Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Well-Dressed War Machine Wears Green

By Fred Drumlevitch
(cross-posted with permission from FredDrumlevitch.blogspot.com)


With that title, I’m referring not to the color of soldiers’ uniforms or St. Patrick’s Day attire, but rather, to modern attempts by the armaments makers to greenwash their operations, and to the taxpayer greenbacks that pay for American militarism instead of genuine environmental preservation and other beneficial programs.


Of course, “Raytheon Celebrates Earth Day”. From their corporate website:




But for a truly astounding example of such greenwashing (which I still find surreal more than a year after I first saw it), watch the following 2011 video from KVOA television, the Tucson NBC affiliate:

http://www.kvoa.com/news/raytheon-innovates-new-ways-of-going-green/


(The above link provides access to both the video and a slightly-inaccurate transcript).


Though not usually associated with armaments suppliers, greenwashing of corporate activity is nothing new, and I presume that the above local “news” segment was supposed to make viewers feel all warm and fuzzy about the merchants of death at Raytheon. (How, though, is beyond my comprehension, unless the viewers are regarded as complete morons by both Raytheon and KVOA — which may well be the case).


Depending on one’s point of view, the military-industrial complex may or may not be a giant sinkhole swallowing desperately-needed national resources and perverting national priorities, but none of that is even an issue, all’s right with the world, for they recycle their soft-drink cans and office supplies! While high-efficiency lighting or solar panels might be of benefit for logistical reasons within a combat zone, can anyone in their right mind believe that recycling — or even the grandest of environmental initiatives — by a defense contractor stateside makes a laudable difference, in the context of the overall waste of national resources by the military and its suppliers? “Inane” doesn’t even begin to describe this gushing television segment. The presentation by KVOA of this greenwashing tripe as newsworthy, with no reference to broader concerns and not even a trace of irony, must rate as one of the clearest indicators I’ve ever seen of the journalistic bankruptcy of local television “news” reporting.


One needn’t be a pacifist to recognize that the American military-industrial complex now plays a pathological role in the course of contemporary human events. And in fact I am not a pacifist; I understand that in our present world, some military capability is necessary. But the true problems of our nation receive, at best, token attention, while unnecessary and futile wars drag on year after year, taking an incalculable toll. All but the blind can see America's basic military readiness harmed, soldiers demoralized, or worse, made physical or psychological casualties of our insane interminable wars. All but those suffering from terminal American exceptionalism or denial should be able to understand the immorality of foreign civilians injured and killed — and the new enemies thereby created. Technology will not provide a magic solution; our high-tech semi-robotic instruments of war may reduce U.S. casualties, but they cannot mask the destruction and hatred created on the receiving end of our actions. And used or unused, the costs of our war machines, and indeed, of our entire military, are bankrupting the nation, and have a massive “opportunity cost” of better things not done.


Perhaps the most under-appreciated damage involves what has been done to our national ideals and the political process. For decades, both officeholders and candidates have been afraid to take rational positions with regard to our military spending, our worldwide military presence, and our military actions. For politicians, mustn’t be seen as weak or hesitant; for the human cogs of the war machine tasked with keeping the pipeline of cannon fodder full, mustn’t be seen as in any way reducing the flow. Washington, D.C., or Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, the result is the same. Even the term “Defense Department”, for what used to be called, more honestly, the “Department of War”, hints at the disconnect between our perceptions/actions and reality. Nearly every military action, even an unjustified, massive invasion and occupation of a sovereign foreign country, such as the United States led in Iraq, has been rebranded as “defense” — and since, in the popular mind, one can never have enough defense, an unending string of wars is rationalized. Should our present ones show signs of winding down, well, the chicken-hawks of American politics, the CEOs of our military manufacturers and mercenary armies, and the visiting foreign heads of state, all are highly skilled at an improvisational syncopation that will promote new conflict.


