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While debate over the Paulson bailout package dominated the headlines, the US Congress quietly passed a landmark $615 billion defense spending bill. One of the few people to comment on the measure was Chalmers Johnson, in his article “We have the money.” Chalmers explains to Real News Network’s Senior Editor Paul Jay how the military-industrial complex is a driving force behind the current financial crisis and a determinant of much of what happens in Washington. He also criticizes the omission of the military-industrial complex from the political discourse determined by the two major parties and the media.

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Bailout-sized budget for the US military

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Last week, while attention was centered on the proposed $700 billion Wall Street bailout, the US Congress quietly passed another bill of concern, a landmark $612 billion defense spending bill. The measure, which was promptly signed into law by President Bush on Tuesday, includes $40 billion for Homeland Security, $73 billion for Veterans Affairs and new military base construction, and a record $488 billion for the Pentagon. Joining us by phone now from San Diego to discuss the bill is journalist and author Chalmers Johnson, author of the renowned Blowback trilogy and a former adviser to the CIA. Thank you for joining us, Chalmers.


JAY: So, first of all, tell us a little bit more about what’s in this bill, and then talk a little bit about how come we’re not hearing very much about something which is practically the same size as the Wall Street bailout.

JOHNSON: Well, that was the thing that struck me and led me to do the essay that you saw in The Nation and on, if [inaudible]. It was to say, while people were tearing their hair and sucking air and moaning at the bar over the size of the Wall Street bailout, nobody gave a second thought to well over $600 billion worth of defense appropriation, which will be just one of three similar bills before the year is over in paying for the wars, in building up the bases, and paying for outer-space research, and one thing after another. The amazing thing is that it didn’t even deserve its own article in The New York Times—it got tacked onto the end of another article about a different appropriation in three short paragraphs. And it was passed in the Senate by simply voice vote. There was no comment at all, which I was out to try and say there’s something terribly gone wrong here. We have the money. People are saying we didn’t. We have the money if we’d just quit wasting it on the [inaudible]-industrial complex, the armed services themselves, and the tremendous interests in lobbyists that they represent. It’s really one of the things that I believe is driving the United States into—we’re close to bankruptcy.

JAY: Right. We did a promo, a little piece the other day, which we put on our Web site, called “Help us take on the industrial-military complex.” And one of the things I said in it, I talked about the military-industrial complex being a hidden hand that affects so much of American politics and the economics. How do you explain how this is so hidden at a time when everyone’s supposed to be so freaked out about a growing deficit that it gets no comment in Congress, in the Senate, and nothing in the media? How do you explain it?

JOHNSON: Well, there’s something weird about it. I mean, in the recent debate between McCain and Obama, the only person who ever even so much as mentioned the incoherent budget, the crappy accounting, the failures, generally, in the Pentagon, was McCain. For Obama it just looked like the third rail: don’t touch anything to do with national security, or they’ll go crazy over it. All the people in Congress had to say was we have to respect our troops, which of course is nonsense, since service in the Armed Forces is no longer an obligation of citizenship. It is a career choice; it’s something that people volunteer to do if they care to. And it also reflects a lot of other motives that have anything to do with national security. It has very little to do with national security, period. But the only way you can say it is this has become ingrained; it’s part of our society. It goes back to NSC-68, and that is in 1950 and the post-war American determination that it was going to maintain both a military economy and a civilian economy, and it could do both. One of the reasons for doing so was that many people during the late 1940s remembered the Depression very clearly. They were very much aware that America overcame the Depression only in the context of military spending during World War II. They were scared to death that we were going to go back into the Depression once military spending ended, and that then led to what I call in my latest book “military Keynesianism,” the use of the military as a jobs program, as a way of trying to maintain full employment, and with the fallacious idea that money spent on a munitions factory is the same thing as consumption or investment. It’s not at all. It in fact drains resources away from productive investments. We spent well over $5 trillion in the post-war period on nuclear weapons. They’re almost a perfect example of what John Maynard Keynes was talking about, in the sense that we’ve never had to use one, thankfully; we’ve never had to use one.

JAY: Well, not since the war, at any rate, not since Japan.

JOHNSON: Right. But that they’re a way—.

JAY: ‘Cause I just point that out. I’m not suggesting you do this, but in terms of a lot of American history, people seem to want to just pass over the fact that the United States actually did use some nuclear weapons.

JOHNSON: Well, I totally agree with you. It’s a taboo subject, like much of what we’re talking about here. But then it got caught up in the Cold War mentality, in huge vested interests so serious that President Eisenhower, in leaving office, warned us against the dangers of the military-industrial complex, that as we now look back on it, probably the greatest single crime of the military-industrial complex has been to totally corrupt Congress, in the sense that the Congress simply is incapable and doesn’t want to do oversight on the military. They are complicit with the military in getting defense factories, airbases, things of this sort located in their districts, and the military-industrial complex understands that, so that any very big projects like the B-1 bomber or something like that, they try to put a piece in as many different constituencies as possible in order to keep these people in line. And it’s one of the major causes of what we saw these past two weeks—a collapse of America’s possible influence in the world as serious as that of the former Soviet Union.

JAY: Talk a bit about the role of the media, because what I’ve been suggesting myself in the past is the media just simply doesn’t seem to be willing to take up a critique that goes any further than the critique of the leadership of the two parties of each other. So if the Dems don’t critique this bill, then the media won’t open its mouth. I’m talking the main corporate media.

JOHNSON: Well, it is one of the catastrophic failures of our democracy that the founders of the country did not write Article One, the Amendment One, freedom of the press, into the Constitution in order to save People Magazine. It had a real purpose, and it was that the function of the free press and the reason to protect it was that it was to penetrate the bureaucracy and penetrate its most powerful weapon, namely secrecy, and expose it to the rest of the world. Our media has just totally failed on that. It’s become complicit as part of the military-industrial complex. It continuously propagandizes for these things and fails to notice that we’re not just talking about a jobs program of the political representatives in the state of Washington doing everything in their power to keep Boeing in business, that kind of thing, but that also, after awhile, they want to test these things by having a war, by writing them down so that they can invest in more of them. They refuse to deal with any number of issues, including the fact that the Department of Defense was not able to defend their country on September 11, 2001, that we’ve had to create a new and different and very expensive organization in the Department of Homeland Security, which is charged now with national defense. It’s getting to be farcical, but also the way it ends is bankruptcy.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s just pick up on that, the military-industrial complex and the current economic crisis. Please join us for the second part of our interview with Chalmers Johnson.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Chalmers Johnson, Visionary Scholar on Empire and Decline of America Passes Away

The Nation / By John Nichols

Chalmers Johnson died on November 20, 2010.

With one word, "blowback