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Saying no to Canada’s death game June 22, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Arms, Canada, Human Rights, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: it is a widely held myth that Canada is a basically peaceful nation, a kind of antithesis to its bellicose neighbour to the south.  Despite some nuances to Canadian government policy (e.g. staying out of the initial invasion of Iraq, but not Afghanistan), Canada has been and remains a faithful ally of U.S. war mongering foreign policy.  Yet the myth persists, not only internationally but as well as amongst the Canadian population.

Here is the true story.

 

| JUNE 22, 2016, http://www.rabble.ca

Matthew Behrens

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr

 

 

In a reminder that the warfare state is never affected by who gets elected in Canada, the Trudeau Liberals are about to embark on a militaristic spending spree that will draw no opposition from the Conservatives or the NDP. All major parties are firmly committed to spending obscene amounts of money on war, and in Canada, the War Department’s annual sinkhole of over $20 billion is by far the largest use of discretionary federal spending (i.e., spending that is not mandated by any legal commitment).

While Parliament is away this summer, Justin Trudeau is expected to pony up countless billions for Super Hornet fighter jets whose only purpose is to drop bombs on human beings. The Super Hornets are expected to play the role of “interim” tools of mass murder from the air until the Liberals can figure out the best sunny ways PR to massage the Canadian public into accepting even greater spending on F-35 fighter jets further down the road. In addition, the Liberals are on board for a $26-billion Canadian warship investment that will continue to leave the cupboard bare when it comes to daycare, desperately needed investments in Indigenous communities, environmental clean-up, affordable housing, and dozens of other social programs that remain miserably underfunded.

As the Canadian military quietly wages war in Iraq with Trudeau’s earlier, expanded commitment on the ground and continued contribution to aerial bombardment of people below, the Liberals are also considering sending hundreds of troops to the Russian border in yet another provocation against Moscow. This is in addition to the hundreds of troops already stationed in the region who, instead of helping refugees cross the dangerous Mediterranean, are playing war games to provoke the Russian Bear. Such escalations all help set the stage for bigger investments in war just as War Minister Harjit Sajjan gets set to hold his window-dressing consultation with Canadians over war policy.

Absurd assumptions

The idea that Canada “needs” warplanes and warships is absurd. The only ones who “need” Canada to have them are those corporations who profit from such massive purchases. Sajjan claims Canada faces a “capability gap” by not purchasing new warplanes, but in saying so he is merely acting as the pathetic public face of a muscular military industry that, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out in his brilliant play Major Barbara over a century ago, is the real force conducting and forming foreign policy.

In that play, arms dealer Andrew Undershaft (of the munitions firm Undershaft and Lazarus), declares quite clearly to the small group who raise moral concerns about the nature of his business:

“I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman. Government of your country! Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.”

It is not just the arms-makers like Undershaft who call the tune. The tune is also hummed, eerily enough, by human rights NGOs who have bought so far into the system that they cannot reject its core principles. The language they use in opposing things like the $15-billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia is compromised by accepting the assumption that there is nothing wrong with the production of killer brigade vehicles: they just should not be used by certain countries.

A compromised letter

On April 25, a group of NGOs released an open letter, expressing “profound concerns” about the Stéphane Dion-issued export permits for these warrior vehicles, calling the decision “immoral and unethical.” Fair enough. But the letter suffered from a fatal flaw: it accepts as legitimate far too much of state violence. And it proposes that peace groups, rather than working for disarmament, work with the government to facilitate the weapons trade.

They also ask the government to “rescind the export permits, ensuring that this deal does not go ahead unless and until relevant human rights concerns have been resolved.”

