Thursday, February 15, 2007

Subject: decadence

How do you explain to the thousands of American troops now being poured into Baghdad that they will have to wait until the summer for the protective armor that could easily mean the difference between life and death?
Editorial - New York Times - 2006/2/15
David Seaton's News Links
To answer the above question from today's New York Times editorial, I suggest reading an article William Pfaff wrote nearly a year ago, excerpted below. It is entitled "Making Things", but it could be entitled, "The Decline and Fall of the American Empire".

Decadence is not just a bunch of shagged out Romans peeling grapes. It sometimes takes historians centuries to figure out all the factors that cause a powerful society to crumble. Losing the ability to do what made you powerful in the first place is one of the most common causes.

I'm sure you'll agree that decadence is a fascinating subject, but I'm sure you'll also agree that it sure as hell reads a lot better than it plays. DS

On the Ability to Make Things - William Pfaff - 2006/3/8
Abstract: Troops continue to complain that while available body armor may be adequate to protect against shrapnel it provides insufficient protection against the growing threat of snipers using rifles with optical sights and high-velocity ammunition aimed at the separations between armor plates in the existing American jackets.

Surely these should be trivial and quickly remedied problems for the most powerful military machine on earth? In 1940, as the second world war began in Europe, the United States Army consisted of 268 thousand men and women. The United States then had some 40% (132 million) of the population it has today. A year later, in 1941, the military draft was in place and training began for a projected force of two million soldiers. Then came Pearl Harbor. Four years later – just one year longer than the United States has already been in Iraq -- the army had eight million men under arms, with more than six million more serving in the navy, Marine Corps, and Army Air Force, all fully equipped. Tens of thousands of aircraft and tanks had been manufactured, thousands of ships, millions of weapons.

In October 1941, four months after Hitler invaded Russia, Franklin Roosevelt wrote to Joseph Stalin to promise to supply some 67 war-essential goods to Russia. This, he added, was just the start. He promised that the U.S. would immediately ship to Russia 5,600 military trucks, and in every subsequent month would ship 10 thousand more trucks. It would send one thousand tons of armor-plate monthly, 10 thousand tons of TNT monthly, and each month supply the Soviet army with 200 thousand pairs of army boots. The other items promised included aircraft and other kinds of vehicles. The United States armed and made mobile the Russian army while doing the same for itself. READ IT ALL

1 comment:

RLaing said...

There's an excellent book called 'Day of Deceit' by Robert Stinnett, about the Pearl Harbor attack, the thrust of which is that the 'surprise' of the attack was not evenly distributed in America: quite a lot in the public, none at all in the leadership. There are some who have similar suspicions about 9-11 (full disclosure--I'm among them), and I suppose that is one way in which the two wars are the same: launched with deceit. Perhaps all wars are.

William Pfaff has hit on an important point with this issue of decadence. In WWII, there was a real and sustained effort from the political leadership to put a stop to war profiteering, whereas now the situation is the opposite: there is a sustained effort to prevent oversight.

Ultimately, WWII was probably about economics as well, as the Japanese were trying to build an economic sphere in SE Asia that would have been closed to U.S. business. There was no way to change that without war, and what do you know, there was a war. Well, whatever you might feel about the legitimacy of that, it's a very different situation from starting a war so your corporate friends can rape the taxpayer, among other evils.

An overlooked point though, is that this decadence also applies to the public. In WWII, people did not expect to wage war with personal impunity. They would've liked it, obviously, but nobody felt entitled to impunity.

Now they tolerate the fantastic waste and expense of the U.S. military on the understanding that it will bring them the perks of Empire* without significant danger of death or injury for the citizen. Think Powell Doctrine: in-out, overwhelming force, clear exit strategy--all designed to limit casualties. This is a political statement, not a military one: obviously you are going to 'win' if you have overwhelming force available.

That unspoken social contract has now been broken: the elites continue to use the system to rob the public, but they are no longer providing a risk-free Empire in return. It is for this reason, and not because he lied to bully a weakling, that Mr. Bush's popularity has gone from 90% to 30%.

The country may be less divided than it appears from all the noise: I expect a majority still think the U.S. is entitled to rule the world, and they still think this can be done with other people's money, and without risk to themselves. Thus we have the curious spectacle of a people who believe they must spend whatever is needed to win the 'War on Terror', at the same time as they are absolutely convinced that they need not show up at the recruiting station to fight it!

*Principally the staggering trade and budget deficits that the U.S. now runs as a matter of routine. The world accepts American dollars in exchange for real goods mostly because petroleum is priced in dollars, a fact not unrelated to military hegemony.