Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fortress America

“Fortress America”

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

I bought this book recently, realizing full well, that it was already out of date. It was published in 1998 by William Greider - a journalist and political writer with a sophisticated economic slant on the national and world situation. I read one book by Mr. Greider and then decided to read all of the books that he has published.
This book “Fortress America” was written during a period in Modern American History that may, in retrospect, be considered a time warp. It was after the disassembling of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Russian Empire and before 9/11. It was written during that brief period of time when the American government was looking at a balanced budget and what was assumed to be a ballooned, anachronistic Military Industrial Complex looking for an viable and justifying enemy. The Cold War had suddenly vanished. Our enemy of nearly the last hundred years was vanquished and now standing in line for American assistance - in the new Capitalist welfare world. The political talk around the Nation was of a “peace dividend”. At long last it was no longer necessary to keep expanding our Military Industrial Complex which had been necessitated by World War II, justified with the fall of the Iron Curtain, and expanded paranoiac proportions ever since. Finally the Military Complex could be simplified - money could be given back to the taxpayers or recycled to enhance social responsibility or national well-being. But this would be easier said than done and “Fortress America” was a book designed to highlight that problem. Trying to stop the growth and expansion of the Military Industrial Complex was like trying to stop a rushing locomotive or to skid an Aircraft carrier at full sped ahead to a halt - or maybe more realistically like trying to stop a avalanche in progress or turn back a tsunami.
During this brief moment in time the United States was suddenly dumping tanks into the ocean and sinking battle ships to make fishing reefs in the ocean. We were giving away battleships and aircraft and selling weapons of all sorts at ten cents on the dollar. It was like a military clearance sale or going out of business give away. But overall the whole idea was impossible. Trying to cut back on the Military was like trying to become less pregnant. War ships had to be maintained, crews had to be trained, modern computer technology couldn’t be moth-balled - it had to be used. Not only did it have to be used it had to be upgraded and improved.
Cutting military preparedness sounded good but in the short run it was nearly impossible, and in the long run things didn’t look that much better. As strange as it might seem it might just as well have been easier - politically and economically -to start another war.
Of course, Mr. Greider didn’t say this. He established in “Fortress America” exactly what I had expected that he would. He detailed the expense and the costs; he outlined the enormous difficulties; he pointed out the political pressures and he closed with an array of positive suggestions on how an economic “peace” could be attained while down-sizing and converting the huge Military Industrial Complex into a quasi Military/Consumer Complex. Just as the Consumer Industrial Complex was gradually converted into the World War II Military Industrial Complex now the time had finally come to start the reverse process. It would be difficult and it would take bold political leadership and courage but ... with the advent of 9/11 all of Mr. Greider thoughts and suggestions will no longer be necessary; for better or worse war and the threat of future war have been re-established. It will - from this day forward - be business as usual. It seems at this day in the year 2006 the Military Industrial Complex is alive and well; there may even be a revived new style nuclear arms race.
At the end of this book Mr. Greider has a number of quotes by a Senator McCain on how America should avoid “foreign entanglements” and wars of moral righteousness - which all seem so very interesting when one considers what Mr. McCain will be saying in a year or two from now. Actually most of what he says is rather revealing when read today - but it should sound even more ironically sad in 2008.
I ordered this book knowing that it would not contain a picture of the future America. I bought it because I knew that it would be filled with numbers and the dollars and cents of the exorbitant and wasteful costs of the Military Industrial Complex. I figured that this might be the last time - for a long time - that I might find such numbers displayed so openly.
I’m thinking that this book by Mr. Greider may become a collector’s item. A few years from now it will probably be inconceivable to think that there was ever a time when the theme of this book - How to Downsize the Military Industrial Complex - was ever a serious topic for political discussion. This book is already an historical classic. Another like it will not appear in my life time - maybe never ever again. Once again we have been saved from the horrible prospects of “peace”.

1 comment:

RoseCovered Glasses said...

There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armaments”

The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment, budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the new Sec. Def.Mr. Gates, understand such complexity, particularly if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefore he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is absolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen until it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.