A question arises: what human rights concerns would have to be resolved to ensure that it is safe to supply a regime with vehicles whose sole purpose is the crushing of human rights? The letter continues that the Canadian government’s arms control regime’s “integrity has been utterly compromised with the government’s decision to proceed with the largest arms sale in Canadian history to one of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

No similar letter appears to have been issued with respect to the billions annually sold to governments which commit gross violations of human rights on a scale that makes Saudi war crimes in Yemen and surrounding countries small potatoes. Like the United States, for example, the single-largest purchaser annually of Canadian-made weapons. The groups argue that Canada’s arms control regime is designed to prevent deals like those that went to Saudi. But how can a regime that simply regulates who gets the killing machines have any sense of “integrity”?

While the letter is a welcome voice on the one hand that says no to this particular sale, it serves to legitimize the execrable business of the production of mass murder by Canadian manufacturers. Here is the rub. The letter states: “Our export control system must ensure that export authorizations are granted for only end-users that are in full compliance with applicable safeguards.” But when you produce a killer brigade vehicle or a machine gun that rattles off 4,000 rounds a minute, it has only one purpose: legalized murder.

Human rights groups to facilitate weapons trade

The groups hope Canada will soon sign an additional arms control measure that legitimizes the wholesale profit from slaughter, but under more stringent conditions. They even offer their assistance in helping Canada figure out a more sanitized manner of pursuing the death merchant business “to improve the legal and political machinery for regulating Canadian arms exports, and we stand ready to contribute to any and all efforts in this regard.”

Such entreaties are not helpful. The role of human rights groups is not to assist in the better regulation of the business of murder. It would instead, one would hope, call into question the whole nasty business itself, and recognize that, if one wants to go by law, Canada is a signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Treaty, which comes as close to outlawing war as any treaty could hope for.

The letter finishes with the standard salute to Canada’s ultimate goodness, those “core values that define Canada’s character as a nation.” They don’t mention those values, but it is assumed, since such groups repeat them with nauseating consistency, that Canada is an honest broker, a peaceful player on the world stage, a Pearsonian boy scout in a world of dangers lurking in the shadows.

If we are truthful, however, the Saudi arms deal, and the implicit support for the war crimes being committed with them, does not violate Canada’s core values. It is a reflection of them. Indeed, a core value of Canada, as history repeatedly shows, is genocide and the profiting from murder. The Truth and Reconciliation was only the latest reminder that Canada as a nation is built on, and continues to pursue, policies of genocide against Indigenous peoples at home and abroad.

One would have hoped for a more principled approach to taking on one of the signature issues of our time. But it has always been thus in Canada, where the very cautious approach (including the endless accolades for Pearson, a prime minister whose government contributed to major war crimes against the people of Vietnam, as documented by Victor Levant) was once skewered by the late Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, who passed away just over a month ago at the age of 94. Berrigan, a long-time recidivist who was constantly arrested for resisting war, challenged Canadians in the 1980s in his review of a book by Ernie Regehr and Simon Rosenblum, The Road to Peace.

While this quote is lengthy, it does speak to the heart of what ails so much advocacy, whether it be against the war industry or for an end to climate change. This would be an inability, or a refusal, to plainly call things for what they are, for fear of losing the “ear” of governments who are all too happy to appear democratic by “consulting,” all the while going ahead with their original plans. This is indeed the PR job being shovelled at Canadians who were tired of not being heard by Harper. Trudeau has promised he will listen, but there is no guarantee he will act on what he hears.

In the Berrigan review of this tome on nuclear weapons, he writes that:

“[O]ne can imagine certain academics, scientists, researchers…soberly assessing matters, assembling a volume whose chapters would read like this (if I may adapt from “The Road to Peace)” “Auschwitz and the “Possibilities” (quotes mine) of No More Auschwitzes; A Mad Mad World: The Evolution of Auschwitz Strategies; How Our Vision of Auschwitz has Changed; Verification of Auschwitz: Promise, Politics, and Prospects; Canada’s Auschwitz Policy: redefining the Achievable; New Approaches to Auschwitz. But perhaps the point is something else. Certain unquenched Canadian spirits, deciding simply that Auschwitz had no conceivable right to pollute the human scene, might ‘break and enter’ the vile place, rendering it at least symbolically inoperative. That story, no figment, lies outside the book in question. Outside the law, it goes without saying. Outside true history, and the blessing of the unborn? Perhaps not.”

