Boswell’s Blog | 9 Dec 2019 | Tom Boswell
Dear Senator Mark Miller,
I’m addressing this letter to you, as well as all the other Democrats in the State Senate and Assembly. The subject is the F-35 fighter jets and the PFAS that has been contaminating our water here in Madison.
I am not addressing it to Republicans in the legislature because they can plead ignorance and it would be difficult to contest that point. Ignorance is bliss, but it also makes for a pretty good excuse.
Democrats, on the other hand, have no excuse. They are reasonably bright and there is at least an assumption, whether valid or not, that they care about things other than padding the pockets of the rich and powerful.
Which is why I and many others are so disappointed by the way our public officials, particularly in the State Legislature, have so eagerly supported the proposed basing of the F-35 jets in Madison, while also conveniently ignoring all the harm the Air National Guard base has already caused our community.
One thing I will not address in this letter is all the community health and social equity issues pertaining to the potential basing of the F-35s in a very high-density neighborhood where many of the residents are low-income, people of color, and children. I will not address issues of noise, lack of affordable housing, or potential impacts on neighborhood stability and quality of life.
Many other people have already raised these issues very adequately, and this should be a “no-brainer” for Democrats, given that you are presumably blessed with more brains and more compassion than your colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
So first, about those jets. The F-35 is the War Department’s most expensive weapons program ever, and will cost taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion over its projected 60-year lifespan. (Do you ever wonder why the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t talk about this when it touts the plane’s “economic benefits”?) Pentagon leaders have been claiming lately that they are driving down the cost of the planes but the Center for Defense Information at POGO argues that this is just phony math on the part of the Pentagon.
In an article on November 1, the defense watchdog group explained that the current $89.2 million price tag for each jet only includes the aircraft and engine. What it doesn’t include is procurement funds for initial spare parts, flight training simulators, an expensive and poorly performing ALIS support system, future modifications to correct known and future design flaws, the cost of fuel, and the aircraft’s $44,000 per hour flight cost. When these costs are factored in, the FY 2020 procurement cost for the basic F-35A is more than $101 million; the price of the Navy’s F-35C is over $123 million.
The F-35 is designed and intended to be a nuclear fighting machine, despite the protestations of the Chamber of Commerce to the contrary. The War Department’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review designated the plane as part of its strategic nuclear bomber force, the first time a fighter jet has been so designated, according to retired Air Force Colonel Rosanne Greco.
The F-35 will carry what’s called the most dangerous nuclear weapon in the US arsenal, the B61-12 “smart” gravity H-bomb. The Pentagon has been developing this nuclear bomb specifically for the F-35 bomb bay since 2010, according to Greco. It’s an “upgrade” from five other B-61 bombs, and supposedly will have 60 percent better accuracy. Critics point out that accurate H-bombs are not necessary for deterrence.
The newer bomb is considered the most dangerous because it can be “dialed down” to deliver “only” a third of a kiloton nuclear blast, making it a “usable” nuclear weapon in the minds of some war planners. It’s an “improvement” because the Air Force can use it before the US is attacked, in a sneak attack known as a nuclear first-strike.
Of course, this “something for everybody” fighter jet can carry an impressive panoply of other bombs, such as the GBU-54/B Stormbreaker, a Small Diameter Bomb that weighs 208 pounds but is only six or seven inches in diameter. Eight of these little gems can be tucked in the F-35s internal bay and, if stealth is not a factor, 16 more can be stowed on the plane’s wings. What will no doubt warm the hearts of Chamber leaders is that each Stormbreaker bomb can be had for the bargain-basement price of $115,000.
Can someone do the math for me on how many tax dollars it will cost for 16 of these? (Don’t bother; I’m sure it will be a good investment. And I’m sure all those school children on Madison’s north side, trying to learn in schools without air conditioning, who won’t be able to open the windows during warm weather, will appreciate the fact that you are thinking of their future.)
