in a field and trade volleys with the powerful British army. We were called terrorists for attacking their flanks, hiding snipers in trees, and targeting officers.
Post-WWII, the inverse has been true. We saw tactics in Vietnam which we found reprehensible (booby-trapped tunnels, human shields, child-soldiers). But we kept sending more and more poor kids to sacrifice their lives and slaughter brown people. And we refused to admit that we could lose. As did the Soviets when they bankrupted themselves in Afghanistan in the 1980’s.
As we are doing now with Daesh. We simply refuse to learn from history. (We call it the War of 1812 to remain ignorant.) We know that defeating an ideology cannot be done by military means. We know that fellow Muslims must defeat them on the battlefield and in the battle of ideas. (We should know that we can’t force religious reformation.)
Yet we have politicians who legitimize murderous mad men by linking them directly to the religion of Islam. In doing so, we force all Muslims to choose between us and their personal identity. We are actively promoting a religious and cultural world war against 1.6 billion people.
By eliminating diplomacy as an option, we are only left with war. Which we aren’t very good at, anymore.
The ways we’ve waged the War on Terror has only produced more terrorists. We suspended habeas corpus to lock people away without charge. We ignore our own 8th Amendment and the Geneva Convention while we torture prisoners of war, farmers, and some, I’m sure, the worst of the worst we were warned about.
We’ve managed to arm opposite sides of conflicts in Syria, Yemen… We’ve bombed wedding parties and funeral processions. We’ve purposely bombed journalists and first responders. We’ve purposely bombed American citizens. Hell, we’ve purposely bombed Doctors without Borders hospitals.
We call it collateral damage. We call the victims enemy combatants. It was a mistake. It’s classified. It’s not a war crime when we do it. Nothing to see here.
Nearly everything we do seems purposely designed to give the terrorists exactly what they want. From creating more recruits by killing innocents to echoing their recruitment message. From eschewing our values and surrendering our freedoms.
We know they would like to kill Americans (though mostly they kill fellow Muslims). We know they don’t have any planes or ships. We know they want to do battle with the infidel in a particular place to fulfill religious prophecy. And we play right into their wishes.
One guy tried to blow up a plane with his shoe, so we all take our shoes off now. (Well, most of us – an uneven application which defeats the purpose.) Another guy tried to blow up a plane with his underwear. Do we remove our undergarments in line at the airport? No, proving the idiocy of the shoe policy. Israelis are far more susceptible to attack, yet they don’t put themselves through nonsensical motions just to board a plane. Politicians just wanted to do something, anything to seem like they were keeping us safe.
We told the NSA to ignore the 4th Amendment and scoop up all of our communications and online activities. We’ve deluged them with such vast amounts of data that our intelligence agencies can’t possibly analyze it all, and useful information goes unnoticed. Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Charleston, Colorado Springs… Intelligence officials have admitted under oath that they’ve failed to thwart a single attack with programs which blatantly violate our civil liberties, yet they insist upon continuing the failed and unconstitutional practices.
Practically, lone-wolf attacks cannot be stopped. The odds could certainly be reduced, but significantly doing so would require microphones and cameras in every room. From bedroom to boardroom. It would require East Germany-style paranoia, distrust, and turning-over of friends, neighbors and family members. Sealed borders and restricted travel. The criminality of thought crime and political dissent.
Military bases and defense contractor operations have been strategically positioned in virtually every congressional district. Slowing the churn of the military industrial complex would mean fewer local jobs and depressed local economies of congressfolk. Openly questioning war means defense contractors will fund your opponent next election. Because our campaign finance system is inherently corrupt.
The military budget, our nuclear program, and war spending are all separate categories. Plus foreign aid in the form of military training and weapons. Then there’s the TSA. Intelligence agencies. And since the number of overseas bases, covert operations, and fancy prototypes are all classified information – no one can possibly know how much we are spending.
Yet, in contrast to blank-check expenditures for defense, our treatment of the voluntary members of our armed forces is disgusting. We send the same brave souls again and again until their minds are ravaged by the carnage of war. We expose them to bound child sex-slaves and tell them to keep quiet and accept it.
We hand them assault weapons and tell them to promote democracy. We give them bombs and tell them to nation-build.
When the bravest one-percenters return home we tell them that we fucked up and sent them to the wrong places for the wrong reasons. We refuse to properly fund the VA. We deny benefits to those discharged for surviving sexual assault. We tell them their combat experience (especially when classified) doesn’t translate to the private sector.
We refuse to show images of the flag-draped caskets of their fallen comrades.
When images of atrocities committed in our name and with our tax dollars are leaked, we lock whistle-blowing patriots under the jail and call them traitors.
We sit drone operators in a video game to rain death from the sky from thousands of miles away before going home for dinner every night with their family – and no time to mentally readjust.
We waste trillions on F-35s that pilots refuse to operate because they aren’t safe to fly in the rain. We waste billions on amphibious landing vehicles – as if we’re preparing for Normandy – which we can’t actually use because mines are cheap. We insist upon giving the Pentagon more and more tanks that they don’t actually want and wind up collecting dust in the Nevada desert – as if we’re preparing to go to battle with Hitler’s Panzer division. We’ve been tricked into buying fake missile-defense systems – test results of which the government was caught lying about. We hand out grants for a militarized police state to unleash weapons of war in local communities.
War and national security are topics which must be taken seriously. And I worry that our resources and our focus are being directed in a manner which leaves us vulnerable, as well as morally bankrupt.
We have all the fanciest toys. But a swarm of inexpensive drones could render them inoperable. And a single drone could deliver a bigger payload – chemical agents, perhaps. Or malware.
An electromagnetic pulse could render all electronics useless. Numerous nations and NGOs could hack our haphazard power grid and shut the lights out for months at a time. No one could work without electricity. Bills for shelter and communications couldn’t be paid. No gas to move goods or people. No AC for old folks in the desert. No ATMs. Where would we get food? How would we fill prescriptions? We could ration power to hospitals with generators. But how would citizens communicate in the case of medical emergency? The economic and human destruction would be devastating.
Where would we bomb to stop a cyber attack? What random country might we invade? Hackers do no operate on a traditional battlefield with physical targets to identify and land to be seized. Hackers aren’t dark-skinned sand-dwellers who talk and pray funny. Hackers would be spread out in metropoles that people wouldn’t feel comfortable simply carpet-bombing. And capturing or killing one or a few of them wouldn’t make it stop.
Our focus needs to be on cyber-security; not wasting more money on redundant tanks and air-craft carriers, not a new generation of even more expensive nuclear weapons. We need to have an honest conversation as a nation about lone-wolf attacks and the real reasons our government wants to violate the constitution for unfettered access to our communications. We need to talk about imperialism. And consensus. We need to have a serious conversation with the rest of the world about the ethics of drone wars and technological attacks.
We need to stop lavishing our riches, out of ignorance and fear, upon a handful of war-profiteers. Precious tax revenue which could be funding useful things such as education and healthcare, infrastructure, and research & development for tools to fight our gravest threat: climate change.