Military-Industrial Complex Calls the Shots

Sherwood Ross

BELLFOURCE, S.D. --- On the prairie just a few miles west of this town that styles itself the geographic heart of America, you can pull your car off highway 212 and watch the antelope graze. These graceful creatures keep a couple of hundred yards back from the road, and if you approach them to take pictures they will pick up their heads and tails and amble off in the opposite direction. They’re far enough back so that if some fool with a rifle tried to take a shot, there’s a good chance they’d escape.

Now and then behind the barbed wire fence strung along the highway, you can spot the concrete ruins of abandoned missile silos nudging above the surface. Here, at the height of the Cold War, missiles slept waiting for the alarm clock that would announce nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The antelope pay no mind to the possibility some really indigestible stuff might have leaked from the silos that could ruin their meal.

The nuclear silos were peopled by two men, so that, in theory, if one went nuts, the other could prevent him from launching the missile on his own initiative. A U.S. Senator once boasted, “We can hit the men’s room in the Kremlin” and these silo soldiers were the plumbers at the ready to flush the world’s troubled toilet bowls. In order to fire the devices, both operators had to turn the handles of their instruments simultaneously. The only wee problem, according to a published national magazine article, is someone figured out how one man could disable the other and, by using a rope attached to a spoon, turn the disabled man’s trigger along with his own, thus launching his very own holocaust.

Much of the country’s nuclear stockpile has been disabled, and the ranchers in nearby Bellfource are no longer collecting a little extra from the Pentagon for the use of their meadowlands. They console themselves with a marvelous parade and genuine rodeo every July 4th, worth a trip to South Dakota. People on the floats throw candy at bystanders and the cowgirls racing around the barrels are among the prettiest. As the missile silos are inoperative, there’s little danger of anyone bothering to attack Bellfource, unless, of course, Dick Cheney wants to start a war he can win.

USA has reduced its stockpile of nuclear warheads to about 10,000 as of last January, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. “No Nukes News,” published by Peace Action Education Fund of Washington, D.C., says the arsenal is nevertheless equivalent to 130,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. “This is fire power enough to destroy the Earth, and all life on it many times over,” they reassure.

Nuclear war-ready America is just one of the props that sustain the Military Industrial Complex(MIC). Nuclear warfare began when President Truman sought a way to shorten WWII, to save the lives of U.S. fighting men. The bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki did that, all right. But Truman also established a precedent for future slaughter on an unprecedented scale and the costliest arms race in history. He also rendered meaningless the Geneva Convention against murdering civilians. If the U.S. could use the atomic bomb, why couldn’t Soviet Russia?  Why not China? Israel? India? Iran? And rather than share the technology with its Soviet allies, the U.S.-U.K. bomb developers kept the secret to themselves, insuring a nuclear arms race that all by itself has cost Americans $7-trillion since the Manhattan project. Albert Einstein, looking back, said tipping FDR about the possibility of an atomic weapon was the worst mistake he ever made in his life. Politician Harry Truman never repented. Over the years, the manufacture and testing of A-Bombs and H-bombs would lead directly to many deaths and fill the atmosphere with poisonous fallout liable to cause cancers for centuries. As for the cost of a Cold War that might well have been averted, General Douglas MacArthur had this to say: “The hundreds of billions of dollars now spent in mutual preparedness could conceivably abolish poverty from the face of the earth.”

Unfortunately, there are some American who do not wish to end arms spending, much as they’d deny it if accused of such perfidy. We know, though, because we have their word for it.  Named by President Truman as Defense Mobilization Director in World War II, former General Electric chief Charles E. Wilson put it baldly when he called for an alliance of Big Business and the military in a “permanent war economy.”  He got his wish, too. It wasn’t idle talk. A Bureau of the Budget report in 1946 said during the war the Army sought “total control of the nation, its manpower, its facilities, its economy,” according to author Fred J. Cook in his “The Warfare State”(Macmillan), published in 1962.

When FDR’s appointee to run the War Production Board, Donald Nelson, a former Sears vice president, had a difference with the Pentagon, FDR told Nelson not to rock the boat. It was General Brehon Somervell, boss of Pentagon procurement, who called the shots. So military contractors built and overbuilt, to the point where the U.S. produced, for example, more than 130 aircraft carriers during WWII, so many it sent a flotilla of leftovers to Great Britain.

