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Weapons ‘R’ Us: Making Warbirds Instead of Thunderbirds
Posted on Jan 26, 2012
By William Astore, TomDispatch
Because of sheer cost, it’s likely we’ll buy fewer F-35s than our military wants but many more than we actually need. We’ll do so because Weapons ‘R’ Us. Because building ultra-expensive combat jets is one of the few high-tech industries we haven’t exported (due to national security and secrecy concerns), and thus one of the few industries in the U.S. that still supports high-paying manufacturing jobs with decent employee benefits. And who can argue with that?
The Ultimate Cost of Our Merchandise of Death
Clearly, the U.S. has grabbed the brass ring of the global arms trade. When it comes to investing in militaries and weaponry, no country can match us. We are supreme. And despite talk of modest cuts to the Pentagon budget over the next decade, it will, according to President Obama, continue to grow, which means that in weapons terms the future remains bright. After all, Pentagon spending on research and development stands at $81.4 billion, accounting for an astonishing 55% of all federal spending on R&D and leaving plenty of opportunity to develop our next generation of wonder weapons.
But at what cost to ourselves and the rest of the world? We’ve become the suppliers of weaponry to the planet’s hotspots. And those weapons deliveries (and the training and support missions that go with them) tend to make those spots hotter still—as in hot lead.
As a country, we seem to have a teenager’s fascination with military hardware, an addiction that’s driving us to bust our own national budgetary allowance. At the same time, we sell weapons the way teenage punks sell fireworks to younger kids: for profit and with little regard for how they might be used.
Sixty years ago, it was said that what’s good for General Motors is good for America. In 1955, as Bob Seger sang, we were young and strong and makin’ Thunderbirds. But today we’re playing a new tune with new lyrics: what’s good for Lockheed Martin or Boeing or [insert major-defense-contractor-of-your-choice here] is good for America.
How far we’ve come since the 1950s!
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Astore discusses the thrill of weaponry in pop culture and how it faded for him, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
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