America’s Supersized Military: “The Greatest Fighting Force in Human History”

Yves here. Retired lieutenant colonel William Astore explains how the American “greatest” military is certainly the porkiest despite not having won a war since World War II (and even then the Soviets did more of the fighting than the Allies). He then amplifies this observation by looking at the budget (to the extent that tells the story…recall the unaccounted for $21 trillion) and our grandiose ambitions.

By William J. Astore. Originally published at TomDispatch

In his message to the troops prior to the July 4th weekend, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin offered high praise indeed. “We have the greatest fighting force in human history,” he tweeted, connecting that claim to the U.S. having patriots of all colors, creeds, and backgrounds “who bravely volunteer to defend our country and our values.”

As a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel from a working-class background who volunteered to serve more than four decades ago, who am I to argue with Austin? Shouldn’t I just bask in the glow of his praise for today’s troops, reflecting on my own honorable service near the end of what now must be thought of as the First Cold War?

Yet I confess to having doubts. I’ve heard it all before. The hype. The hyperbole. I still remember how, soon after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush boasted that this country had “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known.” I also remember how, in a pep talk given to U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2010, President Barack Obama declared them “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.” And yet, 15 years ago at TomDispatch, I was already wondering when Americans had first become so proud of, and insistent upon, declaring our military the world’s absolute best, a force beyond compare, and what that meant for a republic that once had viewed large standing armies and constant warfare as anathemas to freedom.

In retrospect, the answer is all too straightforward: we need something to boast about, don’t we? In the once-upon-a-time “exceptional nation,” what else is there to praise to the skies or consider our pride and joy these days except our heroes? After all, this country can no longer boast of having anything like the world’s best educational outcomes, or healthcare system, or the most advanced and safest infrastructure, or the best democratic politics, so we better damn well be able to boast about having “the greatest fighting force” ever.

Leaving that boast aside, Americans could certainly brag about one thing this country has beyond compare: the most expensive military around and possibly ever. No country even comes close to our commitment of funds to wars, weapons (including nuclear ones at the Department of Energy), and global dominance. Indeed, the Pentagon’s budget for “defense” in 2023 exceeds that of the next 10 countries (mostly allies!) combined.

And from all of this, it seems to me, two questions arise: Are we truly getting what we pay so dearly for — the bestest, finest, most exceptional military ever? And even if we are, should a self-proclaimed democracy really want such a thing?

The answer to both those questions is, of course, no. After all, America hasn’t won a war in a convincing fashion since 1945. If this country keeps losing wars routinely and often enough catastrophically, as it has in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, how can we honestly say that we possess the world’s greatest fighting force? And if we nevertheless persist in such a boast, doesn’t that echo the rhetoric of militaristic empires of the past? (Remember when we used to think that only unhinged dictators like Adolf Hitler boasted of having peerless warriors in a megalomaniacal pursuit of global domination?)

Actually, I do believe the United States has the most exceptional military, just not in the way its boosters and cheerleaders like Austin, Bush, and Obama claimed. How is the U.S. military truly “exceptional”? Let me count the ways.

The Pentagon as a Budgetary Black Hole

In so many ways, the U.S. military is indeed exceptional. Let’s begin with its budget. At this very moment, Congress is debating a colossal “defense” budget of $886 billion for FY2024 (and all the debate is about issues that have little to do with the military). That defense spending bill, you may recall, was “only” $740 billion when President Joe Biden took office three years ago. In 2021, Biden withdrew U.S. forces from the disastrous war in Afghanistan, theoretically saving the taxpayer nearly $50 billion a year. Yet, in place of any sort of peace dividend, American taxpayers simply got an even higher bill as the Pentagon budget continued to soar.

Recall that, in his four years in office, Donald Trump increased military spending by 20%. Biden is now poised to achieve a similar 20% increase in just three years in office. And that increase largely doesn’t even include the cost of supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia — so far, somewhere between $120 billion and $200 billion and still rising.

Colossal budgets for weapons and war enjoy broad bipartisan support in Washington. It’s almost as if there were a military-industrial-congressional complex at work here! Where, in fact, did I ever hear a president warning us about that? Oh, perhaps I’m thinking of a certain farewell address by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961.

In all seriousness, there’s now a huge pentagonal-shaped black hole on the Potomac that’s devouring more than half of the federal discretionary budget annually. Even when Congress and the Pentagon allegedly try to enforce fiscal discipline, if not austerity elsewhere, the crushing gravitational pull of that hole just continues to suck in more money. Bet on that continuing as the Pentagon issues ever more warnings about a new cold war with China and Russia.

Given its money-sucking nature, perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that the Pentagon is remarkably exceptional when it comes to failing fiscal audits — five of them in a row (the fifth failure being a “teachable moment,” according to its chief financial officer) — as its budget only continued to soar. Whether you’re talking about lost wars or failed audits, the Pentagon is eternally rewarded for its failures. Try running a “Mom and Pop” store on that basis and see how long you last.

Speaking of all those failed wars, perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that they haven’t come cheaply. According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, roughly 937,000 people have died since 9/11/2001 thanks to direct violence in this country’s “Global War on Terror” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere. (And the deaths of another 3.6 to 3.7 million people may be indirectly attributable to those same post-9/11 conflicts.) The financial cost to the American taxpayer has been roughly $8 trillion and rising even as the U.S. military continues its counterterror preparations and activities in 85 countries.

