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Friday, 25 October 2013 02:20

The Tragic History of U.S. Military Supremacy

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Having the most expensive and destructive military does not make the American people safer. The idea of U.S. "national security" seems inextricably entangled with the notion of "military supremacy."

Over the past 15 years, this has served to rationalize  the most expensive unilateral military build-up in history.  But there is no evidence that having the most expensive and destructive military forces makes Americans safer than people in other countries, nor that restoring a more balanced military posture would leave us vulnerable to dangers we are currently protected from.  Many countries with smaller military forces do a better job of protecting their people by avoiding the hostility that is generated by U.S. imperialism, aggression and other war crimes.
 
Now, successful diplomacy over Syria's chemical weapons has demonstrated that diplomacy within the framework of international law can be a more effective way of dealing with problems than the illegal threat or use of military force.  Our government claims that its threat of force led to the success of diplomacy in Syria, but that's not really what happened.  It was only when the sleeping giant of American democracy awoke from its long slumber and pried the cruise missiles from our leaders' trigger fingers that they grudgingly accepted "diplomacy as a last resort."  For once in a very long while, our political system worked the way it's supposed to: the public made its views clear to our representatives in Congress, and  they listened.  We saved our leaders from the consequences of their own criminality, and their efforts to sell a propaganda narrative that turns that on its head is a sad reflection on their disdain for democracy and the rule of law.
 
For most of our history, Americans never dreamt of global military supremacy.  At the turn of the 20th century, even as the U.S. waged  a genocidal war that probably killed a million Filipinos, American diplomats played key roles in the Hague Peace Conferences and the establishment of international courts, eager to adapt American concepts of democracy and justice to the international arena to develop alternatives to war and militarism.  
 
In response to the horrors of the First World War, an international social movement demanded the abolition of war.  In 1928, the U.S. government responded by negotiating  the Kellogg-Briand Pact, named for U.S. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, in which all major powers renounced "war as an instrument of national policy."  The treaty failed to prevent the Second World War, but it provided the legal basis for the convictions of German leaders at Nuremberg for the crime of aggression.  And it is still in force, supported by subsequent treaties like the UN Charter and conventions against genocide, torture and other war crimes, under which senior U.S. officials must also eventually face justice.
 
The allied defeat of Germany and Japan in the Second World War was not the result of American military supremacy, but of an alliance across ideological lines with imperial Britain and the communist Soviet Union, based on mutual trust, vigorous diplomacy and the recognition of a common existential threat.  Most Americans believed at the time that the war would lead to a renewed international commitment to peace and disarmament, not to an American bid for military supremacy.
 
American, British and Soviet leaders agreed that their common interests required what Roosevelt called  "a permanent structure of peace" after the war, through the United Nations and continued great power diplomacy.  The  prohibition against the threat or use of force is a key provision of the UN Charter.  But Roosevelt's death deprived America of his vision and personal diplomatic skills just as the complexities of the post-war world began to rear their head.  
 
Truman mistrusted the Soviets and never shared Roosevelt's commitment to work with them in a spirit of mutual respect.  He quickly fell under the influence of hawkish advisers like his Chief of Staff Admiral Leahy, Ambassador Harriman and Navy Secretary Forrestal, and he condemned the Russians harshly at every turn during negotiations on the contours of the post-war world.  Truman embraced Churchill's self-fulfilling declaration of  an "iron curtain" across Europe and his dark view of America's wartime ally as a potential aggressor in the mold of Nazi Germany.
 
What emboldened the former Senator from Missouri to squander the fruits of Roosevelt's astute diplomacy?  In great part, it was "the bomb."  The U.S. monopoly on atomic weapons in the late 1940s gave rise to a newly aggressive posture in U.S. foreign policy, including desperate calls to destroy the Soviet Union in a massive nuclear holocaust before it could develop its own nuclear deterrent.
 
Fortunately for all of us, wiser heads prevailed and a nuclear war was avoided. The  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and wartime American and British military leaders warned that attacking the U.S.S.R. would unleash an even more terrible war than the one the world had just survived.  U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Eisenhower made an early venture into politics with  a speech in St. Louis, saying, "I decry loose and sometimes gloating talk about the high degree of security implicit in a weapon that might destroy millions overnight… Those who measure security solely in terms of offensive capacity distort its meaning and mislead those who pay them heed."
 
