Battleland

Hardware v. People

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For a good example of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex’s (MICC’s) value system — which is hardware before ideas and people — read this New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof.

Note his opening paragraph:

Here’s a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

And here is Kristof’s penultimate paragraph:

We refurbish tanks after time in combat, but don’t much help men and women exorcise the demons of war. Presidents commit troops to distant battlefields, but don’t commit enough dollars to veterans’ services afterward. We enlist soldiers to protect us, but when they come home we don’t protect them.

In between, Kristof supports these statements with horrific detail.

Kristof’s op-ed is symptomatic of a far deeper problem — one that evolved in the MICC’s cultural DNA during the give and take of budget battles fought over 40 years of Cold War and the subsequent 20 years of warmongering since 1991. This DNA shapes the MICCs behaviour, as I explained in The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War, in Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs (January-February 2011).

The proper order of priority in any military force should always be People, Ideas, Hardware, in that order — the opposite of that implied in Kristof’s penultimate paragraph

But you won’t won’t see P-I-H value system reflected in the actual decisions made in the Pentagon, the weapons companies, or on Capitol Hill, or the mass of the juiciest stories in the defense media (like Aviation Week, Armed Forces Journal, Inside The Pentagon, etc. (or much of the mainstream media, to boot). By far, most of the energy, money, words, and time is spent debating the merits of the individual weapon systems, like the problem plagued, $500 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

During my 33 years in Department of Defense, this warping of values became steadily worse over time, notwithstanding the empty flag-waving rhetoric of supporting our troops. At the same time the nation has become ever more dependent on an the higher personnel costs needed to support an all volunteer force — a standing permanent military, something the Framers of the Constitution would have abhorred.

The growing costs of the all-volunteer force eat into the budget and displace money needed for new weapons. So, there is constant pressure to reduce the size of the force and training tempos, and reallocate the money to higher priority items, like the ever-more-expensive Joint Strike Fighter.

In the 1997 and 1998, the insensitivity of these priorities became transparently obvious. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in one of stupidest faux pas I have ever witnessed — and I have seen many — approved a poster celebrating Armed Forces Day that inadvertently became a metaphor for the MICC’s deeply entrenched, perverted value system. What is missing?

People!!!!

Think of it. A day set aside to acknowledge the valor and sacrifices of our servicemen was announced by an official Defense Department poster that celebrated Hardware and ignored people.

If you think this mentality was an artifact of the Clinton Administration or the Democrats, think again. It was and remains bi-partisan. Ironically, Cohen was formerly a pro-defense Republican Senator from Maine (read shovel money to the warship builders at Bath Iron Works). He was and remains an advocate of monstrous defense budgets.

When he took the job in 1997, he promised to oppose the President, if he felt the Defense Department was being short shrifted. Moreover, in the 1980s as a Republican senator, Cohen claimed to be a a member of the bi-partisan Military Reform Caucus. Of course he never attended its meetings, because if he had, he might have realized the motto of the Reform Caucus was People – Ideas – Hardware — in that order!

But Cohen was not alone in this obscenity. Significantly, at the time, no general or admiral in any military service objected publicly to this slanderous poster. In fact, it was not even noticed by anyone in the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill, or in the press. That is because it accurately reflected the business-as-usual, core values of the MICC. After the second one came in 1998, a Marine colonel and close friend, GI Wilson and I went ballistic, and we raised holy hell in emails, on the Internet, in meetings, in the halls, and to any one who would listen.

We both can say with satisfaction that the poster outrage went in the dustbin of history, and in 1999, we had a poster with people on it.

But is you think this is ancient history, read Kristof’s article in its entirety, and you will see that the value system remains in place. Then go on the Internet and take a look at the current round of service downsizing plans (pushing people out the door) to make room for high cost cold-war inspired turkeys like the Joint Strike Fighter, nuclear submarines, ballistic missile defense systems, etc.

And the next time you hear someone in the MICC waving the flag and saying the MICC’s top priority is supporting the grunts, slugging it out in mud and dust of war, remember the poster — and follow the money.

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