By Michael Hall
I have been waiting 35 years for the peace dividend we will get once there are no more serious challengers to American hegemony. America itself has been waiting twice as long. With no existential foes left, you might think America could afford to bring home our military from around the world and spend the billions on domestic infrastructure instead. Unfortunately, our country is still held hostage to the military/congressional/industrial complex. Shades of Donald Trump; it’s enough to make you want to drain the Washington, D.C., swamp.
The post-World War II Soviet Union was clearly a threat to the existence of the United States and our allies. The Soviets had invaded their own ally, Hungary, in 1956 when Hungary tried some modest market-oriented reforms. They invaded another ally, Czechoslovakia, 12 years later for much the same reason. Twelve years later, they were in Afghanistan, nominally an ally. The Soviets spent most of my lifetime up to mischief: backing rebels in Angola and communist revolutions in Cuba, Nicaragua and Vietnam. Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, the empirical evidence was clear. The mailed Soviet fist was to be feared.
The Soviet Union was feared not just because of its belligerent actions but it had the physical power to back up its threats. It had a world-class space program and as many nuclear weapons as the United States. The Soviet Navy was a blue water threat to the American Navy and its Air Force was a danger. While stationed in Germany in the early ’80s, my unit rotated between training to repel a Soviet invasion at the big NATO base at Grafenwöhr and being stationed at the Fulda gap on the border between East and West Germany. I spent many a cold German night with binoculars watching Warsaw Pact forces just a few miles away.
Think of a few of the classic movies from that era. Examples include “Red Dawn” (1984), “Top Gun” (1986), “Rocky IV” (1985), “Rambo III” (1988) and “The Hunt for Red October” (1990). They were all great anti-Soviet propaganda, and deservedly so.
Amazingly the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991 and broke into 15 separate countries. We had won.
David Stockman, in his book “The Great Transformation,” relates how, with the fall of the Soviet Union, he expected the Republican Party to go back to its historical roots: small government, low taxes, limits to federal debt and lack of involvement in other countries’ affairs. Many Republicans from the Midwest and Western states opposed both World War I and II under the belief that war was only good for Wall Street and not for their constituents being sent off to die. Stockman maintains that by the end of the 1980s the Washington establishment, i.e. swamp, was running American foreign policy irrespective of party affiliation. Reagan had built up the military to confront the Soviet Union, and even with the Soviets gone Washington was eager to use it where ever and whenever it could.
I joined the Army in 1983 at the height of the Reagan build-up. Before I shipped out, I would kill time hanging out in the Union River Oyster Bar here in Ellsworth. It was one of the rougher bars in Maine, pre-tough OUI laws, but it had live bands on the weekends and that’s why women hung out there. There was, however, a certain group that had no interest in good music, cold beer or hot women. They only came to fight. It did not matter if it was about family rivalries, town rivalries or personal grudges. The reason was immaterial; they just wanted to fight. They just wanted to kick ass and take names. That is now the attitude of our ruling class in D.C.
There was no need for the Bush administration to invade Iraq. Sanctions by all the countries Iraq needed to do business with would have sufficed. We did nothing useful there, although I did get to see the moon temple of Ur during a lunar eclipse and walk the streets of Babylon. There was no need for the Obama administration to destabilize Syria and Libya. No need for the Clinton administration to be in Somalia or Kosovo. Afghanistan was the home base of Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind, but he had fled to Pakistan before we could catch him. He’s dead seven years and we are still in Afghanistan.
I am not alone in believing we are overdue for our peace dividend. Barack Obama was elected after campaigning to get America out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He failed to keep his promise. Donald Trump was elected after campaigning to bring our troops home from overseas. He promised to let the Europeans and the South Koreans, now all grown up, defend themselves. He also promised to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The American people have had enough and done their share. But the Washington, D.C., ruling elites will never tire of keeping up the hype, stirring the pot and keeping the money flowing in. If you need further proof, just listen to the bipartisan howls when Donald Trump says we are leaving Syria. I will leave with two quotes from Sen. Robert La Follette of Wisconsin:
“Every nation has its war party. It is not the party of democracy. It is the party of autocracy. It seeks to dominate absolutely.”
“Wealth has never yet sacrificed itself on the altar of patriotism.”
Michael Hall lives in Trenton. He earned a degree in economics from the University of Maine at Orono. Between active service and the National Guard, he spent 24 years in the Army.