Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Largest Known Swindle

     First, a little music some of my younger Gentle Readers probably won’t recognize:

     After Bathing at Baxter’s, the album from which that track came, was one of the seminal pieces of music of the rock era. It wasn’t particularly sophisticated musically, but it was daring before “daring” became a hackneyed term applied to performers who cuss or disrobe on stage.

     In Grace Slick’s “Rejoyce,” she fuses an exceptional literary awareness with the expression of a sentiment that was rising in power at the time the album was released (November, 1967). The literary awareness was of James Joyce’s revolutionary novel Ulysses and its innovative, stream-of-consciousness exploration of anomie and lack of anchorage through one day in the lives of four of Joyce’s trademarked characters, including his fictional alter ego Stephen Dedalus. The rising sentiment was opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War.

     I was a teenager back then. I remember well the degree of confusion prevalent among young Americans over the war. And yes, I was as caught up in it as my coevals. I’m sure all my Gentle Readers know at least the bare bones of the history of our participation and eventual departure from that conflict. It seemed pointless and ugly to many...especially many whose sons’ lives had been taken by it. But with time came a perspective that, had it been widely available in the late Sixties, might have gentled the tempers that arose over Vietnam.

     Something had been done to America, and to Americans, of which we were only dimly conscious. I’d wager that even today most of us who lived through the turmoil of those years are unconscious of the backdrop that energized our conflicts.

     World War II brought about the largest increase in the size and power of the American military in our history. At its peak the nation had over 12 million men at arms. But a military apparatus isn’t just bodies; it needs weapons and supporting systems as well. The scale of the two-front conflict produced a military industry so large that it dominated the economy of the United States.

     That military industry is largely gone today. Some elements of it survive, but despite the $700 billion in federal funding it will receive this year, it no longer dominates the American economy. What did survive was a huge military bureaucracy with an obvious interest in its own survival and a compact community of industrialists who had profited heavily from selling to the military and wanted to see that continue. Despite the efforts of the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations to thin out military spending, major expenditures on the military continued to be written into each year’s federal budget.

     The process by which rising military expenditures were sustained politically, despite the supposed opposition to their endless increases, was far too complex for me to delineate in a single, Sunday morning essay. However, one element of it was more important to Americans in their private lives than the others. Unlike the others, it has a simple, one-syllable name: fear.

     If you were young during the Sixties, you probably remember the “duck & cover” drills performed in America’s schools. While those drills elicited a degree of pushback, for some time they proved stronger than the opposition to them. The rationale for them was of course the possibility of a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States, which – we were told – could come at any time.

     Such influences weren’t confined to the schools. Newly built buildings were being provided with underground bomb shelters stocked with survival supplies. The critical importance of civil defense preparations was ballyhooed throughout the country. The Emergency Warning System imposed upon radio and television stations by federal law was tested once daily. Antimissile and domestic antiaircraft systems, the Nike Zeus and Nike Hercules missile batteries, were being installed in various high places; for a time I lived near to one of them.

     A very substantial percentage of employed Americans continued to work in military industry. When one considers the balance between military spending and all other varieties of federal spending, this seems obvious. It was also one of the levers Congressmen and Senators, especially those from California and New York, used to press for sustained and increased military budgets.

     The following figures are uncorrected for inflation. I present them strictly as an illustration of the trends-as-percents:

Year GNP / GDP, $Bn Federal expenditures, $Bn Military Expenditures, $Bn
1952 345.5 91.3 48.2
2016 18,625 3852.6 593.4

     In 1952, federal expenditures on the military were 52.7% of the federal budget and 13.9% of the national product. Today, federal military spending is 15.4% of the federal budget and 3.1% of the national product. So while federal military spending since 1952 has increased by approximately 1100%, the national product has increased by 5300%. Strictly speaking, Americans of the Fifties and Sixties didn’t live in a militarized society. It just felt that way now and then.

     After World War II and the Korean War, those resolved to keep military expenditures high and rising had to persuade the public to accept such expenditures. This required a constant talking-up of the “Soviet threat.” Yet, as we discovered after the fall of the Soviet Union, that threat was largely to the nations along its borders; the USSR’s intercontinental capabilities were far lower than their bluster and our analysts had claimed. The United States was so much better equipped and prepared for an intercontinental strike that had the Soviets dared to provoke a genuine confrontation, their entire society would have been eliminated, while at worst the U.S. would suffer the loss of a few cities. There is ample evidence to this effect.

