Deconstructing the U.S. Military; or How to Cut a Cool Trillion
Dollars a Year from the U.S. Budget
by Dana Visalli
by Dana Visalli: Rethinking
Afghanistan, America, and Americans
While in Kabul
in March of this year, I visited the U.S. military base in that
city, Camp Eggers. Knowing I would need a pretext to gain entry,
I typed up a letter offering to give a presentation on wildlife
in Afghanistan, which I had been studying. When approaching the
base, one passes through an initial checkpoint, where a Hummer topped
with a machine-gun nest stands guard. Then there is a 100-yard walk
down a narrow corridor between high concrete blast walls, at which
point one arrives at a guarded entry point through the wall. I showed
my passport and letter, and was escorted through a second layer
of blast walls to a little wooden information booth in this still-peripheral
circle of defense. The pimply young lad manning the booth was flustered
by my request; he had never seen anything quite like it. He did
what all soldiers do when faced with something new; he phoned his
superior for orders on how to proceed.
was granted to pass to the next entry level. At hut #2 another friendly
young male soldier by the name of Ryan was equally baffled by my
written request, and he dialed up his commanding officer
for instructions on what to do with me. Then, with Ryan as my escort,
I made it into the inner sanctum of the base, where soldiers and
military contractors strolled leisurely around the streets of the
former Kabul residential area. After being passed around to several
more levels of authority, I finally ended up at the office of Morale,
Welfare and Recreation. The female officer in charge there was as
confused by my presence as everyone else had been, and after reading
my proposal asked rather sternly, "How did he get on
the base?" She reprimanded Ryan for bringing me to the center
of Camp Eggers, then realized that she would have to phone her
commanding officer because there was no standardized protocol on
how to deal with me. As we retraced our steps, Ryan remarked that
he certainly could not be held accountable for letting me on the
base because all he had done was follow orders. In fact, the primary
concern of everyone I interacted with at Camp Eggers was to follow
the directives of their superiors; no one appeared to have the capacity
to take responsibility for their actions.
In the mid-1960s,
political scientist Hannah Arendt published a book-length study
of how some of the great evils of history, such as slavery and the
Holocaust, managed to occur. Her book, Eichmann
in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, concluded
that generally such crimes are not carried out by fanatics or sociopaths,
but rather by ordinary people who accepted the
premises of their superiors and their state and therefore do
what they are told to do, and participate with the view that their
actions are normal. The word "banal" is defined
as "something that is trite, normal, and commonplace."
The root of the word comes from the Old French word ban,
referring to feudal military service, which was compulsory and thus
commonly accepted. Thus, military culture is by definition synonymous
with banal, which my acquaintances at Camp Eggers demonstrated as
they strove to find orders to follow and avoid responsibility for
members of the military establishment receive extensive training
in combat techniques, including of course how
to kill other human beings. One common
drill at boot camp is to have recruits lunge repeatedly at mock
human targets with mounted bayonets, shouting "Kill! Kill!"
as they stab their imaginary victims. After months of such training,
killing itself becomes banal, something normal and commonplace.
The military culture of thoughtless submission to authority combined
with heavy conditioning to snuff out human life creates a wide path
towards the "great evils" that Hannah Arendt addressed.
of what a sane society would call evil acts abound in the annals
of our current wars. For example, in 2010 a group of five
American soldiers murdered a number of
Afghan civilians "for sport," and collected fingers of
their victims as trophies. Killing for them had become normal and
banal; it was in fact what the soldiers were trained to do.
March of 2011 two
U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters came upon
10 Afghan children ages 7 to 13 gathering brush to warm their huts
and attacked them with heavy machine gun fire. When the parents
of the children arrived on the scene, attracted by the gunfire,
they could only collect body parts of their children. For the pilots
of the helicopters, killing was their job, a normal part of military
On March 12,
U.S. soldiers entered the home of a 14-year old girl in the
Iraqi city of Mahmudiya, took her mother, father and sister into
a bedroom and shot them, and then gang-raped the girl. Afterwards,
they shot her in the head and attempted to burn her body. They then
reported the deaths as being the result of an insurgent attack.
On March 25,
Sgt. Eric Schrumpf was participating in the U.S. invasion of
Iraq when he spotted an Iraqi soldier in his field of view behind
a female Iraqi citizen. He couldn’t get a clear shot with the woman
blocking his line of sight, so he shot her to get her out of the
line of fire. "I’m sorry, but the chick was in the way,"
Schrumpf explained. Later he elaborated, "We had a great day.
We killed a lot of people."
Over the long
term, most soldiers committing such murders become victims of their
own lack of judgment, unable to live with the profoundly antisocial
acts they have committed. Sergeant Schrumpf is himself now debilitated
by PTSD, and can scarcely function in civilian society. He has
attacked people in movie theaters because he mistakes their cans
of Coke for military weapons. "I'll never be the same again," says
Schrumpf, who seems somehow mystified by the etiology of his emotional
of the fruits of combat duty are limited only by time available
to tell them. After serving in the Marines during the 2003 invasion
of Iraq, Lance
Cpl. Walter Rollo Smith returned home and soon killed his wife,
Nicole Marie Speirs, the 22-year-old mother of his twin children.
