Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Size of Armies, The Size of Ambitions

Although history never actually becomes fluid, the interpretation of history seems to have no problem conforming its message and meaning to the issues of the moment. Regardless of the issues. Regardless of the moment.

Fifty years ago in 1961 President Eisenhower delivered his farewell address as he was leaving office. Quite aside from the contemporary inclination to deify old Presidents, MeanMesa must insist that the General be only given his kudos when they turn out to be deserved, but that they, nonetheless, be given.

Eisenhower cannot be allowed to become a metaphor. He was a man. Quite a man.

(image source)
Dwight David Eisenhower
34th President of the United States

Ike was a man comprised of many sides. Some were humanizing -- his alleged connection to Marilyn Monroe. Some were indisputable evidence of vision and political savvy - the interstate highway system. Some were military accomplishments so immense that they threatened to leave the flesh and bones of the actual man behind -- the invasion and recapture of Europe as a five star, General of the Armies in WWII. Some revealed a quiet, steadfast bravery -- staring down the USSR as the ghostly reality of nuclear MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) floated across the Warsaw Pact. Some were marked by questionable motives and unpleasant consequences -- the CIA's destruction of the Iranian democracy.

(image source)
Dwight D. Eisenhower, General of the Army

Now that the "feathers have been furled" one more time, we can return to the now famous speech. Most MeanMesa visitors are quite familiar with the "military-industrial complex" part, but right here, we can also take just a little bit more comprehensive look at a bit more of the speech's content. For visitors wishing to read the speech in its entirety, link here.

MeanMesa's appreciation to

Eisenhower's 1961 Farewell Address (excerpted)


Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology-global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle - with liberty at stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small,there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research-these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we which to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs - balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage-balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between action of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgement seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.


A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peace time, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. 

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been over shadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system-ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Please pay especial attention to the highlighted sections.

Looking at Eisenhower's Words in 2011
The title of this posting notes the sizes of armies and the sizes of ambitions. In the time since Eisenhower was President, the world has continually changed. The current state of the world, the current state of our US national ambitions and the idea of "balance" are all not only new but also dynamically fluid. In our midst, as a nation, are those who have not yet noticed that the earth has shifted under their feet.

All the ideas of force which guided Dwight Eisenhower have been transformed, too. We can see a few of the inevitable incongruities when we apply our conclusions over our present situation.

Since the time of the speech in 1961, the military industrial complex has grown more voracious every year and more expensive with every budget. During the Cold War, this "tit for tat" approach seemed to make sense. Now, it turns out that we as a country continue to "tat" long after the rest of the world -- including our current competitors and opponents -- has ceased to "tit."

In WWII the US was actually pleasantly surprised to discover that we could so effectively arm ourselves and fight. Military approaches during that conflict and a few following it, notably Korea, amounted to massed troops and total industrial commitment. This strategy was basically successful in the Cold War, too. Further, we have seen our more modern military opponents adopt this strategy. Iraq, for example, had a massive army equipped with rather respectable Soviet hardware. Other countries such as North Korea and Iran have taken this same dubious course. Both are starving themselves and their faltering economies trying to sustain such an immense expense.

Our great national competitor, The Peoples Republic of China, however, has not fallen for the bait. In that case, we see a highly reasoned approach to military expenses. The gigantic Peoples Liberation Army is primarily designed for internal and border operations, a claim made credible by its lack of mobility. Strategic arms designed to project power, although formidable, pale with respect both to ambition and cost when compared to those of the US. MeanMesa believes that the PRC's economical response to the necessity of an arm's build up is probably fairly consistent with at least the pragmatic essence of Eisenhower's warning. (see chart below)

Continuing, the most recent "ambition" of this nation was to capture and exploit the Iraqi oil reserves to the benefit of our own local oligarchs. Given the nature of the Iraqi military, our own forces were well suited to the job. Suddenly, however, our national opponents, seeing that waging any more of these "old wars" was both militarily foolhardy and too expensive, switched tactics to projection of power through the mechanism of the promotion of terror.

This could have been a moment of clarity for our realizations about our military industrial complex, but it occurred in an environment where the same sinister complex enjoyed a well crafted control of the very media which might have exposed it. In fact, the day which will greet tomorrow at dawn sees these oligarchic reactionaries in charge of the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and the Fourth Estate (the media). The oligarchic influence in our Senate, although incomplete, remains capable of obstructionism and manipulation unseen before in the country -- a sickening shadow of the concept of representational democracy.