In this time of impending sequestration and other budgetary pressures, the “dog-and-pony” shows of the weapons manufacturers and the armed services have only just begun. They will cycle through multiple themes. Most will revolve around fears that will reference past attacks on the United States — but conveniently ignore that many of the weapons systems being purchased at extravagant cost are of little relevance to defense against any attacks we are likely to face, and that bountiful weapons combined with an American psychology of overreach have played a significant role in creating many of our international problems. Some will pander to concerns about the jobs that will be lost if we reduce military spending. (Attention/Achtung! My fellow 19th century American Southerners/20th century Germans, we must continue slavery/the concentration camps, lest unemployment rise!). The Pentagon and its contractors, having over the course of decades masterfully distributed military bases and manufacturing across so many Congressional districts, are now able to exploit economic-based fears of cutbacks to enlist the support of Congress against necessary military cuts. Together they will also leverage the complex blend of patriotism and justified pride at the historical role of the U.S. in fighting tyranny during WWII, now exploiting such feelings to imply that a never-ending worldwide projection of U.S. force in the service of supposed liberation is desirable — never mind that our actions in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan did not go according to plan, and future ones may not either. Given the diversity of themes used to influence political opinion in favor of irrationally high levels of military spending, perhaps it ultimately is not surprising that they have thrown in a bit of greenwashing too.


For those with an interest in the ecological opportunity costs of U.S. militarism, consider this: In an article published in Science magazine in 2001, Stuart Pimm and colleagues examined the costs of preserving a significant fraction of the world’s biodiversity. They estimated then that the preservation of twenty-five biodiversity “hotspots” plus the acquisition of tropical wilderness preserves could be achieved for a one-time cost of approximately $25 billion for terrestrial ones, and an additional $2.5 billion for marine reserves. While species numbers have significant correlations to area (see here, and here), and therefore preservation would ideally include more land than the Pimm et al. proposal, implementation of their proposal would be a good starting point towards the preservation of biodiversity. Assuming that costs have quadrupled in the intervening years, such preservation could be achieved at a ONE-TIME current cost of $110 billion. Current U.S. “defense” spending, stripped of its creative accounting, is well over six times that figure PER YEAR.


Recommended reading on the topic of military spending and related politics: anything by Andrew Bacevich.


Fred Drumlevitch blogs (irregularly) at www.FredDrumlevitch.blogspot.com
He can be reached at: FredDrumlevitch12345 (at) gmail.com


Text Copyright Fred Drumlevitch

10 comments:

James F Traynor said...

Well and surely done. But we have become war junkies. The damn thing is insidious; soon we'll all be wearing camouflage underwear. The cops have become wannabe ninjas; some police departments even have tanks. I hear the girls from Victoria's Secret are taking special forces training. It's getting so you can't tell the good guys from the bad.

Denis Neville said...

@ Fred - Excellent!

“Attempts by the armaments makers to greenwash their operations…”

Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.

Green as in $$$$$....

The State Department has its own drug war air force [worth up to $10 billion]:

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/diplo-air-force/

The Pentagon runs its Afghan drug war from “Camp Integrity,” headquarters of the private security company formerly known as Blackwater [a no-bid deal worth $22 million]:

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/academi-special-operations/

The Navy is amassing a helicopter drone fleet [the Fire Scout program worth nearly $2.8 billion]:

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/fire-scout-iphone/

The Navy catapults its experimental drone X-47B into flight [a $635.8-million contract]:

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/11/navy-killer-drone/

Our dystopian reality - the down escalator, the great migration of austerity, cut adrift from the lifelines of public support - as billions and billions of dollars are hallowed out of middle class America and taken from the vulnerable poor, and consumed by the military-industrial-debt complex.

4Runner said...

Thanx for this so excellent treatise on the MIC. Our nation is so out of whack with its constant cashflow force-feeding of both our bloated military & "defense" sectors. A particular pet peeve of mine is against the widespread blather that equates a military uniform with heroism. My hometown weekly newspaper features an "Honors List of Our Brave Warriors". Last week it included 2 sailors currently stationed in Hawaii. Wow-Oahu, that must require nerves of steel. And when that dork Petraeus was caught with his boxers down, beyond that I had hoped someone might point out the rows of phony service ribbons pinned on his uniform, like so many boy scout merit badges. I still recall many years ago in basic training when a drill sergeant told us, "The only medals that count are the Purple Heart and the CIB (Combat Infantry Badge)." Amen!

