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Billions for War, only a Pittance for Peace: We Need a Department of Peace

16 Aug

Rex Tillerson’s reassurances about the threat of a nuclear exchange with North Korea leave me cold. My alarm bells are ringing not only because the two most impetuous fools on the planet (Trump and Kim Jong Un) are playing at nuclear brinkmanship, but because they’re doing so in the context of a militaristic culture whose default response to conflict is threats of violence.

The Pentagon spends $587 billion a year on weapons and military operations. The Defense Department includes not only the army, navy and air force but twenty agencies devoted to all manner of weaponry, logistics and intelligence. Meanwhile, the State Department’s measly budget for foreign aid and diplomacy is in the President’s crosshairs. Little wonder then that we’ve been embroiled in a seemingly endless war since 2003.

Imagine if the United States were to create a Department of Peace whose secretary serves on the Cabinet. Such an agency would provide a powerful counterweight to the choir of generals and war profiteers currently whispering in the President’s ear. If this proposal seems improbable, why is that? The more outlandish it seems, the more needed it is.

Erica Etelson

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The Time Has Come for a Department of Peace

14 Dec

Over at 3 Quarks Daily I’ve posted The United States Needs a Department of Peace. The idea was first proposed in 1793 by Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and has been frequently proposed over the last century (Wikipedia). Starting in 1935 a number of bills have been introduced introduced into Congress, most recently by Dennis Kucinich as H.R. 808. It was re-introduced in the 114th Congress on February 26, 2015 by Barbara Lee as H.R. 1111.

I devote most of my 3QD post to the text Rush’s proposal, but introduce it with some commentary on the allegorical paintings he proposes for the room that would house his proposed Peace Office. He also proposed that the following assertions be posted on a sign above the door to the War Office:

1. An office for butchering the human species.
2. A Widow and Orphan making office.
3. A broken bone making office.
4. A Wooden leg making office.
5. An office for creating public and private vices.
6. An office for creating public debt.
7. An office for creating speculators, stock Jobbers, and Bankrupts.
8. An office for creating famine.
9. An office for creating pestilential diseases.
10. An office for creating poverty, and the destruction of liberty, and national happiness.

Anger Growing Among Allies Over U.S. Surveillance – NYTimes.com

24 Oct

You know, there’s a sense in which “WE” all knew that this was going on. But it’s one thing to strongly suspect – in a sophisticated, knowing – way that this is going on. It’s something else to put it out there. You know that old story about the Emperor’s new clothes? Imagine the moment when the Emperor struts out on the street, showing off his new finery, which is completely imaginary. Everyone can see he’s naked, but no one says anything until the boy blurts it out. Well, these days that little boy’s busy telling Truth to Power, and Power doesn’t like it, not one bit.

Ms. Merkel’s angry call to President Obama was the second time in 48 hours – after a similar furor in France prompted Mr. Obama to call President François Hollande — that the president found himself on the phone with a close European ally to argue that continuing revelations of invasive U.S. intelligence gathering should not undermine decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust.Both episodes illustrated the diplomatic challenge to the United States posed by the cache of documents that Mr. Snowden handed to the journalist Glenn Greenwald. Last week, Mr. Greenwald concluded a deal with the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to build a new media platform that aims in part to publicize other revelations from the data Mr. Greenwald now possesses.

The damage to core American relationships continues to mount. Last month, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil postponed a state visit to the United States after Brazilian news media reports — fed by material from Mr. Greenwald — that the N.S.A. had intercepted messages from Ms. Rousseff, her aides and the state oil company, Petrobras. Recently, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which has said it has a stack of Snowden documents, suggested that United States intelligence had gained access to communications to and from President Felipe Calderón of Mexico while he was still in office.

via Anger Growing Among Allies Over U.S. Surveillance – NYTimes.com.

Breaking Bad: Breaking Men from the Inside

15 Aug

By now zillions of atoms have be scattered on the internet to the end of explicating Breaking Bad. I’ve read some of that, but not much. Breaking Bad‘s Moral Lesson to Civilians, by Alex Horton, is the best that I’ve read.

While I’ve found the show compelling, sometimes more, sometimes less, I couldn’t make sense of it. Yeah, it’s one of those new-fangled high-quality TV series, like The Sopranos, that’s, you know, dark. The other “dark” shows that I’ve seen (say, Deadwood or The Wire) nonetheless managed to make sense to me. Breaking Bad, compelling, but why?

Horton offers a compelling reason:

Walter, along with several of the Breaking Bad characters, exhibits a term many of us in the military and veterans community have come to understand as a moral injury, and the show profoundly explores the concept in a way previously unseen in film and television. Of course, virtually no troops or veterans have much in common with the criminals in the show, but the reaction to traumatic events is universal, be it in war or a fictional universe.