Further, it would be an overly limiting mistake to continue to think strictly of the military industrial complex, per se. That categorization will be far more useful when we direct it simply to encompass our unruly collection of oligarchs. Given Eisenhower's long service in the US military, the dangers he saw in the military industrial complex were understandable. What Eisenhower saw as a select threat, it turns out, was only the first, visible evidence of  what would, by this present day, have the quiet but robust trappings of oligarchy and class war.

Those who benefited the most from the fiscal military industrial largesse during the Cold War served as an example for their equally "cash infatuated" peers of today. This group of highly organized and politically protected (at least, protected from competition if not prosecution) oligarchs saw the "treasure" at hand, and that "treasure" was entirely defined as access to the remarkable flow and reservoir of US tax dollars.

The bad habits rapidly spread to other areas beyond the initial "military industrial" sector. Highly profitable petroleum corporations received huge tax subsidies. Congressmen argued not about the security requirements of the nation, but instead, about which contributors, contractors and plants were in which Congressional Districts. Highly profitable pharmaceutical companies received the free product of massive, federally financed research not to mention huge federal payments for medications at non-negotiable, "no-bid" prices.

The ugly mechanism is always the same. Voters could be frightened by international enemies, their well developed petroleum dependence, their illnesses -- many of which derived from unregulated industrial pollution, the future of their jobs and wages or simple abstractions concerning the destruction of their religious freedom, guns or other features of a carefully fabricated, yet perilously unexamined "exceptionalism."

If we were to translate Eisenhower's concern with the "military industrial complex," adding the now inescapable corporate socialism of the present day, to our present situation, we would be forced to redefine and expand the threat far beyond what was becoming apparent in 1961 with those over eager bullet and missile factory owners. 

Regardless of the precise terms in his farewell address, Eisenhower was describing a class war.

The last remnants of anything resembling "balance" are a thing of our modern past. Processes such as this one have embedded "tipping points," fulcrums, the position of which will determine the direction of any further, social motility. When every aspect of government protection of such corporate interests is coupled with the grotesque products of "reciprocal maintenance" harvested from a constant flow of new threats each eliciting a new set of expensive, "undeniably necessary" counter measures, all that remains constant is the relentless extraction of more tax money to corporate coffers.

For any MeanMesa visitor interested in charts and schedules which might depict this problem more graphically:

(graphic source)

The comparison noted between the US and the Chinese approach:

Military Expenditures of the PRC (graphic source)

And a glimpse of the relative costs of various, recent US military adventures:

The Wars of Defense and Oligarchy (image source)

Finally, in hopes of bringing this to a more personal level for MeanMesa visitors, comes the final chart.  It presents the actual spending per citizen in the respective countries listed.  The circular chart to the right compares the total amount of spending for the same countries.

Military Spending per Person (image source)

Facing the Consequences

As we review the incredible amount of our personal fortune which has been diverted to this small class of economic opportunists -- oligarchs, by any other name -- we see the price we have already paid for this grave misdirection of our national effort and our national wealth. We know the names of the players, both corporate and Congressional. We have patiently watched as the endless cycle of threat, fear, greed and response has played out during our own lifetimes and during those of our parents.

Now, as we watch our nation slowly advance to its likely nadir of respect and power, we can see -- or, at least, imagine -- what might have been done with such immense resources. We see the same faces who cajoled, voted and validated all this looting, cheaply redecorated, in our government now claiming to having "turned over a new leaf." They expect us to be as easily fooled as we always were before.

At this point, MeanMesa could address more recent outrages -- for example, the trillion dollar F22's and F35's, war satellites, H-bomb systems, and undoubtedly dozens of "secret" other cases -- but the point is made. The rampage may have been painted in more comfortable colors, but it continues unabated.

We must now direct our attention to Eisenhower's last paragraph. It speaks of statesmanship, balance and principle. This is the timeless part of his speech. It is the part which reaches us perhaps more clearly than any of the rest.

We must locate candidates with these qualities. After that, we must support them. elect them and hold them to such attractive promise.

Exaggerated? MeanMesa sees this challenge as immediate as that of holding our future as a hot coal in one's palms.

MeanMesa's compliments to the President

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