LINK TV’s "Active Opposition" aired a show last Wednesday discussing the military industrial complex. It featured a panel discussion, opening with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous farewell speech of 43 years ago.
In preparation for this panel, I re-read War Is a Racket, by two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Lieutenant General Smedley Butler. Butler’s post-World War I, pre-World War II assessment is far more direct than Ike’s speech. Marines often tend to tell it like it is.
I wonder what Butler or Ike, generals who had served in several brutal wars, would have thought about the latest news from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
Smedley Butler noticed how defense industries carefully nurtured politicians for war. Like good cops, they emphasized the job creation benefits and their own outstanding ability to produce needed armaments and supplies. All you want, and then some, yessiree! If that didn’t do the trick, the bad cop defense industrial establishment worried that without war, vast debts owed them by allies or opponents might never be collected, and domestic economic collapse would follow. Politicians, unchanging from the time of Plato, knew exactly what to do.
Ike was concerned that the average American did not really understand the sycophantic and co-dependent relationship between the defense industries, the military leadership, and the Congress. He noted "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. …We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications."
Ike advised America to stay vigilant, observant, "alert and knowledgeable." Smedley Butler, more of a realist I suppose, simply advised that when talk of war raged, all of the industrialists and politician be conscripted first, then their children, and lastly, the rest of us. Butler conceived a simple democratic plan that would require a decision for war be approved by a majority of all those who would be sent to fight. Draftable young men would vote yea or nay for the next war. No votes by older folks or politicians and industrialists would be considered. Such a system would ensure that truly defensive wars would be fought, and all other wars rejected.
American soldiers today are quite familiar with the military industrial complex and outsourcing. They see inedible food, an extra burden of providing security, and shocking pay inequities. They see inscrutable accountability mysteries.
Some Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib Prison have met the modern American military industrial complex up close and personal. Contractors from CACI International and Titan Corporation, as well as members of our own military, are under investigation for "mistreating" prisoners.
CACI International and Titan Corporation represent numbers 63 and 35, respectively, of the Pentagon’s top 100 contractors for 2002. These companies are small fry, as out-sourcing goes.
Rational people may debate whether America’s occupation of Iraq is purely defensive, a Republic behaving imperially, or the blueprint for a new kind of empire. But underlying the debate is a fact — that by its very existence — undermines the Constitution, American traditions of justice, and the laws of armed conflict.
We have today over 15,000 military contractors in Iraq, doing not just the cooking and cleaning, but the fighting, the guarding, the strategizing, and even some of the dying. After the U.S. and the U.K. militaries, this third largest "force" outnumbers the entire remaining coalition of the paid for.
The military industrial complex lobbies Congress on a daily basis, costs the taxpayer billions each year, chips away at the credibility of the United States as a force for justice and good will, exists in a hazy legal wasteland unaccountable to domestic or international law, and serves to embarrass the country periodically with overcharges, technology leaks to other countries, and human rights abuses.
Outsourcing contracts for everything from toilet paper to bullets to guards and interrogators have become the Soylent Green of the military industrial complex, an "artificial nourishment whose actual ingredients are not known by the public." The top 100 CEOs and Vice Presidents cheerfully move from government circles into defense industries, and sometimes back again.
This third-generation spawn of Smedley Butler’s racketeers go where we pay them to go and do what they are told. They can hardly complain later that they were forced into anything, or misled by faulty intelligence, or didn’t know what they were getting into. You see, it’s all in their contracts. This makes them worth far more to Washington than our all-volunteer force of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
When we consider the American military, we don’t think about contracts or contractors, and we don’t worry about the parasitical military industrial complex. Smedley Butler and Dwight D. Eisenhower thought we should. America at war, circa 2004, proves them to be not only patriots, but prophets as well.
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley, and writes a bi-weekly column on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com.