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Issue #1739      July 13, 2016

Culture & Life

Air power run amok

In WW2, the USA – at the urging of President Franklin D Roosevelt – made itself “the arsenal of democracy”. Ever since, the US economy (contrary to FDR’s wishes) has been inextricably geared to – and dependent on – war for its well being. Not surprisingly, the US has waged virtually non-stop, “continuous” war from the end of WW2 to today.

They successfully intervened on the side of reaction in the civil wars in Greece and the Philippines. Emboldened, they sought to “roll back Communism” by provoking a full-scale war in Korea. During the Korean War, the US dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on tiny North Korea, as well as 32,557 tons of napalm. Retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel William J Astore, writing in TomDispatch, notes that this is equivalent in explosive yield to “40 Hiroshima bombs”.

But although the US bombing campaign levelled North Korea’s cities and destroyed the dams on the Yalu River that provided the country (and northern China) with hydro-electricity, it failed to win the war against determined Korean and Chinese ground troops. Even more importantly, all those thousands of tons of bombs and napalm were paid for out of the US public purse. The richest nation on Earth was now ensnared in a process of impoverishment brought on by an arms race of its own devising.

Fought to an ignominious stalemate in Korea, agreeing to a truce at roughly the position where the war had begun, the US – desperate for more sources of war expenditure – shifted its attention to the conflict in Indo-China, where the forces of French imperialism had just been soundly whipped. US intervention saw the Vietnam War steadily escalate year by year until it too was consuming vast amounts of money and materiel.

Lieutenant Colonel Astore again: “American air power bombed, strafed, and sprayed with defoliants virtually everything that moved (and much that didn’t) in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A staggering seven million tons of bombs, the equivalent in explosive yield to more than 450 Hiroshimas, were dropped in the name of defeating Communism. ... The North Vietnamese, with modest ground-fire defences, limited surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and a few fighter jets, were hopelessly outclassed in the air. Nonetheless, just as in Korea, widespread American bombing and air superiority, while generating plenty of death and destruction, didn’t translate into victory.” In fact, US imperialism ultimately suffered an utterly ignominious defeat in Vietnam.

Since then, as the planes have become faster and the payloads bigger, the US air force has laid waste whole countries, from the Middle East to Central America, but except against small defenceless countries, victory continues to elude it. The US military was able to invade tiny Grenada and crush its progressive government, but elsewhere – eg in Ukraine and Moldova – it has had to rely on subversion and corruption (as in Brazil) for even partial success.

In fact, contrary to the almost non-stop propaganda about the might of the American military, in Astore’s words: “Something’s gone terribly wrong with Washington’s soaring dreams of air power and what it can accomplish”. This should not come as a surprise, however. After all, it’s happened before. In the 1950s, US air force General Curtis LeMay and other dedicated anti-communists created the Strategic Air Command (SAC) made up of long-range bombers armed with city-busting thermonuclear weapons.

They ringed the USSR with these nuclear bombers constantly on high alert to attack and destroy the USA’s socialist “enemy”. Building and maintaining this fleet of giant bombers cost the US economy a fortune which was justified by an avalanche of propaganda about a supposed “Soviet threat”. Fortunately for us all, Soviet diplomacy was able to forestall the rush to nuclear war until they had developed the means to render long-range nuclear bombers obsolete: the inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The threat contained in the global US bomber fleet and its aggressive deployment was replaced by the delicate balance encompassed within the acronym, MAD (mutually assured destruction). Starting a nuclear war was no longer such a good bet.

However, the USA’s military industrial complex was and remains committed to a constant massive arms build-up. Much of the country’s economy depends on it, despite the draining impact of such waste. If the money spent on the military was applied to peaceful production and services, the US standard of living would really become the envy of the world.

However, instead of building prefabricated houses for the hordes of homeless people in the US, or electric cars and busses to cut the production of greenhouse gasses, or showing the world how to go over to green energy while phasing out the use of fossil fuels, the US war-oriented economy maintains at least three active production lines just for the manufacture of jet fighters (one solely for export).

US propagandists tell their people (and the rest of the world) that US air power keeps the American people safe. A cynic might say that its prime purpose is to keep American investments safe, but that would surely be unkind. True, US air power has devastated countries from Libya to Syria to Afghanistan and beyond, but the American people are less safe now than they ever were.

In fact, the devastation and suffering inflicted on countries the US perceived as standing in the way of its global economic dominance has bred a generation of desperate young people devoid of hope for the future. They are fertile recruiting grounds for religious extremists looking for potential suicide bombers.

Nevertheless, as Astore notes: “From Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, dropping bombs and firing missiles has been the presidentially favoured way of ‘doing something’ against an enemy. Air power is, in a sense, the easiest thing for a [US] president to resort to and, in our world, has the added allure of the high-tech. It looks good back home.”

But as air power has become ever more hideously expensive, the USA’s bloated military budget continues to impoverish the country while it seeks an illusory military advantage.

But that’s capitalism really, isn’t it: destructive, greedy and ultimately bad for you.

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