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Weapons ‘R’ Us: Making Warbirds Instead of Thunderbirds

Posted on Jan 26, 2012
titanium22 (CC-BY)

By William Astore, TomDispatch

This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.

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Perhaps you’ve heard of “Makin’ Thunderbirds,” a hard-bitten rock & roll song by Bob Seger that I listened to 30 years ago while in college.  It’s about auto workers back in 1955 who were “young and proud” to be making Ford Thunderbirds.  But in the early 1980s, Seger sings, “the plants have changed and you’re lucky if you work.”  Seger caught the reality of an American manufacturing infrastructure that was seriously eroding as skilled and good-paying union jobs were cut or sent overseas, rarely to be seen again in these parts.

If the U.S. auto industry has recently shown sparks of new life (though we’re not making T-Birds or Mercuries or Oldsmobiles or Pontiacs or Saturns anymore), there is one form of manufacturing in which America is still dominant.  When it comes to weaponry, to paraphrase Seger, we’re still young and proud and makin’ Predators and Reapers (as in unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones) and Eagles and Fighting Falcons (as in F-15 and F-16 combat jets), and outfitting them with the deadliest of weapons.  In this market niche, we’re still the envy of the world.

Yes, we’re the world’s foremost “merchants of death,” the title of a best-selling exposé of the international arms trade published to acclaim in the U.S. in 1934.  Back then, most Americans saw themselves as war-avoiders rather than as war-profiteers.  The evil war-profiteers were mainly European arms makers like Germany’s Krupp, France’s Schneider, or Britain’s Vickers.

Not that America didn’t have its own arms merchants.  As the authors of Merchants of Death noted, early on our country demonstrated a “Yankee propensity for extracting novel death-dealing knickknacks from [our] peddler’s pack.”  Amazingly, the Nye Committee in the U.S. Senate devoted 93 hearings from 1934 to 1936 to exposing America’s own “greedy munitions interests.”  Even in those desperate depression days, a desire for profit and jobs was balanced by a strong sense of unease at this deadly trade, an unease reinforced by the horrors of and hecatombs of dead from the First World War.


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We are uneasy no more.  Today we take great pride (or at least have no shame) in being by far the world’s number one arms-exporting nation.  A few statistics bear this out.  From 2006 to 2010, the U.S. accounted for nearly one-third of the world’s arms exports, easily surpassing a resurgent Russia in the “Lords of War” race.  Despite a decline in global arms sales in 2010 due to recessionary pressures, the U.S. increased its market share, accounting for a whopping 53% of the trade that year.  Last year saw the U.S. on pace to deliver more than $46 billion in foreign arms sales.  Who says America isn’t number one anymore?

For a shopping list of our arms trades, try searching the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute database for arms exports and imports.  It reveals that, in 2010, the U.S. exported “major conventional weapons” to 62 countries, from Afghanistan to Yemen, and weapons platforms ranging from F-15, F-16, and F-18 combat jets to M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Cobra attack helicopters (sent to our Pakistani comrades) to guided missiles in all flavors, colors, and sizes: AAMs, PGMs, SAMs, TOWs—a veritable alphabet soup of missile acronyms.  Never mind their specific meaning: they’re all designed to blow things up; they’re all designed to kill.

Rarely debated in Congress or in U.S. media outlets is the wisdom or morality of these arms deals.  During the quiet last days of December 2011, in separate announcements whose timing could not have been accidental, the Obama Administration expressed its intent to sell nearly $11 billion in arms to Iraq, including Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter-bombers, and nearly $30 billion in F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, part of a larger, $60 billion arms package for the Saudis.  Few in Congress oppose such arms deals since defense contractors provide jobs in their districts—and ready donations to Congressional campaigns.

Let’s pause to consider what such a weapons deal implies for Iraq.  Firstly, Iraq only “needs” advanced tanks and fighter jets because we destroyed their previous generation of the same, whether in 1991 during Desert Shield/Storm or in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Secondly, Iraq “needs” such powerful conventional weaponry ostensibly to deter an invasion by Iran, yet the current government in Baghdad is closely aligned with Iran, courtesy of our invasion in 2003 and the botched occupation that followed.  Thirdly, despite its “needs,” the Iraqi military is nowhere near ready to field and maintain such advanced weaponry, at least without sustained training and logistical support provided by the U.S. military.

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By LocalHero, January 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm Link to this comment

Unfortunately, even Astore never gets around to what really needs to be said.

The fact is, we don’t need ANY of this horrendous, death-dealing junk. We’ll never grow up as a species until the very idea of being a “soldier” is the equivalent of aspiring to be a pedophile. In my view, they are morally equivalent. Well, ok, soldier is worse.

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By drbhelthi, January 28, 2012 at 4:33 am Link to this comment

“The very image of decay and death-by-fire.”

How very accurate.
Also, looks like the Obamagon and the Zionists are planning a repeat of the USS
Liberty, this time in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.  Sending the USS Enterprise
into the area, just prior to retirement, suggests that it and its several thousand, American
crew will be presently expended.  Having Israeli jets, this time with Iranian or Syrian
markings sink the Enterprise, as they tried with the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967,  in
international waters 15 miles off the Sinai Peninsula, would be misused as grounds to
attack Iran.  Also, sinking the humongous Enterprise, with its five nuclear reactors,
would pollute the area, and restrict usage considerably, a long-term punitive action
against Arabs.  Actions typical of Hitler-types. 

With a few more trumped up fairy tales about Iranian and Moslem terrorists in the US
invented by the FBI, the Obama entourage might even declare martial law in the US. 
Of course, in order to “protect” Americans.  After which, patriotic Americans would
begin to be hauled off as were the innocent Jewish folk by the Hitler NAZI
administration in Germany, 1930s-1940s..  All of which would pre-empt the need for a
2012 US presidential election.

If you think these ideas are simply dreaming, you have not read “Extreme Prejudice” by
the CIA Whistle-Blower, Ms. Susan Lindauer.  She reveals the plans of the George H. W.
Bush Sr. entourage from prior to the CIA destruction of the Pan American Boeing 747
over Lockerbie, Scotland, 21 December 1988, through the planned destruction of Libya
and Muammar Al Gadhaffi, which occurred Oct, 2011.  The book is available at your
local bookstore at a reasonable price.

Insiders and associates sometimes wonder whatever happened to the patriotism of the
American soldier who was “ colonel for one day”  ???

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By gerard, January 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment

Quote-unquote: “By recent estimates the F-35 will now cost U.S. taxpayers (you and me, that is) at least $382 billion for its development and production run.  Such a sum for a single weapons system is vast enough to be hard to fathom.  It would, for instance, easily fund all federal government spending on education for the next five years.”

The very image of decay and death-by-fire. And Obama tries to tell us that “those who say that America is in decline, don’t know what they are talking about!” (or words to that effect in the recent SOU speech.)

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