Since the military’s policy is to “neither confirm nor deny” the presence of nuclear weapons, the question of whether or not nukes will be stored in Madison is largely irrelevant. The important point is that everyone in the world who means us harm will know that the F-35 is the delivery vehicle for a nuclear weapon. Madison will be a nuclear target in the event of hostilities that escalate to nuclear war.
Setting aside the possibility of nuclear-equipped jets for a moment, safety issues should still be a major concern to all public officials. It’s not as if Truax aircraft have a clean flying record. Maria and Jim Powell of the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO) have compiled a list of crashes and other incidents since the early 1950s. The list is long and frightening. A few excerpts:
- An F-51 fighter plane crashes in flames at Truax, spraying the area with 600 rounds of .50 caliber slugs. Nine houses are hit and two people injured.
- An F-80 Shooting Star crashes in a farm field near Cottage Grove, killing the pilot.
- Four jet interceptors take off from Truax in a snowstorm. None of the four are able to find the field on the return trip. They run out of fuel and crash. Two pilots bail out, two others are killed.
- An airport transport plane strikes a car on Hwy. 51, ripping off the top and killing all four passengers.
- An Air Force jet crashes in the Arboretum, killing two pilots.
- An F-86 Sabre and F-89 collide in mid-air. One plane crashes in a field near Deerfield, injuring the pilot. The other crashes near Watertown, injuring the pilot and killing the radar operator.
- An F-86D Sabre crashes in the front yard of a house on Hwy. CV. No fatalities.
- An Air Force F89C crashes and explodes about 200 yards east of Hwy. 51, killing the pilot. An article about the crash says it was “the eleventh person to die in air disasters at Truax Field in the past four years.”
- A Truax fighter plane crashes into Lake Mendota, killing the pilot.
- An Air National Guard (ANG) fighter jet crashes into a ship in the Milwaukee harbor, near residences. No injuries.
- An F-89 Scorpion jet crashes during takeoff, killing a radar observer.
- A Truax jet crashes 1,000 feet north of the runway, killing the pilot and severely injuring the co-pilot.
- An ANG training plane crashes near Lodi, killing the pilot.
- An ANG jet crash lands at Truax and bursts into flames, producing a “mushroom cloud” visible from the Capitol. It comes to rest “just a few hundred feet from a busy commercial street,” according to newspaper accounts. The pilot is injured but survives.
- An F-16 is in trouble and drops two fuel tanks into Lake Mendota. The pilot lands safely.
- An ANG jet crashes in Adams County. The pilot is not injured.
There’s more where this comes from, but I hope you get the idea. Our “good neighbors” engage in some fairly risky behavior.
But that was then and this is now, you might argue. Surely we’ll all be a lot safer with those new “state-of-the-art F-35As,” as you described them in your Senate Joint Resolution. Right.
The F-35 may be state-of-the-art to you and your friends at the Chamber, but the fighter jet’s critics have other words for it. An air warfare reporter at Defense News, writing in the New York Time’s Magazine in August, called it “America’s Dysfunctional Trillion Dollar Fighter-Jet Program.”
The late Senator John McCain called it “a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance.” Writing in an online publication and later reprinted in Scientific America, Michael Hughes, a retired Air Force member and university finance professor, said: “I find the F-35 to be one of the greatest boondoggles in recent military purchasing history.”
Pierre Sprey, a co-founding member of the Pentagon’s “fighter mafia” and a co-designer of the F-16, calls the F-35 “inherently a terrible airplane” and the product of “an exceptionally dumb piece of Air Force PR spin.”
Hughes writes that the F-35 is “an airplane that is trying to be everything to everybody,” capable of playing multiple roles in air-to-air combat and against ground targets. “With the F-35, it appears designers created an airplane that doesn’t do either mission exceptionally well. They have made the plane an inelegant jack-of-all-trades, but master of none – at great expense, both in the past and, apparently, well into the future.”
But you may ask: just because this boondoggle is obnoxiously expensive and can’t do what it is supposed to do, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unsafe? Well, that’s where the boondoggle part comes into play.
But first, a definition: Boondoggle: a wasteful or impractical project or activity often involving graft; over budget, behind schedule, an unnecessary. The F-35 has been all of these things since its inception.