That reference to breaking and entering came out of Berrigan’s own experience, whether during draft board raids (in which hundreds of people, many of them Catholic priests and nuns, invaded U.S. government offices and destroyed almost 1 million draft files with homemade napalm) or as part of the Ploughshares movement, in which nuclear weapons and warplanes have been symbolically disarmed with hammers and blood, beating swords into ploughshares.

Berrigan’s point is rendered clear enough: by using the government’s official language, we dehumanize and decontextualize what is going on, erasing the victims at all ends of the weapons process, whether they be those who suffer at home for want of social spending or those who live and die under the bombs once they are “delivered” overseas.

An absolute refusal to co-operate

On May 25, the very first absolute, complete refusal to comply with any aspect of the current Saudi arms deal (and the idea that it is OK to export killer weapons to some nations but not others) took place when eight members of Homes not Bombs and Christian Peacemaker Teams entered the Global Affairs edifice in downtown Ottawa and, after unfurling a banner, simply refused to move. Despite repeated entreaties to leave and demonstrate on the street, they refused to do so until Dion cancelled the deal and opened a dialogue on ending the arms trade once and for all. Three were arrested and will face trial later this year. Mr. Dion can expect a subpoena.

While ending the weapons trade is a multifaceted campaign that requires work at all levels, hopefully that work can proceed by refusing to accept the assumptions of the Undershafts of the world. Opposition to Canadian military spending is difficult to muster in a culture that so idolizes the War Dept. and buys its noble aims propaganda. Hence, many groups fashion their approach to the issue based on tinkering with the spending or shifting some resources from the air force to the navy (the Jack Layton approach) without recognizing that if love really is better than hate, as so many MPs are wont to be saying these days, then investments in an institution based on murder is certainly not a good route for conflict resolution.

Decades upon decades of buying into the idea of arms control (instead of disarmament) have left us at a point where the most recent Global Peace Index indicates the world is increasingly a less peaceful place, with the gap between those countries insulated from war versus those suffering through violent conflict continuing to widen:

“The world continues to spend enormous amounts on creating and containing violence and little on building peace. The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2015 was $13.6 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms… or $1,876 for every person in the world.”

Which brings us back to the immediate problem. The self-proclaimed “feminist” in the PMO who is selling $15 billion worth of weapons to arm Saudi misogyny is eagerly perusing the latest in bomb-dropping killer aircraft, Super Hornets that will split the eardrums of overseas children, rip their legs off, blow apart the faces of their mothers, demolish their schools and places of worship, poison their land and water, and permanently scar countless people for life.

Trudeau’s killer priorities

This is the priority for Trudeau, and many will accept it because it’s coming from the nice guy who isn’t Harper. At home, those who will be hurt by the purchase are many. Each Super Hornet will cost approximately $100 million, in addition to the ongoing costs of fuel (and the outrageous contribution the military continues to make to climate change), maintenance and upgrades that provide even niftier means of murdering people.

What could we use with each $100 million spent on Super Hornets? Some 4,000 students could attend university for four years for free. Some 400 affordable hosing units could be built. Over 6,563 free, year-round child-care spaces would open up. The price of Two Super Hornets would meet the funding gap that Cindy Blackstock identified as missing for First Nations children in Budget 2016. The price of one Hornet is three times what the Trudeau government has committed annually to meeting the mental health needs of Indigenous youth.

Warplanes of any type and variety are offensive by nature. Their use is in violation of the Nuremberg Principles (which prohibits “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression) as well as the Kellogg-Briand Pact (a.k.a. the Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, signed by Canada in 1929), in which:

“[T]he high contracting parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another….The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.”