In 1944, with an Allied victory in sight and when humungous stockpiles of ammunition and other war materials were climbing skyward, many small contractors wanted to begin the conversion to peace-time consumer goods. According to Cook, the big defense contractors quashed this initiative because the nimble small players could convert more quickly, so nothing was done until the top defense contractors were good and ready.

The military wasn’t supposed to run the USA. Alexander Hamilton warned us about it even before Eisenhower: “The continual necessity for their services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionably degrades the condition of the free citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil.”

Starting with WWII, according to Cook, permanent revolving doors were built linking the Pentagon and Corporate America. There were 1,400 executives from the rank of major and up employed by the top 100 defense contractors, he said. General Dynamics alone had 27 generals and admirals on its payroll. That practice continues to this day, and at the highest levels. The MIC crowd also occupies top slots in Washington. As John Perkins noted in “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”(Plume), George Shultz, Nixon’s Treasury secretary, served as a Bechtel president and Caspar Weinberger, Defense Secretary under President Reagan, had been a Bechtel vice president. Bechtel, of course, is one of the Pentagon’s leading business partners.

During the Fifties, many generals and their business partners fanned out across the country preaching the gospel of preparedness and, at times, even the lunacy of preventive war. Government contributed to the hysteria by urging Americans to build fallout shelters. In an uncharacteristic but prescient remark, General MacArthur declared: “Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear --- kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor – with the cry of a grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded.”

So it was that another general, President Dwight Eisenhower said upon leaving the White House, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

It was not long after Eisenhower’s warning that Cook wrote:  “The ultra-conservative classes that rule our ‘military-industrial complex’ and dominate our society have led us into an age of social upheaval and revolution, obsessed by a paranoid phobia of change and revolution.”

In words that now seem prophetic written in 1962, Cook predicted Vietnam: “If we are dragged into another (after Korea) limited war in Southeast Asia, we shall bleed ourselves of our finest youth and our future leadership in a blind endeavor to halt and contain by force an ideology we detest. The battle, if it is fought on these terms can only succeed in bleeding us white in endless ‘police actions.’”

“America has been changed without any popular recognition of the fact, from a peace-loving and isolationist democracy into a Warfare State whose real intent…is not the preservation of peace and law and order in the world, but the extension of our own capitalist system throughout the world…” Cook declared, adding “…insanity has become our way of life.”

The CIA, an agency that must be reckoned as an arm of the MIC, spread the insanity by creating revolutions the world over, just the sort of violent action it liked to blame on Communists such as Cuba’s Che Guevara in Bolivia. Did the American people ever vote to overthrow all the governments the CIA toppled from power? Did they even know what was being done in their name? Here’s a partial list of countries overthrown by the CIA: Iran, 1953; Guatemala, 1954; Dominican Republic, 1963; Ecuador, 1963; Indonesia, 1965; Cambodia, 1970; Chile, 1973; Portugal, 1975; Chad, 1982; Bolivia, 1982.

As a result of breeding so much hatred around the world, if we’re not scared out of our wits over possible reprisals, maybe we should be. Today, leftover nuclear weapons from the Cold War era can be smuggled into the U.S. and detonated. How does an industrialized nation with so much to lose respond to a desert kingdom or a stateless gang of thugs having access to a nuclear trigger? What good are all the Star Wars defenses against incoming missiles, still being built, naturally, at great cost to the taxpayers, when the nuclear strike can be imported for cheap on a cargo ship? It is nations such as the U.S. and Great Britain, whose leaders decided 60 years ago to build atomic weapons, that are in gravest peril today as a result.

Speaking of the Star Wars defense, the New York Times reported April 2nd a senior Congressional investigator has accused the Government Accounting Office of covering up a scientific fraud among builders of a $26-billion system designed as an anti-nuclear missile shield. The contractors are off to a poor start, he said, on a system that will eventually cost the taxpayers $250-billion. The investigator, Subrata Ghoshroy, said GAO ignored evidence the two main contractors “had doctored data, skewed test results and made false statements” to the government. Ten years ago like charges were made by a senior engineer who then charged contractor TRW in 1995-96 “had falsified research findings” about the project. (By the way, how many public schools can you build for $250-billion? How much low- and moderate-income housing? How much mass transit?)

Today, the MIC is going full-blast. For example, President Bush is determined to keep the Texas factories that make the F-18 fighter-bombers in business by selling them to India and Pakistan. No matter these planes can deliver nuclear warheads and will only escalate tensions between the hostile neighbors. America today has the unenviable distinction of being the world’s No. One arms peddler. Uncle Sam, the hardware king!

