These charts tell us all we need to know about the militarization of the US economy, which has marched hand in glove with the militarization of US foreign policy.

US durable goods shipments from 2000-2009

US durable goods shipments from 2000-2009 (shown full size)

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US shipments and orders of durable goods 2008-2009

US shipments and orders of durable goods 2008-2009 (shown full size)

This trend is a particularly ominous sign for American democracy. Back in 2006 Harpers published a conversation about American democracy and the military over the question of whether a military coup is possible in the United States, American coup d’etat: Military thinkers discuss the unthinkable. Participating in the conversation were Andrew Bacevich, Brig. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., Richard Kohn, Edward Luttwak, and Bill Wasik. A number of interesting points were discussed.

BACEVICH: … another crucial reason there could never be a military coup in the United States: the military has learned to play politics. It doesn’t need to have a coup in order to get what it wants most of the time. Especially since World War II, the services have become very skillful at exploiting the media and at manipulating the Congress—particularly on the defense budget, which is estimated now to be equal to that of the entire rest of the world combined.

WASIK: If we are talking about a “creeping coup” that is already under way, in what direction is it creeping?

BACEVICH: The creeping coup deflects attention away from domestic priorities and toward national-security matters, so that is where all our resources get deployed. “Leadership” today is what is demonstrated in the national-security realm. The current [Bush] presidency is interesting in that regard. What has Bush accomplished apart from posturing in the role of commander in chief? He declares wars, he prosecutes wars, he insists we must continue to prosecute wars.

KOHN: By framing the terrorist threat itself as a war, we tend to look upon our national security from a much more military perspective.

BACEVICH: We don’t get Social Security reform, we don’t get immigration reform. The role of the president increasingly comes to be defined by his military function.

KOHN: And so our foreign policy becomes militarized. We neglect our diplomacy, de-emphasize allies.

BACEVICH: … Meanwhile, we’ve underfunded the State Department for twenty-five years.

DUNLAP: Well, I don’t think it’s anything new that the State Department is underfunded. The State Department has no bases in any state, so it does not have a constituency.

KOHN: One of the great pillars in our history that has prevented military intervention in politics has been the military’s nonpartisan attitude. That’s why General George Marshall’s generation of officers essentially declined to vote at all, as did generations before them. In fact, for the first time in over a century we now have an officer corps that does identify overwhelmingly with one political party. And that is corrosive.

WASIK: So it seems clear that whether we like it or not, the military has learned how to use the political system to protect its interests and also to uphold what it sees as its values. Thinking over the long term, are there any dangers inherent in this?

KOHN: Well, at this point the military has a long tradition of getting what it wants. If we ever attempted to truly demobilize—i.e., if the military were suddenly, radically cut back—it could lead if not to a coup then to very severe civil-military tension.

BACEVICH: Because the political game would no longer be prejudiced in the military’s favor.

KOHN: That’s right.

BACEVICH: But there is a more subtle danger too. The civilian leadership knows that in dealing with the military, they are dealing with an institution whose behavior is not purely defined by adherence to the military professional ethic, disinterested service, civilian subordination. Instead, the politicians know that they’re dealing with an institution that to some degree has its own agenda. And if you’re dealing with somebody who has his own agenda, well, you can bargain, you can trade. That creates a small opening—again, not to a coup but to the military making deals with politicians whose purposes may not be consistent with the Constitution.

Looking at the charts above, it looks like there has already been a coup of sorts on the economy. If spending on the military were reported the way spending on health care is reported, people would be asking some serious questions about this. One can certainly argue that public health and health in general is an equally important part of the defense of a country and its citizens, though I have not ever seen the argument framed in those terms. Of course the money issues are not going to be reported the same way. We have just seen what happens with our corporate dominated news business. Even when news reporting results in actual news getting reported, and is good for ratings, if the major corporations who own the news companies see it as harmful, it will be censored and shut down, witness the Olbermann O’Reilly feud.

China is the paymaster for current US military spending. And China is also a target of US military attention. China is perceived as a great rival for the natural resources of Africa, especially oil, which is one major reason for the creation of the US Africa Command, AFRICOM. We can infer a number of things from the charts above, especially if the trend they map continues. Among those is that the Africa Command will grow, and increase its interference with people, countries, and governments in Africa. The other is that China will have increased ability and power to control what the US says and does, much in the way that the corporate paymasters shut down the Olbermann O’Reilly feud. After all, when your finger is between someone’s teeth, you don’t hit him on the head.

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