The Institutions of American Militarism: An excerpt from Chalmers Johnson’s The Sorrows of Empire

I learned, for example, the secret that contrary to all public
declarations, President Eisenhower had delegated to major theater
commanders the authority to initiate nuclear attacks under certain
circumstances, such as outage of communications with Washington
-- an almost daily occurrence in those days -- or presidential incapacitation
(twice suffered by President Eisenhower). This delegation was unknown
to President Kennedy's assistant for national security, McGeorge
Bundy -- and thus to the president -- in early 1961, after nearly
a month in office, when I briefed him on the issue. Kennedy secretly
continued the authorization, as did President Johnson.

Daniel Ellsberg,
Secrets (2002)

The army's target for 2002 was to hire 79,500 young adults as new
recruits. Demographics and salesmanship matter in trying to raise
and retain an all-volunteer army, and, until recently, the main
recruiting slogans were "Be all you can be" and "An
Army of one" (meaning that the army is a collection of quintessential
American individualists). A recent gimmick is a free computer game,
called America's Army, aimed directly at capturing the
hearts and minds of technology-savvy teenagers. By the autumn of
2002, more than 500,000 copies had been downloaded from,
and recruiters now have a two-CD set of the game to give away to
likely prospects. During the summer of 2002, many video-game magazines
included the CDs with issues.

The game differs from most other combat videos now on the market
in that bullet hits are recorded only by little red puffs instead
of gushers of blood and flying body parts. The army wants to avoid
any suggestion that actual combat might be unpleasant. According
to the game instructions, "When a soldier is killed, that soldier
simply falls to the ground and is no longer part of the ongoing
mission. The game does not include any dismemberment or disfigurement."
In "Soldiers," the second part of the game, players progress
through a virtual career in the army, serving in a variety of units
and improving their ratings in categories like loyalty, honor, and
personal courage as they go. Enemies are portrayed as both white-
and black-skinned but have one trait in common -- nearly all of
them are unshaven. The government has so far spent $7.6 million
to develop the game, and plans to devote about $2.5 million a year
to updates and another $1.5 million to maintaining a multiplayer
infrastructure. The army hoped to use it to attract 300 to 400 recruits
in 2003.*

Another aspect of the attempt to interest adolescent boys in a
military career is the army's sponsorship of drag racing. Its twenty-four-foot,
6,000 horsepower dragster "The Sarge" is fueled with nitromethane
at thirty dollars a gallon and has emblazoned in gold on its side,
"GO ARMY." Anyone who has been to an auto speedway and
seen (or heard) the car accelerate from 0 to 200 m.p.h. in 2.2 seconds
will appreciate the mechanical machismo the army is using to attract
young recruits. In the 1970s, the army had sponsored racing cars
with its name on them but gave the effort up as a waste of money.
In 1999, it began a new collaboration with the National Hot Rod
Association, this time to enter its own car and to install recruiting
booths at the racetracks with helicopters and assault vehicles for
boys to climb on. In the 2002 season, to compete at twenty-three
drag racing events, the army's recruiting command invested about
$5.5 million. All the drivers are professionals, though few are
veterans of the armed forces. High schools around the country are
encouraged to take their pupils out for a "day at the track."
In 2001, of some 56,000 young people who were sent to a drag race
by their schools, 300 joined the army.* One thing that does seem
to work in attracting recruits is the military's offer of up to
$50,000 in grants to attend college, although few who enlist end
up taking advantage of this program.

Video games and hot rods are both very American examples of the
art of advertising, but they seem unlikely to change the composition
of the armed forces very much. Race, socioeconomic class, and the
state of the U.S. economy, as well as the possibility of an upcoming
war, influence the decision to sign up, and women do not respond
to video games or dragsters in the same way that men do. During
the run-up to the second U.S. war with Iraq, military recruiters
noted that virtually no one was joining up to serve the nation in
an actual war.

A real deterrent to recruitment is the possibility that a new soldier
will find himself or herself in combat. Roughly four out of five
young Americans who enlist in our all-volunteer armed forces specifically
choose non-combat jobs, becoming computer technicians, personnel
managers, shipping clerks, truck mechanics, weather forecasters,
intelligence analysts, cooks, forklift drivers -- all jobs that
carry a low risk of contact with an enemy. They often enlist because
of a lack of good jobs in the civilian economy and thus take refuge
in the military's long-established system of state socialism --
steady paychecks, decent housing, medical and dental benefits, job
training, and the promise of a college education. The mother of
one such recruit recently commented on her nineteen-year-old daughter,
who was soon to become an army intelligence analyst. She was proud
but also cynical: "Wealthy people don't go into the military
or take risks because why should they? They already got everything
handed to them."*

These recruits do not expect to be shot at. Thus it must have been
a shock to the noncombat rank and file when in March 2003 Iraqi
guns opened up on an army supply convoy, killing eleven and taking
another six prisoner, including Private First Class Jessica Lynch
of Palestine, West Virginia, a supply clerk. The army's response
has been, "You don't have to be in combat arms [of the military]
to close with and kill the enemy." Despite her high-profile
story, Jessica Lynch is still the exception to the rule. It is rare
for noncombat military personnel to find themselves in a firefight.
But that hardly means that soldiers doing noncombat duty are not
at risk. What the Pentagon is not saying to the Private Lynches
and their families is that all soldiers, regardless of their duties,
stand a real chance of injury or death because they chose the military
as a route of social mobility.

Our recent wars have produced serious unintended consequences,
and these have fallen nearly as heavily on noncombat soldiers as
on their frontline compatriots. The most important factor in that
casualty rate is the malady that goes by the name Gulf War Syndrome,
a potentially deadly medical disorder that first appeared among
combat veterans of the 1990-91 conflict with Iraq. Just as the effects
of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War were first explained away
by the Pentagon as "post-traumatic stress disorder," "combat
fatigue," or "shell shock," so the potential toxic
side effects of the ammunition now widely used by the armed forces
have been played down by the Bush administration. The implications
are devastating, not just for America's adversaries or civilians
caught in their country turned battlefield but for American forces
themselves (and even possibly their future offspring).

The first Iraq war produced four classes of casualties -- killed
in action, wounded in action, killed in accidents (including "friendly
fire"), and injuries and illnesses that appeared only after
the end of hostilities. During 1990 and 1991, some 696,778 individuals
served in the Persian Gulf as elements of Operation Desert Shield
and Operation Desert Storm. Of these, 148 were killed in battle,
467 were wounded in action, and 145 were killed in accidents, producing
a total of 760 casualties, quite a low number given the scale of
the operations. As of May 2002, however, the Veterans Administration
reported that an additional 8,306 soldiers had died and 159,705
were injured or ill as a result of service-connected "exposures"
suffered during the war. Even more alarmingly, the VA revealed that
206,861 veterans, almost a third of General Norman Schwarzkopf's
entire army, had filed claims for medical care, compensation, and
pension benefits based on injuries and illnesses caused by combat
in 1991. After reviewing the cases, the agency has classified 168,011
applicants as "disabled veterans." In light of these deaths
and disabilities, the casualty rate for the first Gulf War may actually
be a staggering 29.3 percent.

*endnotes have been omitted

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