Certainly the Air Force and Pentagon deserve condemnation for their role in creating this boondoggle, as do all the public officials who gave their approval. (Some public servants, like Senator Tammy Baldwin, go the extra mile and insist on weapons that even the Pentagon doesn’t want.) But it’s the corporations who are most to blame and who serve to profit from a state-of-the-art boondoggle.
In this case, the corporation is Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms-maker and master of all the merchants of death. (Probably not coincidentally, Lockheed contributes to Baldwin’s campaign war chest).
Although you and your fellow donkeys and elephants in the Wisconsin Legislature are presumably enamored of Lockheed Martin because it is adept at producing “state-of-the-art” killing machines, it seems the corporation likes to make its money “the old-fashioned way.” That’s according to William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He writes that Lockheed earns the bulk of its revenue by relying on old-fashioned strategies such as buying up other companies, profiting from the sale of big-ticket weapon systems, and pushing foreign sales. (Indeed, many of the F-35s will go to countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel. That should make us all feel more secure.)
One would think that buying up other corporation like Martin Marietta and Sikorsky might produce cost savings, but the opposite tends to be true, with the mergers costing us taxpayers even more. “Lockheed Martin has racked up multi-billion dollar cost overruns on major programs like the F-35 combat aircraft and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS),” writes Hartung. (The latter boondoggle is another of Baldwin’s pet projects. See my blog post from December 31, 2018.)
Hartung, author of the book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military Industrial Complex, noted in a 2017 article that, rather than saving money, “the mergers created industrial behemoths with greater leverage over the Pentagon.” If the F-35 program went forward as planned, he predicted, Lockheed would be “the only supplier of fighter aircraft to the U.S. government,” leaving taxpayers in a “take it or leave it” position.
Lockheed has now delivered more than 400 F-35s to U.S. and foreign militaries and the cost per plane has dropped, but “unresolved technical issues” continue to plague the project, according to Defense News. These include at least 13 “severe technical deficiencies” during testing. A controversial aspect of the project since the start is what the Pentagon calls concurrency, whereby the plane is produced for delivery while still under development. This practice has forced the Pentagon to continually retrofit even newly built jets. A prudent person might be inclined to ask: How ready for action will aircraft destined for Madison be? How many crashes and “technical deficiencies” might await us?
One factor that has kept pushing the F-35 program off course has been the level of control exercised by Lockheed. The corporation has been a master of what economists call “vertical integration.” It manufactures the plane, the training gear for pilots and maintenance technicians, the aircraft’s logistic system and its support equipment. It also manages the supply chain and is responsible for much of the maintenance.
Christopher Bogdan, an Air Force lieutenant general who was once in charge of the F-35 program, came to realize that Lockheed had too much control over what should have been a government program, including everything from test flights to reporting of financial details. In 2012, at the Air Force’s largest conference, he publicly stated that the relationship with Lockheed was the worst arrangement he had ever seen between the Pentagon and a defense contractor.
The Center for Defense Information at POGO (Project on Government Oversight) goes so far as to say that Lockheed Martin has transformed the Pentagon into a “beggar agency” at the mercy of defense contractors and powerless to find out how or where taxpayer dollars are spent. Dan Grazier of POGO charges that “it’s no accident that there are more than 1,500 suppliers for the F-35 program,” spread out over 45 states and Puerto Rico that build parts for the plane. “This means that there’s basically a veto-proof constituency bloc on Capitol Hill for the F-35 program.”
At Hill Air Force Base in Utah, home to the first operational F-35s, long turnaround times for maintenance tasks has meant that about 30 percent of the squadron’s aircraft are grounded at any given time. At some bases flying older models of the jet, up to 60 percent of F-35s are not operable, according to the August article in the New York Times Magazine. In both 2017 and 2018, only about half of the U.S. F-35 fleet was available to fly at any given time, with the rest down for maintenance. (Which may be a blessing, if the F-35 ever does come to Madison).
