The Fraud: America and National Defense.

Let me begin with a pronouncement: The Department of Defense is a fraud, and the US military cannot win wars against non-state guerilla fighters who are committed to their cause.

Against state enemies, the US military is king. Nobody can blow up cities and smash governments like the US military. When we invaded Iraq, it was child’s play. Saddam’s army was carrying aged Soviet weaponry on the verge of falling apart, against the world’s most high-tech military. Fighter jets were plinking Saddam’s tanks like they were playing an arcade game.

We did this twice: 1991 and 2003. In 2003, the USA played for keeps. Saddam’s Iraq was unequivocally smashed by the end of the year. But then the conflict dragged on for another miserable decade. Soldiers marching in Iraqi uniforms were replaced by radical Islamists who wore no uniforms, hid in the cities and mountains, and who had all the time in the world on their hands.

The same is true of the Vietnam War and Afghanistan. The NVA was no match for the US military. Neither were conventional Taliban forces, insofar as they had conventional forces. But guerilla Vietcong fighters ran circles around the US military from beginning to end. And when Taliban fighters and other Islamist radicals ran to the hills, they doomed the US military to defeat. 15 years later, we are still fighting the same battles in Afghanistan that we were fighting in the beginning.

This presents an interesting dichotomy. Depending on how you define victory, you could theoretically call all three of these conflicts victories for the USA. In Iraq and Vietnam, the US military killed a huge number of enemy fighters. Entire cities were wiped off the map. In each conflict, the US military never decisively lost a single battle. All of this is also true for the ongoing Afghan War. On paper, there is no reason why these should not look like American victories.

DEFINING VICTORY

At the risk of sounding unclear: there’s victory, and then there’s victory. There’s “inflicting larger losses on your enemy than they’ve inflicted on you”, and then there’s “actually winning the war”.

In the Vietnam War, over a million Northern Vietnamese and Vietcong were killed. The USA lost only 50,000 troops, far lower by comparison. Multiple Vietnamese cities were bombed into obliteration; zero American cities were bombed. The Vietnamese economy was left in ruin by the war; the US economy was suffering from stagflation at the time, but that had nothing to do with Vietnam. Our economy was relatively unscathed.

But the Northern Vietnamese were far ahead of the game. North Vietnam made it clear that they knew exactly what they were doing: whittling down America’s will to fight. During the Vietnam War, thousands of young men every year were being drafted to go fight in a war they weren’t interested in. They didn’t want to go. Their girlfriends didn’t want them to go. Usually, their parents didn’t want them to go. But Senator Bonehead wanted them to go. So, they went.

The US government expected the public to support the home team wholeheartedly. But it didn’t take, probably because many people correctly sensed that there was no compelling reason to be interested in the war. There was no Vietnamese Pearl Harbor. There was no “over there” World War II-style patriotic sentiment. Enlistment lines were instead replaced by picket lines and refrains of “Hell no, we won’t go”.

To this day, there is still a deep-seated bitterness among Vietnam veterans. Many of them were forcibly conscripted, which is to say “enslaved”. They fought and died, watching each other drown to death in their own blood or get blown to pieces in minefields. Meanwhile, college kids and hippies back home were smoking weed, getting laid, and – perhaps most of all – living each day without getting shot at. So when mutilated veterans in wheelchairs returned home, what they found was that ignoring their so-called “patriotic duty” would probably not have been such a bad choice. They went home and told their young family members on the verge of being drafted: “Don’t go. It’s awful, it sucks, it’s pointless. Forget about it.”

By the time the pullout began in 1973, not a soul in Congress dared try to reopen the conflict. They knew that America was sick of the war. Even when South Vietnam began falling, very few in Congress dared make a peep about it. They knew that any politician who proposed reopening the war would lose their reelection in a landslide.

All this, the North Vietnamese counted on. They could not defeat the US militarily, which they knew. They couldn’t bomb American cities or invade American shores. But they could inflict death by a thousand cuts over a long period of time, sending home a constant stream of body bags to sobbing widows and mutilated veterans to horrified family members.

Just as the North Vietnamese predicted and fought for, the American will to fight collapsed. So, the US military declared victory and left. When the US left South Vietnam in 1973, South Vietnam was a functional third-world country with a passable military. In theory, it really was a US victory at the time. But by 1975, the NVA conquered the South with the help of the Vietcong. So, what was all the fighting and dying for? Apparently, nothing. It was a loss anyway.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamist radicals have used the same strategy: hide in the hills, send Americans soldiers home in body bags or at least scarred, and wait it out.  It isn’t quite as effective now for one major reason: no more draft. The current military is all-volunteer. So, the people coming home in body bags are those who knew the business they had chosen. Parents of killed soldiers are not having their children taken from them in the same sense that the US government literally took them during the Vietnam War. The impact is less widespread.

