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A Force Unto Itself
A Military Leviathan Has Emerged as America’s 51st and Most Powerful State

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In the decades since the draft ended in 1973, a strange new military has emerged in the United States. Think of it, if you will, as a post-democratic force that prides itself on its warrior ethos rather than the old-fashioned citizen-soldier ideal. As such, it’s a military increasingly divorced from the people, with a way of life ever more foreign to most Americans (adulatory as they may feel toward its troops). Abroad, it’s now regularly put to purposes foreign to any traditional idea of national defense. In Washington, it has become a force unto itself, following its own priorities, pursuing its own agendas, increasingly unaccountable to either the president or Congress.

Three areas highlight the post-democratic transformation of this military with striking clarity: the blending of military professionals with privatized mercenaries in prosecuting unending “limited” wars; the way senior military commanders are cashing in on retirement; and finally the emergence of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) as a quasi-missionary imperial force with a presence in at least 135 countries a year (and counting).

The All-Volunteer Military and Mercenaries: An Undemocratic Amalgam

I’m a product of the all-volunteer military. In 1973, the Nixon administration ended the draft, which also marked the end of a citizen-soldier tradition that had served the nation for two centuries. At the time, neither the top brass nor the president wanted to face a future in which, in the style of the Vietnam era just then winding up, a force of citizen-soldiers could vote with their feet and their mouths in the kinds of protest that had only recently left the Army in significant disarray. The new military was to be all volunteers and a thoroughly professional force. (Think: no dissenters, no protesters, no antiwar sentiments; in short, no repeats of what had just happened.) And so it has remained for more than 40 years.

Most Americans were happy to see the draft abolished. (Although young men still register for selective service at age 18, there are neither popular calls for its return, nor serious plans to revive it.) Yet its end was not celebrated by all. At the time, some military men advised against it, convinced that what, in fact, did happen would happen: that an all-volunteer force would become more prone to military adventurism enabled by civilian leaders who no longer had to consider the sort of opposition draft call-ups might create for undeclared and unpopular wars.

In 1982, historian Joseph Ellis summed up such sentiments in a prophetic passage in an essay titled “Learning Military Lessons from Vietnam” (from the book Men at War):

“[V]irtually all studies of the all-volunteer army have indicated that it is likely to be less representative of and responsive to popular opinion, more expensive, more jealous of its own prerogatives, more xenophobic — in other words, more likely to repeat some of the most grievous mistakes of Vietnam … Perhaps the most worrisome feature of the all-volunteer army is that it encourages soldiers to insulate themselves from civilian society and allows them to cling tenaciously to outmoded visions of the profession of arms. It certainly puts an increased burden of responsibility on civilian officials to impose restraints on military operations, restraints which the soldiers will surely perceive as unjustified.”

Ellis wrote this more than 30 years ago — before Desert Storm, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the launching of the War on Terror. These wars (and other U.S. military interventions of the last decades) have provided vivid evidence that civilian officials have felt emboldened in wielding a military freed from the constraints of the old citizen army. Indeed, it says something of our twenty-first-century moment that military officers have from time to time felt the need to restrain civilian officials rather than vice versa. Consider, for instance, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki’s warning early in 2003 that a post-invasion Iraq would need to be occupied by “several hundred thousand” troops. Shinseki clearly hoped that his (all-too-realistic) estimate would tamp down the heady optimism of top Bush administration officials that any such war would be a “cakewalk,” that the Iraqis would strew “bouquets” of flowers in the path of the invaders, and that the U.S. would be able to garrison an American-style Iraq in the fashion of South Korea until hell froze over. Prophetic Shinseki was, but not successful. His advice was dismissed out of hand, as was he.

Events since Desert Storm in 1991 suggest that the all-volunteer military has been more curse than blessing. Partially to blame: a new dynamic in modern American history, the creation of a massive military force that is not of the people, by the people, or for the people. It is, of course, a dynamic hardly new to history. Writing in the eighteenth century about the decline and fall of Rome, the historian Edward Gibbon noted that:

“In the purer ages of the commonwealth [of Rome], the use of arms was reserved for those ranks of citizens who had a country to love, a property to defend, and some share in enacting those laws, which it was their interest, as well as duty, to maintain. But in proportion as the public freedom was lost in extent of conquest, war was gradually improved into an art, and degraded into a trade.”

As the U.S. has become more authoritarian and more expansive, its military has come to serve the needs of others, among them elites driven by dreams of profit and power. Some will argue that this is nothing new. I’ve read my Smedley Butler and I’m well aware that historically the U.S. military was often used in un-democratic ways to protect and advance various business interests. In General Butler’s day, however, that military was a small quasi-professional force with a limited reach. Today’s version is enormous, garrisoning roughly 800 foreign bases across the globe, capable of sending its Hellfire missile-armed drones on killing missions into country after country across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and possessing a vision of what it likes to call “full-spectrum dominance” meant to facilitate “global reach, global power.” In sum, the U.S. military is far more powerful, far less accountable — and far more dangerous.

