Gore Vidal, veteran of WWII, died last week. Here’s something he wrote in 2003.
I can recall thinking, when I got out of the Army in 1946, Well, that’s that. We won. And those who come after us will never need do this again. Then came the two mad wars of imperial vanity — Korea and Vietnam. They were bitter for us, not to mention for the so-called enemy. Next we were enrolled in a perpetual war against what seemed to be the enemy-of-the-month club. This war kept major revenues going to military procurement and secret police, while withholding money from us, the taxpayers, with our petty concerns for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
He might have added another petty concern: national solvency.
And still another: military preparedness.
Today, the US has no worthy enemies. Still, it spends $1 trillion a year — fully loaded — to defend itself against them. The ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents’ it protects us against have no divisions, no trained officers, no heavy armor, no ships, no aircraft, and no heavy weapons. That is why the news from the front is so boring; the newspapers barely report it. There are no pitched battles. No Napoleonic charges. No breathtaking victories. No Stalingrads. No Gettysburgs. No brilliant strategies. No crushing defeats.
Oh, for another battle of Kursk! It was the greatest land battle in history…a tank battle pitting the Germans’ Tigers and Panzers — about 3,000 of them — against the Soviet’s T-34s, of which there were about 5,000 in the area. The Germans’ tanks had greater range. But the Soviets’ tanks were faster…and there were more of them. Wehrmacht forces numbered almost half a million men. For their part, the Soviets had 1.5 million soldiers. The ground was firm. The sky was clear. Both sides fielded experienced, battle-hardened troops.
This was a monster slugfest. Too bad both monsters couldn’t lose!
It was a battle on a scale the world never saw before…or since. You already know how it ended. The Soviets had many advantages. First, they had the German’s battle plans. They knew where they would strike. So, they built 8 defensive lines…including tank traps and minefields…which slowed the attackers down and wore them out. Second, the Soviets had shorter supply lines. They could rush more troops and equipment to the front much more easily than their enemy. Third, they had a huge superiority in men and machines.
Most important, after the defeat at Stalingrad, the gods of war had gone over to the other side. The momentum of the war had quickly turned against the 1,000-year Reich. Christmas fruitcake would last longer.
Even if the Germans had won the battle of Kursk, they would have gained little. It would have been an empty victory; there was no way to follow up. They lacked the forces to launch another big offensive into the Soviet heartland.
The Germans were on the defensive everywhere. They had already lost North Africa and now they were losing Italy too. A huge invasion of France, though still a year away, was inevitable.
If they had been smarter, they would have renounced their agenda of conquest, taken all their troops back to Germany itself — as fast as possible — begging forgiveness and promising never to set foot beyond the Rhine or the Oder ever again. Maybe there they could put up enough of a fight to force an end to the war without being totally annihilated.
Instead, Hitler had given orders to hold ground everywhere. The Battle of Kursk was intended to give the Germans time. Time to what? Time to lose on a bigger scale!
If only the US had been on the scene; it might have learned something. The US was not involved in that battle. Which is probably a good thing, since its tank crews were inexperienced, and its tanks inferior; US forces probably would have been wiped out, no matter which side they backed.
But now, 70 years later, the US is prepared for the battle. It has 2,300 M1 Abrams tanks in service around the world….and another 3,000 just sitting around in the desert awaiting orders. These tanks are super-big, super-heavy, super sophisticated with super firepower…and super expensive. They can turn an entire building into a pile of rubble from 2 and a half miles away.
On today’s battlefields, if you can call them that, the M1 Abrams is in a class of its own. None were knocked out of action in the Iraq war by enemy tanks. The main threat to the M1 turned out to be friendly fire and IEDs — homemade explosives.
Unlike WWII, when the US had the 16th largest army in the world, smaller than Rumania, this time the US is prepared. But preparedness is like everything else under the sun. It soon reaches the point of declining marginal utility. When you reach that level, the more prepared you get the less prepared you are.
That point was probably reached some 110 years …at least 500 billion dollars… and perhaps 5,000 M1s ago. In the 1890s, Teddy Roosevelt had so much preparedness he used it to wallop 200,000 Filipinos. As for the half a trillion dollars, it’s the part of current ‘security’ spending — grosso modo — which has nothing to do with defense and everything to do with giving offense to civilized people all over the globe, which is what got Gore Vidal worked up.