Zee said...

@Fred--

An excellent post. As I believe that I have said here before, the Pentagon's budget could easily stand the trimming required by jumping over the fiscal cliff, and probably a significant amount beyond even that.

Years ago, when I was still working in the "defense" industry--and, yes, I still think of it in that way--I had occasion to read a nineties-vintage, Government Accountability Office report on Pentagon accounting.

(Of course, when the report was written, it was by the Government Accounting Office.)

It said that the Pentagon's books were then totally "un-auditable" by any accounting means currently known to humankind. (I have tried to track down the actual report, but unless I climb up into the attic and retrieve a report or two of my own, I won't be unable to find it. And I'm fundamentally lazy.)

Be that as it may, an important first step to trimming the Pentagon's budget is to understand it, and to do so will require "de-convoluting" its accounting methods. So as a first step, the Pentagon needs to completely open its books to the GAO and let the chips fall where they may.

I suspect that many of the current howls about disastrous cuts to the "defense" budget pertain to not understanding where the tendrils actually lead, along with the fact that, as you point out, Congress and the MIC have cleverly spread "defense" spending out across the entire country. So when "defense" gets cut, everybody feels the pain.

But maybe that's the way it should be. We are, after all, all in this together.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Thanks, James, Denis, 4Runner, and Zee. (As I comment, only those 4 previous comments are visible).

I myself have some indirect perspective, if not "experience", involving the U.S. "defense" industry. My late father spent nearly all of his working life as a U.S. Civil Service civilian employee, primarily working for branches of the U.S. military, on projects that included Polaris and Titan missiles, the first-generation Harrier jump jet, and anti-submarine munitions. (He took some time out from the militaristic side to work on the Gemini manned space program). Though an engineer, he wasn't designing these things; he was primarily involved in the contract administration and quality control side. I don't think that he particularly concerned himself with the morality of the weapons --- and it was the cold war, and there was something positive to be said for the deterrence of mutually-assured destruction. (In fact, I believe that the world would be a more peaceful place, at least with regard to international relations, if there was more evenly distributed deterrence; would the U.S. have invaded Iraq, would we be threatening Iran, if those countries had a credible deterrent?)

Anyway, I think his primary concerns were whether these weapon systems would work properly if needed, and that the cost to the government be held down --- and he took his job seriously. I can't even remember the number of times that he complained at home about some aspect or other of these projects. And while he couldn't mention many of the specifics, and those that he did are long forgotten, clearly, even back then the military-industrial complex tail was too often wagging the national dog (as Eisenhower warned about, years before).

So yes, even from a purely pragmatic/functional/cost-effectiveness perspective, we need a serious reduction of military spending; from a moral and opportunity-cost perspective, we need even more pronounced cuts. And we certainly need some fundamental changes in public attitudes and the positions of politicians.

The GAO audits that Zee suggests might be a decent starting point, but even on the pragmatic accounting issues they are apparently not as critical as is needed. See:

http://nation.time.com/2012/07/09/f-35-nearly-doubles-in-cost-but-you-dont-know-thanks-to-its-rubber-baseline/

And of course, I have little expectation that they will address morality or opportunity-cost issues.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Fred, fine post indeed. You should write in more often, but it seems you have a day job and can't take as much time commenting on the blogs as so many of us do here, lucky enough to be retired and volunteering in little ways in our communities.

Valerie said...

Great essay, Fred! What a joke watching the local news report. I once heard Bill Moyers speak and at the end someone asked what advice he would give local news stations - He laughed ruefully and said, "Quit." Talk about helping publicize propaganda! Recycling is good but it hardly undoes the damage caused by missiles.

Interesting issue that @Zee brings up - The Pentagon has had carte blanche for too long in terms of budget and I imagine it just went berserk under Bush and now Obama with the country in a state of perpetual war. Right now too many contractors are really polluting the mix.