As a post-democratic military has arisen in this country, so have a set of “warrior corporations” — that is, private, for-profit mercenary outfits that now regularly accompany American forces in essentially equal numbers into any war zone. In the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Blackwater was the most notorious of these, but other mercenary outfits like Triple Canopy and DynCorp were also deeply involved. This rise of privatized militaries and mercenaries naturally contributes to actions that are inherently un-democratic and divorced from the will and wishes of the people. It is also inherently a less accountable form of war, since no one even bothers to count the for-profit dead, nor do their bodies come home in flag-draped coffins for solemn burial in military cemeteries; and Americans don’t approach such mercenaries to thank them for their service. All of which allows for the further development of a significantly under-the-radar form of war making.

The phrase “limited war,” applied to European conflicts from the close of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 to the French Revolution in 1789, and later to conventional wars in the nuclear age, has fresh meaning in twenty-first-century America. These days, the limits of limited war, such as they are, fall less on the warriors and more on the American people who are increasingly cut out of the process. They are, for instance, purposely never mobilized for battle, but encouraged to act as though they were living in a war-less land. American war efforts, which invariably take place in distant lands, are not supposed to interfere with business as usual in the “homeland,” which, of course, means consumerism and consumption. You will find no rationing in today’s America, nor calls for common sacrifice of any sort. If anything, wars have simply become another consumable item on the American menu. They consume fuel and resources, money, and intellect, all in staggering amounts. In a sense, they are themselves a for-profit consumable, often with tie-ins to video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment.

In the rush for money and in the name of patriotism, the horrors of wars, faced squarely by many Americans in the Vietnam War era, are now largely disregarded. One question that this election season has raised: What if our post-democratic military is driven by an autocrat who insists that it must obey his whims in the cause of “making America great again”?

Come 2017, we may find out.

Senior Military Men: Checking Out and Cashing In

There was a time when old soldiers like Douglas MacArthur talked wistfully about fading away in retirement. Not so for today’s senior military officers. Like so many politicians, they regularly go in search of the millionaires’ club on leaving public service, even as they accept six-figure pensions and other retirement benefits from the government. In the post-military years, being John Q. Public isn’t enough. One must be General Johannes Q. Publicus (ret.), a future financial wizard, powerful CEO, or educator supreme. Heck, maybe all three.

Consider General David Petraeus, America’s “surge” general in Iraq and later head of U.S. Central Command. He left the directorship of the CIA in disgrace after an adulterous affair with his biographer-mistress, with whom he illegally shared classified information. Petraeus has since found teaching gigs at the University of Southern California, the City University of New York, and Harvard’s Kennedy School while being appointed chairman of the investment firm KKR Global Institute. Another retired general who cashed in with an investment firm is Ray Odierno, the former Army chief of staff, who became a special adviser to JP Morgan Chase, the financial giant. (Indeed, the oddness of Odierno, an ex-football player known for his total dedication to the Army, being hired by a financial firm inspired this spoof at a military humor site.)

But few men have surpassed retired Air Force General John Jumper. He cashed in by joining many corporate boards, including the board of directors for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a major defense contractor. After five years he became its CEO with a seven-figure salary. Then you have retired general officers who pull down more than $300 an hour (no $7.25 federal minimum wage for them) advising their former subordinates at the Pentagon as “senior mentors.”

No one expects generals to take vows of poverty upon retirement. Indeed, those hefty government pensions and assorted other benefits would preclude such vows. But in the post-democratic military world, duty, honor, country has become duty, honor, cash.

For today’s crop of retiree generals, no Cincinnatus need apply. Of course, there’s long been a revolving door between Pentagon offices and corporate boardrooms, but that door seems to be spinning ever faster in the twenty-first century.

The peril of all this should be obvious: the prospect of cashing-in big time upon retirement can’t help but affect the judgment of generals while they’re still wearing the uniform. When you reach high rank, it’s already one big boys’ club where everyone knows everyone else’s reputation. Get one for being an outspoken critic of a contractor’s performance, or someone who refuses to play ball or think by the usual rules of Washington, and chances are you’re not going to be hired to lucrative positions on various corporate boards in retirement.

Such an insular, even incestuous system of pay-offs naturally reinforces conventional thinking. Generals go along to get along, embracing prevailing thinking on interventionism, adventurism, and dominance. Especially troublesome is the continued push for foreign military sales (arms exports) to some of the world’s most active war zones. In this way, weaponry and wars are increasingly the business of America, a “growth” industry that is only reinforced when retired generals are hired to lead companies, to advise financial institutes, or even to teach young adults in prestigious schools.