Purchase of warplanes, in addition to the countless tens of billions spent annually on warfare (and the planned $26 billion in warships) stand Canada in contravention to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees all people an adequate standard of living, “including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions…. the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Canada cannot meet the huge need for mental health services, environmental clean-up, and income equality measures while it continues to make war spending its highest use of federal discretionary funds.

While Canada undergoes a summertime “review” of War Dept. priorities, it provides us with an opportunity not to play the arms control game, but to ask serious questions about why we continue to pump untold capital into an institution that — while no doubt peopled with many good folks who have good intentions — serves no truly useful social purpose. We don’t need heavily armed people to help with flood relief or to stop forest fires. Rescue at sea can be conducted by ships and planes that are not armed to the teeth.

What helps, as a step forward, is to name things for what they are. Writing while underground and always staying one step ahead of the massive FBI manhunt for a man who committed a crime of peace, in 1970, Father Daniel Berrigan, in an open letter to other war resisters then underground, put it thusly: “When madness is the acceptable public state of mind, we’re all in danger… for madness is an infection in the air. And I submit that we all breathe the infection and that the movement has at times been sickened by it too … In or out of the military, in or out of the movement, it seems to me that we had best call things by their name, and the name of this thing, it seems to me, is the death game, no matter where it appears.”

Perhaps the best way to end the death game is to stop playing along with it.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr

 

Merchants of Death, or, your tax dollars at work December 28, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in armaments, Arms, Chemical Biological Weapons, Nuclear weapons/power, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: The cost of the US inspired wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan is in the trillions of dollars.  So-called “defense” spending amounts to around 60% of US government discretionary spending.  Instruments of death, that is, military weaponry, costs billions of dollars every year.  War profiteers delight in the fact that their “product” is designed to be destroyed and therefore perpetually replaced.  As you can see, the United States manufactures and exports more weaponry than the rest of the world combined.  What all these death dollars could support and jobs create in the areas of health, education. housing, nutrition, and the elimination of poverty worldwide is enough bring one to tears.

Number Of Iraqis Slaughtered In US War And Occupation Of Iraq 1,455,590

Number of U.S. Military PersonnelSacrificed (Officially acknowledged) In U.S. War And Occupation Of Iraq 4,801

Number Of International Occupation Force Troops Slaughtered In Afghanistan : 3,487

Cost of War in Iraq & Afghanistan
$1,659,692,160,956

U.S. Foreign Arms Deals Increased Nearly $10 Billion in 2014

The Obama Administration Torpedoes the Arms Trade Treaty August 2, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, War.
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Roger’s note: The Nobel Peace Prize winner strikes again!
 
Published on Thursday, August 2, 2012 by TruthDig.com

 

Quick: What is more heavily regulated, global trade of bananas or battleships? In late June, activists gathered in New York’s Times Square to make the absurd point, that, unbelievably, “there are more rules governing your ability to trade a banana from one country to the next than governing your ability to trade an AK-47 or a military helicopter.” So said Amnesty International USA’s Suzanne Nossel at the protest, just before the start of the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which ran from July 2 to July 27. Thanks to a last-minute declaration by the United States that it “needed more time” to review the short, 11-page treaty text, the conference ended last week in failure.Fake tombstones are placed along the East River by members of the Control Arms Coalition to coincide with a diplomatic conference on the future Arms Trade Treaty in New York. (Reuters)

There isn’t much that could be considered controversial in the treaty. Signatory governments agree not to export weapons to countries that are under an arms embargo, or to export weapons that would facilitate “the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes” or other violations of international humanitarian law. Exports of arms are banned if they will facilitate “gender-based violence or violence against children” or be used for “transnational organized crime.” Why does the United States need more time than the more than 90 other countries that had sufficient time to read and approve the text? The answer lies in the power of the gun lobby, the arms industry and the apparent inability of President Barack Obama to do the right thing, especially if it contradicts a cold, political calculation.

The Obama administration torpedoed the treaty exactly one week after the massacre in Aurora, Colo. In Colorado, Obama offered promises of “prayer and reflection.” As New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, commenting on Obama and Mitt Romney both avoiding a discussion of gun control, “Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it.” Gun violence is a massive problem in the U.S., and it only seems to pierce the public consciousness when there is a massacre. Gun-rights advocates attack people who suggest more gun control is needed, accusing them of politicizing the massacre. Yet some elected officials are taking a stand. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois is seeking a ban on assault weapons, much like the ones in place in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

The National Rifle Association’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, issued the threat before the U.N. conference that “Without apology, the NRA wants no part of any treaty that infringes on the precious right of lawful Americans to keep and bear arms.” The NRA organized letters opposing the treaty, signed by 51 U.S. senators and 130 members of the House. After the conference ended in failure, the NRA took credit for killing it.

Of course, there is nothing in the treaty that would impact U.S. domestic gun laws. The rights protected by the cherished Second Amendment (“a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”) would remain intact. The NRA’s interest lies not only with individual gun owners, but also with the U.S. weapons manufacturers and exporters. The United States is the world’s largest weapons producer, exporter and importer. It is the regulation of this global flow of weaponry that most likely alarms the NRA, not the imagined prospect of the U.N. taking away the legally owned guns inside the U.S.

Protesters outside the U.N. during the ATT conference erected a mock graveyard, with each headstone reading, “2,000 people killed by arms every day.” That’s one person killed every minute. In many places around the world, massacres on the order of Aurora are all too common. Days after Aurora, at least nine people were killed in a U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan. Pakistani officials said the victims were suspected militants, but the Obama administration deems all adult-male drone targets as militants unless proven otherwise, posthumously.

After the conference wrapped without success, Suzanne Nossel said, “This was stunning cowardice by the Obama administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line.” These words were doubly strong, as she criticized the very State Department where she worked previously, under Hillary Clinton.

© 2012 Amy Goodman

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Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

America, arms-dealer to the world January 24, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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Tuesday, Jan 24, 2012 11:23 AM 20:32:35 EST

Munitions is the one U.S. industry that’s booming — with devastating global consequences

By William Astore
Assembly line workers work on a F-35 fighter aircraft at a production plant in Fort Worth, Texas

Assembly line workers work on a F-35 fighter aircraft at a production plant in Fort Worth, Texas    (Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)

This originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “Makin’ Thunderbirds,” a hard-bitten rock & roll song by Bob Seger that I listened to 30 years ago while in college.  It’s about auto workers back in 1955 who were “young and proud” to be making Ford Thunderbirds. But in the early 1980s, Seger sings, “the plants have changed and you’re lucky if you work.” Seger caught the reality of an American manufacturing infrastructure that was seriously eroding as skilled and good-paying union jobs were cut or sent overseas, rarely to be seen again in these parts.

If the U.S. auto industry has recently shown sparks of new life (though we’re not making T-Birds or Mercuries or Oldsmobiles or Pontiacs or Saturns anymore), there is one form of manufacturing in which America is still dominant. When it comes to weaponry, to paraphrase Seger, we’re still young and proud and makin’ Predators and Reapers (as in unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones) and Eagles and Fighting Falcons (as in F-15 and F-16 combat jets), and outfitting them with the deadliest of weapons. In this market niche, we’re still the envy of the world.

Yes, we’re the world’s foremost “merchants of death,” the title of a best-selling exposé of the international arms trade published to acclaim in the U.S. in 1934. Back then, most Americans saw themselves as war-avoiders rather than as war-profiteers. The evil war-profiteers were mainly European arms makers like Germany’s Krupp, France’s Schneider or Britain’s Vickers.

Not that America didn’t have its own arms merchants. As the authors of “Merchants of Death” noted, early on our country demonstrated a “Yankee propensity for extracting novel death-dealing knickknacks from [our] peddler’s pack.”  Amazingly, the Nye Committee in the U.S. Senate devoted 93 hearings from 1934 to 1936 to exposing America’s own “greedy munitions interests.” Even in those desperate depression days, a desire for profit and jobs was balanced by a strong sense of unease at this deadly trade, an unease reinforced by the horrors of and hecatombs of dead from the First World War.

