“The United States provide the majority of security on earth. What would the world look like without that security? Would South Korea exist? Would they be selling us Hyundais and Kias? Would Taiwan exist? How would the Cold War have ended? Would Germany still be divided? Who would control the largest known oil reserves on earth? Would Israel exist? The armed forces of the United States guarantee certain conditions on planet Earth, conditions with which much of the Western world is happy. It is worth considering what the world would look like without them.”
Those words come from a review by Adrian Lewis (U-Kansas) than damns with faint praise a book called State of War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1945–2011, by Paul Koistinen (Calstate-Northridge). Koistinen describes the rise of the national security state in the United States. He does not quite call the defense industry a “vampire squid,” but he does write: “The [defense] industry became characterized by inefficiency, waste, and corruption; defense contractors too often turned out defective or failed weapons and equipment. Over time, massive expenditures for defense have had a very deleterious effect on the economy. … Of crucial significance … DOD budgets have distorted public priorities and spending, denying adequate attention and resources to infrastructure, education, medical care, and other public services and interests.”
But Koistinen, like a lot of liberal critics, acts as though the national security state came out of nowhere and survives for no reason other than its ability to lobby. Lewis acerbically points out that Koistinen needs two more chapters. One should explain why the American people “continuously put into office political leaders who sustain the Military-Industrial Complex, and who, after the Vietnam War, failed to show up to fight.” The second should describe the threats that the national security state evolved to confront. The pithy paragraph opening this post comes from that second proposed chapter.
Lewis actually saves his final one-two punch for the end. It is a doozy: “I will recommend this book to some of my graduate students. There are a few points, however, with which I strongly disagree; for example: ‘Although the armed forces had acquired some new weapons and equipment, the military as a whole appeared to be in no better shape in 1989 than it had been in 1981’ (p. 29). Having served in the Army throughout this period, though, I know this is just not true.”
In short, State of War seems pretty mediocre, but Adrian Lewis has pithily penned one of the best and most succinct briefs in favor of the American empire (at least as it behaved until 1991) that I have read in a long time.