No other nation in the world sees its military as (to borrow from a short-lived Navy slogan) “a global force for good.” No other nation divides the whole world into military commands like AFRICOM for Africa and CENTCOM for the Middle East and parts of Central and South Asia, headed up by four-star generals and admirals. No other nation has a network of 750 foreign bases scattered across the globe. No other nation strives for full-spectrum dominance through “all-domain operations,” meaning not only the control of traditional “domains” of combat — the land, sea, and air — but also of space and cyberspace. While other countries are focused mainly on national defense (or regional aggressions of one sort or another), the U.S. military strives for total global and spatial dominance. Truly exceptional!

Strangely, in this never-ending, unbounded pursuit of dominance, results simply don’t matter. The Afghan War? Bungled, botched, and lost. The Iraq War? Built on lies and lost. Libya? We came, we saw, Libya’s leader (and so many innocents) died. Yet no one at the Pentagon was punished for any of those failures. In fact, to this day, it remains an accountability-free zone, exempt from meaningful oversight. If you’re a “modern major general,” why not pursue wars when you know you’ll never be punished for losing them?

Indeed, the few “exceptions” within the military-industrial-congressional complex who stood up for accountability, people of principle like Daniel Hale, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, were imprisoned or exiled. In fact, the U.S. government has even conspired to imprison a foreign publisher and transparency activist, Julian Assange, who published the truth about the American war on terror, by using a World War I-era espionage clause that only applies to American citizens.

And the record is even grimmer than that. In our post-9/11 years at war, as President Barack Obama admitted, “We tortured some folks” — and the only person punished for that was another whistleblower, John Kiriakou, who did his best to bring those war crimes to our attention.

And speaking of war crimes, isn’t it “exceptional” that the U.S. military plans to spend upwards of $2 trillion in the coming decades on a new generation of genocidal nuclear weapons? Those include new stealth bombers and new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the Air Force, as well as new nuclear-missile-firing submarines for the Navy. Worse yet, the U.S. continues to reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first, presumably in the name of protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And of course, despite the countries — nine! — that now possess nukes, the U.S. remains the only one to have used them in wartime, in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Finally, it turns out that the military is even immune from Supreme Court decisions! When SCOTUS recently overturned affirmative action for college admission, it carved out an exception for the military academies. Schools like West Point and Annapolis can still consider the race of their applicants, presumably to promote unit cohesion through proportional representation of minorities within the officer ranks, but our society at large apparently does not require racial equity for its cohesion.

A Most Exceptional Military Makes Its Wars and Their Ugliness Disappear

Here’s one of my favorite lines from the movie The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” The greatest trick the U.S. military ever pulled was essentially convincing us that its wars never existed. As Norman Solomon notes in his revealing book, War Made Invisible, the military-industrial-congressional complex has excelled at camouflaging the atrocious realities of war, rendering them almost entirely invisible to the American people. Call it the new American isolationism, only this time we’re isolated from the harrowing and horrific costs of war itself.

America is a nation perpetually at war, yet most of us live our lives with little or no perception of this. There is no longer a military draft. There are no war bond drives. You aren’t asked to make direct and personal sacrifices. You aren’t even asked to pay attention, let alone pay (except for those nearly trillion-dollar-a-year budgets and interest payments on a ballooning national debt, of course). You certainly aren’t asked for your permission for this country to fight its wars, as the Constitution demands. As President George W. Bush suggested after the 9/11 attacks, go visit Disneyworld! Enjoy life! Let America’s “best and brightest” handle the brutality, the degradation, and the ugliness of war, bright minds like former Vice President Dick (“So?”) Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald (“I don’t do quagmires”) Rumsfeld.

Did you hear something about the U.S. military being in Syria? In Somalia? Did you hear about the U.S. military supporting the Saudis in a brutal war of repression in Yemen? Did you notice how this country’s military interventions around the world kill, wound, and displace so many people of color, so much so that observers speak of the systemic racism of America’s wars? Is it truly progress that a more diverse military in terms of “color, creed, and background,” to use Secretary of Defense Austin’s words, has killed and is killing so many non-white peoples around the globe?

Praising the all-female-crewed flyover at the last Super Bowl or painting rainbow flags of inclusivity (or even blue and yellow flags for Ukraine) on cluster munitions won’t soften the blows or quiet the screams. As one reader of my blog Bracing Views so aptly put it: “The diversity the war parties [Democrats and Republicans] will not tolerate is diversity of thought.”

Of course, the U.S. military isn’t solely to blame here. Senior officers will claim their duty is not to make policy at all but to salute smartly as the president and Congress order them about. The reality, however, is different. The military is, in fact, at the core of America’s shadow government with enormous influence over policymaking. It’s not merely an instrument of power; it is power — and exceptionally powerful at that. And that form of power simply isn’t conducive to liberty and freedom, whether inside America’s borders or beyond them.

Wait! What am I saying? Stop thinking about all that! America is, after all, the exceptional nation and its military, a band of freedom fighters. In Iraq, where war and sanctions killed untold numbers of Iraqi children in the 1990s, the sacrifice was “worth it,” as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once reassured Americans on 60 Minutes.

Even when government actions kill children, lots of children, it’s for the greater good. If this troubles you, go to Disney and take your kids with you. You don’t like Disney? Then, hark back to that old marching song of World War I and “pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile.” Remember, America’s troops are freedom-delivering heroes and your job is to smile and support them without question.

Have I made my point? I hope so. And yes, the U.S. military is indeed exceptional and being so, being #1 (or claiming you are anyway) means never having to say you’re sorry, no matter how many innocents you kill or maim, how many lives you disrupt and destroy, how many lies you tell.