To be clear, a moral injury is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Rather, it’s an existential disintegration of how the world should or is expected to work—a compromise of the conscience when one is butted against an action (or inaction) that violates an internalized moral code. It’s different from post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of which occur as a result of traumatic events. When a soldier at a checkpoint shoots at a car that doesn’t stop and kills innocents, or when Walter White allows Jesse’s troublesome addict girlfriend to die of an overdose to win him back as a partner, longstanding moral beliefs are disrupted, and an injury on the conscience occurs.

As he chokes the life from Krazy-8 with a bike lock [early in the first season], Walter enters a distorted moral universe where killing and death become the currency of his trade.

That I can understand. It makes sense. Continue reading

A Phony Hero for a Phony War – NYTimes.com

16 Nov

The genius of General Petraeus was to recognize early on that the war he had been sent to fight in Iraq wasn’t a real war at all. This is what the public and the news media — lamenting the fall of the brilliant hero undone by a tawdry affair — have failed to see. He wasn’t the military magician portrayed in the press; he was a self-constructed hologram, emitting an aura of preening heroism for the ever eager cameras.

I spent part of the fall of 2003 with General Petraeus and the 101st Airborne Division in and around Mosul, Iraq. One of the first questions I asked him was what his orders had been. Was he ordered to “take Mosul,” I asked. No answer. How about “Find Mosul and report back”? No answer. Finally I asked him if his orders were something along the lines of “Go to Mosul!” He gave me an almost imperceptible nod. It must have been the first time an American combat infantry division had been ordered into battle so casually.

via A Phony Hero for a Phony War – NYTimes.com.

The Permanent Militarization of America – NYTimes.com

5 Nov

The fact that both President Obama and Mitt Romney are calling for increases to the defense budget (in the latter case, above what the military has asked for) is further proof that the military is the true “third rail” of American politics. In this strange universe where those without military credentials can’t endorse defense cuts, it took a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, to make the obvious point that the nation’s ballooning debt was the biggest threat to national security.

via The Permanent Militarization of America – NYTimes.com.

War is the Health of the State: The Impact of Military Defense on the History of the United States by Jeffrey Hummel :: SSRN

8 Oct

There you have it: the primary function of the state is to wage war.

Abstract: Of all the functions of government, or the State, national defense is generally considered to be the most essential. Ideally, national defense should be a service provided by government to the people. The service entails protection from aggressors outside the State’s jurisdiction, usually foreign States although sometimes foreign terrorists. Yet a government’s ability to provide such protection ultimately rests on its power to wage war. Governments therefore have tended to devote more resources to war than to anything else. Indeed, prior to the advent of the modern welfare State, they usually spent more on war than on all other things combined. Governments were essentially war making institutions that did a few other things on the side. As a result, the history of nearly all governments is dominated by the conduct of wars, the preparation for wars, and the consequences of wars; and this is no less true for the United States government than for any other.

This manuscript therefore surveys the domestic repercussions of past U.S. wars, from the American Revolution through World War II. Not only did the State swell in authority, reach, and intrusiveness while waging war, but also a postwar ratchet effect almost always left government in America more powerful after the fighting was over. Post-war retrenchment was rarely sufficient to bring government back to its prewar levels. The State had assumed new functions, taken on new responsibilities, and exercised new prerogatives. The impacts of modernization, urbanization, economics, demography, complexity, or other domestic developments pale in comparison. Of all the myriad factors that historians have studied and identified as contributing to the evolution, contours, and scope of government at all levels within this country, none is more crucial, pervasive, and ubiquitous than warfare.

via War is the Health of the State: The Impact of Military Defense on the History of the United States by Jeffrey Hummel :: SSRN.

How Resilient Is Post-9/11 America? – NYTimes.com

9 Sep

Too big to win?

These raise concerns that the United States is losing ground in the New Darwinism of security threats, in which an agile enemy evolves in new ways to blunt America’s vast technological prowess with clever homemade bombs and anti-American propaganda that helps supply a steady stream of fighters.

Have we become America the brittle?

“Resiliency” has finally entered the lexicon of American political leaders. The military has instituted programs for the fighting force. Officials are looking to the experiences of such countries as Britain and Israel, examples of individual and national resilience earned the hard way.

via How Resilient Is Post-9/11 America? – NYTimes.com.

War in Afghanistan Claims 2,000th American Life – NYTimes.com

22 Aug

2000 UNNECESSARY deaths.

Nearly nine years passed before American forces reached their first 1,000 dead in the war. The second 1,000 came just 27 months later, a testament to the intensity of fighting prompted by President Obama’s decision to send 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2010, a policy known as the surge.

via War in Afghanistan Claims 2,000th American Life – NYTimes.com.

Too Central to Fail

18 Aug

A lot of attention has been put on “too big to fail,” the idea that big is risky. What really matters in a complex network system, however, is not bigness per se but connection centrality. In a network the liabilities of institution A become the assets of institution B whose own liabilities become the assets of institution C. An institution with high connection centrality can spread distress throughout a large portion of the network.

via Too Central to Fail.