This is the provocative question Tom Engelhardt asks in his blog.
It seems we’ve finally entered the Soviet era in America.
You remember the Soviet Union, now almost 20 years in its grave. But who gives it a second thought today? Even in its glory years that “evil empire” was sometimes referred to as “the second superpower.” In 1991, after seven decades, it suddenly disintegrated and disappeared, leaving the United States — the “sole superpower,” even the “hyperpower,” on planet Earth — surprised but triumphant.
Looking back, the most distinctive feature of the last years of the Soviet Union may have been the way it continued to pour money into its military — and its military adventure in Afghanistan — when it was already going bankrupt and the society it had built was beginning to collapse around it. In the end, its aging leaders made a devastating miscalculation. They mistook military power for power on this planet. Armed to the teeth and possessing a nuclear force capable of destroying the Earth many times over, the Soviets nonetheless remained the vastly poorer, weaker, and (except when it came to the arms race) far less technologically innovative of the two superpowers.
The USSR had been heading for the exits for quite a while, not that official Washington had a clue. At the moment it happened, Soviet “experts” like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (then director of the CIA) still expected the Cold War to go on and on. In Washington, eyes were trained on the might of the Soviet military, which the Soviet leadership had never stopped feeding, even as its sclerotic bureaucracy was rotting, its economy was tanking, budget deficits were soaring, indebtedness to other countries was growing, and social welfare payments were eating into what funds remained. Not even a vigorous, reformist leader like Mikhail Gorbachev could staunch the rot, especially when, in the late 1980s, the price of Russian oil fell drastically.
The lessons for our present situation are surely dazzlingly obvious.
In The Roots of War and Domination I wrote: (p. 19-21)
In our time, in the United States, we have obscenely bloated military budgets, and a world-wide trade in arms that dwarfs the trade in all other products (with the possible exception of drugs), as declining portions of the society’s wealth are used for infrastructure, education, and healthcare for the poor. Other countries fall victim to this imbalance as well: the Russian economy imploded under the weight of its excessive military industrial bureaucracy. We have countries like North Korea, where nuclear missile technology co-exists with mass starvation.
There is a fateful connection between capitalism and militarism at the societal level, just as there is between addiction and violence at the local, tribal level. Force is needed to support the addiction. The relentless drive for profits and growth in the capitalist system is backed by military force; and military spending is the ready solution to capitalism’s biggest weakness – overproduction. The military-industrial complex soaks up excess capital looking for investment, and provides consumption without limits, in a vicious cycle closely analogous to drug addiction. This malignant connection is made strikingly clear, in the comic-book format book Addiction to Militarism (Andreas, 2002).
It should be recognized clearly: to maintain a military system does not actually contribute to the productive wealth of a society. True, military-industrial corporations generate profits for their investors, soaking up enormous amounts of money; and they employ a certain number of people, both in the armed forces and the civilian sector. However, they don’t contribute “goods and services” to the country’s overall economy, its infrastructure, the well-being of its people, the uplifting of the poor, or the improvement of its natural environment; nor do they contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of cultural life. From an ecological perspective, the relationship of the military system to the larger socio-economic order is parasitical: resources are drained from the productive sectors of society to feed the growth of the military system, and the inequalities inherent in a capitalist society are exacerbated enormously.
Filed under: Current Events, Politics, Roots of War & Domination | Tagged: Addiction to Militarism, addiction/violence, Afganistan war, bloated military budget, capitalism/militarism, cold war, Gorbachev, Joel Andreas, military industrial commplex, military power, North Korea, parasitical relationship, Robert Gates, roots of war and domination, soviet Union, super powers, technological innovation, Tom Engelhardt, United States, Washington | 1 Comment »