I must admit, though, that, despite the endless celebration of our military’s exceptionalism and “greatness,” a fragment of scripture from my Catholic upbringing haunts me still: Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    I was reading the comments while watching a video today – perhaps Dima’s Military Summary – and one ex-American soldier said in them that when he was serving, that he told his friend that their weapons by world standards were nothing special. After the past coupla months in the Ukraine, he has been proven to be right. But then he went on to say that they could only win when when they had aerial superiority and he had a point. US troops have not had to fight under a hostile sky since way back in the early 50s. Ever since then, they have mostly had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted without fear of coming under aerial attack. The Brigade structure of the US reflects the expeditionary style of American war-fighting as are the weapons like the light-weight M-777 howitzer but now the war in the Ukraine has shown that Divisions are back again with a vengeance. The question remains if the US military will be able to adapt in the face of vested financial interests in keeping them the way that they are because it is so profitable.

    As for ‘the greatest fighting force in human history’, that would be the Romans.

    1. Joe Well

      “Air superiority” is a bloodless euphemism for killing people and destroying infrastructure far more than ground soldiers could, which is why Fallujah at the end of fighting looked a lot worse than anywhere in Ukraine.

      The fact that this is the basis of US military doctrine is horrifying.

      1. digi_owl

        In a sense USA is walking the same path that UK did after WW1.

        Thanks to the loss of so many soldiers, UK tried “air policing” of its empire. This by first dropping warning pamphlets on a uppity village. And if the warning was not heeded, bombed the same village flat.

        Only diff now if that bombs are far bigger and more energetic, and the planes can carry more of them.

        1. Milton

          But the US has never suffered horrific casualties (excepting the Civil War) and going forward, never will. I don’t see any future engagement where large numbers of USians will be placed in harms way-especially when there are more than enough proxies to feed the near grinders.

    2. The Heretic

      Actually, I would say the Mongols under Genghis Khan, his two sons, and his great general Subotai (on par with Napoleon and superior to even Alexander the Great) were the greatest fighting force relative to their peers, that the world had ever seen. I would argue that even Alexander, using updated technology and tactics of 1200 AD, would have lost to them. (The Macedonians of 100 BC would be slaughtered fighting the Mongols of 1200 AD,)

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I nominate the Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin one of the greatest naval commanders in history, and I believe one of the most brilliant strategists.

  2. Sailor Bud

    Always remember another unspoken reason for giant militaries: pyramidal programming, or ‘suck up, kick down,’ as Lambert often writes about the PMC.

    In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, with the little book within the book, Theory and Practise of Oligarchic Collectivism, we have a perfect description of every social system ever, if we merely strip the Oceania-specific bits from it. In that book, it is Inner Party, Outer Party, and Proles.

    Military ranks are more Linnaean, but same concept. The person who kills the most, dies the most, takes the most crap from superiors, does the worst jobs, and sits in muddy ditches, also gets paid the least.

    Meanwhile, the generals sit in comparative comfort and luxury behind the lines, paid lavishly.

    If it made any sense, the pay scale would be exactly the reverse. The less risky, the lower the pay. Want to be a safe, desk-humping general? Okay, you get what is now private’s pay. Risk your life on the very vanguard of the line? Highest pay.

    There is even a peerage of sorts: officer and enlisted = titled and peasant.

    Perfect training for the world of authoritarianism, even in civilian life.

    1. redleg

      I mildly concur with the peerage analogue, but your concept of rank and risk misses a key piece: responsibility.
      Think of it like this:
      A Private is only responsible for the care, feeding, housing, training, and fighting of themselves and their personal gear. They have private responsibility.
      A Major is responsible for the care, feeding, housing, training, paying, and fighting of several hundred Privates, the units gear, and the units’ capital equipment. They have major responsibility.
      A General is responsible for the care, feeding, housing, training, and fighting for several thousand people, or scores of Majors and their collective charges. They have general responsibility.
      There’s a huge difference in responsibility.

      Further, the successfully engaging in combat takes vast amounts of training and material resources (with quantity generally being more important than quality when considering combat against a peer), of which the entire army of Privates have no control over but rely upon to ensure their survival. That’s the domain of Majors and Generals.
      Now I do agree that the US Flag Officer cadre (Generals and Admirals) does not appear to be of the highest quality, more interested in feathering their own nest than successfully leading their units. Getting a star is a political event, requiring congressional approval, so to me it’s not surprising that the Colonels and Captains best able to play the political game are by and large the ones getting promoted. This is also why so many of the retired officers are Colonels or Navy Captains.
      My $0.02

      1. Sailor Bud

        Well argued, but I still mostly disagree, and wonder what the system of promotion would do for militaries, if one were always losing money with the increased prestige and responsibility of treating ever more people below like dirt, as one rises ever higher in rank.

        I definitely disagree that a private only has a responsibility to themselves. A private has a responsibility to all his/her mates in combat, which is why they train for unit tactics and are encouraged to develop a sense of ‘esprit de corps.’ It is the point of ‘leave no man behind,’ and the horrid dangers of becoming a combat medic. One could even argue that they have the responsibility to protect the fat cats behind the lines.

        Still, I do see your point, and it’s a good one. Don’t let me throw it in the bin.

        When put through the filter of the ultimate message behind Paths of Glory, generals may not even care about the lives of those below them at all. Then again, the same movie shows a colonel who does. [shrug]

          1. The Rev Kev

            The late Lt. Colonel Hackworth had a lot of savage criticisms about the Army as he had started out as a private and worked his way up. He also said that the Army in his time was led by officers who quickly rose in the ranks in WW2 but who had not get to spend much time actually leading grunts on a low level as they were fast tracked too quickly.

            1. The Rev Kev

              You might want to look out for David Hackworth’s book “About Face” as well. It is an excellent book that relates his career from the end of WW2 to the end of Vietnam. After the war ended, he ducked down here to Oz for his own safety.

