Friday, May 8, 2020

Galbraith's How to Control the Military, Still Relevant Today In Many Ways

At the end of his second term President Dwight D. Eisenhower shared, in his parting address to the nation, a word of warning about "the military industrial complex."

Just under a decade later, the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus at Harvard University and past president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a short volume titled How to Control the Military, a succinct 65 page book aimed at underscoring the same theme.

Galbraith was the author of thirty-one books over a period of three decades, including The Affluent Society, The Good Society, and The Great Crash. According to his Wikipedia bio, "He has been awarded honorary degrees from Harvard, Oxford, the University of Paris, and Moscow University, and in 1997 he was inducted into the Order of Canada and received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2000, at a White House ceremony, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts."

* * * *
The author's purpose in writing this book was to warn us that when the Vietnam War ends, the cost of peace will be even greater than this war because the Pentagon bureaucracy has a vested interest in growth. On page 16 he writes that the actions of the bureaucracy seldom are done in the best interest of the public, but "to serve the goals of the bureaucracy itself." This is why so many actions that the government takes seem to make no sense to the public at large.

This, of course, was spectacularly played out in Vietnam. He notes that when we try to understand how we got into that quagmire, "It was the result of a long series of steps taken in response to a bureaucratic view of the world--a view to which a President willingly or unwillingly yielded and which, until much too late, was unchecked by any legislative or public opposition."

A little further on he states, "What was essentially a civil war between the Vietnamese was converted into an international conflict with rich ideological portent for all mankind."

Alas, we told ourselves we were trying to. save the world. And who wouldn't want to be the good guys in that objective? "Most of the men responsibly involved accepted the myth in which they lived a part."

A couple pages later he writes, "But Vietnam was not the first time men were so captured--and the country suffered. Within the same decade there was the Bay of Pigs, now a textbook case of bureaucratic self-deception." (i.e. idiocy)

On page 57 Galbraith shared this insight as to why LBJ back down from going after a second term in office. "Suspicion of the military power in 1968 was the most important factor uniting the followers of Senators Kennedy, McCarthy and McGovern. Along with the specific and more important opposition to the Vietnam conflict, it helped to generate the opposition that persuaded Lyndon Johnson not to run.

He went on to state that it wasn't just Leftists and barefoot kids wearing flowers who were concerned about these things. Even right wingers like George Wallace were ringing alarm bells.

* * * *
Galbraith as a young man in 1944.
At another point in the book the author states that our democratic nation has deviated significantly from its Founders' vision of being a government "of the people." This notion, Galbraith says, is a myth. Now that the country is even larger, the bureaucratic systems are even more bloated. All efforts to trim the fat are met with such screams that you'd think we were torturing babies.

The current debacle in regards to the U.S. response to COVID-19 is not simply a matter of lack of preparedness. These massive inefficiency is simply the way bloated bureaucratic systems operate. IN THIS CASE, it's exacerbated by the fractured and somewhat hysterical political discourse generated by partisan politics and power games, misinformation, media manipulation and the unrestrained megaphone of social media.

* * * *
"Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."--Letter to John F. Kennedy

Well, if anything, our new war on coronavirus seems to be bearing this out. Everyone seems to say the same thing. "Don't blame me, blame them."

* * * *
Much more could be said about our current "empire" that includes colonies and military bases in 800 locations around the world. And why--if our presidents keep running on the platform promise to get us out of Afghanistan--are we still in Afghanistan. Who is really in control here?

That's enough for today. I have work to do.

* * * *
Do not be alarmed by simplification, complexity is often a device for claiming sophistication, or for evading simple truths.
--The Age of Uncertainty

No comments: