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Briefing Book on the Military-Industrial Complex.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote: "I have told my sons ... not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that." This is strong stuff; one has to read the book to understand why.

Vonnegut echoes the well-known words of President Eisenhower, one of the century's great warriors, just a few days before he left office: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children."

Why would any country do such a thing? Several recent developments, from the gays imbroglio to the near-demise of the Evil Empire, have raised questions about the very meaning of the military.

One of the reasons people first grouped together was mutual protection. It occurred to nobody to set aside a large segment of the community whose job would be, bottom line, to kill other people. Instead, after the danger had passed, the prehistoric warriors went back to growing cabbage or selling real estate.

As society got more complex, folks found it easier to have ready-made or professional armies at their beck and call. This, by the way, betrayed society's sagging hopes for any utopian or ideal society, a lack of confidence that seems to have reached its nadir in our time.

The Council for a Livable World Education Fund has just published Briefing Book on the Military-Industrial Complex, which shoots interesting holes in the military mystique.

Even into this century, it transpires, industrial tycoons kept their distance from the military. Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, among others, were pacifists who believed war was bad for business. Gradually, though, the warriors and tycoons began a long and cozy relationship.

The best thing about being a rich and powerful country is not just that you win wars but that you win them fairly painlessly. Recent U.S. engagements abroad exemplify what enormous logistical moves are made, at whatever cost, so that no - or very few - American lives are lost.

Thousands of Somalis died during the couple of weeks the U.S. military took to "secure" tricky terrain and ensure Somalia would be safe for the Marines.

Another boon for Americans is that there has been little war on U.S. soil. The carnage of the Civil War made the nation cautious well into this century, but time healed the memory. Even when there were American deaths, as in Vietnam, this country remained pristine, its homes and towns not rendered into rubble as happens so often to poor countries. People whose houses have been robbed can imagine by extension the feeling of rape to which the innocent noncombatants of subjugated countries are subjected.

Wars, then, have not been seen by Americans as a heavy price for prosperity at home. Even World War II had a silver lining for many Americans. The gross national product doubled. Technological innovations leaped forward. And when the war was won, all the benefits and inventions were turned over to industry.

This worked so well for the industrialists that in 1944 the president of General Electric was calling for a "permanent war economy." That is what the country got.

As the Briefing Book puts it, "After the New Deal and the Second World War, the defense department's budget was viewed as a means of economic stimulation through government spending." In other words, as wars or rumors of wars go, so goes the nation.

Soon the big contractors and universities and labs and think tanks were swarming after all that money. Certain senators, staffers and others made their moves through the Pentagon's revolving door and shaded their resumes until they were bona fide "military intellectuals."

Furthermore, it can now be said: We didn't really need so much bang for so many bucks. As the briefing book says, "a single U.S. Trident submarine carries enough nuclear warheads to destroy every city in the Soviet Union with a population above 100,000 people, surely as significant a deterrent as is necessary."

A dirty little half-kept secret is the "Black Budget," a mind-boggling sum of money handed over to the Pentagon for its private purposes without approval or oversight by Congress. The best guess is that this "black budget," in the early 1990s, is about $36 billion annually, allegedly four times what it was in the early 1980s.

The vast majority of this, according to the booklet, goes to "the Pentagon's intelligence services, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Justice Department's counterintelligence programs, and small intelligence branches within the State, Energy and Treasury departments." It's not clear what these bodies could possibly be doing with $30 billion (over and above their regular, enormous budgets, of course) at this time.

The Pentagon, having no potential megawar with which to scare us, only last year insisted we need enough force to fight simultaneously two Persian Gulf-sized wars plus a smaller regional conflict. This is known as the "two-and-a-half war" scenario. It's expensive - there seems little point in giving the figures here, because they are big enough to numb the mind beyond caring.

Said Eisenhower in 1961: "Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

History's verdict may be that we were neither alert nor knowledgeable.
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Author:Farrell, Michael J.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 19, 1993
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