              1. Earl kirkman

                I read that book when it was published in the 9x’s? It talked of the perfumed princes of the officer corps. Sounded like the war coverage Thompson wrote from Vietnam.

        1. redleg

          Having served as a private, an NCO, and a commissioned officer, I unconditionally stand by my remarks. It’s the NCOs and officers that create the unit cohesion, the ‘esprit de corps’, through intense training, and that intense training is what allows people to do things, often incredible things, under unimaginable stress. That is the entire point of training, which is organized by the aforementioned Majors.
          Furthermore, one can look at how people respond to disasters to imagine how privates would self organize in combat. When a disaster strikes a neighborhood, people self organize into search and rescue parties (1). But the search and rescue activity is random, often with multiple groups searching the same area over and over while leaving whole blocks unsearched. That’s what a collection of privates looks like, believe me- Brownian motion even if they have the right intentions.

          (1) see this excellent compilation edited by Margaret R. O’Leary for a whole chapter on self-mobilization.

    1. Eustachedesaintpierre

      I think it is hard to compare but the destruction of 80 something percent of the Wehrmacht is something to write home about & according to David M. Glantz it could have been worse for the West as Stalin had parked a massive tank army in Ukraine just in case of trouble on the Elbe. Much more up close & personal with the Romans etc way before industrial warfare, but I would go with the Mongol horde’s shock & awe with what became the largest contiguous empire in history extending in one direction to Iraq which it apparently took 800 years to recover from ironically under Saddam Hussein.

      1. JonnyJames

        True, Genghis Khan and the Mongol armies for the pre-indusrial period. The Roman legions were also the most formidable for many years. Also, the Grande Armee under Napoleon was the largest and most successful fighting force for a time as well.

        1. Polar Socialist

          Oddly enough, all three were also designed to spread out into independent columns (tumen, legion, corps) to forage when enemies were absent and then suddenly pull together for the decisive battle when the enemy army was located and pinned.

          1. digi_owl

            War is won by logistics, from what i have read.

            Supposedly USA had 3 people handling supplies for each soldier in the field in Iraq.

            1. LifelongLib

              IIRC in modern armies it’s about 10 support soldiers for every combat soldier. The U.S. has tried to get around this by offloading a lot of support functions onto private contractors, but I haven’t read much about how well it works. It’s certainly more expensive.

              1. JCC

                As someone who spent a year and a half at Balad AirBase as an IT Contractor during the first 1.5 years of the War in Iraq, and served in the Army in Korea years ago, I can say with complete confidence that Haliburton did, on their best days, a so-so job.

                On their worst days, and there were plenty of them, they sucked in all facets of their supply responsibilities. And it cost the taxpayers a fortune.

            2. redleg

              Logistics and training win wars.
              Quality of weapons, tactics, and personnel wins battles but not wars.

              IMO the best General of the 20th century was a guy that hardly anyone knows about (William Slim), but was a grand master at training and logistics in addition to being a skilled tactician and a genuine leader.

              1. digi_owl

                The whole Asian land war of WW2 seem to have gone down a memory hole.

                Likely because Hollywood wants WW2 in the pacific to start with the “underhanded” attack on Pearl Harbor, and ends with “glorious” mushroom clouds over Japan.

        2. Eustachedesaintpierre

          JJ – Agreed on the Grand Armee which as with most European militaries was influenced by Frederick the Great’s reforms & Bonaparte was himself an artillery enthusiast ” It is with artillery that one makes war “. Those relatively basic changes according to historian William Dalrymple, gave European forces around a 10 year advantage over the sub-continent’s various militaries, resulting in the East India Companies very hostile takeover of what literally became the jewel in the crown of the British empire.
          Attilla & his Huns were pretty badass as well, severely weakening the Western Roman empire both financially & militarily. The Eastern empire would have likely have fallen but for the repairs to it’s famous walls being fixed by the equivalent of soccer hooligans, in the form of the opposing supporters of teams of chariot racers.

  3. whoamolly

    We apparently have a military designed to defeat the combined German, Japanese, and Italian armed forces of 1939 in 1 day.

  4. JonnyJames

    Agreed. One could easily argue that the largest, most effective military force was the Red Army 1943-45.(as mentioned above). Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR (Operation Barbarossa) was the largest land invasion in human history, the largest assembly of troops, tanks and hardware in history.

    The Red Army destroyed over 75% of the Werhmacht before June 1944. The USSR also sustained the largest casualties of soldiers and civilians. Stalin felt that the UK/US wanted to wait until Germany and the USSR destroyed themselves and then the “allies” could come and clean up, taking over most of Europe. From I recall, Churchill wanted that, so Stalin was not being paranoid in that case.

    The US DoD and Military Industrial Complex is so corrupt, that other countries can put together formidable military forces on a fraction of the US budget.

    1. Joe Well

      Wouldn’t the fact that the Red Army sustained so many casualties argue against its effectiveness?

      Didn’t Stalin hobble the military by executing so many of the military brass in the years just before the war? Or is that Western propaganda?

      I keep thinking of the scene in Stalingrad where they are handing out one gun to every two soldiers and saying when the first one dies, the second one takes the gun.

      1. Polar Socialist

        Majority of Red Army’s casualties occurred before 1943, so not really relevant on the claims after that point in time. On the other hand, that was the price the Red Army paid to learn how to efficiently implement the theories they had developed.

        Stalin actually didn’t execute that many officers, most were imprisoned and later released. A good argument can be made against the political officers hobbling the military, though.

        The movie Stalingrad is pure fantasy. Like totally pure fantasy. Anything depicted in it either did not happen, or happened completely differently.