No need to get indignant about it. That’s just the way the gods of war amuse themselves. They encourage dim militarists to spend themselves into bankruptcy, preparing for a war the nation will never again fight. Which is why the M1 story is important.
The maker of the M1 Abrams is General Dynamics. When the Pentagon announced that it would like to stop spending money on the M1, the company was justifiably upset. It had spent millions to buy key members of Congress. It expected to get a good return on its investment.
For its part, the Pentagon thought it could save a little money by putting off refurbishment of the tanks for a few years. This would save $3 billion, admittedly chicken feed, but it would also give it time to redesign the beast for what it imagines might be future combat.
But lobbyists got on the case, apparently timing their campaign donations to correspond with key decision points. Lydia Mulvany reports on what happened next:
“After putting the tank money back in the budget then, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have authorized it again this year, allotting $181 million in the House and $91 million in the Senate. If the company and its supporters prevail, the Army will refurbish what Army chief of staff Ray Odierno described in a February hearing as “280 tanks that we simply do not need.”
Mr. Odiero says the M1 is a relic of an earlier age of warfare. It would have been great — maybe — at Kursk. But when the enemy has no tanks, it is merely an expensive — and vulnerable — pile of metal.
Said Mr. Odiero at a February hearing:
“We don’t believe we’ll ever see a straight conventional conflict again in the future,” he said.
Which is why the M1 is perfect. At least to the Law of Declining Marginal Utility.
It allows the military industry to spend billions while actually making itself less able to fight the wars of the future.
Bill Bonner,for The Daily Reckoning
Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America's most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind The Daily Reckoning. Dice Have No Memory: Big Bets & Bad Economics from Paris to the Pampas, the newest book from Bill Bonner, is the definitive compendium of Bill's daily reckonings from more than a decade: 1999-2010.
it’s one of the penalties of winning. the situation is dire, the conflict intense, the stakes high, you win, the enemy goes away … and everyone who wasn’t there starts saying, hey, there’s no enemy, why did we ever spend this money on THAT, that money could have been mine, it SHOULD be mine, give it to me!
yep, because no-one could beat us at it, because we are prepared for it and no-one else is. that’s why. let’s just keep it that way, shall we?
“No one could beat us at it…” ? Only poorly fed, poorly clothed, sandal-wearing insurgents with cheap, jack-leg, jury-rigged bomb-making junk, that’s all!!! Try again gman. The whole 1st and 3rd world has just witnessed the flouting of the US juggernaut over the last decade….The US heading back home trying to look respectable with our tails between our remaining legs as the line of amputees in these ‘wars of liberation’ get longer and longer.
Only poorly fed, poorly clothed, sandal-wearing insurgents with cheap, jack-leg, jury-rigged bomb-making junk, that’s all!!!
Not only that we are allowing those very same insurgents to scare us into spending so much money we don’t have in an miserable attempt to defeat them. Kind of like what we did to the Russians. We broke them.
>>yep, because no-one could beat us at it, because we are prepared for it and no-one else is. that’s why. let’s just keep it that way, shall we?<<
And while the US is so supremely prepared for the last war, there are others preparing for the next.
Hubris is fatal
much easier and cheaper to make enemies than friends… more fun, too… who doesn’t like explosions and wrecking stuff? watching a bunker buster home in on a hardened target makes me giddy. like they say, kill ‘em all and let God sort them out. that’l teach them to mess with number one.
sometimes I even bore myself.
Don’t worry, the tanks were paid for with fiat money which we all know is sort of imaginary and was printed up and so it did not really cost anything. Right? We still got’s our Gold in Fort Knox, right?
I heard it’s empty. Hasn’t been counted in 40 some years. They probably sent it all north to make Maple Leafs.
well, I posted a reply, but it didn’t come up. guess you’ll all have to be content with your views! good thing you’re not in charge though ….
Maybe we could rent them out for birthday parties.
>Today, the US has no worthy enemies.
Actually, the whole world hates the american scumbags and has the resources to nuke them.