For Petraeus is not the only retired general to lecture at such places. General Stanley McChrystal, who infamously was fired by President Obama for allowing a command climate that was disrespectful to the nation’s civilian chain of command, is now a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute at Yale University. Admiral William McRaven, former head of U.S. Special Operations Command during the era of black sites and deaths by torture, is now the chancellor of the entire University of Texas system. McRaven had no prior background in education, just as Odierno had no background in finance before being hired to a top-tier position of authority. Both of them were, however, the military version of “company men” who, on retirement, possessed a wealth of contacts, which helped make them highly marketable commodities.

If you’re wearing three or four stars in the military, you’ve already been carefully vetted as a “company man,” since the promotion process screens out mavericks. Independent thinkers tend to retire or separate from the military long before they reach eligibility for flag rank. The most persistent and often the most political officers rise to the top, not the brightest and the best.

Special Operations: The American Military’s Jesuits

As Nick Turse has documented at TomDispatch, post-9/11 America has seen the rapid growth of U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, a secretive military within the military that now numbers almost 70,000 operatives. The scholar and former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson used to refer to that Agency as the president’s private army. Now, the commander-in-chief quite literally has such an army (as, in a sense, he also now has a private robotic air force of drone assassins dispatchable more or less anywhere). The expansion of SOCOM from a modest number of elite military units (like the Green Berets or SEAL Team 6) into a force larger than significant numbers of national armies is an underreported and under-considered development of our post-democratic military moment. It has now become the regular go-to force in the war on terror from Iraq to Afghanistan,Syria to Cameroon, Libya to Somalia.

As Gregory Foster, a Vietnam veteran and professor at the National Defense University noted recently, this now-massive force “provides an almost infinite amount of potential space for meddling and ‘mission creep’ abroad and at home due, in part, to the increasingly blurred lines between military, intelligence, police, and internal security functions… [T]he very nature of [special ops] missions fosters a military culture that is particularly destructive to accountability and proper lines of responsibility… the temptation to employ forces that can circumvent oversight without objection is almost irresistible.”

Like the Jesuit order of priests who, beginning in the sixteenth century, took the fight to heretical Protestants and spread the Catholic faith from Europe and Asia in the Old World to nearly everywhere in the New World, today’s SOCOM operators crusade globally on the part of America. They slay evildoers while advancing U.S. foreign policy and business goals in at least 150 countries. Indeed, the head of SOCOM, General Joseph Votel III, West Point grad and Army Ranger, put it plainly when he said that America is witnessing “a golden age for special operations.”

A military force effectively unaccountable to the people tears at the very fabric of the Constitution, which is at pains to mandate firm and complete control over the military by Congress, acting in the people’s name. Combine such a military with a range of undeclared wars and other conflicts and a Congress for which cheerleading, not control, is the order of the day, and you have a recipe for a force unto itself.

It used to be said of Prussia that it was a military with a state attached to it. America’s post-democratic military, combined with the proliferation of intelligence outfits and the growth of the country’s second defense department, the Department of Homeland Security, could increasingly be considered something like an emerging proto-state. Call it America’s 51st state, except that instead of having two senators and a few representatives based on its size, it has all the senators and all the representatives based on its power, budget, and grip on American culture.

It is, in other words, a post-democratic leviathan to be reckoned with. And not a single Democratic or Republican candidate for commander-in-chief has spent a day in uniform. Prediction for November: another overwhelming victory at the polls for America’s 51st state.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, is a TomDispatch regular. He blogs at Bracing Views.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

45 Comments to "A Force Unto Itself"

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  1. Britain had an all-volunteer army for most of the period between the end of the Crimean War and the onset of World War I. It was well suited to the kind of colonial wars fought in Britain’s African and Asian domains. Much of the recent U.S. military action overseas has been in or near these same places. Britain, for example, fought three Afghan wars. It was continually involved in “The Great Game” with the Russians, who coveted India, the jewel in Britain’s crown. The defeat of Soviet forces by American cultivation of the Afghan mujahideen was nothing more than a reprise of the intrigues referred to in Kipling’s Kim.

    The example the U.S. seems to be following is not that of Prussia, which had ambitions that were mostly confined to Europe. Britain is the much more obvious model. Indeed, the U.S. has more or less stepped into Britain’s pre-WWI role in the world.

    Our problem is mainly that we don’t do the job as well as the British used to do it, largely because of the ideological delusions of our civilian politicians. American commanders lack the skill to manage punitive expeditions as Lord Roberts did during the Second Afghan War, and American politicians would never support proconsular rule of a third-world country along the lines followed by Lord Cromer in Egypt.