      2. Samuel Conner

        I have the impression (part from past reading, part from writers like Big Serge) that the Russian higher unit commanders had to learn operational art “on the fly” in the first couple of years as there had been so much … attrition … among the higher ranks prior to the war. A lot of commanders were in charge of significantly larger formations than they were trained to command.

        Channeling Big Serge, the Russians won because they had much greater ability than the Germans to replace losses of men and equipment. (I think they also seriously overmatched the Germans in terms of quantity of artillery tubes and supplies of ammunition for them.)

        It kind of rhymes with the present Ukraine/NATO contest with Russia.

        The West isn’t prepared for industrial scale conventional warfare. Russia is.

      3. rkka

        “Wouldn’t the fact that the Red Army sustained so many casualties argue against its effectiveness?

        Didn’t Stalin hobble the military by executing so many of the military brass in the years just before the war? Or is that Western propaganda?”

        I think the Germans might have had something to do with it maybe?

        “Blitzkreig” happened in ‘39, ‘40, & ‘41 because of the tactical/technical revolution the Germans developed before the war. In the German Army information moved & decisions got made & supporting fires applied at the speed of radio. For their Soviet opponents, only battalion commanders or higher had them. Every German tank had a radio, while for the Soviets it was 1 in 10.

        The Anglo-French armies had the same problem in ‘40, as did the Poles in ‘39, and Stalin didn’t purge them, did he.

        I guess it satisfies the ideological priors of some to blame Stalin for what was a common Polish/Anglo-French/Soviet problem.

    2. Bruno

      Jonny James writes:
      “Stalin felt that the UK/US wanted to wait until Germany and the USSR destroyed themselves and then the “allies” could come and clean up.”
      Except for the USSR “destroying itself” that is not only something that Stalin “felt”–it was also something he absolutely insisted on. That is why he fully and enthusiastically supported the Anglo-American policy of all-out war (including genocidal bombing of German population centers) until the “Unconditional Surrender” of the German state, that policy whose sole purpose and effect was to preclude an internal overthrow and keep the Hitler regime in power and the holocaust going on until the Allied imperial armies could fully occupy a prostrate Germany and prevent the German proletariat from attempting any repeat of the post-WWI Revolution.

    3. Bruno

      Jonny James writes:
      “Stalin felt that the UK/US wanted to wait until Germany and the USSR destroyed themselves and then the “allies” could come and clean up.”
      Except for the USSR “destroying itself” that is not only something that Stalin “felt”–it was also something he absolutely insisted on. That is why he fully and enthusiastically supported the Anglo-American policy of all-out war (including genocidal bombing of German population centers) until the “Unconditional Surrender” of the German state, whose sole purpose and effect was to preclude an internal overthrow and keep the Hitler regime in power and the holocaust going on until the Allied imperial armies could fully occupy a prostrate Germany and prevent the German proletariat from attempting any repeat of the post-WWI Revolution.

    4. Arkady Bogdanov

      “Stalin felt that the UK/US wanted to wait until Germany and the USSR destroyed themselves and then the “allies” could come and clean up, taking over most of Europe. From I recall, Churchill wanted that, so Stalin was not being paranoid in that case.”
      Stalin was absolutely correct. There was a plan on the table for this. The US and UK planned to drag the other allies, plus co-opt the Nazi military, and roll straight on through Germany into the USSR. Fortunately for Stalin, the USSR very effectively destroyed the Nazi war machine, and at the very end of the war, US leadership looked at the Red Army in despair, and gave up the plan. The plan was called Operation Unthinkable, and is available at the National Archives website via a simple google search (I tried to add a link, but alas, I am ignorati- haha)

  5. Cristobal

    Sorry to say, but Mr. Astore´s piece (though well written and logical) is nothing new. We have heard it all before and know it now by heart. I once worked as a contractor on a small Air Force base owned by the ¨host country¨ at which the US had about 100 military, a handfull of American contractors, hundreds of foreign contractors, and many many millions in capital investment. Never having been in the militaary I was appalled at the incompetence, the ignorance, and the pointless busy work of the US officers ¨in charge¨. They were primarily concerned with sucking up to the moron ahead of them in the so called chain of command, and talking about some foreign concept called ¨leadership¨. Any actual decision was usually left to the foreign nationals and contractors. They were utterly wrapped up in complying with one assinine regulation or whatevver they called it after another that came down from on high. They were trying to be PMC, but they couldn´t even get that right. To these guys, (not that I have any first hand knowledge either), War was some kind of foggy concept off in the distance that would require them to double down on their laptops and crank out even more analyses and spreadsheets – especially Powerpoints for the next briefing.

    So whadda we gonna do about it? I really don´t know. What really needs to happen is for is for this rotting corpse to be handed its ass by the Russians, the Chinese, or whoever in such a convinccing fashion, and be so humiliated that the moribund public in the once great country will come to their senss and show the bums the door.

    1. ilsm

      we call them power point rangers.

      the ‘better’ float to the top…

      no compliment intend.

      in my work life I have been: military, federal civilian, contractor on base and employ of military contractors….

      I agree with your observations

      the things I did for money!

    2. Jams O'Donnell

      Sounds like many of the situations described in “On the Psychology of Military Incompetence’ by Norman F. Dixon. A book well worth reading even for those not concerned with the military.

    3. Anon

      It’s a bit like Sesame Street reciting our A, B, Cs. Perhaps we have graduated and have no need for these basics, but I still recall stumbling upon NC many years ago and marveling at the narrative; so do it for the kids. I do not share your desire to have this country’s “ass handed to it”. I understand that Russia and China do not have our interests any more at heart than the neocons, and any direct conflict will be an absolute sh*t-show that will leave wide scars on our collective psyche. Better to expend ourselves retooling for the existential challenges we face as a species, than on deciding who gets crowned king of the ash-heap.

