Bill Clinton was in Guatemala last week, apologizing—sort of—for our nation's support of whichever bloodthirsty tyrants would pledge fealty to Our Side in the Cold War. There are, to be sure, plenty of countries where a US apology (along with restitution and a pledge not to support such thugs in 1999 and beyond) would be appropriate. The only reason it came up in Guatemala was the release of a truth commission report in that country blaming its military government for 93 percent of the more than 200,000 civilians deaths in Guatemala, and blaming the CIA and US military advisers for calling the shots (literally) in the civilian deaths, torture, rapes, and other Adventures in Democracy perpetrated in our names. We could use a lot more truth commissions.
Those sad legacies, however, are only one aspect of the Cold War still with us. For another less visible but equally alarming such issue, we need turn only to our pocketbooks. It's 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the supposed end of the Cold War, and the so-called Peace Dividend is in its ninth year as a cruel joke. For the last several years, President Draft Dodger has assiduously added more money to the military budget than the Pentagon itself has requested. So has the Senate. So has the House of Representatives. And then they've compromised by keeping all of those additions, whether the Pentagon wants or knows what to do with them or not. The topper came this January, when Clinton announced, as part of his latest budget proposal, a military budget increase of some $110 billion over the next six years.
The obvious conclusion is that US military spending has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with political pork and corporate welfare. Congresscreatures of both parties are equally addicted to the expensive myth of "creating jobs" by spending military money in their districts.
Which brings us to Norm Dicks, the Trident submarine base at Bangor in Kitsap County, and $5 billion or so of your tax dollars.
Bang-or for the bucks
The Bangor base, 30 air miles from Seattle, is (along with Kings Bay, Georgia) one of the nation's two homes of the deadliest parts of our nuclear arsenal: the first-strike-capable Trident submarines, armed with up to eight C-76 nuclear warheads each and capable of decimating a military or civilian target anywhere on Earth. Designed to deter the Soviet menace, they are now deployed more as an ultimate threat against anyone, ally or foe, nuclear or non-nuclear power, who doesn't do things our way.
They continue to patrol our waters with little awareness or oversight from neighboring Seattle or state regulators. The Bangor base has 21 sites that have made the federal Superfund list of America's worst hazardous waste sites. No state agency monitors the truck shipments of nuclear-grade plutonium (in) and waste (out), shipments that travel unbeknownst to us through the Puget Sound gridlock.
At a time when national security, global disarmament and treaties like START II, and a tight budget would seem to mandate cutbacks in the Trident program, the Cold War continues. January also brought the formal announcement of a 10-year, $5 billion program to upgrade Trident by installing the longer-range, more accurate D-5 missiles. The D-5 program is the largest military project in Washington state in the past 25 years; critics say the actual price tag, once retrofitting of the base and submarines is factored in, is closer to $6.5 billion.
What can possibly justify $5 billion, let alone $6.5 billion, to target Pyongyang better? Well, proponents like Rep. Norm Dicks say the current missiles are just too old, so why not upgrade with better ones and create jobs in the process? The argument belies the fundamental disconnect in current military spending with any actual national security need—and it's a hellaciously expensive way to create a few jobs. Dicks, like most other Washington state congressional reps, has long been a champion of military spending. Yet even with the staggering amounts of tax money spent on the naval complex in Kitsap County and on Fort Lewis, McChord Air Force Base, Whidbey Island AFB, Fairchild AFB, Hanford, and (oh, yeah) Boeing and its subcontractors, the average Washington state taxpayer pays more money out on military spending than they get back in economic benefits.
That's the case for most states in the US, because military spending has become an elaborate form of corporate welfare. That was, to some extent, true throughout the Cold War, as the US became dependent for the first time on a Keynesian program of permanent peacetime military spending. With the Pentagon's absurd current rationale that it must have the funding to fight two major wars simultaneously (a condition that has never been necessary in the country's history), it's more obvious than ever today. According to Norm Dicks and friends, we should simply be grateful that we're getting a larger share of the booty than, say, Oregon, which has relatively few military installations. But a more rational response would be to oppose this, and all other, military pork—and to demand that, instead of big, destructive toys, the money be spent on programs that generate real economic security for all residents of our state and country.