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  2. fluff. the military tradition here is total removal from politics. For now. Of course, if civil war starts they will , I hope, step in on the right side, repressing crazy lefitists, blacks, and mexicans, if the latter decide to fly the mexican flag again.

    Joe Webb

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  3. Why do you refer to the Crimean War and the beginning of WW1? Britain never had conscription until recruitment was failing during WW1.

    Of course the navy had resorted to the press gang but in both the army and the navy you would have been hard put to find citizen soldiers (or sailors). More like “scum of the earth” and younger sons with bought commissions in the army.

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  4. You are kidding aren’t you? I mean about the implied actuality of the “military tradition” still being removed from politics. If not would you care to answer the detail of the article.

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  5. >>> a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF)

    USAF lifestyle:: Navy Airdale lifestyle

    =

    Navy Airdale willingness to fly in bad weather::USCG willingness to fly in bad weather

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  6. US military establishment is not “51st most powerful state”. That position was given to Israel by Barack Ben Obama in his speech at the UNGA in September 2011.

    Military ‘draft’ is like Nazi labor camp – forcing citizens to do something against their will.

    Israel practices world’s largest ‘draft labor camp’. It’s compulsory for every Jew aged 18 to go through military training, and serve the occupation – male 24 months, and female 18 months. Most of military rape cases occur during that period.

    The funding for the US military is still controlled by the elected politicians – and the US military is sent to fight ‘proxy’ wars in foreign lands for several lobby groups and the Wall Street Shylocks, by the Congress and the country’s president who is the Supreme C-in-C under the US Constitution.

    So, Mr. Astore, please spare the military and blame the real warmongers next time.

    Last year, American Zionist academic, William C. Bradford (National Defense University), resigned on Friday over lying about his military record within one month of hiring.

    In the July issue, the National Security Law Journal at the University published Bradford’s 50-page long Muslim-bashing article calling for more wars on Islam and Muslim countries for posing ‘existential’ threat to United States and Western civilization. He accused the Western anti-war legal scholars who opposes the War on Terrorism as “Islamic Fifth Column” and “military combatants”.

    https://rehmat1.com/2015/09/03/us-academic-critics-of-war-on-islam-are-traitors/

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  7. I agree with all of this except for the swipe at Trump. After Obama prosecuted a blatantly illegal war in Libya, and is in the process of prosecuting another blatantly illegal war in Syria (in direct violation of the War Powers Act), and extended military operations in Afghanistan indefinitely, it’s clear that the military is already ruled by an autocrat, and has been for quite some time.

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  8. Excellent point by the columnist. Shouldn’t we add that the big bloc of CIVILIAN federal-government employees has become a State of their own as well?

    Both u.s. Military spending and u.s. Domestic spending are too high, and the powerful entrenched self-interested constituency for each type of spending make that hard to change.

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  9. I also find little to disagree with in this article.
    It’s a very frightening, psychotic situation.
    The US is an empire…however, unlike other empires, it never admits it’s own nature– to itself or others. Politically, it seems a nation fundamentally LOST in LIES.
    Of course–all politicians, all countries lie…it’s the nature of Power. However, the gap between US elite/mainstream assertions of itself and it’s actions and it’s REALITY seems so vast as to amount to a collective mental illness.
    The military is but one (though, possibly the most important) aspect of a culture sunk into moral, spiritual and intellectual degradation….Or would ANY group of humans, finding themselves with the vast material advantages the US has, or had, succumb to a similar decadence ? I don’t know….
    I do know the US military is a dangerous, frightening symptom, not the disease itself.

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  10. not kidding.

    assuming that the Pentagon brass has relationships with contractors, and with congress people looking for pork, etc. and with the pols generally…that is normal.

    The assumption of the article is that we have “…a military force effectively unaccountable to the people tears at the very fabric of the Constitution, which is at pains to mandate firm and complete control over the military by Congress, acting in the people’s name.”

    That is not true. You do not like the military, elect new people to Congress, and that prez, etc.

    There is no history of the military taking over or controlling effectively the executive decisions of the US gov’t. In fact, the military has been reluctant to pursue the jewish wars as demonstrated by certain testimony by brass at hearings.

    These guys know what they can and cannot accomplish with guns.

    The South, the historical home of the immigrant Scots-Irish in the late 17th century, has a warrior tradition dating from wars with the English. Tough guys.

    I loved Albion’s Seed, by Fischer, which is a history of our 4 British Isles immigrant ethnys who settled this country….the foundation white racial stock. And Fischer means ‘seed’ in the genetic sense and says so, while trashing the jewish historiography about an “immigration nation.”