     The historical demonstration of greatest impact came with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Soviet IRBMs in Cuba were there because the Kremlin feared the American buildup in Europe and had no confidence in its ability to damage the U.S. in any other way. When the Kennedy Administration decided to “go eyeball to eyeball” with the Soviets, the latter were quick to withdraw its arms in exchange for a token promise from Washington that the U.S. would not invade Cuba afterward. In the aftermath of that stand-down, Vasily V. Kuznetsov commented to John J. McCloy at the United Nations: “You Americans will never be able to do this to us again.” Yet because of the grotesque inefficacies and inefficiencies of Soviet central-planning society, the USSR’s intercontinental forces remained largely useless.

     American military analysts and strategic planners were aware that our intercontinental arsenal dwarfed that of the USSR in both quantity and quality. Yet defense expenditures continued to increase. Why?

     The causal factors were many. Most important to the overall picture was that those who benefited from the expenditures were more powerfully motivated to protect and maintain them than those who opposed them: a classic “public goods” scenario in which a compact, energetic force with a short, coherent agenda can outplay a large, diffuse community with no coherence to its desires. In addition, no one wanted to be the target of accusations of lack of patriotism, or unconcern for the security of the nation, especially when his neighbors worked at the defense plant across town.

     Hearken to Garet Garrett on the machinations that took place on Capitol Hill:

     If you want to know how and when it happened that this nation was legally converted into a garrison state for perpetual war, and with what anxiety the civilian mind made that surrender to the military mind, you may read the story in the Congressional Record, numbers 167,168 and 170 (September 10,11 and 13,1951), where the closing debate takes place on "Department of Defense Appropriations, 1952."

     The amount of money to be appropriated in that one bill was sixty-one billion dollars. But that was not all. Other appropriations would raise the total to roughly eighty-five billion.

     Everybody knew that here was more money than the Department of Defense could spend in a year. Moreover, it had on hand large unexpended balances from old appropriations. The Pentagon people said yes, that was true; they couldn't spend all that money in a year. But they wanted to have it on hand because they could make better long-term contracts if the suppliers knew for sure the cash would be there when the goods were delivered....

     All the secretaries and chiefs of staff had appeared before committees of Congress to say that their estimates had been reduced to the very granite of necessity. If Congress cut them the Department of Defense could not be held answerable for the nation's security. If the worst happened, the wrath of the people would be terrible. Let the Congress beware.

     Senator Taft indulged the skeptical side of his nature. Only eighteen months before, in March, 1950 (that was three months before the beginning of the Korean war) the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Bradley, had said to the Senate: "Yes, thirteen billion dollars a year is sufficient to provide for the security of the United States. If I recommended as much as thirty billion a year for the Armed Forces I ought to be dismissed as Chief of Staff." But now in one year they were asking for sixty-one billion. What had happened in the meantime? That was Mr. Taft's point. The Korean war had happened. But so far as the defense of the United States was concerned, nothing else had happened.

     Senator Taft went on to say: "I do not know how long this program is going to continue. My impression is that we shall have new weapons and new kinds of airplanes, and that we are embarked on expenditures of this kind for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, as one of the generals stated; and if that is so, I think it means an end of progress and the end of the freedom of the people of the United States We simply cannot keep the country in readiness to fight an all-out war unless we are willing to turn our country into a garrison state and abandon all the ideals of freedom upon which this nation has been erected. It is impossible to have such a thing in this world as absolute security....I think we should appoint a commission to survey the military policy of the United States, to sit down with the military authorities and find out what we are trying to do, and to determine what is the proper scope of military activity in the United States."

     Nevertheless, in the end he found himself unable to vote against the bill.

     Everybody knew that a great deal of the money would be spent wastefully. The Senate had before it a report from the staff director of its own Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, saying: "This is a frank admission that waste, extravagance and duplicate services presently exist in the Army, Navy and Air Force."

     To this the Pentagon people said: "You know very well that war is wasteful. Don't be stupid."

     Senator Douglas rose. He dreaded what he was about to do. He dreaded it because he knew how quick the Department of Defense had always been to say that those who criticized its figures were trying to impair the military efficiency of the United States. That was the last thing he had in mind. He was for more preparedness, not less. "But," he continued, "unless we are to give up a representative democracy it is the function of Congress to scrutinize these expenditures. When we cease to scrutinize them, when we appropriate implicitly every dollar that is asked of us, then we shall have passed from being a representative democracy into being a militarized nation in which the General Staff makes the decisions."