    4. scott s.

      Yes, I get that your experience observing a foreign base with 100 personnel allows for a generalization about the entire military. Looking back at my career, I think of my tour as Chief Engineer of a 1200 psi steam warship where everyone from fireman deuce through master chief and my ensigns/lieutenants busted their tails day and night doing damn hard work so we could be ready to seek, engage, and sink soviet subs. Would we have been successful? No way to know, but we were there to die trying.

      1. Cristobal

        To clarify my comments, the few enlisted men and women I met were usually decent people who were trying to do their job (I hear that the Air Force is a lot slacker than the other branches). The real idiots were the offficers. In civilian life I have met with more than a few ex-high ranking military people, and the majority of them are (family blog) – arrogant. entitled, and not very bright.

        As to my belief (desire?) to see the mighty US military humiliated, it is not because I have anything against that country, which after all is (was?) my own. The only thing that makes an impression on our government is force, after all we are the non-agreement capable nation. As this post and the comments make clear, it is not possible to reform the national politcs in any other way. It has become a Fascist state. Harsh word I know, but we should face facts. Our current government checks all the boxes ( xenofobic, militaristic, corporatist, rampant economic inequality, racist, conquer the world, etc). The fact that it is not trying to exterminate the Jews is about the only thing that diferenciates it from its well known predecesor. After all, Allan Dulles was known to observe that during WW II we were fighting on the wrong side.

  6. ilsm

    uss gerry r ford cvn 78. may be on a real deployment at first!

    three of its arleigh burke missile destroyers are detach guarding a couple of landing ships with about 700 marines to look after iran shipping threats in persian gulf……

    not to worry gerry is at port call in athens and covered by usaf jets.

    not only is us navy most expensive the audit of big things like gerry class aircraft carriers and f-35 super fighters cannot happen because so many specifications are waived or never tested.

    and game changer weapons like f-16, and m-1 abrams tanks were bought by ronald reagan

    nearly a trillion a year and the fighter force cannot maintain budgeted readiness.

    pentagon has an arcane vocabulary with recondite adjectives to blab about its “value “

    1. digi_owl

      Interestingly the F-16 was meant as a cheap day time fighter, using the same engine as the F-15. But the air frame was flexible enough that external sensor pods and upgraded electronics kept expanding and improving its mission capabilities.

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        But at the end of the day, it is now more or less obsolete, and it could never compete with larger twin engined fighters. Good enough for export sales though.

        1. Paradan

          Why is an AIM-120 fired from a 2 engine aircraft more effective then one fired from a single engine aircraft?

          Also, the latest block of F-16 has the exact same radar as the shiny new 4.5 gen F-15X, and its a better radar then whats on current the SU-35.

          1. ABBR

            Altitude. The service ceiling of a twin engine aircraft is higher than that of a single engine aircraft. That means that the missile has more effective range, so an F-15 or similar could launch against an F-16 or similar and begin their defensive maneuvers (ironically usually diving to low altitude so the thicker atmosphere will rob incoming missiles of their energy, since they’ll be coasting at that point) while the F-16 will either have to continue flying into the incoming missiles and then fire or break off the engagement and go defensive.

            1. Paradan

              15000m vs 20000m, but if you fire a BVR at max range they turn and run and it never gets there. So you have to play BVR chicken, which means you’ll probably get within his max range, and so as soon as you shoot he will too, since he need to force you to go defensive. Doesnt really matter anyway since theres an f-35 off to your left and he fired 30 seconds ago using the guidance data from the f-16. Your TWR will cue you where to look any second now…

          2. ilsm

            in the 60’s the radars were larger, chip evolution got the radar’s size down to fit an f-16.

            the advantage of f-15 is two engine increase reliability the plane will fly the mission w/o flame-out and loss of aircraft/mission.

            the f100 p&w engine was marginal in two engine design dangerous in single…..

            interesting the image of invisible f-35’s with an engine as sad as the old f100!

            the plane has to get through the mission w/o a fault event.

            1. Polar Socialist

              The modern AESA radars are made from multiple tiny transmit/receive modules. Oddly enough, engineers can fit more of those elements into a bigger nose cone – not just because there’s more space for them, but also because those element require a lot of cooling.

              More elements means more power and more resolution. So for any given generation of radars, a bigger fighter will always have a better radar. It’s elementary physics.

              As one can’t shoot what you can’t see, the radar range is a limiting factor in BVR combat. That said, the Russian fighters do have the ability to get out of the dodge if and when they detect a long range shot – with their mach +2 performance they indeed can outrun missiles launched too far away.

              1. digi_owl

                Some recent reading suggests also that Russia has focused more on active jamming of radars.

                Supposedly a F-35 flying over the Baltic sea had a close encounter with a SU of recent vintage that made the F-35’s radar glitch out repeated.

    2. Steven A

      During the F-16’s design phase the Air Force solicited input from maintainers and others who would be responsible for keeping it flying. The result was a more reliable airframe, but not necessarily the engine. The F100 engine, which also powers the F-15, had to be “tuned down” twice because of overheating problems.

      One very small nit to pick: the F-16 went into service in August, 1978, about 2 1/2 years before Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.

      1. ilsm

        reagan (build up) bought lots of f-16 (and replaced a few a-10 units with them), upgraded them and sent a large number of f-16 and a-10 to the guard and reserve…..

        the f100 engine was a reliability issue, which cause the usaf to finish the ge f110 engine design and begin to deploy new production f16 with ge engines….. an acquisition debacle similar to the bradley fighting vehicle.

        engine spare status for f16 remains ‘difficult’ to this day. contributing to us’ tactcal aviation to be below program for years.

        that said if f35 were not late to program most f16 would be retired.