    I remember Buchanan saying that “tough guys” in the military are exactly that. The bad guys are folks like John McCain etc who do not know what the limits of military action are, not the ‘tough guys.’

    Joe Webb

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  11. Sir, I enjoy your articles and find them very informative, but the following was a cheap shot

    What if our post-democratic military is driven by an autocrat who insists that it must obey his whims in the cause of “making America great again”?

    Of the current crop of candidates, he is the least likely to go traipsing across the globe looking for monsters to slay.

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  12. Mar 25, 2016 ‘WAR IS A LIE’ – David Swanson in Asheville

    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2016/03/war-lie-david-swanson-asheville.html

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  13. This is a very insightful and important article. Yes, our military is not only increasingly disconnected from the people whose interests its supposed to represent–but it’s burgeoning, unrivaled power makes it increasingly dangerous to less-favored nations and peoples. This is a recipe for more US-initiated wars and more blow-back (‘terrorism’).

    I also agree that the reference to Trump was inappropriate since it’s Hillary, Cruz and others who seem most comfortable with needless US interventions and foreign ‘police actions’.

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  14. There has been public speculation by neocons that the U.S. military may not allow an elected Trump to assume the Presidency, due to his isolationist views. This follows on to senior U.K. military officials saying they would not allow Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is similarly skeptical of pre-emptive foreign wars, to form a government, should the British public elect his party to do so.

    What Deep State loyalty, rather than democratic accountability, do the Five Eyes’ militaries report to?

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  15. The man makes a lot of good points, but I disagree with the patently false implication that reinstating the draft would make the US less likely to engage in foreign adventures. Consider the five wars the US fought with conscripted soldiers, all bloody, all (in my opinion) completely unnecessary. Vietnam was an anomaly in that public opposition brought a halt to a war that the Pentagon had already badly bungled. In most of the others, dissent was brutally suppressed and the overwhelming majority of the public believed the false flags (such as the intentional provocation of Japan) supplied by the ruling classes.

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  16. The Col/Prof. makes some great points. However, look at the bigger picture. US has great comparative advantage in armament production and war making. Part of it is history and sheer size. Unlike most other industries, much of the armament industry and war making, employs US Citizens and cannot be outsourced/off-shored. My guess is a big chunk of our GDP is ‘defense’. Hence, what exactly is the problem if we recognize and encourage it. I think we actively promote our armament sales as a way to improve our balance of trade. We may also explore if offering war making services i.e. mercenary army to other friendly countries. Essentially that is pretty much what our “treaties” are: selling war making goods & services to Europeans and Asians both for our “security” and to keep the armament/war making industry at good capacity.

    Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Northrup-Grumman, Raytheon, TRW, General Dynamics etc., are all very profitable and employ a large number of U.S. Citizens. Which other industry can you point out that has hefty profits and employs huge number of U.S. Citizens?

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  17. I’m not familiar in detail with the history of conscription in Britain, and my mention of the Crimean War and World War I as end-points was not meant to be restrictive. Of course Britain had a volunteer army during the eighteenth century and in the years following WWI, until it resumed conscription during WWII. My comment was meant only to indicate that the British army was a volunteer force during the period of Britain’s greatest colonial expansion, and it managed quite well as such without adversely influencing the development of parliamentary democracy, including the introduction of universal male suffrage and the Reform of 1911. The suggestion that reliance on a professional military menaces representative self-government is not borne out by this history.

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  18. Anonymous
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    At the time, some military men advised against it, convinced that what, in fact, did happen would happen: that an all-volunteer force would become more prone to military adventurism enabled by civilian leaders who no longer had to consider the sort of opposition draft call-ups might create for undeclared and unpopular wars.

    In 1950, President Truman unilaterally decided that America would intervene in the inter-Korean war. After gaining approval from the UN Security Council, Truman announced that the war was a “police action” requiring neither public nor Congressional approval. The preexisting national security state, ranging from the military to defense contractors to draft boards (reinstated by the Selective Service Act of 1948) leaped into action, unconcerned what the American people or their legislature thought about going to war.

    Acting in the name of the United Nations, Truman began conscripting young American men into the military and later tried to nationalize the steel industry to help the war effort. Over the next three years, one and half million American men would be drafted to fight in South Korea. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription_in_the_United_States#Cold_War The war – which ended in a draw – would leave 36,574 [American soldiers] dead, 103,284 wounded,7,926 MIA, [and] 4,714 POW[s].” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_War

    While his attempt to nationalize the steel industry was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1952 on the grounds that Congress never authorized the war or the seizures, the federal judiciary refused to enjoin Truman from using using poor and working-class Americans as cannon fodder in a war that did not concern them. Protecting the assets of wealthy steel magnates was more important to these unelected, black-robed, politicians than protecting the lives of Americans who lacked the cash and the connections to avoid the draft.