A major cause for the F-35s sitting idle is the shortage of replacement parts. Rather than buying spare parts directly from the manufacturers, the Pentagon pays Lockheed Martin for access to a pool of spares that the company manages, according to POGO. Lockheed doesn’t build each part, but purchases them from suppliers across the country. Pentagon officials have recently criticized a collection of companies for price-gouging on spare parts. One company, Esterline, makes clamps, high-temperature seals and stealth products for the F-35. Esterline is a subsidiary of TransDigm, which just this past May was exposed for marking up the price on parts it sold to the Pentagon by as much as 4,451 percent.
But the Pentagon itself bears some responsibility for the ongoing shortage of parts. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this past April found that the Pentagon had a repair backlog of about 4,300 parts, wasn’t managing its inventory adequately, and often lacked data on the cost and current location of F-35 components.
I’ve noticed that the ANG and active duty personnel at Truax include –and will include more in the future–of what the military calls maintainers. According to POGO, these maintainers strip the usable parts off of aircraft that are in the worst shape, (what they call hangar queens), to replace the broken parts on other planes. Cannibalization is their term for this. This is a common practice across the services but is generally infrequent for newer items. With the “state-of-the-art” F-35, maintainers cannibalize at a rate six times the expected frequency.
Along with three branches of the U.S. military, a dozen other nations will someday be flying the F-35. All will pay for access to Lockheed’s pool of replacement parts. This will exacerbate the problem of spare part shortage. So this is the gift that the Chamber and much of Madison’s progressive leadership wants to bequeath to the city: a white elephant of an aircraft that has suffered legions of technical problems since its inception, was rushed into production without proper testing and development, and now likely destined to have ongoing issues regarding the availability of parts and maintenance. An accident waiting to happen over Madison’s skies, perhaps?
Safety concerns aside, there is a financial cost associated with slow and complicated maintenance. As is the case with most weapon systems, maintenance is expected to account for more than 70 percent of the F-35s total program cost over the life of the project. As the New York Times Magazine article noted, “an important measure of the cost, sustainability and value of the new jet is its total operating cost.” Flying the F-35A this past year cost taxpayers about $44,000 per hour, on average, about twice the cost of operating Boeing’s F/A-18/F Super Hornet. According to the Times, some of the Air Force’s top brass have complained that the plane is too expensive to fly and maintain.
With “Good Neighbors” Like These, Who Needs Enemies?
The depiction of the F-35 as “state-of-the-art” is only one myth that state legislators and the Chamber of Commerce have attempted to foist on our local populace. The more egregious fiction is that the Air National Guard has been a “good neighbor” to Madison residents.
(I will not even discuss the sordid history of sexual assault within the National Guard. But what people need to bear in mind is that rape has been a tactic of warfare throughout recorded history and that our local ANG base is part of the war machine, not just another local business. Anyone who expresses shock or surprise at the prevalence of sexual assault in the military is living in a fantasy world.)
Let’s be clear. The local ANG base is one little cog in a vast, monstrous machinery of death and destruction which has finally brought us, here in the 21st Century, to a state of perpetual, “forever” warfare. One by-product of the forever war here in Madison is a group of thousands of fluorocarbon compounds with the acronym of PFAS. These synthetic compounds, with some of the strongest molecular bonds ever discovered, are called “forever chemicals” because they are almost impossible to get rid of and don’t break down in the environment. They also accumulate in our bodies and can take years to leave, if ever.
Exposure to PFAS is linked to increased risk of cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, thyroid hormone disruption, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, decreased antibody response to vaccines and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Infants and children are particularly vulnerable and exposure can affect birth weight, growth, learning, behavior and possibly result in birth defects. So, to put it bluntly, here’s what it means for low-income and minority children in Madison and elsewhere: if the water doesn’t get them, then the jet noise will. If both of these don’t do the job, then the military will get them and use them for cannon fodder. Life in the land of the free.
So, when you talk about “the important economic and community benefits” of the 115th Fighter Wing, Mark, are you factoring in the poisoning of our community with toxic chemicals since the 1950s or earlier? Are you factoring in the contamination of our groundwater, surface water and drinking water with PFAS since the early 1970s?
