Ground the Military

The much-heralded MV-22 Osprey, the tax-funded flying gadget costing hundreds of millions to develop, is the latest product of the military-industrial complex to go down in flames. The tragedy is that, when it happened, 19 innocent Marines were aboard. Surviving family members now report that the soldiers were terrified to fly this contraption, knowing full well that it was designed more for public-relations than military purposes.

Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the crash suggest that the military takes as casual an attitude toward the lives of its own troops as it does of foreigners. “They killed him,” is the way Christina Mercier of Grand Ronde, Ore., accurately described the death of her 24-year-old son in the Osprey. “They wanted him to be a guinea pig for these new airplanes.” Think about her comments before you let your son or daughter enlist.

The Marines have decided to ground the contraptions out of “respect for the families” (but actually because of the negative PR fallout from the crash) — yet still denies that there is any design flaw. Maybe there’s no flaw from the point of view of the muckety-mucks making decisions on the ground. But everyone connected with the aircraft knew that the plane was unstable — witness the three high-profile crashes in the 1990s — and they are all telling this to the media.

The military is not only willing to fritter away the lives of its soldiers; the same bunch thinks nothing of spending untold millions on these killing machines. Already signed and delivered is a purchase order for 360 Ospreys at $44 million a pop, not including R&D. Once the money is safely in the hands of Bell and Boeing, the Clinton administration gets a media bounce from its supposed successes, and the Pentagon can brag about having the fanciest plane on the globe. The money and lives expended on the project are hardly worth a second thought.

Is there no presidential aspirant who has the guts to call for an end to this outrageous Pentagon contract? It needs to be ended now, and the money immediately refunded to the taxpayers. The same goes for vast swaths of the Pentagon’s spending. It is completely absurd to spend $305 billion per year — not counting the huge and secret “black budget” — at a time when there are NO foreign threats to the U.S., despite the continuing attempt to try to manufacture them out of whole cloth. And far from cutting back, Clinton and the Congress plan to give the Pentagon everything it wants between now and the year 2005.

And most of the funding is based on pure inertia. It goes to weapons designed for the Cold War that nobody but taxpayers and peace activists have an interest in eliminating. The lobbyists for higher spending are everywhere in D.C. and lavishly funded, while the voices of sanity are small and disorganized.

As this event underscores, the gargantuan military budget should be a top concern for anyone who cares about liberty. No society has ever maintained its liberty while running a military empire. As we saw at Waco, and see in the military drills that are being conducted in rural and suburban civilian areas, the troops will eventually be used against American citizens in a further abuse of our rights.

Far from being our protectors, or the source of our safety and well-being, the U.S. military represents a threat, not only to foreigners but also to the poor souls who are unlucky enough to be enlisted and treated like human guinea pigs in experimental aircraft.

Next on the guinea-pig list, however, are the American people themselves. Consider the “National Missile Defense” program, which will scarf up $1.9 billion this year, and a total of $10.4 billion over the next five years. The eventual long-run cost will certainly exceed $30 billion. And yet this boondoggle has been the darling of every big-spending hawk in D.C., including the military writers at the “pro-peace” Cato Institute.

The idea is to create a shield above the U.S. that would shoot down nuclear weapons before they hit the U.S. If it could work, it sounds like a great idea, right? Wrong. A missile defense system (thinking only in the abstract here) would only be compatible with a constitutional foreign policy. But the U.S. does not conduct a constitutional foreign policy. Given the reality of U.S. aggression abroad, the very presence of such a shield would indicate to the world that the U.S. had hostile intent: the desire to bomb foreigners and avoid retaliation.

Notice that U.S. wars abroad take place against countries with no nuclear capability: Serbia, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, etc. These poor, dinky places are no match for the world’s only superpower. But fearing a counterstrike to American soil, the U.S. generally leaves countries with nuclear weapons alone, including Russia (where ethnic cleansing is permitted), China and Israel. And we wonder why nuclear weapon proliferation continues unabated? Are “rogue nations” really so crazy in wanting to protect themselves against the U.S.?

Think about the consequences of a working nuclear shield. It would be the equivalent of giving a murderous sniper a bullet-proof body suit. Would he be more or less likely to harm innocents if he feared no personal consequences? The answer should be obvious: a working nuclear shield would unleash the U.S. to become even more of an empire, striking out against any country, anywhere, for any reason. For that reason alone, it is wholly irresponsible to advocate the National Missile Defense.

As with any bureaucratic operation, however, there is also the question of workability. Eleven physicists and engineers affiliated with MIT recently looked closely at the NMD and concluded that it is an engineering disaster. Simple decoys could easily throw the system off, causing it to shoot down harmless objects or let through bombs not emitting enough heat to trigger the system.

The Pentagon response: “It’s a prototype and you have to walk before you run.”

That’s another way of saying that they have to waste money and lives before they protect you. What planet are these people on? If a NMD doesn’t work, the American people are toast. We’ll all experience the fate of those poor soldiers sent to their death in the Osprey. In fact, what incentive does the Pentagon have to make sure that it works? Meanwhile, the very perception that our skies have an invisible nuclear shield will unleash global terror campaigns against foreigners, whether armed with nukes or not.

It’s been 10 years since the end of the Cold War, and there’s been no public debate on the role of the military in American life. Today, the U.S. spends more on weapons of mass destruction, and those who operate them, than the rest of the world combined. Then the government pays private contractors to build more weapons of mass destruction to ship to compliant states around the world.

In contrast, the framers envisioned a society protected by state-level militias. The national defense would be put together only when U.S. soil was directly threatened, and the expenses would be a drop in the bucket. Absent a direct foreign threat, the framers envisioned a society in which safety and protection from outside harm took place at a local level.

If the U.S. had a constitutional system of defense today, we would start with a 90 percent cut in the budget and go from there. Trust no man who says he favors the Constitution and also advocates current levels of spending, much less any new military spending. If we care about the future of American liberty, we should advocate putting the U.S. military machine on cinder blocks.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site,