Ending hunger and homelessness cheaper than maintaining our Maginot Line
In 2002 war games simulating an engagement between heavily armed U.S. Navy ships and a much smaller force meant to represent Iran, the U.S. defense systems proved highly vulnerable. Yet, the Pentagon continues to invest billions in such weaponry. | Navy

Admirals and generals, it is said, are always prepared to fight the last war. Practical leaders who study the past are keen to be the best at their profession, learning the tools of the trade as best they can. They are studying old homework, however, while someone or something out there is re-writing the entire class.

It is almost inevitable that every leader is behind the times. American Civil War Generals using Napoleon’s tactics fifty years after his demise at Waterloo, British Generals using frontal assault tactics in the age of the machine gun and the mortar during the first World War—it’s a pattern repeated throughout history.  And it’s one that seems too prevalent at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon is prepared for the last big war—and just like those generals of old, they look to have a rude awakening when reality collides. Like the French generals before the eve of World War II, they prepared for the last war and put all their chips on a weapon system that has perhaps run its course.

Despite the continued adoration for the military that prevails throughout the country for various reasons, the stark reality is that the United States has not conclusively won a major military campaign since World War II.

The Korean War ended in a stalemate, Vietnam was a total catastrophe, and Iraq and Afghanistan need no further explanation. With the exception of the invasions of Grenada, Panama, and the liberation of Kuwait, America’s military/political leadership has fumbled the ball for nearly seven decades. And yet, with this sort of track record, the sounds of war drums can always be heard in the distance, whether it’s saber-rattling time against China or the barking of threats against Iran. This time though, with these opponents, it won’t be just a miserable exercise in occupation that will inevitably bring enough material back home for the Hollywood pseudo-guilt machine. It could mean a real disaster beyond the pale of the disasters already inflicted on the working class who provide their loved ones for Imperialism in order to have an income and a home.

Let’s go back a few years. In 2002, during the war game exercise “Millennium Challenge,”  a Marine general, Paul Van Riper, was put in charge of the “Red Team,” opponent to the United States’ “blue team.”  Without putting too fine a point on it, Van Riper was playing as Iran in this war game scenario, though the “Red Team’s” nation was never specifically stated.

Using the same methods available to Iran, Van Riper was able to use a preemptive strike of cruise missiles to destroy 16 warships of the United States: an aircraft carrier, ten cruisers, and five amphibious ships. The total losses would equal 20,000 sailors dying at sea in one blow. To give it some perspective, Pearl Harbor—which nearly annihilated the U.S. Navy—saw the destruction of six ships (four of which were battleships sunk by warplanes flown from aircraft carriers, the new state of the art type of ship at that time), and over 2,403 servicemen were killed.

Did this give any pause to the military/industrial complex to re-think, well, anything? No. Van Riper resigned after the exercise’s rules were changed to give the Blue Team automatic victory. The Pentagon has not displayed any sort of change in tactics, procedures, or materials. To the Pentagon and most of the public, Millennium 2002 might as well not have happened.

To the average American citizen, the U.S. Navy is a symbol of pride and prowess. Aircraft carriers adorn every U.S. Navy recruiting poster, and the great ships are seen as America’s strength.

But what if all of this—the ships of the line, the aircraft carriers—is just one gigantic boondoggle made to make us feel safe while really being, in this day and age, useless? 2002 was nearly twenty years ago, and the march of progress in certain anti-ship weapons systems (missile systems, to be precise) has continued. Iran’s military budget is $17.4 billion. Though much lower than the net worth of a Jeff Bezos for example, (Mr. Bezos has $145.4 billion, and can easily buy the entire defense establishment of several Irans), Iran can still buy the sort of firepower that can knock out an entire fleet.

In fact, Millennium 2002 was followed by Reality Check 2006—Israel’s INS Hanit was struck by Hezbollah missiles during the 2006 Lebanon War, killing four sailors. The official story was that the Hanit had turned off its anti-missile system, despite patrolling during a wartime exercise. If Hezbollah, which may have had Iranian aid, had more resources, say the resources of a nation in the Persian Gulf, it could have easily been sunk without warning. It goes without saying that Israel’s technology is at least at parity with the United States.

So, what are we really spending money on if our opponents can potentially knock us back on a shoestring? Our budget, as of this writing, is $732 billion. Nothing should be able to touch the U.S. military.

But other governments have made this mistake. France, before the Second World War, was a rich and powerful state with a vast colonial empire stretching from North Africa to Indochina. Though bled white from the First World War, it had all the advantages and resources over Germany for years before Hitler’s rearmament campaign. With the cash and the know-how, they poured resources into their Maginot Line—a state of the art super fortress that stretched across the French frontier with Germany. Touted daily as a reassuring image to a battered nation, the Maginot Line was something the soldiers of the First World War would have loved to have engaged in combat from—a sleek and modern super-fortress impervious to assault.

Sure, it might have been outdated the moment the foundation was poured, and perhaps more than a few French politicians looked the other way as the bloated construction contracts were handed out, but it was an impressive sight to behold. The fact that some lower-ranking officers like De Gaulle realized it was a joke was dismissed.

Wasteful spending: France invested heavily in a set of fortified land defenses called the ‘Maginot Line’ in the years before World War II. When Germany invaded in 1940, the Line completely failed because the German armies simply drove around it. Similarly, expensive top-of-the-line U.S. weapons systems have shown vulnerabilities that could render them essentially useless. | Public Domain

That was until the Germans decided to try a new tactic and simply drove their new Panzer tanks around it. All the generals and the figures of industry who made the French Republic pour vast sums into the monolith that was the Maginot Line were made fools, and France soon capitulated.

In what ways are our own military now just one bloated Maginot Line, obsolete and over-expensive, a new metaphor for a false sense of security? Only time will tell, but in 2002, it looks like we already received a major hint. Not that the rulers of this country paid attention, mind you. There’s a lot of money in defense contracts. And officers who buck the trend usually end up resigning in disgust.

Some food for thought as we toss around figures when it comes to defense spending:

According to the Housing and Urban Development Department, it would cost $20 billion to cure homelessness in the United States. And according to Hunger Free America, we can end hunger for $25 billion.

In the end, what are we really paying for? Defense that helps our nation, or really just another Maginot Line?


Forbes West
Forbes West

Forbes West has a Master’s Degree in Political Science from California State University, Long Beach. He lives and works in Long Beach, California, and Ojima, Japan, in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. He is a published author of several books and a producer of several short films.