In Ukraine right now, we have a stalemated war of attrition, where as Caitlin Johnstone writes, “soldiers are being killed and maimed in a battle for inches. At least tens of thousands have died in this war with hundreds of thousands wounded, all for those teeny, tiny little blips on the map. Ukraine is now freckled with more landmines than anywhere else on earth, which experts say will take decades to clear. This giant deathtrap is exacerbated by the cluster munitions that are covering the land with greater and greater frequency, which will go on to detonate and kill civilians (mostly children) for years to come.
Military Industrial Complex
Could corporate CEOs anywhere in the universe have a deal much sweeter than U.S. defense contractor chiefs? The CEO at CybeCys, Inc., a Texas-based defense contractor, might quibble with that question. He isn’t feeling all that much sweetness these days. Last month, federal prosecutors announced a deal that will have this CEO and CybeCys pay over $283,000 in penalties and damages for cheating on two Covid-era federal loan programs. The CybeCys CEO seems to have transferred hefty chunks of taxpayer dollars into his own personal investment accounts and used those dollars, prosecutors charge, to buy up “securities, exchange-traded funds, and cryptocurrency.”
In April 1953, newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a retired five-star Army general who had led the landings on D-Day in France in June 1944, gave his most powerful speech. It would become known as his “Cross of Iron” address. In it, Ike warned of the cost humanity would pay if Cold War competition led to a world dominated by wars and weaponry that couldn’t be reined in. In the immediate aftermath of the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Ike extended an olive branch to the new leaders of that empire. He sought, he said, to put America and the world on a “highway to peace.” It was, of course, never to be
Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives earlier this year, the so-called “Freedom Caucus” — the badly misnamed right-fringe of the congressional GOP — has been flexing its influence. Caucus members are deeply invested in an agenda that would increase inequality and enrich corporations and billionaires, strip hard-won rights from people of color, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community, destroy the environment to enrich fossil fuel companies and slash social investment for the poor. And yet surprisingly, some of these extremists are also—sort of—calling for cutting the military budget. Does that provide an opening for anti-war progressives looking to cross the aisle? Unfortunately, no.
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across the U.S. in the last few years to decry police brutality, to oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to restrict abortion rights, and to contest what they believed was a rigged election (the January 2021 Capitol riots). Only small hardy bands by comparison have taken to the streets to protest record military budgets—approaching $1 trillion under Joe Biden—or the illegal bombing of Syria, expansion of U.S. troops in Africa, provision of $20 billion in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, and military provocations directed against China. Joan Roelofs’ new book The Trillion Dollar Silencer: Why There Is So Little Anti-War Protest in the United States (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2022), starts with an important question: “Why is there so much acceptance and so little protest against our government’s illegal and immoral wars and other military operations?”
Congress has spoken when it comes to next year’s Pentagon budget and the results, if they weren’t so in line with past practices, should astonish us all. The House of Representatives voted to add $37 billion and the Senate $45 billion to the administration’s already humongous request for “national defense,” a staggering figure that includes both the Pentagon budget and work on nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy. If enacted, the Senate’s sum would push spending on the military to at least $850 billion annually, far more — adjusted for inflation — than at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars or the peak years of the Cold War. U.S. military spending is, of course, astronomically high — more than that of the next nine countries combined. Here’s the kicker, though: the Pentagon (an institution that has never passed a comprehensive financial audit) doesn’t even ask for all those yearly spending increases in its budget requests to Congress.
The United States launched at least 251 military interventions between 1991 and 2022. This is according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, a US government institution that compiles information on behalf of Congress. The report documented another 218 US military interventions between 1798 and 1990. That makes for a total of 469 US military interventions since 1798 that have been acknowledged by the Congress. This data was published on March 8, 2022 by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), in a document titled “Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2022.” The list of countries targeted by the US military includes the vast majority of the nations on Earth, including almost every single county in Latin America and the Caribbean and most of the African continent.
Researcher Stephen Semler documented the 21 distinct military aid packages that the Joe Biden administration approved for Ukraine in the year between August 2021 and August 2022, at a total of $40.13 billion. Two of those 21 pledges were approved before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Excluding these two Presidential Drawdowns from August and December 2021, which are worth $260 million combined, the Biden administration passed $39.87 billion for military aid in Ukraine between February 25, 2022 (the day after the Russian invasion) and August 19, 2022.
