Legend has it that one evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee replied, "The one you feed."
As guidance for individual lives, it works. In philosophy or religion, this story has a sure place. But when it is applied to government, there may be a completely different lesson to be learned. And Americans are going to learn it soon, ready or not.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen rightly understands that the national debt is the biggest single risk to the enterprise to which he has devoted his entire adult life, the military industrial complex. Well, his actual words were, "The most significant threat to our national security is our debt." He went on to explain that the debt "limits" the government’s ability to "resource" the military.
The "resourcing" Mullen is worried about includes all the junk in our collective military trunk, all the people currently in uniform, in civil service and contractor suits and khakis, and the millions of retirees (of which I am one), all of the facilities in 177 countries around the world, the spy/eavesdropping/technical surveillance infrastructure and people, and the costs of war/occupation/endless training and puppet—prop-uppery in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Pakistan, Colombia, South Korea, etc. All of this equals, to Mullen, "national security."
But of course, the overblown national security enterprise is less about real American security than the security of the ruling classes, and international and central banks interested in fiat currency "stability" and global commodity "predictability." At a basic American citizen and community level, it is also, sadly, about income security.
The Washingtonsblog.com elaborates on Mullen’s concern, and explains (quoting the great Robert Higgs among others) how the government spending has impacted productivity, jobs, recession and recovery in the 20th century. One of the charts is especially eloquent, and reveals much about Mullen’s very real concern that someone soon may stop feeding him.
This chart, covering durable goods shipments over the past decade, is useful in seeing how our military industrial sector has grown — long after the end of the Cold War! Forget for a moment that this spending, as Higgs and others explain, saps the strength and energy of the private sector, and is itself tax and debt funded, equal or greater than its fellow tax-feeding bureaucracies in Washington, Medicare, Social Security, and state and federal civil servant and military pensions. We hear that Social Security (already in the red) and Medicare (in trouble from the beginning) programs are publicly working to address fiscal realities. Civil retirees at state and federal level are already on notice, and federal retirement programs are changing. But the military, and its extended security complex, has done little but creatively account for its needs, and ask for more each year. In lieu of making real and serious cuts, and reducing America’s inappropriate and costly empire, Mullen and Gates fear-monger global security, and promote false patriotism.
We may be leaving Iraq, but we leave it (or fail to) under the US Forces Korea model, with 50,000 combat-hardened and ready troops and a host of large facilities ready to deal with the communists at any moment, or jihadists, or maybe just a formidable troop of fantastical camel spiders. Incidentally, in early 2004 I wrote an article for the now defunct website militaryweek.com explaining the bureaucratic, command and strategic parallels between the post-armistice occupation of South Korea and the similar plans for Iraq. Of course, I didn’t have any more insight than anyone else — the statement had been made by a Pentagon spokesperson of some kind. They didn’t continue to talk in these terms. But the joke was real, and it was on the Iraqis and the US taxpayer.
Today we read, without surprise, that billions of dollars of American wealth (present and future) have been wasted, squandered and lost in various unfinished, subsequently destroyed or simply paid-for-never-started projects in Iraq. Many of these projects were on the to-do list — the schools, hospitals, water purification systems, prisons, roads, bridges or electrical power plants — because we destroyed them in 2003 and 2004, or ruined them years earlier with our endless bombing during the UN sanctions period. Those closest to the missing money — US military and state department implementers and contractors, US allied governments and contractors, and Iraqi puppet class contractors know where it went. And, while they certainly share our concern, they’d also like to say, "Thank you very much!"
The old Cherokee with his two wolves was wise. The wolf that grows strong is the wolf we feed, and we can choose. However, when this parable is applied to the wolf of state, the massive military industrial sector of our otherwise ailing economy, withholding sustenance may no longer be an option.
Just over 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a friend that, "The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force." Only when we again adopt this spirit will we be able to end the empire. Meanwhile, the wolf we have been feeding so generously is now powerful, arrogant and angry at its first real hunger pang.
LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, blogs occasionally at Liberty and Power and The Beacon. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here or join her Facebook page.