    Since then, citizens of both North and South Korea have denounced the American intervention, deeming it an imperialist plot by racist Whites to prevent a unified Korea where Koreans, both North and South, can live in peace. http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Young-South-Koreans-want-U-S-to-get-out-2642153.php#page-2 Prominent South Koreans routinely demand the expulsion of American the American troops stationed there; some, such as the South Korean singer Psy, openly call for South Koreans to “Kill those f[*]cking Yankees…their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers … Kill them all slowly and painfully. ” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/07/psy-anti-american-past-performances_n_2257949.html

    What, if anything, did the existence of the draft do to keep America out of this pointless war?

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  19. As Colonel Astore notes, today’s star-wearing hacks can’t wait to make mucho megabucks after retirement.

    What a contrast with WW2 officers! Flag officers Ernest J. King, Chester Nimitz, Raymond Spruance, Frank Jack Fletcher, Walden (“Pug”) Ainsworth, Aaron S. (“Tip”) Merrill et al. didn’t enrich themselves in retirement. Nor did general officers George C. Marshall, Holland (“Howlin’ Mad”) Smith, Terry Allen, Lucian Truscott, Norman (“Dutch”) Cota et al. ( I believe MacArthur had a rent-free apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria.)

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  20. Colonel Astore

    Great work. I think the influence peddling going on with civilian and military leadership taking such amounts of money from groups they regulate is corruption at its worst. It is another sign that America is like Rome in 405.

    Capt USAF Ret

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  21. I do not think that the most important point in this article had anything to do with draft or no draft. I think it was the unmasking of the influence peddling that goes on when high ranking officers take huge paydays following their jobs as regulators of the very companies who are paying them. This corruption is in line with the fall of Rome and is a precursor to the fall of America in my opinion. Such overt payments to our political and military leaders is nothing more than influence peddling.

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  22. Definitely a very thorough treatment and a very worthwhile essay. There is much more to what drives US foreign policy and even it’s military than the MIC of course, beginning with the Zionists and ending with the Banksters themselves, but as far as the Leviathan of the US military machine goes this defines it perfectly.

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  23. I hope you are kidding. GDP is for one thing not an indicator of the health of an economy. Natural disasters, road accidents with ambulance, police and hospitals all generating GDP and even a disease epidemic can build it up. The GDP of certain African countries has been very “healthy” after their recent brush with ebola.

    The system you are describing goes like this. One arm of the Military Industrial Complex creates the need for the other one to come riding in to the rescue and kill everybody and blow everything up to save the day. Create enemies and custom make wars for profit. A business model which relies on sewing weeds so that they have to weed the garden, is hardly worth defending unless you’re one of the scammers making a buck out of the labour of the weeders..

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  24. What this piece has described is the result of one thing: lack of leadership. We often forget that the guy in the WH is certifiably insane. Whacko. Nut job extraordinaire. For us, we see this in the news and read about the latest misstep, faux paux, f*ck up and discuss it, but always in arrears. What must it be like for, say, the COS of the Air Force who has to deal with this babbling twit every day. Every. Day. It has to be stressful.
    This is called a vacuum, which nature abhors. And the vacuum gets filled with the military. Now, extrapolate that out to the other cabinet concerns ( i.e. commerce, foreign affairs, education, etc) and you end up numerous factions going in numerous directions, all pulling against each other. And we wonder why nothing is getting done, that no matter how much money is thrown at it, no matter the labor, the results are always the same.
    And, “yes”, this is the usual way that banana republics ooze into military coups.

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  25. Nations can’t always plan their destiny with exactness. After WW2, US became the de facto protector of the world. In hindsight, one may criticize Korea, Vietnam, Cold war etc., but it is not helpful. At present, our best comparative advantage is in providing protection services around the world and instead of feeling bad about it as the author writes, I am wondering why not think of it as our strength. Japan, Germany, China and others have a national policy of international trade and export driven economy. What is wrong if we see our national policy of international trade as that of defense business?

    An F-35 can bring a lifetime revenue of probably $300 million and above. We need to produce a lot of clothes, shoes, computers, cellphones, consumer electronics to equal that. Doesn’t make sense. Over a lifetime F-35 program may add more than a trillion dollars to economy. There is no way we can produce anything that can match that. All the Trump talk of bringing jobs back is hot air. If we produce what we import, the inflation will make ’70s look pleasant.

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  26. Wow! This is a powerful piece. I’ve not been so impressed in years. This should be required reading in high school, and particularly college. This is coming from one that has lived, fought, died AND survived in the trenches of another sort of war that destroys at least 90% of its victims and just goes on killing and murdering, oblivious to ALL that gets in its path, even it’s own. Come to think about it, it was sort of what is described, different only in appearance.