Bill is a little bit off on this one.
The U.S. continue to spend $1 trillion every year for a good reason. It is to fight enemies who surely will threaten America’s very survival. But who are these enemies? Well, just wait until Obama is gone and the Republican party get back into total power. Then they’ll MAKE all necessary enemies to justify big multi-trillion dollar wars. What is America without wars? An America without wars will fracture into pieces. That, my friend, is its dire threat to survival – no wars.
Who are we preparing to fight? No one even threatens the US? Russia, China …neither gives the slightest indication that they’d want to ever fight America. At least not unless we go over to them and pick a fight with them.
You don’t need tanks to fight a War of Terror. We might need some tanks in S. Korea, but that’s only because we were there. We could eliminate that need by simply pulling our troops out of S. Korea.
You fight terrorists with intel and special forces. Not tanks and aircraft carriers and super-duper jets that fly at 30,000 feet.
Personally, I think most of the Terror War would go away if we’d just pull out of the middle east and other places. We mainly have those problems because we are out aggressively in the rest of the world trying to tell everyone else what to do. Stop doing that, and most of the ‘terrorists’ go away.
Realistically, we need enough ground forces to stop an invasion from Canada or Mexico. And neither seems like they want to invade. We’d want enough Navy to keep enemies away from our Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. You could do most of that with air-power, land-based anti-ship missiles, submarines and quick missile launching boats. And we need enough airpower to defend ourselves.
We could do the above for a LOT, LOT less than what we spend today, and still be perfectly safe.
The tanks still have a use – against American citizens, like every other weapon that was initially tried first against foreigners. When the dollar dies and the rebellion starts, the “shock and awe” will be local.
“who doesn’t like explosions and wrecking stuff? watching a bunker buster home in on a hardened target makes me giddy. like they say, kill ‘em all and let God sort them out. that’l teach them to mess with number one”
Yep,,, As a Vietnam veteran I now understand why we were there and why I watched so many die… Americans that is…
free speech at this site is a myth
Ah, the M1 Abrams. A useless piece of shiittt! This tank was designed for battle in Europe. After WWII the U.S. threw billions upgrading the roads to accomadate the huge bulk the M1 Abrams. This tank was a useless pile of shiittt in the Serbia/Kosovo conflict. This is due to the fact that the roads in Serbia are old pre war. The bridges couldn’t hold the weight, the roads are soviet Union engineered piles of shiittt that bottle neck the movement of these behemoths and make them vunerable to attack. The days of tanks and static defences are over. The Germans adapted Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn’s strategy of move fast, Blitzkrieg. Don’t get bogged down with indefensible stategies.
It’s all about keeping the people at General Dynamics working, and nothing to do with keeping any of us safe. It would be better if the leaders at Gen Dyn would come up with something useful for us to spend our money we don’t have on.
“free speech at this site is a myth”
well I’m fairly unpopular and I’ve never been deleted or banned. sometimes the posts don’t go up, but it seems merely a random glitch in the upload software.
“watching a bunker buster home in on a hardened target makes me giddy.” Yea, gotta love that smell of napalm in the morning.
“gotta love that smell of napalm in the morning.”
“someday this war’s gonna end.”
Yea gman, been there smelled that,,, but it’s not naplam, it’s the smell of entire villages that were incinerated. The smell of human flesh burning is one you wouldn’t forget… some actually liked it,,, laughed at the charred bodies. You could see the power trip they were on. I was 19 and found it and them disgusting. Still do!
“some actually liked it,,, laughed at the charred bodies.”
yeah. there are always people like that, on every side. some of them have their finger on the buttons for nuclear weapons, some of them are in idaho waiting for the collapse of the government so they can live as they please. you do the best you can ….
after the soviet union fell records came to light that during the cold war they kept two icbm’s loaded up with smallpox virus the entire time.
Afghanistan is to the USA what Stalingrad was to Hitler. The US can’t win there. Nor can they retreat.
Rowdy, thank you for the common sense. It’s so rare these days that’s it’s nice to see.
Suppose paranoia is more profitable than peace. You guys certainly know how to get up other peoples noses. US has probably already started WW111 we just don’t know it yet!
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