He drowned her in a bathtub without any evident provocation or reason.
In reflecting on his heinous crime, Smith said, "I know for
a fact that before I went to Iraq, there’s no way I would have taken
somebody else’s life."
in the Army in Iraq in 2004, Spc.
Brandon Bare, 19, of Wilkesboro, N.C, came home and stabbed
his wife Nabila Bare, 18, at least 71 times with knives and a meat
cleaver. About three dozen of the wounds were on her head and neck.
Killing is what he was trained to do.
and dysfunction in soldiers returning from combat is commonplace.
recent study indicates that 62% of soldiers returning from the
war in Iraq have asked for mental health counseling, with 27% showing
dangerous levels of alcohol abuse. Suicide rates among soldiers
and vets have increased dramatically in recent years. Over 100,000
Vietnam vets have now killed themselves, far more than died
in the Vietnam War. More than 300,000 veterans of the U.S. military
are currently homeless, another
If war is
in fact destroying the youth of America by turning them into trained
and traumatized killers, one could at least hope that the wars themselves
have some value to American society. Objective evidence indicates
otherwise. The actual conduct of war bears more resemblance to a
circus act than the noble endeavor it is often portrayed to be.
To cite one of the many examples of the senselessness of war related
in the book Achilles
in Vietnam, author and Vietnam vet Jonathan Shay describes how,
"During one patrol in the dry season, a U.S. Army squad ran
out of water and was not resupplied. They walked for a day and a
half in search of water in Vietcong-controlled territory. When men
started to collapse from dehydration in the heat, an officer’s plea
for emergency resupply was heeded: a helicopter flew over and "bombed"
the squad with cases of Tab, seriously injuring one of the men.
The major whose helicopter dropped the Tab was recalled to evacuate
the casualty. There was no enemy activity. I subsequently read in
the division newspaper that the major had put himself in for and
had received the Bronze Star for resupplying the troops and evacuating
the wounded ‘under fire.’ " Remember that story the next time
you see a soldier’s chest full of medals.
war itself was fought because at the end of World War II, Ho Chi
Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from the colonizing French,
reading from the U.S. Declaration of Independence to emphasize his
people’s reasonable claim to self-determination. Instead of supporting
this universal urge that humanity has for freedom, the U.S. supported
the French effort to regain their colony for 10 long years (1945-1954).
After the French were defeated, the U.S. fought the Vietnamese for
another 22 years (1955-1975). Thus, 32 years of brutal mayhem took
place, when all the Vietnamese people were asking for was their
independence. The American lives that were ruined the 58,000 combat
deaths, 100,000+ suicides, 300,000 homeless men were all expended
for nothing, as were the 3.4 million Vietnamese who died in that
war. To briefly mention another of our recent wars, today the nation
of Iraq lies in ruins, the people impoverished, a million dead and
5 million living as refugees, while the entire basis of the U.S.
invasion in 2003 is widely acknowledged to have been a complete
is not only "a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,
those who are cold and are not clothed," as Dwight
Eisenhower noted in a speech in 1953, but war is also destructive
to the physical earth, the very source of human life, and indeed
of all life. The U.S. has dropped 15
million tons of bombs on the earth’s surface in last 60 years,
spread 1 million
tons of napalm on fields and forests, and sprayed 20
million gallons of defoliants on some of the most diverse rainforests
on the planet. By any measure, the U.S. military is conducting
a war against the earth itself. Such an inane effort does not
come cheaply. The total cost of all military expenses for 2012 is
estimated to be $1.2
trillion dollars, one-third
of the total federal budget. It is the U.S. military that
is driving the U.S. itself into bankruptcy.
the U.S. military is destroying the lives of its own young men while
at the same time it devastates other human cultures; it threatens
the economic survival of the United States while it is fraying the
ecological fabric that makes life on earth possible.
once noted that the Soviet system was evil and had to be dismantled.
The U.S. military is a similarly evil force loosened on the world.
As was done to the repugnant Soviet system, the equally repugnant
U.S. military should be completely dismantled, with all soldiers
and ships and planes and weapons brought home from the vast web
American military bases spanning the globe. The savings in terms
of human lives, human suffering, ecological integrity and American
dollars will be immeasurable. We can then begin to rebuild a national
defense consisting of a small militia that can guard our borders
and "repel invasions," as called for in the U.S. Constitution,
all the while remembering that the best defense is the making of
Dana Visalli [send him mail]
is an ecologist, botanist and organic farmer living in Twisp, Washington.
He is currently traveling in Afghanistan. Additional writings can
be found here.
© 2011 Dana Visalli