There is something strange going on in high public offices, including the editorial rooms of both the U.S. and the U.K. over separate issues that makes me curious, a little timorous and somewhat surprised.
The testing of a single fighter jet by the Chinese has aroused considerable angst from the Secretary of Defence and the Pentagon, while the President of China, Hu Jintao, expressed surprise and appeared not to know anything about the test, when Defence Secretary Gates was visiting with him recently. The military establishment in the U.S. raised its rather loud and influential voice in alarm, apparently using the occasion to suggest the development and purchase of additional military might for the U.S. to counter a Chinese potential threat.
Another way of seeing this little 'drama' is that the U.S. military establishment might be expressing excessive fear, covered in jingoistic terms, seeming to appear conventional, in American political terms.
Was it also paranoia that danced across the headlines in Great Britain last week, in 72 point fonts, decrying the loss of "favourite nation status" by Great Britain, to France, in light of President Obama's routine expression, while French President Sarkozy was visiting the White House, "the U.S. has no greater friend than France."
The headlines screamed, "Have we lost out to the French again?" "Is Britain no longer a special friend of the U.S.?"...and other headlines from not merely the tabloid press but also from the higher echelon newspapers.
The irony of this situation becomes even more clear and dramatic when one realizes that practically all U.S. allies receive the same salutation from their American host whether that host is president, Secretary of State, Vice-president, National Security Advisor, Republican or Democrat. It is as if the State Department has written a script to which all national leaders are committed, and those leaders have also committed the phrase to memory, as part of the duties of their office.
With both Great Britain and the U.S., albeit in different ways and in different circumstances, emitting a little panaroia publicly, one is not sure whether these minor "glitches" herald a new vulnerability, of the healthy kind or rather a significant brittleness that one thinks of when contemplating a high-pitched violin string that is about to snap.
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Farewell Address by outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a life-long Mennonite from Kansas, who was also the Allied Commander in Europe in World War II. His speech reeled against what he called the "military-industrial establishment" and the dangers inherent in the excessive potential of that complex to more than take over the U.S. budget. In the light of this address, which also included phrases linking the spending on a single bomber while the equivalent amount of money would build solid brick schools in 30 cities. The President actually used the word, "debt" against the rest of the budget, that the military expenditures were becoming, robbing the hungry from food, for example.
His speech came in January, 1961, three days prior to the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, news of which event overwhelmed the coverage of the outgoing president's address. One significant piece of information about the address is that while the Democrats were making loud noises about the "missile gap" between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, especially in the light of the Russian Sputnik that lifted off in 1957, and the need for the U.S. to catch up in military spending, President Eisenhower was quite aware that, in fact, there was no such gap between the military capability of the U.S. and the Soviet Union. His speech was, therefore, a rather prominent pronouncement against the power of the military, with political allies, to generate public sentiment in favour of excessive spending on the military. During his presidency, the number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal rose from 1000 in 1953 to 23-24000 in 1957, hardly indivicative of a need for more spending "to keep up with the Soviets".
Today, on the evidence of a single U.S. soldier who called into NPR's On Point today, who actually witnessed this disparity, on his tour in Afghanistan, electricians and plumbers are earning anywhere between $200k and $450K a year in salary, in the private sector, hired by the Pentagon to work in the barracks inhabited by the soldiers. There is no doubt that the soldiers living in those barracks are not making that kind of money, while they are employed by the Pentagon.
It is quite clear that Eisenhower's concern is more than a little relevant today, and the climate of fear, generating more military spending, at the expense of deep social needs, continues unabated.