    3. scott s.

      Well, obviously you can thank Rumsfeld for “transformation” which screwed so much up. Out here on Oahu a lot was spent on infrastructure for “stryker brigades”, only to have subsequent administration say “never-mind” and go back to light infantry. They did restore DivArty and Sustainment Brigades to beef up divisions. Meanwhile a local guy Shinseki got fired for wanting to buy more self-propelled artillery, which as we know there is absolutely no need for on the modern battlefield.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Remember that General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord quote?

        ‘I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90% of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.’

        That last one was Rumsfeld. Stupid and diligent.

      2. NotTimothyGeithner

        Shinseki spent too much time on uniforms. He should have been fired. There is no need to rationalize that doofus.

        1. sinbad66

          Ironically, the only thing he got right was, when he testified before Congress and was asked how many troops it would take to occupy Iraq, he said, at a minimum, 300-400k and Gin Rummy laughed him off.

  7. Donald

    The depressing thing is that there is a bipartisan consensus on all this, with the only debate being which party is “ tougher”, as we see with the Democrats so eager to label Republicans as Putinists and Republicans blaming Democrats for being soft on both Russia and China.

    My experience with liberals, both online and in real life, is that in general there is a weird disconnect between what they say they believe and the politicians they enthusiastically support, but with foreign policy, the disconnect is less, because they so obviously don’t care who we kill overseas except, in rare cases, when they think they can blame it entirely on Republicans. Even then, there was orders of magnitude more concern about Russiagate than about , say, the destruction of Raqqa and Mosul.

  8. Rip Van Winkle

    It WAS probably the force Yamamoto was talking about ~ 80 years ago. Now, behind every blade of grass is a leaf blower.

  9. Susan the other

    The military has become incapable of positive change. And the odious anachronistic politicians like Nancy Pelosi are not getting out of the way. That’s not good. The MICC needs new inspiration, maybe a few slightly delusional evangelists for a good cause. We humans compartmentalize war mentally because it’s basically mass murder so that we fail to even see all the blood, waste, pollution, grift and corruption. “It’s for the children.” To change those denied consequences we do have to look at them. Too bad we are all so nuts we need some grand delusion to get us going. Look at all those stupid suicidal Nazis. The fact is, there is lots of human and environmental potential built into the military. But it is being squandered, hand over fist.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      You could have an environmental intervention force, a natural disaster intervention force, plus still have enough left over for a new high speed rail network, a new electricity transmission network, free health care, a defence force and probably a lot more, for the price of the current MIC.

  10. John9

    One of my favorite ways to piss off the senior NCO’s and officers waaay back in 1969 was to announce that I thought social welfare services were a good thing, I just thought the Defense Department was a poor way to administer them.
    And that gets to the root of the problem. We are stuck with this setup until the military is hit with a crushing defeat, which will then kick in the nuclear annihilation or Overshoot, with it’s various catastrophes, kicks in another type of annihilation. Too many rice bowls depend on the existing setup to change much of anything.
    The hubris, the stupidity, and the fraud will take it all down.
    Note that the suck up generals are the ones on deadstream media, the truthtellers who never made it to full colonel are for the alternate media. And of course, no one listens to the cannon fodder pfc proles.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      This is it. The rich need to praise the MIC to justify the profiteering, and the West Virginian Detroit types are simply seeing a vaguely functioning society.

  11. Stephen

    I think the article pinpoints the root causes.

    Making war is very easy if you can always stage it in other countries, you do not need to mobilise the home population to suffer hardship and your own casualties are close to zero.

    Ukraine is simply the culmination of a trend towards proxy war since WW2. It is the ultimate expression of that but consistent with the other wars in the sense that the majority of “allied” deaths were not American or other western ones.

    History will look back on the 1990 to approx 2015 period of US power as similar to the imperial era of the nineteenth century when the colonial powers waged relatively effortless wars throughout the world. But we now know that the US military is a paper tiger, other than its nuclear ability to destroy the world.

  12. Jeremy Grimm

    The u.s. Military represents a most wondrous conduit for feeding government money into private hands. The cash flows to the MIC are to dream about. The u.s. Military is one of the most effective tools for private enrichment from government funds ever invented. It truly is exceptional. Hugh amounts of money flow with the most minimal oversight and tracked by some of the most remarkable accounting ever invented.

    The author of this post complains that “After all, America hasn’t won a war in a convincing fashion since 1945.” The post World War II u.s. Military never intended to achieve victory on the battlefield. To achieve a victory it is necessary to first define what constitutes a victory. I believe the operative though unstated definition of ‘victory’ has been accomplished beyond all expectation. The many u.s. wars have been great victories in transferring government money and power into Military hands. The actions in these wars have helped train an entire generation of police officers to control the restive u.s. population and maintain growing military expenditures. The battlefield has nothing to do with u.s. military victories.

    However, I believe one area that needs both tactical and strategic innovation is the military’s failures in constraining the loose cannons of government politicians. Some wars make no sense as conduits for funding lines and could lead to casualties in the officer ranks. Politicians are too insensitive to the qualities that make for a good war. The current plays against Russia and China are most unwise. They may have depleted NATO weapon inventories creating future demand for new weapons but the demonstrated inferiority of NATO weapons, tactics, and strategy undermine future sales of u.s. weapons to NATO and other powers. They may have been very lucrative for certain elements of the MIC in the short run, but they seriously undermine future NATO international expansion. The Biden administration and its Neocons have demonstrated complete ignorance of MIC goals and policy aims. The 2024 elections may be very interesting indeed as the MIC sifts through the chaff for a champion they can rely upon.

