The ancestors faced their sorrows from the U.S. military in the 19th
century, and faced them down in the 20th. Perhaps the best argument for the
basic accuracy of Chalmers Johnson's "The Sorrows of Empire" is that tribes
still must engage the military in the 21st century, though over money
rather than land. But at least this time around, Johnson has made the case
against American militarism, unmediated by a frontier press or a complicit
In fiscal year 2003, according to the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute, U.S. defense spending, $354.8 billion-plus, amounted to
as much as the next 15 most defense-spending nations in the world put
together, nations that included Britain, France, Germany, Italy, China,
Russia and Turkey. In 2004, according to Johnson in the book under review
here, our $396.1 billion-plus defense budget amounted to as much as the
next 27 most defense-spending nations put together. Congress has only just
finished conspiring with the Pentagon on the defense budget for fiscal year
2005, so the number of nations whose combined defense spending equals ours
is unknown for now. But who knows, maybe all of them together won't equal
ours; for our new defense budget is $417.5 billion-plus. By the way, that
"plus" in these already-unimaginable numbers is a shorthand indication that
they don't include the Pentagon's military intelligence budgets, war
expenditures, or special supplemental requests, as Johnson notes.
Now, spending like this justifies no end of argument as to whether the
money is really being spent on defense (Johnson puts that word in quotes on
occasion), on homeland security, on the imperialist projection of power, on
oil piracy, or simply on the exercise of a national psychosis.
A couple of points, however, we can all surely agree on: Taxpayers should
know what $417.5 billion-plus is buying them, and whatever it is $417.5
billion-plus should be buying it swiftly, openly, and effectively.
But no. Most of our billions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been spent slowly
or not at all, in secret or under fancy contracts that defeat congressional
oversight, and with a lack of effectiveness that can only embolden
The official reason for the slow pace and general ineffectiveness of
reconstruction in Iraq is that the Pentagon is concentrating on gargantuan
plans that take lots of time to implement.
God only knows, along with a small handful of generals and politicians who
give the name of God to their plans anyway, what those big plans really
are. But Chalmers Johnson, a scholar of impressive breadth and bedside
credibility, also has a clue.
The course of the war in Iraq is disturbingly consistent with the pattern
of U.S. militarism Johnson charts in "The Sorrows of Empire." Johnson
believes that after the atrocities of September 11, 2001, America's
leadership elites transitioned from the economic imperialism that went
under the name of globalization, to the military imperialism that goes
under the name of the war on terrorism.
"The distinction between the military and militarism is crucial," he
writes. "By military I mean all the activities, qualities, and institutions
required by a nation to fight a war in its defense. A military should be
concerned with ensuring national independence, a sine qua non for the
maintenance of personal freedom. But having a military by no means has to
lead to militarism, the phenomenon by which a nation's armed services come
to put their institutional preservation ahead of achieving national
security or even a commitment to the integrity of the governmental
structure of which they are a part. As the great historian of militarism
Alfred Vagts comments, 'The standing army in peacetime is the greatest of
all militaristic institutions.' ...
"Overseas bases, of which the Defense Department acknowledges some 725,
come within the scope of the peacetime standing army and constitute a
permanent claim on the nation's resources while being almost invariably
inadequate for actually fighting a war... The American network of bases is
a sign not of military preparedness but of militarism, the inescapable
companion of imperialism."
Americans don't see this militarism proceeding because its bases are
concentrated on foreign soil and its spending and activities are veiled in
secrecy and obfuscation. Secret military bases and espionage stations, and
other staples of militarism invisible to the public, are possible in our
democracy because "the military opportunism at the heart of government" has
overthrown article 1, section 9, article 7 of the U.S. Constitution,
Johnson contends. That would be the one valued above all others by many of
the founders, the one that makes America a democracy in Johnson's view: "No
money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of
Appropriations made by Law; and a Regular Statement and Account of the
Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time
to time." It is almost funny to think this plain constitutional language
could be enforced today against the Pentagon.
Secret military expenditures began in America with the Manhattan Project,
the effort to build an atomic bomb during World War II. With the advent of
the Cold War afterward, the so-called "black budget" became a ruling
addiction at the Pentagon. "The official name for the black budget is
'Special Access Programs' (SAPs), which are classified well above 'top
secret.' ... Only a few members of Congress receive briefings on them ...
Moreover, at the discretion of the secretary of defense, the reporting
requirement may be waived or transmitted orally to only eight designated
members of Congress. These 'waived SAPs' are the blackest of black holes.
The General Accounting Office has identified at least 185 black programs
and notes that they increased eightfold during the 1981 - 86 period. There
is no authoritative total, but the GAO once estimated that $30 to $35
billion per year was devoted to secret military and intelligence spending.
According to a report of the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary
Assessments, black programs requested in President Bush's 2004 defense
budget are at the highest level since 1988."
Johnson ends his timely and astute book, so much richer and wiser than a
brief review can suggest, with a warning against the four sorrows of the
title if American militarism can't be curtailed. "First, there will be a
perpetual state of war, leading to more terrorism against Americans
wherever they may be ... Second, there will be a loss of democracy and
constitutional rights... Third, an already well-shredded principle of
truthfulness will increasingly be replaced by a system of propaganda,
disinformation, and glorification of war, power, and the military legions.
Lastly, there will be bankruptcy..."
Especially when it comes to rights and economic resources, chances are the
numerically small constituencies will suffer these sorrows first. How many
times during the current 108th Congress has Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell,
R-Colo., the only Indian in the Senate, railed against the sums sent to
Iraq while Indian programs go begging to the budgetary back-burner? How
many Indian educators have said they must have funding to implement the
federal No Child Left Behind standards in education, money that is not
forthcoming for them even as it floods Iraq and the military? How far would
some of those floods go toward Indian health care? Who in Congress spoke
out for Indian rights when unscrupulous senators set up a shadow tribal
government to give a show of support for the recent seizure of Western
Shoshone tribal lands?