Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jobs -- Is War The Only Solution?

I can’t call off the war. I’ve already paid a month’s rent on the battlefield.” – G Marx

The hot topic in the news, not surprisingly, is the economy and the jobless recovery we seem to be in right now. Many people have now been out of work for a year or more with no sign that they will return to work any time soon.

What is to be done?

Two schools of thought have emerged – The Stimulators and the Free Marketeers.

The Stimulators are advocating for more government spending while the Free Marketeers believe we have already spent too much and we should instead let market forces decide who fails and who survives. Everyone looks back to the Great Depression and FDR for clues as to how we might solve our current economic woes, but in this case hindsight appears to be less than 20/20. One thing both camps seem to agree on is the fact that it was World War Two that brought the US economy back to full and robust life.

So, is war the only answer?

One of the goals of war (as outlined in the 1967 book Report From Iron Mountain On The Possibility And Desirability Of Peace) is to use up the produce of our labors. “Why is war so wonderful? Because it creates artificial demand…the only kind of artificial demand, moreover, that does not raise any political issues: war, and only war, solves the problem of inventory.” (p35)

We are already engaged in two wars that have proven to be ruinous to our economy rather than the boom World War Two was. Now some would say that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bear little resemblance to what is arguably the seminal event of the 20th Century and they are quite correct. Unlike WWII, that saw the entire US on a war footing, we are fighting the “War on Terrorism” more like we did the Vietnam War, with a peacetime economy. The current wars are simply not using up enough inventory.

So, does this mean we need a really BIG war to revive our economy?

And if so, then with whom shall we fight?

Germany and Japan are now our allies, as are the Italians. Russia, who was our ally in WWII and then our enemy during the Cold War, is certainly big enough, but given their current economic woes they seem an unlikely opponent.

China, on the other hand, has both a robust economy and a first class military. However, beyond MacArthur’s warning against undertaking a land war in Asia, attacking China would be like attacking your local Wal-Mart. Yes, it might be fun at the time, and yes the pillaging would certainly be impressive, but once the fires died out where would you shop for all of those items you need & want?

That leaves Iran, the current enemy of first choice for neo-cons and anyone else who slept through their high school history classes.

The last person to defeat the Persians was Alexander the Great, and his empire didn’t last very long. Even the Romans, whose empire did endure, found the Persians a tough nut to crack. Yes, they could and did sack the Persian capital several times, but the Romans did not have the resources, and more importantly, the will to stay the course and solidify their Eastern conquests. This is worth noting, as the Romans traditionally had proven to be dogged in their pursuit of victory. The Punic Wars and the Siege of Jerusalem are but two examples of the Romans spending whatever it took, in blood and treasure, to secure a lasting victory on their terms. Yet, when it came to Persia, their resolve seemed to crumble in the face of more practical considerations. If nothing else the Romans were both practical and pragmatic to a fault.

Despite neo-con hyperbole and promises to the contrary, a war with Iran will be neither short nor easy. Be that as it may, the real question is: would it revive our economy? Maybe, but the chances are that as the aggressors, most Americans would quickly lose heart and our eventual victory would leave a bitter taste in our mouths.

So, who then to fight a new world war against and in so doing save our economy and put our people back to work?


If only the Nazis really had retreated to the Moon (as postulated in the film Iron Sky) and were, even now, waiting for just the right moment to return to Earth and fight World War II The Sequel.

Damn Nazis – where are they when we really need them?

So, no enemy means no war, and no economic recovery.

Or does it?

In the 1970’s President Jimmy Carter tired to rally Americans to “fight the moral equivalent of war” and in so doing save the planet and ourselves from ecological disaster. This call to arms, issued long before Al Gore spoke of the Inconvenient Truth, fell on deaf ears. And yet, Carter was correct, both morally and economically. He was simply ahead of his time.

Many derided Carter then, and Al Gore now, yet 30+ years since Carter's presidency clean water is still a luxury for many, basic health care is unobtainable for too many, and renewable, sustainable, green energy is a dream for all but the very few.

The looming ecological disaster is now more obvious (the doubters not withstanding – the ice caps really are melting folks) and the economic need is obvious. Time to dust off Carter’s Moral Equivalent. It is time for the Unarmed Forces of the United States.

This new force would be organized, trained and led just like the US Army. They would wear the same uniforms, have the same rank structure, be grouped into squads, platoons, battalions, and so forth, be subject to the UCMJ and receive the same pay and privileges as the current US military. They would, for all intents and purposes, be soldiers, but they would not carry weapons nor fight on the conventional battlefield.