    I have particular qualms about this post’s suggestion that “this country’s military interventions around the world kill, wound, and displace so many people of color”, disproportionate numbers of people of color. This suggestion is odious. This may be true for the most recent wars but I believe the u.s. Military and MIC are fully 100% neutral about the peoples they kill and maim. Any disproportion is purely an artifact of the smaller number of non-colored peoples available to kill. This is a problem the Ukrainian war is making heroic efforts to remedy. The u.s. Military believes in equal opportunity death for civilians. So pack up your troubles and bend over to meet the surviving and physically unscathed non-promotable military personnel serving and protecting as police officers dominating our streets and suburbs in the u.s.s.a.

    1. Cristobal

      Fabulous!!! I was a little concerned for a while, but when I got to the end I laughed out loud.

    2. Barnabas Path

      Excellent edifiction to an excellent article. Thank you. Not many are recognizing that the militarization of our local police is the kettle thermometer that should be alerting the frog enjoying his hot bath.

  13. Bill Malcolm

    There are reportedly 700 to 800 overseas US military bases. The latest is the virtual takeover of the Darwin area in the Northern Territory of Australia under AUKUS. Gotta be ready for the Chinese hordes arriving en masse bent on sheep raids to the south, I guess. The Aussies couldn’t possibly defend themselves, so America is there to defend democracy, or some damn thing. And there’s another US agglomeration in coastal Queensland, where an Abrams tank recently fell off a trailer at a red light and crushed seven civilian vehicles, mostly trucks themselves. Ask yourself — what is an Abrams tank doing in Oz in the first place? — I can think of not one good reason. Invasion by Papua New Guinea or rampant enraged Kiwis in a land war? Or is China actually a threat to land actual troops in the paranoid US military mind? Delusional fantasy seems to reign supreme at the Pentagon.

    Those 800 bases, large and small, have to be equipped, supplied and paid for. Add the myriad bases at home plus the Navy and Air Force. Talk about huge fixed overhead costs! Buying new gear with what’s left over, if any, in the approved budget after that goes to the arms makers for shinytoys of war. The budget isn’t really big enough for all these luxuries and local enforcer bases around the world, like Okinawa and South Korea and the entire island of Diego Garcia, and on and on and on and on. Plus also paying private contractors for something or other. So the Pentagon in reality way overspends and fails financial audits, hides the overages somehow. Who in hell actually approves and signs checks for the total including overages? Surely the government can add up its expenditures and knows the total that officially left its accounts. If not, where does the unknown money come from if trillions are unaccounted for? Nobody apparently knows or isn’t telling. But there’s a return on the lending investment capital somehow obtained from private sources, or there’d be a big squawk. Living beyond your already exorbitant means has to be paid for somehow — lack of maintenanace is what I’ve read, manifestly obvious in rusty ships. That and the magic genie. The whole thing is bizarre from beginning to end.

    1. MJ the covid spreader

      As an Australian, it’s easy to understand. Australians dig up the wealth, the Chinese pay for it, and the Americans take the profit.

    2. Kilgore Trout

      One possibility for off the books funding of CIA activities is drug smuggling. It may be chump change compared to the trillion dollars spent overall, but I’m sure they put every illicit dollar earned to “good” use. I don’t think there is any reason to think such activities on their part have diminished since the 1970s.

  14. Victor Sciamarelli

    It’s not enough to characterize the US military as expensive and failing. Rather, in my opinion, it’s necessary to change the perception people have of the military.
    No doubt everyone is aware how the word ‘appeasement,’ which characterized the 1938 Munich Agreement, has been weaponized to thwart criticism of the MIC. The remarkable thing is the lesson of Munich is expected to be adopted only by Americans.
    Thus, nobody suggests, or seems capable of imagining, that Russia or China should stop appeasing the US and take a firm stand against US/NATO expansion and interference before freedom and sovereignty dies because if you allow the US to dominate one country it will soon dominate them all.
    Hitler was appeased. Thus, they say, don’t repeat the same mistake with Biden.
    The US is arguably the biggest threat to world peace. It is a big pill to swallow but much of the world already thinks it’s true.
    Lastly, the US did not lose in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam in the sense of being defeated and forced to accept terms of surrender. Instead, it was exposed as a criminal invader because it never understood the blunt words of Ho Chi Minh, “So long as the US army of aggression still remains on our soil, our people will resolutely fight against it.”

  15. Felix_47

    So much dysfunction is hard to understand and I deployed in combat in Iraq twice and Afghanistan twice. Our junior officers and enlisted are generally very good, and function at a much higher level than the average member of American society. And the promotion pyramid is brutal at the higher levels and at the top command levels the promotions are done by Congress. And power corrupts as we see with people like Petraeus who would be successful anywhere in American society. And these issues are hardly confined to the military since the health care monstrosity and the legal system are very similar. The root cause seems to be a political system that fails to respond to what the people want…..if they know… Jefferson advised against an ignorant electorate suggesting it would destroy the democracy and a literacy test for voting might be a good thing. It might not root out ignorance but being unable to read at a certain level due to lack of education or dementia or retardation would largely suggest a higher incidence of ignorance.

  16. MFB

    The Onion, in Our Dumb Century, had a nice historical piece about the U.S. defeat in Vietnam — with Gerald Ford signing the instrument of surrender in the White House and then being led off to a re-education camp.

    If something like that had happened, perhaps the U.S. military might have reformed itself. Although, realistically, look at all the pro-Confederacy loons still infesting the U.S. a hundred and sixty years after Appomaddox.

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