To a casual observer, the Black Hawk and Sikorsky S-76 helicopters may have seemed incongruous landing next to the student union on the University of Connecticut’s pastoral green campus, but this particular Thursday in September 2018 was Lockheed Martin Day, and the aircraft were the main attraction. A small group of students stood nearby, signs in hand, protesting Lockheed’s presence and informing others about a recent massacre. Weeks earlier, 40 children had been killed when a Saudi-led coalition air strike dropped a 500-pound bomb on a school bus in northern Yemen. A CNN investigation found that Lockheed — the world’s largest weapons manufacturer — had sold the precision-guided munition to Saudi Arabia a year prior in a $110 billion arms deal brokered under former President Donald Trump.
These are good times to be an arms maker. Not only are tens of billions of dollars in new military spending headed for the coffers of this country’s largest weapons contractors, but they’re being praised as defenders of freedom and democracy, thanks to their role in arming Ukraine to fight the Russians. The last time the industry gained such a sterling reputation was during World War II when it was lauded as the “arsenal of democracy” for fueling the fight against fascism. Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes recently underscored this point in an interview with the Harvard Business Review. While discussing how he should respond to criticism of his company benefiting from a rise in sales right now, he said: “Look, we don’t apologize for making these systems, making these weapons. The fact is, they are incredibly effective in deterring and dealing with the threat that the Ukrainians are seeing today…"
The United States, as the near unanimous vote to provide nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine illustrates, is trapped in the death spiral of unchecked militarism. No high speed trains. No universal health care. No viable Covid relief program. No respite from 8.3 percent inflation. No infrastructure programs to repair decaying roads and bridges, which require $41.8 billion to fix the 43,586 structurally deficient bridges, on average 68 years old. No forgiveness of $1.7 trillion in student debt. No addressing income inequality. No program to feed the 17 million children who go to bed each night hungry. No rational gun control or curbing of the epidemic of nihilistic violence and mass shootings. No help for the 100,000 Americans who die each year of drug overdoses.
Why has the United States already become so heavily invested in the Russia-Ukraine war? And why has it so regularly gotten involved, in some fashion, in so many other wars on this planet since it invaded Afghanistan in 2001? Those with long memories might echo the conclusion reached more than a century ago by radical social critic Randolph Bourne that “war is the health of the state” or recall the ancient warnings of this country’s founders like James Madison that democracy dies not in darkness, but in the ghastly light thrown by too many bombs bursting in air for far too long. In 1985, when I first went on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, a conflict between the Soviet Union and Ukraine would, of course, have been treated as a civil war between Soviet republics. In the context of the Cold War, the U.S. certainly wouldn’t have risked openly sending billions of dollars in weaponry directly to Ukraine to “weaken” Russia.
The same cabal of warmongering pundits, foreign policy specialists and government officials, year after year, debacle after debacle, smugly dodge responsibility for the military fiascos they orchestrate. They are protean, shifting adroitly with the political winds, moving from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party and then back again, mutating from cold warriors to neocons to liberal interventionists. Pseudo intellectuals, they exude a cloying Ivy League snobbery as they sell perpetual fear, perpetual war, and a racist worldview, where the lesser breeds of the earth only understand violence.
Since the pandemic began in early 2020, the weapons industry has argued that shutdowns and supply chain disruptions have put the “defense industrial base” in peril, compromising the national security and military “readiness” of the United States. Now, that same industry is using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and NATO’s subsequent military buildup to double down on the argument, demanding rapid, public investments in the weapons industry to bolster the capacity of the United States and NATO for “deterrence.”
That the U.S./NATO-instigated war in Ukraine could result in a third world war is of major concern for all of humanity, especially workers and oppressed people who ultimately bear the brunt of any war. Yet for some global billionaires — today’s ‘masters of war’ — this conflict is seen as an opportunity to further boost profits. Among those already reaping gains are companies involved in the production and sale of weapons, planes and other military hardware. This includes 14 of the world’s 20 largest “defense” companies headquartered in the U.S. Topping this list are Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon Technologies, which had combined arms sales in 2019 nearing $100 billion. On Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, the stock value of these arms manufacturers soared. Raytheon and Lockheed officials openly told investors the Ukraine conflict was “good for business.”