Many Americans accepted their government's claims that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had shortened the war with Japan and saved American lives, but  the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that, "Japan would have surrendered, even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."  In fact, Japan's vital supply lines were cut and it was already suing for peace.  The main sticking point was the continued rule of Emperor Hirohito, which the allies eventually conceded in any case.  American leaders from former President Hoover to future President Eisenhower to military intelligence chief General Carter Clarke all opposed using the bomb as  barbaric and unnecessary.
 
But America's monopoly on nuclear weapons transformed U.S. foreign policy after the war.  Even though our leaders have never found any practical way to realize the mirage of omnipotence conjured up by these weapons, they gave them a false sense of ultimate power in a fluid and uncertain post-war world.  Cooperation with the Soviets was no longer imperative, because, in the last resort, we had the bomb and they did not.  
 
The U.S. and U.K. could not prevent most of the countries of Eastern Europe from falling into the Soviet political and economic orbit once they were liberated by the Red Army and communist resistance forces, any more than the Russians could bring their communist allies to power in Western-occupied France, Italy or Greece.  But the U.S. nuclear monopoly encouraged Truman to take a hard line.  The Truman Doctrine committed the U.S. to militarily oppose Soviet influence across the globe in a long ideological struggle.
 
As the Soviets developed their own nuclear arsenal, the U.S. invested trillions of dollars and vast human resources in an unrestrained technological arms race.  American warplanes and tanks generally proved superior to Soviet ones in proxy wars around the world, but this was irrelevant to the outcome of guerrilla wars, where the AK-47 became the weapon of choice and a symbol of popular resistance to Western imperialism.  Meanwhile Germany and Japan, excluded and freed from the tyranny of military production, invested all their resources in civilian technology and soon produced better cars and home electronics than either of the "superpowers."
 
The almost unbelievable record of American militarism since 1945 is that, despite the most sustained and expensive military build-up in the history of the world and the tragic annihilation of millions of people, the United States has not won a single major war.  After overreaching in Korea, bringing China into the war and devastating North and South Korea, it was forced to settle for a ceasefire on the original border.  At least 3 million Vietnamese and 57,000 Americans paid with their lives for the folly of the American War in Vietnam.  Proxy and covert wars in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and other parts of South-East Asia have been just as bloody but no more successful.  America's only real military successes have been limited campaigns to restore friendly regimes in three small strategic outposts: Grenada; Panama; and Kuwait.
 
Surveying the ruins of U.S. policy at the end of the American War in Vietnam, Richard Barnet put his finger on the irony of America's unique place in world history.  He wrote, "at the very moment the number one nation has perfected the science of killing, it has become an impractical instrument of political domination."
 
But the lessons of Vietnam were gradually eroded by a revival of U.S. militarism.  George Bush Senior played a critical role as Director of the CIA (1976-7) and the Council on Foreign Relations (1977-9) and then as Vice President and President.  After covert wars in Angola, Afghanistan and Central America, and invasions of Grenada and Panama, Bush refused Iraq's offers to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait in 1991 and instead ordered the massacre of at least 25,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians.  Bush rejoiced, "By God,  we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all!"
 
The fall of the U.S.S.R. was a critical factor in U.S. military expansion in the Middle East.  As Pentagon adviser  Michael Mandelbaum said in 1991, "For the first time in 40 years we can conduct military operations in the Middle East without worrying about triggering World War III."  The "peace dividend" Americans expected at the end of the Cold War was trumped by a "power dividend," as policy-makers exploited the fall of the Soviet Union to project U.S. military power around the world.  New interventionist doctrines of " reassurance", " humanitarian intervention", " responsibility to protect", " information warfare" and " preemption" have served as political cover for violating the UN Charter's prohibition on the threat or use of force, culminating in the travesty of  Barack Obama's speech justifying war as he accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
 
Since Vietnam, we have spent  at least another $17 trillion on war and preparations for war - our entire national debt - and killed millions more of our fellow human beings.  Watching  General Giap's funeral in Hanoi as I write this today, I have to ask, "What have we learned?"  Our generals have learned how to wage war in other countries with fewer American casualties by using disproportionate violence that kills more civilians than combatants.  This has made war less painful for Americans, but it only underlines its futility and barbarism.  No American general of this generation will be buried with the outpouring of genuine public gratitude and grief we just saw in Hanoi.
 