Rather than full-on demoralization, though, the US public has become numb to what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, as far as deaths are concerned. Nobody really cares about dead soldiers anymore. Nobody cares about collateral damage. A US soldier killed by an IED? Eh. A household of Afghan children mistakenly blown up by a drone? Bah. Same ol’, same ol’. We’ve been hearing this stuff for years now.

THE FRAUD

This article lists the top 10 most expensive wars in American history. What it depicts is interesting:

  1. World War II
    2. War on terror
    3. Vietnam War
    4. Korean War
    5. World War I
    6. Gulf War
    7. American Civil War
    8. Spanish-American War
    9. Revolutionary War
    10. Mexican-American War

This list is compiled in terms of monetary cost. Personally, I prefer to consider wars in terms of death toll, not money. Death toll considered, the most expensive war in American history was by far the Civil War. Approximately 750,000 Americans died, which was roughly 3% of the population at the time.

The last war for which there really seemed to be a positive outcome received for the money spent was World War II. There was greater public commitment in WW2, mainly due to the fact that our enemies had declared war on us. The USA had an incomparable technological edge at the time, which had a huge impact. Furthermore, the USSR absorbed the brunt of the German military machine. The majority of men and tanks were on the Eastern front. The Western Front was relatively minor.

The 1991 Gulf War was a victory. But it wasn’t a big deal, in the grand scheme. We forced Saddam to leave Kuwait. So what? This directly lead to years of sabre-rattling and another war, which was fought for little to no reason.

The War on Terror, as #2 on the list, has to be one of the worst wastes of money in American warfare history. It has been a resounding failure in every sense of the term. Every mini-war where the USA has ostensibly fought terrorism – Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia – has been a disaster. Each of these places are arguably even worse after US intervention than they were beforehand. Afghanistan continues to reign supreme as the graveyard of empires.

Vietnam, we already discussed. It was our first major military defeat.

The Korean War is technically not over. There are still American troops stationed on the Korean DMZ with their guns pointed north. While the war is practically over, it is not officially over until a peace treaty is signed, which has never occurred. There has only been a decades-long ceasefire.

To bring it all back around, what the list shows us is this: the Department of Defense is becoming increasingly inefficient. The costs of warfare are increasing, as we can see in the chronological structure of the list. But this is not corresponding directly to better results. Far from it: the 2nd and 3rd most expensive wars have been utter failures, while the 4th was at-best a stalemate.

Here is my second postulation: the Department of Defense has become a true bureaucracy. The focus is no longer on actually “defending” the United States or on winning wars, but merely on obtaining increased or at least equal funding for the next fiscal year. The Department of Defense has become a collection of different parties jockeying for money so as to increase their own relevancy and little bureaucratic empires. This is no different from how any other bureaucracy runs. The mission eventually devolves into little more than keeping the bureaucracy going, while the original mission becomes a talking point. The real success of a General is measured not by how he commands a war during his tenure, but in how much funding he secures for the next fiscal year. Wartime outcomes are peripheral.

This is why the War on Terror is perfect for bureaucrats. The name is meaningless, nothing more than a slogan. It’s an excuse to get locked into perpetual worldwide conflict. It was an excuse to pass the Patriot Act, which was a huge bureaucratic victory for the National Security Agency. It’s a huge boondoggle to defense companies, which continue to receive billion-dollar contracts to produce high-falutin’ military equipment that somehow cannot defeat Afghan goat herders with 50-year old Kalashnikovs.

This is the fraud: that the Department of Defense’s primary mission is to defend the United States from foreign threats. The primary mission of the Department of Defense is the same as every other bureaucracy: to increase its own funding and growth.

CONCLUSION   

There is good news. I think American attitudes toward foreign military adventures are turning sour. But old habits die hard. If there’s one thing Americans love, it’s reveling in the military might of the empire.

Policing the world and nation-building is pricey business. Up through 1898, Americans rejected world-policing and foreign interventionism. It wasn’t just rejection; it was a point of pride. “We keep to ourselves in America, unlike the crazy empires across the rest of the world.” Immigrants flocked from across the world not only for economic opportunity, but also to escape the endless imperial wars marking much of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East at the time.

Then Teddy Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst gave us the Spanish-American War. This led to occupying the Philippines, which was the start of American empire. Now the opposite sentiment is true: “We’re the world’s strongest empire, and we can push anyone around!” 

But all the military might in the world cannot save the empire from its worst enemy: itself. Military empires are money-losing operations.No military empire has ever permanently withstood the test of time. They all run out of money, sooner or later.

Welfare schemes are also money-losing operations. In the USA, we have both on a huge scale: military empire and Medicare/Social Security. When money becomes tight, the military is going to be in direct competition with Medicare for funding. Where the money will go will be entirely up to voters at that time.

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