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Toy soldier sits atop U.S. currency

"Beyond the budget," the author writes, "is something infinitely worse — war itself, or rather, endless war." (Photo: SoulRider.222/flickr/cc)

Hell Mixed With Futility

Maybe the problem is the lack of courage among those in control to challenge the insanity not simply of the military budget but of militarism itself.

Robert C. Koehler

Oh, the normalcy of militarism! Our annual financial hemorrhage to this complex menagerie of institutions — from the Pentagon to Homeland Security to the Nuclear Security Administration to the CIA and its secret expenditures — must not be seriously questioned in the corridors of Congress, even though, all things considered, it comes to almost a trillion dollars annually.

Call it the Defense budget, smile and move on.

Even the current “liberal revolt” in the House of Representatives over the Dems’ proposed budget isn’t a serious questioning of the American way of war but, rather, a demand for “parity” between social and defense spending, which, if anything, further hardens the latter into an unquestioned reality. Yes, yes, America spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined, but let’s make sure we have money available for healthcare too, OK?

Norman Solomon called it the “toxic lure of guns and butter,” this creation of an America that has both the values of democratic socialism, a la Canada and Western Europe, and yet is the global cop extraordinaire, fighting (and creating) terrorism, bombing civilians, operating some 800 military bases in over 80 countries and maintaining a nuclear arsenal second to none (indeed, developing “usable” nukes). What’s wrong with that?

The headache here for the Dem establishment is the “democratic socialism” part, which is often covered with disdain by the mainstream media, e.g.:

“U.S. House of Representatives Democrats on Tuesday canceled a planned floor vote on legislation to set federal spending levels for next year after the party’s left wing demanded more money for domestic programs,” Reuters reported last week.

“It was an awkward moment for Democrats. . . .”

Groan! Those left-wingers are totally screwing up the smooth flow of the governing process! This is the same problem the Republicans have with their white supremacists. The nation’s strength is at its center. Everything on the margins is equally a threat to our freedom, equally a nuisance to our governance.

Perhaps you can spot the void at the center of this thinking. It isn’t simply the dismissal of “the left” that is problematic here. Far worse, I fear, is the lack of courage among those in control to challenge the insanity not simply of the military budget but of militarism itself.

But the budget is strange. As Matt Taibbi writes at Rolling Stone: “Despite being the taxpayers’ greatest investment — more than $700 billion a year — the Department of Defense has remained an organizational black box throughout its history. It’s repelled generations of official inquiries, the latest being an audit three decades in the making, mainly by scrambling its accounting into such a mess that it may never be untangled.

“Ahead of misappropriation, fraud, theft, overruns, contracting corruption and other abuses that are almost certainly still going on, the Pentagon’s first problem is its books. It’s the world’s largest producer of wrong numbers, an ingenious bureaucratic defense system that hides all the other rats’ nests underneath. Meet the Gordian knot of legend, brought to life in modern America.”

Apparently, waste and corruption and sheer incompetence, when they are sufficiently large, must not be questioned — not by liberals, not by debt-obsessed conservatives. No matter, as Taibbi wrote, that 1,200 auditors examined Department of Defense spending last year and concluded that the books were impenetrable. The Pentagon is our protector. We must give it what it needs.

But beyond the budget is something infinitely worse — war itself, or rather, endless war. Every war we’ve waged or been a part of over the last seven-plus decades has spewed human and environmental destruction almost beyond comprehension and, at the same time, has failed to accomplish anything remotely beneficial to the country, unless you happen to be a war profiteer. How is it possible that there is virtually no discussion about this at the national level — no discussion with political traction, even as the wars go on and on and on and on?

This is hell mixed with futility, and the United States of America isn’t sufficiently a democracy to acknowledge and address this except at its margins. One writer at the margins, Stephen Wertheim, in a piece for New Republic, notes:

“Trump and the establishment are one in assuming that the United States must maintain global military dominance, regardless of circumstances, forever.” However: “. . . permanent armed supremacy produces permanent armed conflict. And its burdens are mounting.”

American might, Wertheim writes, “has not prevented China from rising nor Russia from asserting itself, and may have antagonized both. Instead of cowing others into peace, primacy has plunged America into war. It has forced the United States to resist any significant retraction of its military power, lest it lose influence relative to anyone else. The endless wars are endless because the United States has appointed itself the world’s ‘indispensable nation,’ in Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s formulation, responsible less for ensuring its own safety than for maintaining its material and moral privilege to police the world.”

I repeat Wertheim’s primary point: Permanent armed supremacy produces permanent armed conflict. This is my cry to every progressive — indeed, to every — member of Congress. The time to look this truth in the eye is now.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at

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