Now we have spent 12 years at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia (along with covert operations across the entire globe, from Sweden to the Philippines to Colombia).  We have brought death, injury, devastation and chaos to hundreds of millions more people, with no end in sight as the "Long War" keeps spreading from country to country.  Nowhere have our leaders achieved their original stated intentions to reduce terrorism, prevent weapons proliferation or establish democracy. Their increasingly desperate rationalizations for a murderous, out-of-control policy, repeated ad nauseam by a craven corporate propaganda system, can barely disguise their humiliation.
 
Like Americans in the late 1940s who were desperate to destroy the U.S.S.R. in a "preemptive" nuclear war, some Americans today may still not understand why our military supremacy cannot bring us political power over enemies with fewer resources and inferior weapons.  But, as Eisenhower and other American war leaders understood only too well, the use of force is a blunt and brutal instrument, and more powerful weapons are only more powerful, not magical.  The use of force is always destructive, not constructive, and being killed or maimed by shrapnel and high explosives is no cleaner or kinder because missiles are more expensive or more sophisticated.  Political power is something quite different, requiring popular support and legitimacy and policies that actually solve problems.
 
So military supremacy is not a trump card to achieve political objectives; the use of force is inherently destructive; and war nearly always causes more problems than it solves.  Killing people to save them from an oppressive government is an absurdity, and "regime change" is generally a euphemism for "regime destruction," with no ability to ensure that what comes after will be better, especially once the violence and chaos of war are added to the problems that led to it in the first place.
 
Norwegian General Robert Mood led the UN monitors sent to Syria to oversee the failed ceasefire in 2012.  A year later, amid calls for Western military intervention,  he reflected, "It is fairly easy to use the military tool, because, when you launch the military tool in classical interventions, something will happen and there will be results.  The problem is that the results are almost all the time different than the political results you were aiming for when you decided to launch it.  So the other position, arguing that it is not the role of the international community, neither coalitions of the willing nor the UN Security Council for that matter, to change governments inside a country, is also a position that should be respected…"   
 
Threatening the use of force while hoping not to have to use it may seem like a less painful way for our leaders to impose their will on other countries, but in practice this doesn't work very well either.  It forces both sides into positions from which neither can afford to back down,  putting the credibility of our military supremacy on the line over every crisis around the world.  This has turned manufactured disputes over non-existent weapons into a choice between war and political humiliation for American leaders, as we saw with Iraq and, incredibly, are now going through all over again with Iran.  There is great wisdom in the UN Charter's prohibition on the threat as well as on the use of force, because the one leads so predictably to the other.
 
Despite nearly bankrupting our country, military supremacy remains an expensive national ego-trip in search of a constructive purpose.  Countries that are not cursed with military supremacy have to settle their differences by other means, notably by diplomacy within the rule of international law.  As we have found out over Syria, this is not by any means a worse option, and it offers us a way forward to life after militarism.
 
The victory of democracy in America's debate over Syria is a small but significant step in the right direction.  Organizing and public outrage transformed formerly passive public opposition to war and militarism into effective action to prevent U.S. aggression.  Now we must tap into the same combination of public sentiment and effective political organizing to actually bring peace to Syria, to restore civilized relations with Iran and to finally turn the tide on the largest, most wasteful and dangerous unilateral military build-up in the history of the world.  This could be an important turning point, but that will be up to us.
Link to original article from AlterNet
Read 6791 times Last modified on Friday, 25 October 2013 02:25
Sandy Davies

Nicolas J "Sandy" Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He writes about U.S. militarism and war crimes in AlternetZ Magazine and at warisacrime.org.  He has been a PDA chapter leader in Miami since 2009.

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    Written on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 20:48 Read more...
  • Bush Convicted of War Crimes in Absentia
    Bush Convicted of War Crimes in Absentia

    It’s official; George W Bush is a war criminal.

    In what is the first ever conviction of its kind anywhere in the world, the former US President and seven key members of his administration were yesterday (Fri) found guilty of war crimes.

    Written on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 19:52 Read more...
  • PARODY: Mitt Romney: I Can Relate To Black People, My Ancestors Once Owned Slaves
    PARODY: Mitt Romney: I Can Relate To Black People, My Ancestors Once Owned Slaves

    In yet another seemingly faux pas moment for the former governor and presidential candidate, Mitt Romney tells a crowd of supporters in Alabama that he can relate to the plight of black individuals because his ancestors were slave owners in the 1800′s.

