Monday, January 17, 2011

Military industrial complex matures to Top Secret America

Posted By on January 17, 2011, 9:41 AM

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Fifty years ago today, then president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of a military-industrial complex with so much power and inertia that it threatened our nation, and thus our freedom. Today, that complex is going underground, where it will be more difficult to monitor and dismantle.---

The clock is ticking--the national debt clock, that is--though spiraling out of control is probably a more apt metaphor. Eisenhower warned that a standing army could become a cancer on our society, sucking more of our national wealth to build more weapons and hire more lobbyists, who could buy off more congressmen who could then secure more funding, and so on.

There's no doubt that a half-century's history has proven Eisenhower's warning to be cogent and insightful.

As shown by investigative journalists Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, of the Washington Post, 854,000 Americans now work in jobs that they can't tell you about at more than 10,000 locations worldwide. Those workers can't tell you about their jobs because portions of their responsibilities are top secret military work. Only a small cadre of individuals at the U.S. Department of Defense are authorized to know what all of those people are doing, according to Priset and Arkin's years-long investigation of so-called Top Secret America.

Some questions:

  • How can we, the people, monitor the government if such a large portion of it is top secret? According to Priest and Arkin, for example, "51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks." Are all of those programs stellar and operating efficiently? Are they all necessary?
  • Are we buying into a false sense of insecurity only to buy back a false sense of security? That's a bit paradoxical, but it's another way of asking the following: Are we accepting unreasonable incursions into our civil liberties based on the hyped threat of statistically remote problems such as terrorism even while statistically likely threats to our lives go relatively unaddressed? Americans are about a gazillion times more likely to die from a poor diet and exercise than of terrorism, but we continue to allow erosion of our civil liberties based on the maniacal missions of small groups of terrorist criminals. You are more than 200,000 times as likely to die in a car crash than terrorism.
  • What role do our political leaders play? Republicans, you'll notice, always want to cut spending on everything but the military and Democrats are not reliable monitors of military spending either--President Obama has worked to increase the defense budget since taking office, despite much bally-hooed reductions in force in Iraq (the benefits of which were reduced or eliminated by an escalation in Afghanistan, which costs us $3.6 billion per month).

I'm hoping that these questions and more are explored in depth tomorrow on PBS's Frontline. The greatest non-fiction show on television reformats the Washington Post's "Top Secret America" project and asks, "Are We Safer"?

It looks like this show will only focus on our physical security and question whether the anti-terrorism infrastructure--nine years after 9/11--is really appropriately sized since so many anti-terrorism programs have yet to deal with any real terrorists. I hope a future episode of Frontline will focus squarely on our national debt and the military-industrial complex's role in sinking our finances.

Today also celebrates the life and work of our country's preeminent civil rights martyr, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. To honor his vision, let's hear a bit about what he had to say on the issue of U.S. military power. King called the United States, "the greatest purveyor of violence today." The following video is snippets of King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech, delivered years after his most famous "I have a dream..." speech. So many people agree with King that our country is unnecessarily militarized, but feel powerless to change it, shrug and go about their days. We must start empowering ourselves and telling our leaders that change must come. Peace.

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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