This is an old link I saw a year or so back, but well worth the view. It shows the corruption and the waste and expense that having contractors fighting useless wars has cost the American taxpayer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSvXG1r23_0 (h/t RealityChex)and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbDfYzq_HaQ
It is focussed on KBR and Halliburton but the fact is, all the contractors act this way.

I thought it was significant that all three of the main 3rd party candidates put getting out of the war business as their number one solution to our budget woes. It won't solve ALL our debt problems but it would certainly put a big dent into them.

But the MIC has a gravy train they aren't about to give up without a fight - and our leadership in the oval office and Congress is too bought and paid for to demand any change.

Valerie said...

The plan is to accept that oil is finite and will become more expensive and unaffordable as time goes on - not to mention polluting the air and contributing to greenhouse gases (IMHO). I lived in Europe for nine years where public transportation was available because governments coughed up the money to build rail systems above and below ground. No one in Europe expects public transportation to pay for itself any more than people expect the roads and highways we drive on, and our tax dollars maintain, to pay for themselves. It is considered part of the infrastructure.



I find it really amazing that the same people who have a problem with corporations like Solyndra, A123, Abound Solar, Beacon Power, Ener1, Fisker Automotive and Nevada Geothermal Power taking advantage of public dollars to enrich themselves - typical corporate behaviour - don't seem to scream quite so loudly when it is Halliburton or Honeywell or GE or Goldman Sachs. The bottom line is we need better oversight if we give public dollars to corporations to see that the money is used effectively and efficiently - but again, that involves the government taking a bigger role in regulation and oversight.



As for all those poor people who bought big trucks and SUVs over the past several years, well boo-hoo for them now that gas prices have gone up. We have known that oil is a finite resource and we should be using far less of it like most other First World countries. That these people wanted a status symbol and felt they were entitled to cheap gas – well, cry me a river! I think it is significant that when wealthy people are trying to avoid a gas tax they always pull up the old "what will poor people do?" argument in order to keep gas at the pump as cheap as possible. The fact is there is a direct relationship with the amount of gas purchased and the price at the pump. It is a sad fact but high gas prices are the only thing that is going to bring consumption down. If all the people concerned with poor people really wanted to help, they would be keen to get a decent public transportation system going in every city.



And don't give me that "the market will react to an economical product and snatch it up" malarkey. The markets are fixed by the corporations who dominate them selling the products they wish to sell. They practically had to claw the electric cars out of the people leasing them in order to destroy them. This is why sound government involvement in the development of something as essential as a good public transportation system is critical.



So stop thinking that public transportation should pay for itself. It belongs to all of us, just as our public utilities belong to all of us just as our roads and highways and police and fire services belong to all of us. They are part of the public good. But if you want to find a way to pay for them, look no further than the corporations that are making a fortune on wars in oil rich countries. In fact, let’s stop “fighting for freedom and democracy”and have a far smaller national defence. If the pentagon has a budget that is not comprehensible, let’s take away A LOT of their money and actually use it for the public good. Let’s create building projects at home – jobs that can’t be outsourced to Third World countries – and create jobs running and maintaining a public transportation that is the envy of the world instead of accepting the status quo that America was built around the automobile and will remain tied to it. That is exactly what the petrochemical companies and the MIC want you to think.



Where is a president with the foresight to have a plan for the future? Oh, yeah, we voted him out of office in order to put in Ronald Reagan. BIG MISTAKE, America! BIG MISTAKE!


So glad you asked for my opinion, @Zee!

Fred Drumlevitch said...

I'll add here my thanks to Jay and Valerie for their compliments.

@Valerie: I hadn't previously heard the Bill Moyers anecdote about local TV news that you related; thanks for sharing it, it was great, as were also those two YouTube clips about military contractors. And the "revolving door" element was/is absolutely true. My late father was offered an amount several times his government salary to go to work for Lockheed. (This was a long time ago, before they merged and became Lockheed Martin). He turned them down; he thought it would be disloyal to this country to go to work for a company over which he had previously exercised some oversight.

Valerie said...

Your father sounds like he had a lot of integrity. Would that there were more people like him today - particulary in public office!