Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Is the militaryindustrial complex bad for the military?

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. President Eisenhower

In the speech from which the opening quote was taken I found this sentence which seems even more true now than in 1961 when it was delivered: Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

The men who returned from W.W.II and Korea had benefits such as the GI bill of rights which legislation, according to this website, provided funding for some 7.8 million veterans' education expenses and 2.4 million veterans' home loans. Injured veterans returning from the War on Terror have to face Walter Reed, and the prospect of lying in one's urine.

What went wrong? How is it that the United States can spend hundreds of billions of $ on "defense," more than the rest of the world combined, but cannot provide care for its own?

In my view, one causal factor is the profit motive. That is, the militaryindustrial complex of which President Eisenhower warned has taken control of the flow of "defense" funds. Funds flow to those endeavors from which handsome profits can be made, and don't flow to others.

While there are many human endeavors which are assisted by people's drive for profit, there are others which are not. Child rearing is one which comes to mind. As a father I am well aware that raising children is unprofitable in a monetary sense (wildly profitable in a human sense). My son is unlikely to repay my wife and me for the time and money we have and will sink into his care and education. And I don't expect him to. My hope is that he will treat his children at least as well as I have treated him.

Creating newer and more lethal machines to kill people, like the creation of any new machine, is an endeavor which is assisted by people seeking profit. But caring for the human element in the military apparently is not. Billions of $s in profit will be reaped by those engaged in the creation of the new nuclear weapons. But there will be relatively little if any monetary profit reaped by those caring for our injured. Of course, a great deal of human profit could be reaped by providing adequate care for those who were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, and came home missing a limb or their sanity.

It seems to me extremely odd that China, whose military spending is roughly 1/10th of the United States, can maintain a standing army of some 2.25 million men while we cannot adequately maintain an armed forces of some 1.4 million. While I imagine the average Chinese soldier expects far less than the average American soldier, the 10 fold gap seems to me more than sufficient to overcome this difference in expectations.

Moreover, given the abysmal results from the most recent hi-tech, and hi-expense shock and awe campaigns, and the now apparent lack of boots on the ground necessary to complete the mission, perhaps it is time to consider shifting the flow of funds a bit, even if it means less profit for the militaryindustrial complex.

I wonder if President Eisenhower ever worried that one negative effect of the growth of the profit seeking military industrial complex would be the diminution of our ability to win wars? As Rome discovered to its dismay one cannot maintain the necessary human element of any military campaign on the cheap.