THE EVE OF NEO-DESTRUCTION: Bernie Sanders as Commander-in-Chief and the DARPA Budget of 2017-2021

February 16, 2016

THE EVE OF NEO-DESTRUCTION: Bernie Sanders as Commander-in-Chief and the DARPA Budget of 2017-2021

I remember leading a class discussion at UCSD’s Revelle College when the “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq commenced. It was difficult to stay on the subject; students were uneasy about going to war, but one young man confidently told his peers, “Don’t worry. This won’t be another Vietnam.” Over a dozen years later, with torture and murder still rampant both within the borders of Iraq, and in the adjacent region controlled by ISIS, the comparison with Vietnam is hardly adequate. American military power, deceived by its own flagrant capacities to put technology on display, is floundering yet again in another pathetic political debacle. It is not those who serve who lack resolve, integrity, courage, and commitment. Rather, it is those whose orders come from civilian quarters who lack the necessary virtues.

In the aftermath of criminal decision by the commander-in-chief at that time to launch an invasion of Iraq, U.S. soldiers, serving in good faith, have now been assigned the task of trying to stabilize a massive region in which a radical religious insurrection against modernity has taken permanent hold. How they will ever be able to return and reintegrate into civilian society is a question that neither Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize that war, nor any of the Republican candidates in 2016 are ready to answer. For that matter, President Obama has no answer, either. Anyone who thinks they’ll find the answer in his Presidential Library is wasting her or his time. The saddest commentary on all this is that Bernie Sanders has no substantial answer to this question, either.

One question that no candidate, including Bernie Sanders, is willing to address in a radical manner involves the predicament of a nation that spends eight times as much as the next eight nations combined on budget expenditures for military hardware and software. Citing this fact, as Sanders has done in debates and speeches, is not in itself a critique. What is needed is an explanation for this perversion. This massive investment budget for the Pentagon and the CIA is at a ridiculous level because fewer and fewer Americans are willing to become soldiers. There is a direct ideological road between the elimination of military conscription and the use of drones to conduct long-distance murder. America had a choice in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the nation gave in to a technological addiction as the only possible alternative to maintaining a huge standing army.

The enormity of this transformation has yet to be raised in the presidential debates, though the issue of women registering for the draft was briefly noted in one recent forum. Whether any candidate, including Bernie Sanders, is even slightly aware of the full implications of this tidal shift is doubtful. At some point, though, the United States must address the disparity between the military service required of the earliest wave of the Baby Boom generation and the current laissez-faire of bodily procurement for posthumous military rites.

Let us dig back briefly into the culture of a half-century ago. In Called to Serve, a book written in the late 1960s that explains military service to young men, the claim is made that four out of five young men will serve in the military. In the decades since, a complete inversion has taken place. In contrasting proportion, I would be willing to bet that, in 2016, four out of every five young men between the ages of 18 and 25 have had no personal contact that amounts to even casual friendship with a person their age who has served in the military. The consanguinity of “duty, honor, country” is an even smaller percentage. In other words, there are very few people who would ever feel a tug to visit a war memorial for the Veterans of Endless War (which begins with the first Gulf War).

Of course, who can blame young people for not wanting to be in the military? Why should anyone endanger one’s life on behalf of corporate culture and the off-shore parking of profits? The malfeasance of global capital acknowledges no ethical boundaries. (FOOTNOTE: With enthusiasm to endure military discipline on behalf of the world’s “one percent” at a profound low, it comes as no surprise that professional sports teams allow displays of patriotic pageantry because the Pentagon pays them for the “air time.” The defense of the country has become simply another item in the advertising retinue of Endless Marketing.) Given this predicament of youthful cynicism about military service, the only way that the United States can retain its primacy on the planet is through a technological agenda that oozes delusional sweat through every pore of its full-metal paranoia. If anyone thinks that Bernie Sanders’s call for a political revolution is going to change this, please pause for a moment and consider the morning of January 27, 2017. A week after being formally inaugurated, President Sanders will be given his first, full top-secret briefing of DARPA’s drawing boards (DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Trust me on this: the frisson that Sanders will feel on being a glimpse of the robotic deployment of laser-guided weaponry will be enough to justify Sander’s willingness to endorse an increase in DARPA’s budget. The man who was a conscientious objector when the draft called his name in the early years of the Vietnam War will not hesitate to endorse a new generation of weapons systems that are intended to vaporize civilians even more efficiently than at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and certainly more efficiently than at Dresden.

