Breaking Military-Industrial Ties

Gather round, children; it's time once again to talk about that famous construct of the twentieth century, the military-industrial complex. Sadly, the complex is ruling our lives more than that of Oedipus or Electra at a time when we need it least. When the president and ex-president both proudly call our nation the only superpower, why do we need a defense-dominated economy?

The problems in closing military bases during the Bush administration were the first symptom of military-industrial domination. Take this simple quiz:

Why didn't Congress want to close bases? Because constituents worked at the bases. Why did so many work there? Because industry has become reliant on the military to support its bloated size. How did the military accomplish this bloating? Through Reagan-era oversizing that did not, repeat did not, cause the Cold War to come to an end. After all, how can the MX missile take credit for thirty years of industrial decline in a foreign nation? There's no answer.

The military's reluctance to enforce the president's order to incorporate gays into the military is further evidence of its excessive power. After four months, the military still has not made an effort to overturn its policy. Instead, it trots out soldiers to say how much they abhor homosexuals. Who's in charge here? When did the president cease to be the commander-in-chief? Did someone forget to replace Bush's picture with Clinton's in the Pentagon lobby?

Military defiance of the executive branch has been the hallmark of revolutions and coups in Haiti, the Philippines, and Liberia. If you think the U.S. shouldn't take on any characteristics of these countries, then you realize that this sort of saber-rattling is unhealthy. It doesn't reflect well on President Clinton's real power, either. What does he need to do besides making an executive order?


Our economy relies on the military for hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs and the employment of millions of troops and bureaucrats. This situation is outdated; the only other large nations with such a significant dependance on the military are in the collapsed Warsaw Pact.

The military effectively manages a large portion of the economy, but recent evidence indicates that its management is incompetent. Last week, the secretary of defense fired an Air Force general because the C-17 cargo plane's development was $1 billion over budget. In the last few years, major projects like the B-2 bomber, the Seawolf submarine, and SDI (Star Wars) were also trimmed after they ran severely over predicted costs.

These ballooning projects create a self-perpetuating cycle of spending. In an effort to maintain their jobs, the military subculture battles the federal government for more money for wilder plans. It has virtually become the largest PAC (Political Action Committee) on the face of the planet. The U.S. already leads the world in defense systems, and these programs would only extend that lead--the military needs to learn how to say no.

In the meantime, military contractors are beginning to scale back operations on their own. With gigantic contracts so few and far between, producers along the Eastern seaboard are laying off tens of thousands of workers. No alternative buyers exist (legally, anyway) for super-futuristic weapons systems. Even firms that get contracts must lay off workers whose skills have suddenly become outdated.

The composition of the workforce must change before the government will be able to effectively institute a decrease in the political and economic strength of the military. Many laborers can be shifted to sectors of industry in which their skills are still needed. The government could even set up export companies to employ these workers in the production of nonmilitary goods. Other workers and troops could be offered jobs in President Clinton's new program for national service.

One of the real reasons for the collapse of the Warsaw Pact was the West's huge advantage in technology. To maintain the U.S.'s leading role, the area of high technology has to be the focus of our workforce and our capital resources.

As much as we might hate to do it, we should emulate Japan's economic model in this case at least. With only about one percent of its economy devoted to defense, Japan can invest in education and training while curbing government debt. The federal government does not need to control the economy in the manner that Japan does, but it should offer enough social programs to produce a smooth transition away from the military-dominated economy.

Towards the end of the Warsaw Pact's history, the leaders of its member nations lost sight of their Marxist-Leninist goals and struggled just to save their jobs. The top brass of the military in our own military-industrial society is acting in the same manner. They have forgotten their mission as dictated by the Constitution: to serve the president and only to offer opinions on relevant issues if the president requests them.

Only forty years ago, a president fired a five-star general because he did not obey executive orders in a reasonable amount of time. Yes, MacArthur was involved with actual troop movements, but years for closing bases and months for integrating gays are certainly unreasonable amounts of time. Clinton doesn't have to sack the Joint Chiefs, but he shouldn't have to put up with gridlock in a branch of government he controls.