     He proposed to confine his scrutiny to the fringes. What he undertook to do, single-handed, was to squeeze out some of the bulging waste. He had served as an officer in the Marine Corps during World War II. He knew what he was talking about when he spoke of excess personnel, service plush and gravy trains. One by one his innocent amendments were resisted by Senator O'Mahoney, who was in charge of the bill, and who kept repeating the argument of the Department of Defense: "We cannot take every dollar of waste out of this bill. Waste is inherent in war and preparation for war."

     Then at last, with the suavity of ice, Senator O'Mahoney rose to say that he should not like the galleries (where Russian correspondents might be listening), or the people, or the members of Congress, to understand the Senator from Illinois to be saying that our men in uniform were low in character, patriotism or devotion, because he was sure the Senator from Illinois did not mean to say that—not really.

     (This from the record):
     Mr. Douglas: Of course I did not mean that.
     Mr. O'Mahoney: If the Senator will permit me——
     Mr. Douglas: And neither do I wish——
     Mr. O'Mahoney: The Senator will please permit me to continue.

     With that, Senator Douglas was so overcome by a sense of hopeless frustration that he ran screaming from the Senate chamber.

     Three days later he voted for the bill, waste and all.

     Combine rhetorical intimidation of budget-conscious federal legislators with the avidity of the defense industrialists for increasing revenue, the power of the representatives from defense-dominant states, and the largely successful promotion of a climate of wartime trepidation among ordinary Americans. Then add the perfect willingness of federal officials, especially the unelected ones in the alphabet agencies, to see government grow in power and scope, just as long as someone else would be mulcted for it.

     The American response to the USSR’s threat to Western Europe was, of course, the North Atlantic Charter and the military alliance it created, usually called NATO. The Alliance charter states that the signatory nations are pledged to treat an attack on any of them as an attack on all of them. Yet given the dilapidated state of Europe after the war, there could be no illusions about who would be protecting whom in the near term. The most important part of the alliance was the American “nuclear umbrella,” under which the European Alliance members would shelter against the Soviet threat.

     For a time, that guarantee of American protection was regarded as absolute – that no imaginable development would tempt the Soviets beyond their strength. Under that assumption, the recovering nations of Europe eschewed the rebuilding of their own military capabilities in preference for an expansion of their domestic spending, especially in the form of “benefits” conferred upon their citizens. The political Establishment of the U.S. didn’t mind that at first. It seemed to guarantee permanent American influence in European politics. Anyway, others – you, I, and others like us – were paying for it.

     With the inflation, oil embargoes, and financial crises of the mid-Seventies, the public began to take note of federal overspending. The ineptitude of the Carter Administration exacerbated all three problems, which was in large measure the reason for Carter’s defeat by Ronald Reagan. Reagan campaigned on a platform that included the revitalization of U.S. defenses, which proved popular. However, he and his defense experts did not touch one of the flaming sores in the military’s allocations of funds: our forces in Europe under the NATO alliance.

     American expenditures on NATO had already broken $100 billion by 1981 and were headed still higher. The European members of the Alliance had resolutely refused to increase their own military funding, claiming that “domestic needs” made it impossible. Yet the Reaganites were unwilling to put the screws to the Europeans. Even though the declaration of a drawdown from Europe, to be spaced across five to seven years, in favor of a buildup of local militaries would have been well received by the American public, they preferred to increase defense spending across the board, essentially without exception:

Year Military Expenditures, $Bn
1981 180.5
1982 209.3
1983 234.7
1984 253.0
1985 279.0
1986 299.7
1987 308.8
1988 319.8
1989 333.7

     American expenditures on our forces in Europe reached $150 billion by 1989 and were headed still higher.

     In his book How NATO Weakens the West, Dr. Melvyn Krauss details the pernicious effects of the one-sided “alliance” upon which Europe’s welfare states have fattened. It remains a valuable, if somewhat dated presentation. Prominent among Krauss’s arguments is his conception of “defense feedback.” In summary, the reduction of Europe’s need to spend its own money on its defenses gives rise to an improvement in the status of its notional adversary: back then, the Soviet Union; today, Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Those improvements arise in part from the adversary’s lack of a need to respond to European augmentations and innovations, and in part from European funds spent on the adversary’s export goods, especially oil and natural gas. But not to be neglected is the virtual disappearance of the martial virtues from the peoples of European NATO, to whom the idea of taking up arms has become intolerable.

     In short, Europe has become a welfare dependent of the United States, with the not entirely grudging cooperation of the American political Establishment.

