The Military-Industrial-Media Complex

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961

Every so often Eisenhower’s warning of a growing American military-industrial complex—where armed forces, commerce, and politics are closely linked—flashes on my personal radar.  It did so again September 4 while watching CBS News Sunday Morning

The title of the segment was “HIMARS: How it’s changing Ukraine’s fight against Russia.”  I’ve been out of touch for a few months, so I was curious to learn about Ukraine’s success or failure against its invader neighbor to the east.

Indeed, I got a report card.  But it played second fiddle to the larger story concerning defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s lucrative development of high-mobility rocket systems (HIMARS), which Ukraine is now successfully deploying against Russia.

On Sunday morning…America’s most popular church day, and for many a day of repose…I digested with my scrambled eggs one dazzling image after another of ground explosions, army tanks, death missiles, fireworks, bombs bursting in air, and sober army generals and Pentagon officials glowingly discussing the success of HIMARS.

HIMARS is being developed, per CBS national security correspondent David Martin, in a “Lockheed Martin plant in rural Arkansas, a seemingly minor outpost in America’s vast military-industrial complex…”

Chief weapons buyer for the Pentagon, Dr. William LaPlante, explained how Lockheed—with the federal government looking over its shoulder—plans to “dramatically increase production” of the high-mobility rockets.

“Can you double production?” asked an earnest Martin of Lockheed COO Frank St. John, as if on the verge of drooling.  “Absolutely,” St. John responded, struggling to suppress a smile.

Martin also dangled a juicy morsel in front of retired army Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges.  Martin noted that the 16 HIMARS rockets which the U.S. has thus far given Ukraine “doesn’t sound like a lot.”  Hodges not surprisingly replied “It’s nowhere near what I think Ukraine can use.”

In 2020 Lockheed Martin received almost 90 percent of its total revenue, totaling 53.2 billion dollars, from defense contracts.  Notably, this was before the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The U.S. is by far the world’s largest weapons exporter, mailing out 9,372 million dollars-worth in 2020.

Watching this broadcast, it struck me that America is now in one of its periodic lulls between wars, yet despite this, conflicts are occurring in other countries, and America, as it usually does, has a significant role to play.  And there’s a lot of green to be made in fulfilling this role.

Longitudes won’t weigh in on Eisenhower’s words of warning about “misplaced power” and the “power of money.”

And it won’t take a stance on how involved the U.S. should be in helping Ukraine win its war against an imperial aggressor.  For once, I’m in the majority: in support of Ukraine’s David-like fight against Goliath Russia.

What struck me was the cold, clinical manner in which Martin and CBS conducted its segment.  Numbers were tossed around, statistics were dispassionately run down, and as I already mentioned, the viewer received an entire war-video game’s worth of destructive images.

The intended takeaway is that America’s military-industrial complex is, even without our own war, doing wonderful work defending freedom around the globe.  And, in fact, there’s room for expansion.  (Sixteen HIMARS weapons just aren’t enough.)  Maybe—this time, anyway—it is a good thing.  But for me, the players in this broadcast seemed a bit too cozy.

Flow chart of “follow-the-money” game (courtesy Transcend Media Service). Note the flow between defense contractors, media, voters, and elected officials.

Since the blaspheme of the Vietnam War, we’ve had multiple jarring examples of how crony capitalism conducts itself in a nefarious fashion.  And the 1990 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq War are sterling examples of how the corporate media is a not-insignificant conduit between military, commerce, and politics.

General Electric is a large weapons manufacturer that consistently lands in the rankings of top arms-producing and military service companies. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2019, General Electric ranked 12th in the United States and 21st in the world out of these companies. GE is a major manufacturer of aircraft parts and missiles that were used extensively in the Gulf War and in Iraq. And, until 2013, GE either directly owned or had shares in the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

Transcend Media Service: Solutions-Oriented Peace Journalism, May 17, 2021

Getting back to that CBS News Sunday Morning broadcast, it would have been nice to have former army General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s prophetic words at least alluded to, for balance purposes. 

But I guess providing such balance wasn’t part of Martin’s assignment.

Book Review: “Blood on the Marias: The Baker Massacre”

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(I just read the new book “Blood on the Marias: The Baker Massacre” and reviewed it on Amazon. It’s a tragic story, but I’m sharing my review here because, even at this late date, I think it’s important people know what happened on January 23, 1870)

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It’s hard to fathom. But there was a time when the U.S. government actively engaged in ethnic cleansing.

And U.S. military and political leaders actually pondered the idea of genocide… on American soil.

American Indian history isn’t taught much in schools today. And it’s easy to understand why. Our treatment of the aboriginals of this country is a dark stain which may never be erased. And one of the most appalling chapters in this sad saga is the story of the Piegan Blackfeet of northwestern Montana. “Blood on the Marias” deals with that chapter.

Most Americans have heard of Little Bighorn, even if they don’t know the details. Colorful cavalryman George A. Custer had his last stand here. But few Americans know about Sand Creek, Washita, Ash Hollow, Bear River, and Wounded Knee, where innocent Cheyenne, Sioux, and Shoshone women and children were slaughtered in the name of Manifest Destiny. And only a precious few historians know of the Marias Massacre, also known as the Baker Massacre. There’s a reason why this abomination has been kept secret: as shocking as the above episodes are, the bloody encounter on the Marias River in 1870 is perhaps the most shocking of all.

Author Paul Wylie came upon this story by accident, while researching for a previous book. But he’s produced the first comprehensive analysis of the Baker Massacre, and his scholarly treatment is long overdue. It evidently took him years to pry details of this massacre from the iron vaults of the National Archives, and from army correspondence papers, personal letters, and obscure newspaper accounts. He frames his examination of the massacre – in truth, a “mass murder” – with a solid history of the Piegan Blackfeet, including their fascinating and fortuitous 1806 encounter with explorer Meriwether Lewis.

We also get the all-too-familiar perfect storm scenario that led to the attack: the inevitable broken treaties, murders (on both sides), settler and newspaper hysterics, and heinous practice of whiskey trading by unscrupulous frontier lowlifes. This all dovetailed with a U.S. Army run by commanders who were hardened by the Civil War, who had a penchant for glory-seeking, and whose brutality was informed by racism at best, and sociopathic tendencies at worst (Sheridan and Sherman receive full treatment here).

Without giving away too much, the Baker Massacre had several things which separated it from similar atrocities against Native Americans: first, the Piegan village that was attacked was, at the time, being ravaged by smallpox; second, most of the Piegan braves had gone hunting, leaving primarily women, children, and elderly; third, the attack occurred at dawn, in sub-zero temperatures, with minimal resistance from the villagers (only one soldier was killed, with a minimum 173 Indians killed, although probably many more); fourth, the commander and many of the troops were drunk; and fifth… it was the wrong village.

Wylie, a retired attorney, must have really struggled to restrain his emotions while writing this book. He slips into subjectivity only once, in his Preface, when he describes what happened to those villagers as being one of the saddest things he’s ever encountered. The rest of the book is entirely objective and buttressed by credible footnotes.

The Baker Massacre is, indeed, incredibly sad. It’s also one of the most shameful incidents in this nation’s history. It’s been kept under wraps because the army wanted it kept under wraps. If you’re a history teacher, please devote class time to the history of Plains Indians and the Baker Massacre. If you’re not a history teacher, but enjoy reading about history… strike a blow for truth and get a copy of this book.

Blackfoot_tipis

Blackfeet tipis, circa 1910.  Photograph by Arthur Rafton-Canning