We are uneasy no more. Today we take great pride (or at least have no shame) in being by far the world’s number one arms-exporting nation. A few statistics bear this out. From 2006 to 2010, the U.S. accounted for nearly one-third of the world’s arms exports, easily surpassing a resurgent Russia in the “Lords of War” race.  Despite a decline in global arms sales in 2010 due to recessionary pressures, the U.S. increased its market share, accounting for a whopping 53 percent of the trade that year.  Last year saw the U.S. on pace to deliver more than $46 billion in foreign arms sales. Who says America isn’t number one anymore?

For a shopping list of our arms trades, try searching the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute database for arms exports and imports. It reveals that, in 2010, the U.S. exported “major conventional weapons” to 62 countries, from Afghanistan to Yemen, and weapons platforms ranging from F-15, F-16 and F-18 combat jets to M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Cobra attack helicopters (sent to our Pakistani comrades) to guided missiles in all flavors, colors, and sizes: AAMs, PGMs, SAMs, TOWs — a veritable alphabet soup of missile acronyms. Never mind their specific meaning: They’re all designed to blow things up; they’re all designed to kill.

Rarely debated in Congress or in U.S. media outlets is the wisdom or morality of these arms deals. During the quiet last days of December 2011, in separate announcements whose timing could not have been accidental, the Obama Administration expressed its intent to sell nearly $11 billion in arms to Iraq, including Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter-bombers, and nearly $30 billion in F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, part of a larger, $60 billion arms package for the Saudis.  Few in Congress oppose such arms deals since defense contractors provide jobs in their districts — and ready donations to Congressional campaigns.

Let’s pause to consider what such a weapons deal implies for Iraq.  Firstly, Iraq only “needs” advanced tanks and fighter jets because we destroyed their previous generation of the same, whether in 1991 during Desert Shield/Storm or in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Secondly, Iraq “needs” such powerful conventional weaponry ostensibly to deter an invasion by Iran, yet the current government in Baghdad is closely aligned with Iran, courtesy of our invasion in 2003 and the botched occupation that followed. Thirdly, despite its “needs,” the Iraqi military is nowhere near ready to field and maintain such advanced weaponry, at least without sustained training and logistical support provided by the U.S. military.

As one U.S. Air Force officer who served as an advisor to the fledging Iraqi Air Force, or IqAF, recently worried:

“Will the IqAF be able to refuel its own aircraft? Can the Iraqi military offer adequate force protection and security for its bases? Can the IqAF provide airfield management services at its bases as they return to Iraqi control after eight years under US direction? Can the IqAF ensure simple power generation to keep facilities operating? Will the IqAF be able to develop and retain its airmen?… Only time will tell if we left [Iraq] too early; nevertheless, even without a renewed security agreement, the USAF can continue to stand alongside the IqAF.”

Put bluntly: We doubt the Iraqis are ready to field and fly American-built F-16s, but we’re going to sell them to them anyway. And if past history is a guide, if the Iraqis ever turn these planes against us, we’ll blow them up or shoot them down — and then (hopefully) sell them some more.

Our Best Arms Customer

Let’s face it: the weapons we sell to others pale in comparison to the weapons we sell to ourselves  In the market for deadly weapons, we are our own best customer. Americans have a love affair with them, the more high-tech and expensive, the better. I should know. After all, I’m a recovering weapons addict.

Well into my teen years, I was fascinated by military hardware. I built models of what were then the latest U.S. warplanes: the A-10, the F-4, the F-14, -15 and -16, the B-1, and many others. I read Aviation Week and Space Technology at my local library to keep track of the newest developments in military technology.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, I went on to major in mechanical engineering in college and entered the Air Force as a developmental engineer.