    Written on Saturday, 12 May 2012 16:50 Read more...
  • New York Times reports on NC Marriage Ban, WI Recall
    New York Times reports on NC Marriage Ban, WI Recall

    North Carolina's voters on Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage, joining 29 other states and the rest of the South.

     


     

    Democrats in Wisconsin have a month to persuade voters to unseat the governor, Scott Walker, in a recall election with Tom Barrett as Mr. Walker's opponent.

    Written on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 17:42 Read more...
  • Chicago pulls permit for nurses rally planned for NATO summit
    Chicago pulls permit for nurses rally planned for NATO summit

    The city of Chicago today yanked a permit for the first demonstration planned for the weekend of the NATO summit in a dispute over where the National Nurses United can hold its rally May 18.

    Written on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 13:28 Read more...
  • Socialist Wins in France: Two Articles Explain the Historical and Current Context
    Socialist Wins in France: Two Articles Explain the Historical and Current Context

    "France, Okay, But Could a Socialist Gain Power in the US? Here's How It Almost Happened" by Greg Mitchell of the Nation, and "François Hollande wins French presidential election" by Angelique Chrisafis of the Guardian.

    Written on Monday, 07 May 2012 17:44 Read more...
  • NNU Rally to Tax Wall Street and Heal America
    NNU Rally to Tax Wall Street and Heal America

    Nurses, Robin Hood and the band of merry women and men, and scores of friends
are strapping on their boots and preparing to head to Chicago Friday, May 18.

    Written on Monday, 07 May 2012 16:29 Read more...
  • 9 Swing States, Critical to Presidential Race, Are Mixed Lot
    9 Swing States, Critical to Presidential Race, Are Mixed Lot

    Since the housing bubble burst, Nevada has been plagued with record foreclosures, the nation’s steepest drop in home values and its highest unemployment rate.

    Iowa, on the other hand, may have missed out on some of the boom but was spared the worst of the bust: its housing prices have stayed relatively stable, and it now has the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the country.

    Written on Sunday, 06 May 2012 22:46 Read more...
  • Defense trumps poverty in Republican House
    Defense trumps poverty in Republican House

    American soldiers learned the hard way not to walk down enemy trails in Vietnam — and certainly not twice. But here come the House Republicans, marching into the sunlight by shifting billions from poverty programs to the Pentagon, all within hours of adopting an entirely new round of tax cuts for those earning more than $1 million a year.

    Written on Friday, 04 May 2012 16:50 Read more...
  • McDermott Will & Emery's Pardo discusses impacts of EPA's fracking rule (video and transcript)
    McDermott Will & Emery's Pardo discusses impacts of EPA's fracking rule (video and transcript)

    How will U.S. EPA's oil and gas air rule affect the fracking industry? During today's OnPoint, Jim Pardo, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, discusses the broader impacts of the rule ....

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:19 Read more...
  • One Year After Bin Laden’s Death, Bring the Troops Home Now
    One Year After Bin Laden’s Death, Bring the Troops Home Now

    Today marks one year since the death of Osama bin Laden. The CIA estimates there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since ‘getting Bin Laden’ and defeating al Qaeda were the stated reasons the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, President Barack Obama should use the anniversary to announce the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:12 Read more...
  • Obama's Afghanistan Speech: A Guide for the Perplexed
    Obama's Afghanistan Speech: A Guide for the Perplexed

    President Obama’s dramatic speech from Afghanistan should be parsed as a careful election-year orchestration of his plan to “wind down” the war. It is no accident that the speech came during the first-year commemoration of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the event providing Obama the rationale for ending American combat while placing hawks and political rivals on the defensive.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:05 Read more...
  • End Student Debt!
    End Student Debt!

    The student loan crisis finally reached center stage in Washington after the House GOP budget called for letting interest rates double on government-subsidized loans (and for deep cuts in Pell grants and other student support). If it passes, students who borrow the maximum will end up paying as much as $1,000 a year in added interest.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 20:13 Read more...
  • Women: Occupy the Left
    Women: Occupy the Left

    Women’s rights have always been a bit of an add-on for the left. At this spring’s Left Forum, only fifteen of 440 panels touched on any feminist issue, broadly understood. New Left Review is famous, at least in my apartment, for its high testosterone content (despite being edited by a woman); ditto Verso, the left’s flagship publishing house, where women authors are as rare as Siberian tigers.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 20:06 Read more...
  • Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist
    Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist

    Desperate for new revenue, Ohio lawmakers introduced legislation last year that would make it easier to recover money from businesses that defraud the state. It was quickly flagged at the Washington headquarters of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-backed group that views such “false claims” laws as encouraging frivolous lawsuits. ALEC’s membership includes not only corporations, but nearly 2,000 state legislators across the country — including dozens who would vote on the Ohio bill.