The US Army is currently reshaping itself away from the heavy infantry and armored divisions it thought it would need to fight against the Warsaw Pact, and towards the more flexible and rapidly deployable Brigade Combat Team. The adoption of the Stryker combat vehicle and the doctrine of Total Situational Awareness have hastened this transformation.

A typical Stryker Brigade has a TO&E of just under 5,000 personnel. This number is in some flux as the Army works out exactly how many soldiers it needs in the Support Battalion and the Forward Support Companies, however, for our purposes (and to keep the math simple) we may say that each Brigade Team has 5000 soldiers.

If each state raised four Brigade Ecological Teams (BET) of 5000 soldiers each we would have a new army of 1 million solders across the fifty states. They would need uniforms and equipment, vehicles, housing, food and all the other items any army needs in order to function.

Additionally, because the BET is not designed nor expected to engage in combat, the ranks throughout the brigade would be open to both men and women. Engineer, medical and logistics units would replace actual combat elements. Required skill sets would run the gamut and include doctors and other medical technicians, engineers and skilled construction professionals, electricians, heavy equipment operators, communications and networking engineers, law enforcement and education, agricultural specialists, etc. etc. etc.

This one million in uniform would require several more millions supporting them, producing and providing them with the tools and equipment, food and supplies they would consume in the course of performing their job.

Doing what?

Working to restore the ecological balance of our planet.

Green Energy Projects

Clean Water & Water Reclamation

Infrastructure Upgrades both physical and virtual

Disaster Relief

Forest Restoration

How long will this war last?

Long enough for most of the new soldiers to make a career of it, retiring after 20 years with a pension pegged at 50% of their base pay.

Many (my brother the lawyer and my sister with the PhD in Economics) might well say that this approach, a gigantic government works program, is totally impractical for a host of legal and economic reasons. They may be absolutely correct.

Likewise, there are some (those who remained awake in their High School History classes) who might recall that Germany tired much the same approach in the 1930’s and 40’s, drafting able bodied young men and women into labor battalions of the National Labor Service (RAD). This approach not only fed upon the need for jobs but also the seemingly unique German penchant (some might say ‘love’) for organization, uniforms and marching.

Of course, any association with the Nazis is be avoided, and for good reason, however, given the typical American's natural rebelliousness, it seems unlikely the BET would devolve into some sort of political shock troops. Even so, those of a practical bent might still object, and they too may be absolutely correct.

Yet practical thinking seems to be getting us nowhere, so perhaps it is time for some impractical thinking.

Now I am not the first to suggest the Unarmed Forces of the United States (UFUS) and I dare say I will not be the last, however the time has come to give this proposal serious consideration.

Just as the Founding Fathers looked to those great civilizations of Greece and Rome for guidance in the formation of our own Grand Democratic Republic so it is fitting that we consider again this concept of Universal Service.

Military service has never been a prerequisite for holding elected office in our country. Although many on the right pay lip service to such a concept, in fact few members of the GOP have served. Indeed it is a peculiar irony of the US Congress that of those few who have served the majority are Democrats, while the majority of Republican members have never served or have actively avoided military service even when their country called upon them for their help.

Service as a Hoplite, a “citizen soldier,” was a corner stone of Greek Democracy during the age of the City States. Likewise, during the years of the Republic, members of the Roman Senate regularly served in the military as part of their duty as citizens. (Of course, Rome may be unique in this regard and perhaps not the best example, for Rome did not have an army – Rome was an army.) Some have even advocated military service as the price for citizenship, along the lines portrayed in Robert Heinlein’s book Starship Troopers. However, this is perhaps carrying the concept too far.

The idea of universal military service as a requirement for the holding of elected office has its merits and the advent of the Unarmed Forces of the United States would allow for more of our fellow citizens to do so without undue risk to life and limb. Those who chose to service in the UFUS would have a longer term of active duty obligation than those who selected service in the Armed Forces. Say 4 years in the former and 2 in the latter. Beyond that there would be no distinction between the two forces in look, discipline, basic structure, pay or benefits.

Cleaning up the Earth and restoring some ecological balance to our planet would seem, on the face of it, both imminently practical and wisely foresighted. Besides, keeping one’s only home clean and in working order is only common sense.

And, once we have cleaned up Earth there is Mars and the galaxy beyond. It will take a lot of inventory to fill up outer space.