Enamored as I was by roaring afterburners and sleek weaponry, I also began to read books like James Fallows’s ”National Defense” (1981) among other early critiques of the Carter and Reagan defense buildup, as well as the slyly subversive and always insightful “Augustine’s Laws” (1986) by Norman Augustine, later the CEO of Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin. That and my own experience in the Air Force alerted me to the billions of dollars we were devoting to high-tech weaponry with ever-ballooning price tags but questionable utility.

Perhaps the best example of the persistence of this phenomenon is the F-35 Lightning II. Produced by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 was intended to be an “affordable” fighter-bomber (at roughly $50 million per copy), a perfect complement to the much more expensive F-22 “air superiority” Raptor. But the usual delays, cost overruns, technical glitches and changes in requirements have driven the price tag of the F-35 up to $160 million per plane, assuming the U.S. military persists in its plans to buy 2,400 of them. (If the Pentagon decides to buy fewer, the cost-per-plane will soar into the F-22 range.) By recent estimates the F-35 will now cost U.S. taxpayers (you and me, that is) at least $382 billion for its development and production run.  Such a sum for a single weapons system is vast enough to be hard to fathom. It would, for instance, easily fund all federal government spending on education for the next five years.

The escalating cost of the F-35 recalls the most famous of Norman Augustine’s irreverent laws: “In the year 2054,” he wrote back in the early 1980s, “the entire defense budget will [suffice to] purchase just one aircraft.” But the deeper question is whether our military even needs the F-35, a question that’s rarely asked and never seriously entertained, at least by Congress, whose philosophy on weaponry is much like King Lear’s: “O, reason not the need.”

But let’s reason the need in purely military terms.  These days, the Air Force is turning increasingly to unmanned drones. Meanwhile, plenty of perfectly good and serviceable “platforms” remain for attack and close air support missions, from F-16s and F-18s in the Air Force and Navy to Apache helicopters in the Army.  And while many of our existing combat jets may be nearing the limits of airframe integrity, there’s nothing stopping the U.S. military from producing updated versions of the same. Heck, this is precisely what we’re hawking to the Saudis — updated versions of the F-15, developed in the 1970s.

Because of sheer cost, it’s likely we’ll buy fewer F-35s than our military wants but many more than we actually need. We’ll do so because Weapons ‘R’ Us. Because building ultra-expensive combat jets is one of the few high-tech industries we haven’t exported (due to national security and secrecy concerns), and thus one of the few industries in the U.S. that still supports high-paying manufacturing jobs with decent employee benefits.  And who can argue with that?

The Ultimate Cost of Our Merchandise of Death

Clearly, the U.S. has grabbed the brass ring of the global arms trade.  When it comes to investing in militaries and weaponry, no country can match us. We are supreme.  And despite talk of modest cuts to the Pentagon budget over the next decade, it will, according to President Obama, continue to grow, which means that in weapons terms the future remains bright.  After all, Pentagon spending on research and development stands at $81.4 billion, accounting for an astonishing 55 percent of all federal spending on R&D and leaving plenty of opportunity to develop our next generation of wonder weapons.

But at what cost to ourselves and the rest of the world?  We’ve become the suppliers of weaponry to the planet’s hotspots.  And those weapons deliveries (and the training and support missions that go with them) tend to make those spots hotter still — as in hot lead.

As a country, we seem to have a teenager’s fascination with military hardware, an addiction that’s driving us to bust our own national budgetary allowance. At the same time, we sell weapons the way teenage punks sell fireworks to younger kids: for profit and with little regard for how they might be used.

Sixty years ago, it was said that what’s good for General Motors is good for America. In 1955, as Bob Seger sang, we were young and strong and makin’ Thunderbirds. But today we’re playing a new tune with new lyrics: What’s good for Lockheed Martin or Boeing or [insert major-defense-contractor-of-your-choice here] is good for America.

How far we’ve come since the 1950s!

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William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel. He has taught cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy, officers at the Naval Postgraduate School, and currently teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He is the author of “Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism,” among other books. He may be reached at wastore@pct.edu.  More William Astore