Bernie Sanders has called for a political revolution that takes our country back from the billionaires. That is a paltry first step, and wholly inadequate. In his current campaign for President, Sanders has not emphatically proposed and reiterated anything that addresses the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. As a member of the House of Representatives and as a Senator in recent years, Sanders has in fact pulled the hardest at bringing the world back from the brink of WMD obliteration that it seemed to be moving away from by the early 1990s. However, in his on-going campaign, I do not hear a truly progressive call for a reduction in nuclear weapons or a call for semi-annual global conferences that would concentrate on this threat to the entire planet. Let us remember that there are scientists and engineers who are hard at work, at the very moment you are reading these words, developing weapons that would result in the curtain call of the Anthropocene. I realize that in and of itself, that would not necessarily be an unfair penalty for the perpetrators. The tragedy is that it would probably take every other mammal with it.

War’s prevalence is too negligible an issue in Sanders’s primary talking points. In making a choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for President in 2008, the key factor that determined my vote was the war in Iraq. Who voted for it? Who voted against it? I knew in my gut that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, and I would have been willing to bet my life on it. Unfortunately, there was no way to make that wager and have history change on the outcome. So the question in 2008 was: who had been willing to stand up against the war’s progenitors? Who defied Bush and Cheney and did not give consent to this war? Clinton was terrified that she would be portrayed in some future political campaign as too soft on terrorists to qualify as a commander-in-chief. Obama didn’t flinch: he said no to that war. Because Clinton did not have the courage to speak up against the war, I voted for her opponent.

One might think that the same distinction between Sanders and Clinton eight years later would be the deciding factor in my upcoming vote. Because of his unwillingness to engage in a critique of military power akin to his economic manifesto, however, Sanders has far from earned my vote. Let us remember: he claims to be a genuine progressive, not a radical progressive. Given his refusal to call for a radical evaluation of American military power, I see little ultimate difference between Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Yes, of course, Clinton will side with the worst elements of Trade Pacts and Credit Card Usury. We know that Clinton, like Obama, will fail to support any meaningful job training programs. The track record of Hillary Clinton’s husband as President was pathetically dismal, and why would she be different? He betrayed the people who made phone calls and walked precincts on his behalf back in 1992. If you are a working person and make the same kind of efforts in 2016, she will dump you on the economic sidelines in the next four year with similar alacrity. Economically, only Sanders can be half-way trusted by any working person who remembers the massive lay-offs of the 1990s and President Bill Clinton’s callous indifference to the plight of working people.

I am all too aware of how few people my age will feel my ambivalence. For one thing, most people born between 1940 and 1955 who lean towards the Democratic party are in favor of Hilary Clinton. I understand their preference, and in point of fact, if they are white, they are an admirable minority. Let it not be forgotten that the majority of white people in the Baby Boom generation voted for McCain and Romney in 2008 and 2012. ‘Tis pity tis true.

Such conservatism in my generation only reminds me of what a myth has surrounded the 1960s and early 1970s. The image is that of massive protests and social opposition to the evils of racist imperialism. The reality is that the cluster of young white people who actively spoke out against the Vietnam War and in favor of civil rights legislation was a distraught and passionately thoughtful minority. Little has changed. I remain in solemn vigilance.

(The above was revised on Sunday, February 21, 2016.)
POST-SCRIPT: As I have mentioned on several blog entries during the three and a half years I have done this blog on poetry, visual art, music, and superstructure of ground level conditions, I can be contacted at:

While it may frustrate some people that I do not permit commentary, I will also say yet once again: I learned a valuable lesson from Ron Silliman’s experience of doing a blog; he eventually had to turn off the comments stream because it simply took up too much time to monitor the civility of the discourse. I have no desire to reinvent the wheel of his frustration with the perversity of internet trolls. If you disagree with me, please feel free to start your own blog and post your responses. Or write me at the above e-mail address.

Comments are closed.