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  27. A very good article, Mr. Astore. I hope that more of your work shows up here.

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  28. “At present, our best comparative advantage is in providing protection services around the world and instead of feeling bad about it as the author writes, I am wondering why not think of it as our strength.”

    Protection. Yeah,……we could just say that we’re in the “protection business”. We could even call it a “protection racket”. Surely, it’s an honorable occupation, with a long and storied tradition.

    “An F-35 can bring a lifetime revenue of probably $300 million and above. We need to produce a lot of clothes, shoes, computers, cellphones, consumer electronics to equal that. Doesn’t make sense. Over a lifetime F-35 program may add more than a trillion dollars to economy. There is no way we can produce anything that can match that.”

    We could also turn America’s considerable business accumen to the international trade in heroin, meth, ecstasy, and other drugs. And let’s not forget prostitution. America has a lot of pretty white women, which have always been a highly desirable commodity in the international marketplace. Why shouldn’t America specialize in white-slavery? If money is the only measure of success, why should we allow decency, morality, or good sense to interfere?

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  29. “Over a lifetime F-35 program may add more than a trillion dollars to economy. ” – So you are a pure Keynesian, right? It would be cheaper to produce tanks and fighter jest made of cardboard. Or bury freshly printed money in bottles in old mines, bury it with trash and sell a license to private companies to mine it. That would produce plenty of jobs.

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  30. “Nations can’t always plan their destiny with exactness.” – Nations never do. It is the job of elites. They stole the U.S. of A. form the nation long time ago. The U.S. of A. became a tool of the world elites and Americans are their useful tools and sometimes a nuisance for them.

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  31. Keynesian militarism at work (at supply side):
    In Syria, militias armed by the Pentagon fight those armed by the CIA

    http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-cia-pentagon-isis-20160327-story.html

    America is evil!

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  32. I seem to sense some moral discomfort in this defense business. But, Italy exports Beretta pistols, Sweden exports Bofors artillery, Israel exports Uzi machine guns, China sells Silkworm missiles. If we don’t sell, the market doesn’t go away; somebody else will do and we will lose international influence over war and peace.

    My argument is simple; we have by the accident of history, become good in the defense business. As long as rest of the world has a demand for it, we can utilize our strong position. I understand an F-35 has a certain discomfort compared to Toyota trucks, Sony televisions and Samsung smartphones. Since we can’t make those products competitively, let us sell them navy ships, submarines, aircraft etc., so that we can employ US Citizens in high wage jobs. If we don’t sell them, they will just build them or buy from someone else.

    Nobody has yet suggested how we can maintain a first world standard of living with our current comparative advantage position if we reduce our defense business. Our trade deficits are around $500 billion per year for last two decades and will probably remain so. No economist has ever come with a plan to solve this. Hence, worrying about our defense business, that provides a net balance of trade surplus, is an unaffordable luxury.

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  33. agree. but how big a factor? Corruption in the US is minimal compared to everywhere else, except maybe Germany and Scandinavia. JW

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  34. Are you glorifying Britain’s sordid imperial past and holding it up as a model for the U. S?

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  35. “Corruption in the US is minimal compared ” – I do not think it is true. It is minimal for regular folks. A policeman for instance makes 2-3 times more than an average American, so bribery on this level does not occur, but American police is corrupt and rotten like MF. And on the high level all is corrupted but it is kind of legit. It is the system.

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  36. Romanian,

    Agreed that a shot at Trump was uncalled for. As a retiree, I know that most of us were like me; I volunteered for deployment to both wars. No heroics, just the fact that most of us are ready to do what we train to do.

    Only by lazy logic do you get from the interesting and well assembled set of data in the article to the Mil being independent. Look at how Obama got lots of Officers retired, and pushed his will on the mil. Same with Carter.

    As far back as MacArthur, a real ego-maniacal war hero couldn’t refuse a pencil neck clerk of a President. Truman had enough stones to stand his ground, and that’s all it took to fire MacArthur.

    My “time in” tells me that this is both a well written and informative good read of an article, and dead wrong about an independent or even kinda independent military.

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  37. Easter terror - Occurrences
    says:
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    […] William J. Astore • March 22, 2016 • 2,600 Words • 18 Comments […]

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  38. Both u.s. Military spending and u.s. Domestic spending are too high, and the powerful entrenched self-interested constituency for each type of spending make that hard to change.

    This is absolutely true, and even worse is the gross over-payment of these government make-work minions. The government has swallowed much of the welfare rolls and brought semi-literate underclass incompetents in as employees (at afore mentioned absurd wages). But the challenge we face is that this has occurred concomitant with the government policies that encourage shipping so much American manufacturing and service work offshore. Tens of millions of jobs formerly done by Americans are now done by Chinese, Indians, Central Americans, Koreans, Japanese, etc. Compounding the problem even more has been the importation of tens of millions of immigrants (legal and illegal) who will work for much lower wages than Americans.