    Written on Monday, 23 April 2012 19:50 Read more...
  • Meet the US media companies lobbying against transparency
    Meet the US media companies lobbying against transparency

    Corporate owners or sister companies of some of the biggest names in journalism against FCC order to post political ad data. News organizations cultivate a reputation for demanding transparency, whether by suing for access to government documents, dispatching camera crews to the doorsteps of recalcitrant politicians, or editorializing in favor of open government.

    Written on Sunday, 22 April 2012 15:31 Read more...
  • Former ALEC Supporters Now Find Connection Toxic
    Former ALEC Supporters Now Find Connection Toxic

    With thousands of consumers expressing their concerns about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to corporations across America, even former supporters of ALEC are feeling the heat, and some are rushing to distance themselves from the organization. YUM! Brands (owners of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut) became the 12th corporate member of ALEC to announce it is leaving the organization yesterday.

    Written on Friday, 20 April 2012 15:24 Read more...
  • A Cruel Ethos - Pay Upfront or Die
    A Cruel Ethos - Pay Upfront or Die

    Our acceptance of death for those who can’t afford medical care is unique among the advanced industrialized nations of the world. This ethos allows people who don’t have enough money or enough medical insurance to die everyday. We remain blind to the humanistic healthcare ethos of other nations, that result in greatly reduced costs and superior outcomes.

    Written on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 03:20 Read more...
  • Drug War Nightmare: How We Created a Massive Racial Caste System in America
    Drug War Nightmare: How We Created a Massive Racial Caste System in America

    The drug war has created a new Jim Crow system. Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.”  Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America. 

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 19:15 Read more...
  • How ALEC Is Creating Florida-Style Messes in Other States
    How ALEC Is Creating Florida-Style Messes in Other States

    Wisconsin is a rod-and-gun state, with a hunting history that has fostered traditions of broad gun ownership and respect for the right to bear arms.

    So how did Wisconsin get saddled with a “Castle Doctrine” law that mirrors some of the worst aspects of the Florida legislation that's now at the center of the controversy over the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 17:42 Read more...
  • We Need More Heels Running Around Capitol Hill
    We Need More Heels Running Around Capitol Hill

    "[I]t will come, but I shall not see it ... It is inevitable. We can no more deny forever the right of self-government to one-half our people than we could keep the Negro forever in bondage. It will not be wrought by the same disrupting forces that freed the slave, but come it will, and I believe within a generation."

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 13:31 Read more...
  • The 1%’s Doctrine for the 99%
    The 1%’s Doctrine for the 99%

    Many on the American Right insist federal actions from the Civil War to recent banking regulations were encroachments on states’ rights and personal liberties, but underlying these claims – in the 1860s and today – is the greed of the richest 1 percent treating the 99 percent as chattel, writes Mark Ames.

    Written on Monday, 26 March 2012 21:21 Read more...
  • Congress Takes a Step or Two Forward, Two Steps Back
    Congress Takes a Step or Two Forward, Two Steps Back

    Watching some of the news coming from Capitol Hill this week, two old music videos started buzzing around in our heads. One was the classic “I’m Just a Bill,” from Schoolhouse Rock, in which a beleaguered piece of legislation sits outside on the marble steps hoping to someday become a law.

    Written on Monday, 26 March 2012 21:15 Read more...

PDA In Your State

Join "Countdown to Coverage" Share TPP with your Daily Newspaper

CWA devised a simple plan for which they were uniquely suited: drag TPP out of the shadows and into the light - one city at a time - using a medium they understand intimately: Daily Newspapers!

Two CWA members - Dave Felice in Denver, CO and Madelyn Elder in Portland, OR have started the ball rolling. We just need to keep up the momentum leading up to a big day of petition deliveries.

Button-ShareTPPWithNewspaper

Step 1 is to send an Op-Ed to your Daily Newspaper.

Sign the TPP Fast Track Petitions

MoveOn.org Petition - Congress Don't Renew Fast Track

Public Citizen Petition - Congress Must Reject Fast Track Authority

MoveOn.org Petition - Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership

CREDO Petition - Stop the Massive Corporate Power Grab

 

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of