Oh yes, I’m aware you have been busy introducing legislation to regulate PFAS for the past few months, but this is nearly 2020. Isn’t it a little disingenuous to start now, while also lobbying for the F-35s? Certainly after all those years at the base and in the legislature, you must have become aware that the Air Force and Guard, (along with the County and City), have been using fire-fighting foam containing PFAS for about a half century. So far they have refused to investigate and remediate the contamination on and near the base, which the City now says must happen prior to any new construction at Truax.
Recent testing by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) revealed that concentrations of highly-toxic PFAS chemicals in Starkweather Creek are more than 15 times the proposed limit for groundwater recommended by state health officials. Starkweather Creek is part of the Starkweather Watershed, the largest watershed in Madison. The creek empties into Lake Monona, the second largest lake in Dane County. People fish in both the creek and lake, particularly low-income and minority residents, who often fish for subsistence. Recent sample testing where the creek enters Lake Monona, a popular fishing site, revealed a combined PFAS level of 187 ppt. (The State of Michigan has set surface water standards of 11 to 12 ppt for PFOS, the compound most likely to build up in fish.) The stormwater outfall at the airport that receives runoff from a large part of the Truax base tested at a total PFAS level of about 1,690 ppt.
As the Wisconsin State Journal reported this past December, “the military hasn’t yet begun to remove heavily tainted soil and groundwater from the Truax Field Air National Guard base, or tried to determine the level of contamination in an underground plume that stretches nearly a mile to Well 15.” According to the same article, the Air National Guard spent about $430,000 investigating levels of two common PFAS compounds at Truax and two other Wisconsin bases. Lt. Colonel Randy Saldivar, public affairs director at Air National Guard headquarters, said: “the working estimate for future investigation and mitigation for the three bases is $4.9 million”
Of course, this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of one F-35, and probably just a drop in the bucket compared to the real cost to make things right for Madison residents. The cost of equipping Well 15 with a filter system could easily exceed $3 million, which doesn’t include the ongoing cost of disposing of pollutants captured by the filter.
Madison is only one of hundreds of communities across the country that has been subjected to the U.S. military’s idea of “good neighboring.” The Military Times noted two months ago that 297 military installations have documented PFAS contamination. Last year, the Defense Department reported they had identified a total of 401 active and inactive installations with at least one area with a known or suspected release of PFAS. There were 36 sites with drinking water contamination on-base and more than 90 reporting on-base or off-base drinking water or groundwater contamination in which water tested above EPA’s acceptable levels.
A total of 50 Air Force bases, 25 Army bases and 49 Navy and Marine Corps bases have tested at higher than acceptable levels for PFAS compounds in either drinking water or groundwater, according to last year’s DoD report. The DoD tested 2,668 groundwater wells on-base or in surrounding off-base communities and found that 61 percent tested above EPA standards.
Farmers in western states like Colorado and New Mexico have been losing their livelihoods due to all this good neighboring. The Air Force has refused to reimburse three Colorado communities for funds spent to remediate water contamination caused by the military’s PFAS-laden firefighting foam, potentially stranding the towns with an $11 million tab. Who is to say this won’t happen here?
Another article in the Military Times this past March reported that Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado measured PFAS contamination ranging from 79 to 88,400 ppt. in its on-base wells and 79 to 7,910 ppt. in off-base public and private drinking wells. One former Army reservist reported that 16 of his relatives had been diagnosed with cancer and ten had died. “In my family alone, we have had five kidney cancer deaths,” he said. The military can’t even be a good neighbor to its own family, but what else should we expect from an institution whose mission is death, destruction and exploitation?
Water pollution in eastern New Mexico has destroyed and bankrupted large dairy farms near Cannon Air Force Base. The toxic plume there is “spreading slowly and inexorably” under farm fields and across the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s largest aquifer, which spans 174,000 miles and parts of eight states.
