Values and prevailing attitudes of America’s big three service branches are reflected in their military academies’ chapels. West Point’s grey stone gothic exudes permanence, immovably connected to the land, anchored atop the same basalt bluffs forming nearby Hudson River Palisades. The Navy’s chapel in Annapolis is much more ornate, its dome inspired by Beaux-Arts architecture with lots of interior marble and brass. The Air Force Academy’s cadet chapel, tellingly, is intimidating. Seventeen leak-prone spires of shiny aluminum, glass and steel project skyward. Their jagged rows resemble Nike-Hercules and Ajax missiles emergent from silos ready to launch, a high-tech, razor-sharp shredding machine or cheval de frise.
During WWII, at odds with RAF saturation bombing, USAAF Maj. Gen. Haywood Hansell developed a doctrine of strategic daylight aerial raids, using recently developed Norden bombsights for high-altitude precision. The intent was to inflict damage on enemy installations and personnel without killing innocent civilians. While effective in Europe, jet streams over Japan made strategic bombing more difficult. Hansell and his more humane approach to warfare were replaced by Gen. Curtis LeMay. LeMay imposed a tactical change of flying below the jet stream, removing bomber’s defensive weapons to increase payloads and wholesale nighttime fire-bombing of Japanese cities with Harvard-invented napalm. Constructed of wood, paper and roofing tar with narrow streets, Tokyo (March 10th) and 64 of Japan’s 66 largest cities were reduced to ashes, spring and summer of 1945. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were spared for another fate. Even after A-bombs were dropped there, LeMay continued firebombing Japan until its surrender. Thanks to the worst incendiary weapon since Greek fire, LeMay became humanity’s 5th worst killer, trailing Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Saloth Sar (aka Pol Pot).
The U.S. spends more militarily than the next 12 countries combined. As a result, the $740 billion baseline budget allotted the Department of Defense exceeds half our discretionary funding with enormous waste, cost overruns, fraud and decades-long financial mismanagement. In fact, half the Pentagon’s dole goes directly into hands of private defense contractors, not troops, despite billions in fines and settlements for repeated misconduct. More is spent on our military now than during the Cold War, Vietnam and Korea. From 2013-18, the Pentagon couldn’t purpose it all. Yet, a recent $ 1.8 trillion acquisition portfolio had over $625 million dollars in cost overruns. For 30 years, concurrent with Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin CEOs pocketing $20 million salaries, the Pentagon has been the only federal agency unable to pass an independent audit. Astoundingly, while fiscal conservatives grouse at lesser expenditures per annum for infrastructure modernization, Green energy, Medicare, disease control and mitigating climate change, voracious military spending goes unchallenged.
Age has eroded America’s nuclear triad of long-range bombers, Trident-armed subs and Minuteman ICBMs, increasing the risk of “broken arrow” incidents. Since 1950, 32 such accidents nearly became disasters. Having run for Congress advocating 40-50 percent military reductions, I suggest secretly phasing out our 400 Minuteman underground silos in five Great Plains states, replacing only a fraction with newer generation missiles. The resulting shell game of retaliatory capability hidden amongst 360 or more “ghost sites” would maintain an illusion of overkill and the “warhead sink” which negates first strike advantages to enemies. Unlike submarines and B-52s, ICBMs, once launched, can’t be recalled. Maybe that wouldn’t bother a Curtis LeMay. But, with sea- and air-based nuclear arsenals already excessive, Minuteman is more a liability than a nuclear umbrella.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.