The Madness of U.S. Militarism
Where are today's Eisenhowers, Butlers, and Shoups?
As a teenager in the 1970s, I recall talking to my dad about fears of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. My dad took a broad view, suggesting that if U.S. and Soviet leaders were stupid enough to blow each other to smithereens, a billion Chinese people would be left to pick up the slack and move the world forward.
My dad was right about many things, but what he didn’t realize was that U.S. nuclear war plans (known as SIOPs) often called for the elimination of the USSR and China, even if China had had no involvement in events leading up to the war. Basically, the ruling U.S. nuclear war philosophy was: If you’re red, you’re dead.
Daniel Ellsberg wrote about this in his book, The Doomsday Machine. As I wrote in my review of that book:
“U.S. nuclear war plans circa 1960 envisioned a simultaneous attack on the USSR and China that would generate 600 million deaths after six months. As Ellsberg notes, that is 100 Holocausts. This plan was to be used even if China hadn’t directly attacked the U.S., i.e. the USSR and China were lumped together as communist bad guys who had to be eliminated together in a general nuclear war. Only one U.S. general present at the briefing objected to this idea: David M. Shoup, a Marine general and Medal of Honor winner, who also later objected to the Vietnam War.”
What’s truly startling is that only one U.S. military leader present, General David Shoup, objected to the SIOP that would lead to the death of 600 million people in six months. A decade later, scientists learned that such a huge nuclear exchange would likely cause a nuclear winter that would kill billions due to famine. Truly, the (few) living would envy the (many) dead.
Mention of David Shoup’s name leads me to this fine article: “The Marine Corps legend who tried to stop the Vietnam War,” by James Clark. Shoup was a remarkable American who helped to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 from escalating to a nuclear war. Once he retired from the Marines, he became a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and militarism in general, a worthy successor to General Smedley Butler.
I urge you to read Clark’s article on Shoup, who quotes Shoup’s hard-won wisdom here:
About the Vietnam War, Shoup said “I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own.”
In the Atlantic Monthly, Shoup, echoing the warning of Eisenhower about the military-industrial complex, wrote bluntly about America’s war culture and its anti-democratic nature:
Somewhat like a religion, the basic appeals of anti-Communism, national defense and patriotism provide the foundation for a powerful creed upon which the defense establishment can build, grow, and justify its cost. More so than many large bureaucratic organizations, the defense establishment now devotes a large share of its efforts to self-perpetuation, to justifying its organizations, to preaching its doctrines, to self-maintenance and management.
You would think that a Medal of Honor recipient who’d proved his bravery and patriotism at Tarawa during World War II would be immune from charges of being unpatriotic or weak on defense, but you’d be wrong.
Where are today’s Shoups among the U.S. military brass? Where are the leaders who are against genocidal nuclear war and who are willing to speak out against it? Where are the leaders who reject a new cold war with China and Russia? Where are the leaders with the courage to advocate for peace whenever possible in place of more and more war?
Have we fallen so far under the spell of militarism that America no longer produces leaders like Dwight Eisenhower, Smedley Butler, and David Shoup, generals who truly knew war, despised it, and wanted above all to put an end to it?
I watched a 1959 movie the other night. "On the beach" starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. It's kind of a romantic-apocalyptic movie. The plot is that there was a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere. Everybody died, either from the exchange or from the background radiation, which could kill you in a few days. Peck is the captain of a U.S. submarine and goes to Australia, which is temporarily safe because the northern and southern hemispheres are somewhat isolated from each other. Gardner is in Australia and Peck and Gardner have a fling for a couple of months before the radiation finally gets them too. Peck had a line from the movie saying that they never really understood how the war happened....... From Wikipedia: Researcher Andrew Bartlett noted: "The American government complained of Kramer's On the Beach (1959) that it inaccurately presented the threat of extinction from nuclear war because there were not then enough weapons to cause extinction." I would guess there are now though. So is that progress?
"Where are today’s Shoups among the U.S. military brass? Where are the leaders who are against genocidal nuclear war and who are willing to speak out against it? Where are the leaders who reject a new cold war with China and Russia? Where are the leaders with the courage to advocate for peace whenever possible in place of more and more war?"
Where indeed? I'm not sure that Eisenhower belongs on your, or anyone's list, of leaders principled and courageous enough to resist the pressure to threaten, attack, and bully the world through the medium of global militarism. World leaders are not the statesmen they used to be, and in fact they never were, with perhaps very scant exception. But now there is a lock on being able to choose such people as premiers and "lawmakers" (as they are laughingly called). You can't name one that isn't bought and paid for, and you can hardly name one that isn't embarrassingly stupid (that is to say, utterly lacking in phronesis). The voters in the Western version of "democracy" have no chance—and perhaps, in the end, no will, and certainly no skill—to rid themselves of rule by venial, and evil, morons. So that what they get, whether or not happily or under protest. I would say that the quality of "leadership" is at zero, except for the fact that it continues to decline. Can you imagine that in the UK they swapped out the idiot Boris Johnson for . . . Liz Truss. This is, by the way, not a left-right issue. As Mr. Astore has just recently pointed out there is no "left" in the US. And what to "left" and "right" mean today, anyway? But I digress. There are any number of sane people around who would like not to destroy the world and think that the world could be, and should be, a lovelier and more peaceful place than it is—people who (with great effort and sometimes at great cost) speak out. In general, none of those people are really classifiable as being "left" or "right", even though they are are rhetorically classified (and "smeared") as such. But the voices of those people have no effect on the loci of power or mastery of the world. Our "leaders" are devoid of phronsesis, but they are long on low cunning, vanity, greed, hate, ambition, and aggressiveness, and have, in concert, shaped a system that locks out from any position of leadership any individual that is not of their ilk. Principled, sane "mavericks" are not tolerated. So, Mr. Astore, the kind of people that you are looking for are around, but you'll never find them in the Halls of Power, and I think that there is nothing that we can do about it. Chomsky talks about "movements", but the public is inert; ain't gonna happen, so let's go have a beer.