So what has the U.S. military done to make amends? Apologized? Promised to clean up their mess? Fat chance. No, instead the Pentagon and Air Force have put pressure on the EPA to lower the proposed standards they announced early this year, which would make the military liable for cleaning up over 400 locations nationwide. If this does not indicate bad faith, then I don’t know what does. Is this the Wisconsin legislature’s idea of a “good neighbor”: poison communities, refuse to clean them up, and then pressure the government to lower their standards?
Anyone who expresses surprise at all this good neighboring is either a hypocrite or a fool. The PFAS scandal is not an aberration but rather standard procedure for the U.S. military and its corporate partners in the military industrial complex. The behavior predates PFAS, depleted uranium, the decimation of Iraq, the savage annihilation of Vietnam or any of the other countless criminal ventures this empire has engaged in in recent decades. There have always been “sacrifice zones” to serve the rabid appetite of the empire, so why should the low-income neighborhoods of Madison be any exception?
To cite just one example out of thousands, from an article earlier this month, the situation of the ill-fated Marshall Islands: a collection of 29 atolls across 1,156 islands in the Pacific with more than 50,000 residents. During the Cold War, the U.S. nuked the islands 67 times. On March 1, 1954 the Pentagon conducted Castle Bravo, exploding a 15 megaton thermonuclear warhead over the Bikini Atoll, the largest nuclear weapon the U.S. ever detonated. Fallout from the explosion rained down on the people of the Marshall Islands. (A few years after the nuclear rainstorm, women on the islands began to give birth to “things less than human,” as one woman described it. Birth defects are so common that the islanders have names for these new creatures: marlins, devils, jellyfish children and grape babies.)
After the nuking was done, the Pentagon dropped biological weapons on the islands. After that, the U.S. scooped up the irradiated and ruined soil from the islands, (added 130 tons more from Nevada), poured it into a crater left from a nuclear detonation, mixed it with concrete, and covered the whole mess with a concrete dome and christened it “The Tomb.”
After the U.S. relocated some of the islanders and built the Tomb, it claimed its responsibility was over. The trouble is that, due to global warming, temperatures and sea levels are rising and the Tomb is cracking. As it cracks, water rushes over it, leaching out plutonium and dumping it into the sea. By the end of the century, experts say the sea level could rise four or five feet, submerging the island and the Tomb. Then it will be everyone’s problem.
The Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded the Marshall Islands $2 billion in damages in 2001, but so far the U.S. has only coughed up $4 million. The islanders will probably get their just due about the same time the U.S. military cleans up the PFAS in Madison and the rest of the country. How is that for being a good neighbor? If anyone is skeptical that this is only one of thousands of examples, or thinks I am exaggerating, then you need to find yourself a good history book. I hear there’s a university just a few blocks from the Capitol.
Okay. Maybe you’ll agree with me that there’s such a thing as “forever chemicals.” Maybe you’ll even acknowledge that they’ve been polluting your own Senate district for half a century. Maybe, after walking down State Street and visiting the campus library, or even having coffee with a history professor, you’ll acknowledge that the U.S. military has not been a very good neighbor after all, here in Madison or anywhere else in the world. But this notion of a “forever war,” certainly that must be a fantasy promulgated by left-wing conspirators.
After all, the last war that the U.S. declared was World War II. That must prove that we’re a peaceable nation with only the best of intentions. Oh yeah, there was that little incident in Afghanistan. Oh yeah, you may have seen the Time magazine cover story saying they’re now recruiting boys for cannon fodder that weren’t even born when this particular conflict began. But it’s not an abomination, just an aberration. Nothing to be concerned about. But some might disagree.
“The sheer size of the military establishment and the habit of equating spending on it with patriotism make both sound management and serious oversight of defense expenditures rare. As a democracy, we are on an unusual and risky path,” wrote Jessica Mathews in the New York Review of Books earlier this year. Mathews is the former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (She was born on the fourth of July so she must be patriotic. She is the daughter of Barbara Tuchman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Guns of August, so she must know a little history.)