    So there is absolutely zero chance of clearing out the waste, fraud, abuse, and incompetence from government payrolls civilian and military as these outrageously well paid people would just wind up jobless with no hope whatever of finding employment in the gutted remains of the American economy.

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  39. My guess is a big chunk of our GDP is ‘defense’. Hence, what exactly is the problem if we recognize and encourage it.

    Absolutely right. And no problem whatever with this conception of American economy as based on slaughter and wholesale destruction of third world litterboxes. Why we have really just begun! After we reduce the Middle East to sand and rubble, driving all the Arabs into Europe, we can go after all the little African states and drive their IQ delimited baby factories into North America. Then we can go trash Europe which by then will resemble today’s Arabia in every respect. What fun! Of course after Europe will come America herself since she will by then be identical to today’s South Africa with a massive negroid majority and resulting civil chaos. But boy will Boeing and Raytheon profits be huge!

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  40. Nobody has yet suggested how we can maintain a first world standard of living with our current comparative advantage position if we reduce our defense business. Our trade deficits are around $500 billion per year for last two decades and will probably remain so. No economist has ever come with a plan to solve this.

    Let me guess, you’re a senior policy advisor in Washington?

    The reason these economists haven’t delivered a plan for America’s salvation is because they’re catastrophically wrong and their plans have delivered over a hundred trillion dollars of debt which America couldn’t possibly ever repay. Getting out of this hole will not come comfortably and Americans need to face up to the reality that our way of life cannot continue. We finally have one Presidential candidate with the fortitude to suggest some serious steps toward digging out of our hole (ending immigration, tearing up non-advantageous trade deals, ending free military protection for “allies”, etc) but it’s unlikely he will take office given the thousands of open death threats against him and government’s refusal to provide customary reaction to those threats. It’s far more likely that we will instead see our current financial bubble explode bringing down the global economy. What emerges from the ensuing chaos is anyone’s guess. In any case, I think we will soon become very familiar with the word “austerity.” We may well find ourselves as the arms factory for the world to the extent we need foreign made goods in trade, but I doubt other bankrupt nations will want our military labor when they have surplus population of their own to dispose of.

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  41. US Military..ha ha ha..faggot army, gay rod army.
    Russia can and will beat the pants of the sorry us army…USA army is a joke.

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  42. Really? Is that how the current (and past) Administration(s) have been able to force (in the most recent case TELLING the USMC it WILL allow for female grunts.) social policy on the US military?

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  43. “Are you glorifying Britain’s sordid imperial past and holding it up as a model for the U. S?”

    No, and it is apparent you read neither the original article nor my comment very well. My comment was specifically directed to Mr. Astore’s remark:

    “It used to be said of Prussia that it was a military with a state attached to it. America’s post-democratic military, combined with the proliferation of intelligence outfits and the growth of the country’s second defense department, the Department of Homeland Security, could increasingly be considered something like an emerging proto-state. Call it America’s 51st state, except that instead of having two senators and a few representatives based on its size, it has all the senators and all the representatives based on its power, budget, and grip on American culture.”

    My point was that America’s all-volunteer military more closely resembled Britain’s during its period of empire than it did that of Hohenzollern Prussia. Whereas the Prussian military dominated Prussia’s government, the British military did not dominate Britain’s – Britain was governed by its elected Parliament, and it became more democratic throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    Whether stepping into the role that Britain earlier filled is appropriate for the United States (I don’t happen to think so) is, in any event, a question quite distinct from that of whether its current all-volunteer military force more greatly resembles that of Britain or that of Prussia during the nineteenth century.

    As for whether Britain’s imperial past was “sordid,” that is yet another debate. Santayana, in his essay on “The British Character,” wrote -

    “Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him.”

    When we consider what has become of many former British colonies, it is difficult not to agree with that sentiment. Their current rulers do not appear to be improvements over their former colonial governments. Some of the citizens of those former colonies appear to agree:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2009487/We-stayed-Britain-Shock-poll-reveals-60-Jamaicans-think-theyd-better-colony.html

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nashik/India-was-better-off-under-British-rule-Mohan-Bhagwat/articleshow/11984492.cms

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  44. A Force Unto Itself – A Military Leviathan Has Emerged as America’s 51st and Most Powerful State | From the Trenches World Report
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  45. True. Trump has no interest in military adventurism, but the author is too stupid to read Trumps book or his website. If he had, he would know that. Trump thinks we should have a strong defense, but no nation building or meddling in sovereign countries’ affairs.

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