Saturday, May 27, 2006

Who really control the USA? Is it the civilians or the military?

Who really controls the USA, Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan....?

Is it the civilians? Or is it the military?

Chris Floyd, in the Moscow Times 26 May 2006, wrote about the myth of civilian control of the military.

It's a familiar image: the U.S. president followed by an aide with the "football," the ever-present attache case that holds the codes for launching a nuclear attack.

But for years, these supposedly supreme commanders-in-chief did not have the slightest idea which targets would actually be hit at their order.

This occult knowledge was reserved for a small circle of Pentagon officers who called themselves the "guardians of the arsenal" and kept the true attack plans secret from the civilian leadership.

The first civilian to see the plans, during the Kennedy administration, was, ironically enough, Daniel Ellsberg -- the Pentagon consultant who later leaked the "Pentagon Papers," revealing the disastrous lies behind America's war in Vietnam.

What Ellsberg found was moral insanity almost beyond imagining.

The only plan proposed by the "guardians" was an all-out nuclear strike on every city in the Soviet Union, as well as on China and the Warsaw Pact nations, with a deliberately low-balled estimate of 400 million people killed immediately.

There were "no intermediate steps, no flexibility and no warnings" incorporated in the plan, which could be triggered by a range of non-nuclear provocations, some posing no direct threat to the United States at all.

What's more, the high priest of the nuclear cult, General Curtis LeMay, reserved the right to launch this genocidal fury on his own, as a first strike, if he suspected the Soviets were preparing to attack.

Civilian control of the military was thus exposed as an empty myth; the center of power in the U.S. government had shifted from the decisions of democratically elected leaders to the imperatives of procurement and militarist paranoia emanating from the five-sided fortress raised up in a Virginia wasteland known as Hell's Bottom.

This is just one of the many chilling stories recounted in James Carroll's important new book, "House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power."

Carroll, an acclaimed novelist -- and son of a top Pentagon official -- provides a devastating inside history of the military state-within-a-state that usurped the Republic and now reigns unchallenged in Washington.

It is a grim and dispiriting tale indeed. For more than 60 years, the vast, institutional engines of the Pentagon have permeated and skewed U.S. society toward a harsh, fearful and fearsome militarism.

In almost every case, the inhuman scale of this gargantuan war machine has infected those who sought to master it. Even the officers and officials who entered its service with the best intentions -- and Carroll provides many such instances -- were inexorably driven toward the worst instincts of our human nature by the blood-and-iron logic of a system based ultimately on violence, terror and the world-murdering power of nuclear weapons.

Opened in January 1943 as a supposedly temporary concentration of military bureaucracies, the Pentagon quickly became the locus of the inevitably brutalizing effect of war, now magnified a thousandfold by the new technologies of mass destruction, especially air power.

Although U.S. commanders at first denounced the British practice of "terror bombing" civilians in enemy countries, by 1945 they had embraced it with a vengeance.

LeMay, with his young, number-crunching assistant, Robert McNamara, directed a firebombing campaign against Japanese cities that killed 900,000 civilians in just a few weeks.

With this level of civilian slaughter already accepted as deliberate policy, it was hardly a great moral leap to cross the nuclear threshold against Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- or, later, to plan for killing 400 million people at a single stroke.

This savage ethos, forged in the dehumanizing crucible of total war, has prevailed against all the many attempts to change it.

Even Ellsberg's discovery did little to return the Pentagon, and the nuclear arsenal, to civilian control.

The "whiz kid" McNamara, who by then had become Pentagon chief, demanded a more "humane" attack strategy. But his call for greater precision in targeting required a whole new generation of deadlier, more sophisticated weapons.

The Soviets, who had only four -- four! -- intercontinental missiles when Kennedy took office, felt pressured to respond in kind to the sudden U.S. buildup. This in turn fueled more "countermeasures" by the Pentagon and its procurement partners. Far from easing tensions, the world moved even closer to nuclear conflagration.

The end of the Cold War made no difference to the Pentagon's corrupting dominance of U.S. policy.

The expected "peace dividend" following the Soviet collapse never materialized; the Pentagon simply found new enemies to stir the same public fears and feed its own paranoia: Saddam Hussein, "rogue states," Islamic extremism.

Today, with the never-ending "war on terror," the Pentagon has completely devoured the state, bending the entire government to its will and commanding limitless sources of corporate patronage and political muscle.

The Bush regime has unleashed the "nuclear priesthood," discarding arms-control treaties, building a new generation of deadlier nukes and once more pressuring Russia, still in the crosshairs of thousands of U.S. warheads, to respond with a new arms race.

Thus we come to the bitter irony at the heart of the story: the Pentagon ethos -- which enthrones "national security" as a supreme value for which the "guardians" are willing to sacrifice millions of innocent lives, the nation's civil liberties, even the planet itself -- has, at every turn, only made America less secure.

This brief look at Carroll's masterful, multilayered history hardly does the book justice. It should be read in full by anyone who wants to understand how America has reached its present degraded condition -- and how daunting the prospects are for real change in the crippling militarism that holds the nation in thrall.


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