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The Pentagon Gong Show


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It should be clear that the Global War on Terror (GWOT) launched by George W. Bush and perpetuated by Barack Obama is a bust. It is now the longest war in US history; it is now the second most expensive war in US history; and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Yet despite the GWOT’s astronomical cost, forces deployed and combat tempos are minuscule when compared the those of the far lower cost Viet Nam War. Nevertheless, the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Pentagon are whining to Congress that these tepid tempos have created a looming readiness crisis. They assert the relatively small cutbacks in the future growth implied by the budget caps of Budget Control Act of 2011 to what is by far the largest defense budget in the world is now the “gravest strategic danger” facing the United States!

A logical person, living in a sane world, would think that the GWOT, its high cost, its clearly broken nature, and the huge size of the defense budget would be major issues in the 2016 Presidential election. But the presidential candidates and the mainstream media, like the Pentagon, are silent on this surreal travesty. Indeed, the pathologies of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) are as much off limits in contemporary political discourse as is foul language is at holy communion. 

In part, that is due to the fact that lots of people and a substantial part of our nation’s economy are benefitting — i.e., the are becoming rich and powerful — from living off the MICC’s degenerating status quo. One metric of this obscene transfer wealth can be seen in the proliferation of MICC-related “McMansions” in and around "Versailles on the Potomac". Sustaining the money flow through the MICC requires ornaments of success to compensate for and distract attention from its glittering if depressing reality. The proliferation of American flags in politicians lapels and on car bumpers, suggesting uncritical patriotism and triumphalism, is one example. Fantasies dressed up in powerpoint briefings about ever emerging technical revolutions, implying the future will be different from the past, are yet other examples of how ornaments prop up a dysfunctional reality in contemporary discourse.

My long time friend and partner in crime, James P. Stevenson, has just written an essay analyzing yet another, little examined set of visual aids propping up the surrealism of the MICC. His subject is the proliferation of glittering “been there, done that” decorations now adorning the chests our senior military officers.

Jim proves his point (1) by making an elegantly simple comparison of the gongs adorning the chests of today’s generals to those that adorned the chests of the World War II generals — a war which historians may remember as our last “successful” war (thanks in large part to the enormous contributions of the Soviet Union) and (2) by showing how today’s gong show highlights individual careerism and vanity while degrading the recognition of heroism and self sacrifice.

To be sure, as Jim is at pains to point out, gong proliferation did not begin with the GWOT, but it has grown over time. But I would add, like the MICC (and the MICC’s McMansions), which also evolved slowly and insensibly over time, gong proliferation, especially in the highest ranks, metastasized during the GWOT. 

Think of Stevenson's article as yet another metaphor for the Defense Death Spiral and yet another canary in the coal mine warning us of decay within.

Reprinted with permission from The Blaster.
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