“The annual debate about the next year’s military spending … no longer probes where real cuts may be made (as opposed to cuts in previously planned growth) but only asks how big the increase should be. The political momentum that drives this annual increase … threatens to become – or may have already become – unstoppable. The consequences are huge. At home, defense spending crowds out funds for everything else a prosperous economy and a healthy society need. Abroad, it has led us to become a country reflexively reliant on the military and one quite different from what we think ourselves to be or, I believe, wish to be,” Mathews wrote.
Defense spending now accounts for about 60 percent of the nation’s discretionary budget, she pointed out, leaving only two-fifths for everything else. If the U.S. actually faced acute threats, spending 60 percent of unrestricted funds on armaments might be necessary. We don’t face such a threat, she argued, “but we still spend more on defense than the next eight largest spenders combined – China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and Japan – and four of those countries are treaty allies. The disproportion has held for decades.”
She added: “Arguably the worst consequence of spending on legacy weapons systems, un-needed facilities, and over-staffed, inefficient bureaucracies is what isn’t done with that money. The revolution in cyber technology means that the militaries of the future will use swarms of cheap, unmanned weapons, targeted and controlled using networked satellites and artificial intelligence, rather than small numbers of very high-cost, manned weapons systems like the new F-35 fighter, at $90 million per plane.”
“The world that lies ahead of us is unequivocally one in which more and more of the greatest challenges – cyber regulation, arms control, nonproliferation, financial stability and trade, climate change, health and the environment, crime and rule of law – can only be dealt with multilaterally. Yet since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has rejected most of the international agreements the rest of the world has approved, including the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban, and the International Criminal Court. It has refused to ratify treaties protecting genetic resources, restricting trade in conventional arms, banning cluster bombs, and protecting persons with disabilities … During this nearly thirty years of sweeping diplomatic withdrawal, America has been engaged in conflict for all but a few months. It has undertaken nine large-scale military actions, including three of the five major wars it has fought since 1945 … Every approach the U.S. has tried – regime change, nation-building, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, redlines, responsibility to protect – alone or in concert with others, has failed to achieve the desired results.”
I think the most disturbing words I’ve heard recently about perpetual war come, not from a peace activist, historian or public official, but from a stand-up comic. I’m going to omit most of the jokes and witty comments, but you can read Lee Camp’s entire article here.
“The United States military drops an explosive with a strength you can hardly comprehend once every twelve minutes,” he writes. “And that’s odd, because we’re technically at war with – let me think – zero countries. So that should mean zero bombs are being dropped, right?
“You’re thinking of a rational world. We do not live there.
“Instead, we live in a world where the Pentagon is completely and utterly out of control. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the $21 trillion (that’s not a typo) that has gone unaccounted for at the Pentagon. But I didn’t get into the number of bombs that ridiculous amount of money buys us. President George W. Bush’s military dropped 70,000 bombs on five countries. But of that outrageous number, only 57 of those bombs really upset the international community.
“Because there were 57 strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen – countries the U.S. was neither at war with nor had ongoing conflicts with. And the world was kind of horrified. There was a lot of talk that went something like, “Wait a second. We’re bombing in countries outside of war zones? Is it possible that’s a slippery slope ending in us just bombing all the goddamn time? (Awkward pause.) … Nah. Whichever president follows Bush will be a normal adult person (with a functional brain stem of some sort) and will therefore stop this madness.”
“We were so cute and naïve back then, like a kitten when it’s first waking up in the morning.
“The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that under President Barack Obama there were “563 strikes, largely by drones, that targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
“There was basically a media blackout while Obama was president. You could count on one hand the number of mainstream media reports on the Pentagon’s daily bombing campaigns under Obama. And even when the media did mention it, the underlying sentiment was, “Yeah, but look how suave Obama is while he’s OK’ing endless destruction. He’s like the Steve McQueen of aerial death.
“And let’s take a moment to wipe away the idea that our “advanced weaponry” hits only the bad guys … According to the C.I.A.’s own documents, the people on the ‘kill list’ who were targeted for ‘death-by-drone,’ accounted for only 2% of the deaths caused by the drone strikes.
“But those 70,000 bombs dropped by Bush – it was child’s play. Obama dropped 100,000 bombs in seven countries. He out-bombed Bush by 30,000 bombs and two countries.
“You have to admit that’s impressively horrific. That puts Obama in a very elite group of Nobel Peace Prize winners who have killed that many innocent civilians. The reunions are mainly just him and Henry Kissinger wearing little hand-drawn name tags and munching on deviled eggs.
“However, we now know that Donald Trump’s administration puts all previous presidents to shame. The Pentagon’s numbers show that during George W. Bush’s eight years he averaged 24 bombs dropped per day, which is 8,750 per year. Over the course of Obama’s time in office, his military dropped 34 bombs per day, 12,500 per year. And in Trump’s first year in office, he averaged 121 bombs per day, for an annual total of 44,096.
“He has basically taken the gloves off the Pentagon, taken the leash off an already rabid dog. Under Trump, five bombs are dropped per hour – every hour of every day. That averages out to a bomb every 12 minutes …
“This is not about Trump, even though he’s a maniac. It’s not about Obama, even though he’s a war criminal. It’s not about Bush, even though he has the intelligence of boiled cabbage … This is about a runaway military-industrial complex that our ruling elite are more than happy to let loose. Almost no one in Congress or the presidency tries to restrain our 121 bombs a day. Almost no one in a mainstream outlet tries to get people to care about this.
“We are a rogue nation with a rogue military and a completely unaccountable ruling elite. The government and military you and I support by being a part of this society are murdering people every 12 minutes, and in response, there’s nothing but a ghostly silence. It is beneath us as a people and a species to give this topic nothing but silence. It is a crime against humanity.”
Why does it take a stand-up comedian to talk about this? Why does only one person in the Wisconsin Senate have the guts and sanity to vote against this national madness?
At a time when the world is facing the twin existential threats of climate chaos and nuclear war, it’s baffling that Democrats, both at the state and national level, exhibit such a paucity of imagination and creativity. You want to risk the survival of the planet for 64 military jobs when three times as many jobs, or more, could be created here by either a peaceful mission for the Air National Guard or by combining the air base with Oscar Meyer and other redevelopment efforts on the north side.
We could create a sustainable economy here in Madison based on green-deal jobs that would be life-serving. But you prefer to pay homage to the death machine. Mark Miller and your friends on both sides of the aisle, please tell me, what is your vision, or do you have one at all? Do we need to call in a comedian to stimulate your imaginations?
Books could be written about how, as 2020 nears, we as a nation have distanced ourselves from the result of our action (or lack of action), from the repugnant work of our empire: through drones, nameless, endless wars, death and destruction transformed into a business, so that now, in a supposedly “liberal” city, a heinous machine of war is seen as nothing more than a way to create a few more jobs and earn a few more votes. Is it that difficult to think creatively, or is it just so much simpler to sell us all out for a few pieces of tainted silver?
Camus once said that we are required to be neither victim nor executioner. Victims already lie strewn all over this empire. In country after country, and here at home, there are more and more “sacrifice zones,” where the poor and powerless must sacrifice to satisfy the greed of the rich and powerful. If you side with Lockheed Martin and the other merchants of death, you have chosen to side with the executioners. It is that simple.
It took our universe 13.8 billion years to evolve to the point where it could sustain life. Now that capacity to sustain life is threatened, due to climate change and the U.S. military machine that is the primary user of fossil fuels and the primary destroyer of human life. Do you really want your legacy to be that you sided with this madness, or would you rather people say that you stood out against it?
I am quite aware that you are in the minority in the legislature, that the “boiled cabbage” heads are in control. I’m also aware that you think you have no power. But you have no power only because you have made yourselves irrelevant. You could actually choose to become a viable alternative to the cabbage heads if only you could muster the courage, imagination and integrity to excite the populace with a vision of life and hope rather than one of fear and death.
You do have the power, as each of us, to oppose the death machine, to oppose the empire, to oppose the forever pollutants and the forever wars. There is still time.”
- Tom Boswell is a community organizer, photographer, poet and freelance journalist.