There's still big money in war
Come from wars,
Dwight Eisenhower got it straight all right, but he didn't know the half of it. He prophetically warned us about the "Military-Industrial Complex," though Blackwater and KBR hadn't even been invented yet. You've heard of them -- they're the contractors who service our armies of occupation so that we don't need to hire so many soldiers. Sort of mercenary supply companies. Naturally, they lobby for more conflicts.
So does Electric Boat Corp. That's our local submarine company here in Connecticut. It makes those multibillion-dollar nuclear subs that no longer have any known useful function. Congress recently increased their production to generate more corporate profits and more jobs. Even our liberal congressmen helped out.
Other corporations that manufacture more utilitarian equipment love war too. But what they really prize is a series of widely separated smallish ones. That's because it is often very difficult to move heavy weapons from one combat zone to another, especially where there are no railroads, as in Afghanistan. Thus it's easier for the Pentagon to buy new, which it really loves to do anyway.
Consequently, the "complex" would just as soon have us hold off invading Iran until the existing equipment is moved out of neighboring Iraq. That's too conveniently close. Wait until it's all in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We'll never get it back from there. As it is, there are 2.8 million pieces in Iraq still waiting to leave. And Afghanistan already has 15,000 heavy mine-resistant troop carriers. We can kiss those babies goodbye when we leave some day. They'll be too beat-up and costly to lug all the way home. Might as well leave them for the Taliban and we'll start from scratch.
Understandably, all those heavy-arms makers are cheerfully supported by the Pentagon itself. Generals don't get paid for making peace, you know. Nor do they get promoted for understating the hazards posed by potential adversaries. Every two-bit antagonist is inflated into a serious threat in military intelligence estimates.
Ronald Reagan used to warn us (during the Contra War) that Nicaragua wasn't all that far from Harlingen, Texas. Stirring up fear is about as old a political ploy as there is.
Quieter but equally expensive are the nuclear weapons laboratories. They make plenty of profit just by servicing our ludicrous oversupply of bombs, but they'd like to make still more. They're always pressing to "modernize" our arsenal. That means adding some fancy new warheads. Now if there is one thing that the whole world can agree on, it's that we already have too many warheads, but that doesn't deter the companies that make them.
Indeed this is true of most weapons. Whether more unneeded ones continue to be built depends largely on the clout of their congressional delegations. That's why we have runways overflowing with extra C-19 cargo planes, and harbors jammed with surplus aircraft carriers and destroyers. Occasionally a biggie like the F-22 gets the axe, but mostly the unholy alliance between Congress and the arms producers keeps us wallowing in costly pointless weaponry.
And some of what we can't use, we sell. We're the biggest arms merchant in the world, most famously to Taiwan and Israel, which sometimes gets us into big trouble.
So 50 years later, it's clear that old Ike knew what he was talking about. Too bad he didn't do something about it back then.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.