     There is no delicate, tactful, or diplomatic way to put it: the European members of NATO have grown fat on American military funding. President Trump’s insistence that the European members increase their defense funding to the treaty-specified level of 2% of their respective Gross Domestic Products was met with howls of anguish. To this point, few of those nations have increased their funding commitments at all. At this time only a handful have met the treaty’s requirement:

     Our departure from the Alliance would greatly benefit the United States, for obvious reasons. If it were announced as a timed withdrawal, to take place over the next five years, the European members would have time to mount their own rearmament programs. But is such a thing in prospect, even today?

     Joe Biden thinks so – and he’s not happy about it:

     CUOMO: “There are domestic agenda items I want to take you through. You have made a big point of saying the threat here with the current administration is abroad. What exactly bothers you abroad?”

     BIDEN: “What bothers me abroad is, look, the idea that we can go it alone with no alliances for the next 20 or 30 years is a disaster. How are we going to deal with stateless terrorism without doing what I’ve been able to do with the president, put together a coalition of 50, 60 nations to take it on? I came out of a generation where we were trying to be the policemen of the world. We can’t go every place. We need allies. He is absolutely dissing them. He’s embracing thugs, he’s embracing Kim Jong-Un who’s a thug. He’s embracing Putin who is a flat dictator. He’s embracing people who, in fact — and he’s stiff-arming our friends. He’s threatening NATO, to pull out of NATO. Come on.”

     CUOMO: “He says he’s gotten NATO to give in more money for defense because of his tactics.”

     BIDEN: “Give me a break. Come on, man. By the way, the idea that NATO — let me put it this way, if he wins re-election, I promise you there will be no NATO in four years or five years.”

     CUOMO: “You think there will be no more NATO if he’s re-elected?

     BIDEN: “No more NATO.”

     Biden, as he has demonstrated several times recently, is a senile fool with no governor on his mouth or his hands. But in this regard, I, at least, can hope he’s correct. The Europeans’ milking of NATO is the largest international swindle on record, and the American taxpayer has been the victim from the start. It should have come to an end long ago. If we can withdraw from it in an orderly fashion, it would solve problems on both sides of the Atlantic. Not the least of those problems is the ongoing politically managed infantilization of the Old World’s populace, which has come to equate wants with needs and has forgotten that everything anyone wants must be paid for by someone.

     Of course, a withdrawal from NATO would have effects here in America, and not all of them would be positive. But you may rest assured that those screaming the loudest would be the defense industrialists who sense a threat to their revenues. I think I could survive that. Do you?


Paul Bonneau said...

I agree completely. Besides, do we really want to be Al Qaeda's air force?

Get out of NATO. And for that matter, get out of the UN too. "Given enough time, all human institutions turn to shit." It's long past that time for NATO and the UN.

Col. B. Bunny said...

I don't think Russia's a threat and even if "expansionist" Russia were to invade Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk, Abkhazia, and S. Ossetia that would add only 1.56% of the current land area of Russia. Crimea has already returned to Russia, of course, and that represents 0.15% of the current Russian land area. (The return of sovereignty over Crimea would not have occurred had the US not spent over $5B to unseat the then-duly elected Ukrainian government and made darn sure to NOT signal to the Russians that regardless of what happened in Ukraine its strategic naval base in Crimea would be safe.)

Even if Poland, Hungary, Romania, Belarus, Moldova, Austria, Germany, and France were to be conquered (it is to laugh) by Russia, that would add a mere 11% to Russia's area, in addition to the 1.56% increase if Estonia, etc. are conquered (it is to laugh). Russia needs Europe's resources?

The damage to Europe AND to Russia would be enormous if such aggression (it is to laugh) were perpetrated and any economic gain to the Russian survivors would be zero. Russia and Europe would be set back three generations.

Russian activities in Syria are the result of (1) a long-term alliance with Syria and (2) the aggressive, unconstitutional war waged by the US and its bosom buddy allies, the execrable Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Some Western savants think that it's ok for the US to throw its weight around the entire world and decide who is or who isn't an acceptable chief executive and then want to have cardiac effing arrest because Russia dares to stick its oar in the water in one ME country. This is the big one, Elizabeth!

The NATO scam proceeds on the premise of a non-existent threat. Putin and Lavrov are the only adults in the room these days and it's criminal in which Putin (and Assad and Gaddafi) have been portrayed as cavorting monkeys in a zoo.

The bottom line that should inform every judgment of every voter in the West is that our political class will NOT address reality, will NOT seek to preserve their respective nations, will NOT protect the interests of the citizens, will NOT provide a satisfactory level of public security and order, and will do NOTHING to preserve liberty.

Western elites have broken free of all restraints and embraced rank indecency. Western public life is an arena for thieves and traitors.