New Book Charges Pentagon Has Become "A Place to Fear"

Sherwood Ross

“The Pentagon is now the dead center of an open-ended martial enterprise that no longer pretends to be defense,” is the conclusion of a new book The House of War by James Carroll. (Houghton Mifflin Co.). “The Pentagon has, more than ever, become a place to fear.”

Carroll, the son of a high-ranking U.S. Air Force general who left the Catholic priesthood for a full-time literary career, charges that U.S. concerns about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq and Iran “are absurdly misplaced.”

“When it comes to nuclear danger, Washington is by far the graver problem, beginning with its post-Cold War refusal to significantly downsize its own nuclear arsenal…to the Senate’s 1996 refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; to the Bush administration’s 2003 repudiation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the 2004 deployment of missile defense, which motivated Russia and China to add ‘hair’ to the hair trigger; to the Bush Administration’s stated --- and unprecedented--- readiness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.”

Under (Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld, Carroll writes, “the Pentagon embarked in 2002 on the stunning project of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons, including a burrowing device designed to go after underground targets and ‘mini-nukes’ to be used in concert with a conventional attack.”

“The international arms control community was appalled, but as of 2005, Rumsfeld was still pushing for such weapons,” Carroll writes, adding, the Bush Administration’s “attack dog in charge of reviling the U.S. tradition of arms control” is John Bolton, America’s ambassador to the UN. Bolton, the author says, is “the living icon of the two most dismaying facts of global politics today: nuclear arms control is dead; America killed it.”

The 657-page work, which contains 92-pages of footnotes, is subtitled “the Pentagon and the disastrous rise of American policy.” The new work has received mixed reviews. Terming it very one-sided, the Wall Street Journal said Carroll had ignored much of America's achievements since World War Two in spreading democracy and economic prosperity. The publication referred to the work as a "lengthy diatribe" characterized by "tortured logic" from an author whose vision is obscured by "ideological blinders." The Christian Science Monitor, however, called it "an exhaustive, if biased, study"; and Kirkus dubbed it "altogether excellent, and essential for understanding the birth of America's empire."

In the new work, Carroll, a previous National Book Award winner for his 1996 work, An American Requiem, traces the history of how Pentagon-induced “scares” repeatedly prompted the U.S. Congress to inflate its budget. “In 1982, the Pentagon was spending $21-million an hour; by the time Reagan left office, that sum was increased by that much again. Such military spending was completely unhinged from any justifiable operational requirement,” Carroll writes.

Current U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, he asserts, have resulted in “new levels of sectarianism, ethnic conflict, warlordism, drug trafficking, and radical Islamism…all evident in the broader context of destroyed infrastructure, widespread malnourishment, (and) obliterated civil society.”

The elections in both countries were “shams carefully managed by Washington.” Even if both were “human rights nightmares before Bush’s wars”, the wars themselves, “destroying cities and villages in order to save them hardly represented improvements in the lives of ordinary people.”

Carroll adds Muslim holy warriors “have been multiplied by the American war, empowered by it, trained by it, and dispatched around the globe.”

Carroll noted each one of the reasons given for invading Iraq proved to be false: “No WMD. No link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. No authentic U.S. concern for democracy. Shoring up oil reserves was an authentic, if unstated, reason for the war, but not even that was the primary issue.

“The unconscious and unaddressed American need for revenge had not been satisfied in Afghanistan,” Carroll continued. “That alone explains not only the rush to war in Iraq but the ongoing American refusal to seriously reconsider its action, even as the justifications for the war were exposed, one after the other, as lies. Even as the brutality of American methods was made plain, from torture at Abu Ghraib to the obliteration of the city of Falluja. And even as Iraq itself…was reduced to rubble, a proud society destroyed.”

Pointing to its revived nuclear ambitions, global military bases, huge arms budgets, and preventive war policy, Carroll claims the Pentagon is engaging in “permanent war” to achieve “permanent martial dominance.” He asserts, “The Pentagon defines America’s reach across the world, and for countless millions that reach is choking.”

Sherwood Ross writes for magazines and newspapers and is a publicist for worthy causes.  Reach him at

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