What’s more, under Bush, military spending climbed from $290-billion in 2001 to $437-billion in 2004 and, counting the separate appropriations for the Iraq War and the tens of billions spent on the intelligence agencies, it could top $600-billion this year.

Arms makers are becoming millionaires overnight. United for Fair Economy and Institute for Policy Studies reported in 2004 the Iraq War is leading to “huge average raises (for CEOs) at the biggest defense contractors. One CEO of a bulletproof vest firm increased his salary from $525,000 in 2001 to $70-million in 2004, the report said. And only one of the top 10 defense contractors “won a majority of its contracts through ‘full and open’ competition,” according to the Center for Public Integrity, of Washington. “All the rest collected most of their contract dollars through sole source contracts or other no-bid procedures.”

The exception was SAIC. The other contractors who cashed in largely without competing are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, United Technologies, General Electric Carlyle Group, and Newport News, CPI said.

Taxpayers typically do not know about the lack of competitive bidding or recognize that much of what is spent is lavished on obsolete technology. William D. Hartung, co-author of a World Policy Institute Special Report at the New School University, found “Contracts for the top 10 weapons contracts were up 75% in the first three years of the Bush Administration alone,” and much of it apparently wasted on obsolete technologies.

When the Pentagon is informed of wasteful practices, it commonly ignores them. As Knight-Ridder reported last January 24, Congressman Walter Jones, (R-N.C.) is quoted as understating, “We’ve got an agency that is not doing its job of being a watchdog for the taxpayers.” Retired Army Reserve officer Paul Fellencer Sr. complained to the Pentagon’s fraud hot line last year about $200-million worth of outrageous overpayments for ordinary supplies.  Pentagon investigators never bothered to call him and dismissed his tip as “unsubstantiated,” the news service said.

The failure to perform by contractor Halliburton, formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, has been well documented. Now it appears, according to the Los Angeles Times, President Bush’s uncle, William H.T. Bush, better known as “Uncle Bucky,” collected just under $1.9-million in cash plus stock valued at more than $800,000 from the sale of Engineered Support Systems Inc.  The Times said ESSI “experienced record growth as a result of expanded U.S. military contracts --- many to supply U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The paper also noted some of the contracts were awarded on a no-bid basis, including a $77-million deal to refit military vehicles with armor for use in Iraq and the firm is under investigation because equipment it was supposed to supply didn’t work properly. (Uncle Bucky, how could you?)

Meanwhile, President Bush chops away at the domestic budget, even cutting back funds for cancer research, veterans, and education. Several million Americans are homeless. Forty million do not have medical insurance. Thirty million slave at jobs that do not pay them enough to afford decent housing. Several million potentially valuable young people cannot afford to start college. And the man responsible for much of the current record $8-trillion national debt is warning the country the solvent Social Security system will be in trouble 25 years from now!

Let us recall Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein were told during their Watergate probe to “follow the money.” Apparently, that’s what government in America is all about. It surely is what the MIC is all about. Of the estimated $1-trillion wrung from taxpayers on April 17th, half will find its way into the coffers of the MIC. As Charlie Wilson knew long ago, MIC can be a perpetual money machine. To keep the military cauldron boiling, the Pentagon is plowing $1.5-trillion dollars into research to create a witches’ brew of 80 new warfare systems.

In so many ways, the invasion of Iraq is all about money. WMD was just the lie to bring it about. Not only is the MIC cashing in big time but oil companies, such as Exxon-Mobil are gorging themselves on record profits. As war-related damage to Iraq’s oil has reduced oil output, thus tightening supplies, the price of gas charged at the pump to American motorists, and others, goes up and up.  

In sum, my fellow Americans, we have a problem. What Hamilton and the other Founders feared long ago is now reality. The MIC has thrived for nearly a half century under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, but never so much as today. It has transformed an isolationist nation that didn’t want to get involved in WWII into a global tyranny with 700 military bases in 130 foreign nations whose leaders believe they can bully the world and invade any nation that offends them. Unfortunately, Americans seem as indifferent to military control as dumb beasts grazing on the South Dakota prairie. The question is, will we take action to rein in the MIC? Alexander Hamilton was right. So was Eisenhower. So was MacArthur.

Sherwood Ross contributes to national magazines and publicizes worthy causes.
Contact him at

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