No question about it. In 1991, it was the greatest power on the face of the Earth. There had never been anything like it -- or so it seemed when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union, that other superpower of the Cold War era, imploded. Left alone on the planet, then, was a single mighty nation, wealthy beyond compare. To that one-of-a-kind land fell the obvious task of reorganizing a world and, given its military, what could possibly stand in its way? After all, it already possessed an unprecedented number of military bases stretching across the globe. History had simply never seen anything like it.
In the history to come, there would be nothing like the America that the Washington elite of that moment imagined either. Up against only the most pathetic of local anything-but-superpowers, with Russia reduced to a shadow of its Soviet self and China just beginning its rise, the U.S. military, funded like none other on Earth, stood alone -- except for a few local autocrats and a small crew of Islamic extremists (whom the U.S. had once supported in a war against the Red Army in Afghanistan). And yet...
Oh yes, there was that First Gulf War against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It would be hailed as a wonder of a techno-triumph and celebrated with glorious victory parades here in the U.S., but somehow it would also prove strangely indecisive, leaving Saddam in power. Then, of course, there were the twenty-first-century invasions of Afghanistan and (again) Iraq and the utterly indecisive "forever wars" of this century that tossed trillions of American tax dollars down the drain to no purpose whatsoever. And all of that was, of course, before the pandemic arrived, turning this country's disastrous wars into pandemic ones and its empire of bases into diseased and disease-spreading garrisons around the planet.
It's been quite a story, how the greatest power in history took itself down. TomDispatch regular Andrea Mazzarino, a co-founder of the Costs of War Project, offers a very personal version of just what all of this means today. She does so from the point of view of someone who, as the spouse of a U.S. naval officer, is embedded in an increasingly diseased American military machine in this pandemic moment. Tom
The Military Is Sick
A Navy Spouse's Take on Why We're Not Getting Better
By Andrea Mazzarino
American military personnel are getting sick in significant numbers in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. As The New York Times reported in a piece buried in the back pages of its July 21st edition, "The infection rate in the services has tripled over the past six weeks as the United States military has emerged as a potential source of transmission both domestically and abroad."
Indeed, the military is sick and I think of it as both a personal and an imperial disaster.
As the wife of a naval officer, I bear witness to the unexpected ways that disasters of all sorts play out among military families and lately I've been bracing for the Covid-19 version of just such a disaster. Normally, for my husband and me, the stressors are relatively mild. After all, between us we have well-paid jobs, two healthy children, and supportive family and friends, all of which allow us to weather the difficulties of military life fairly smoothly. In our 10 years together, however, over two submarine assignments and five moves, we've dealt with unpredictable months-long deployments, uncertainty about when I will next be left to care for our children alone, and periods of 16-hour workdays for my spouse that strained us both, not to speak of his surviving a major submarine accident.
You would think that, as my husband enters his third year of "shore duty" as a Pentagon staffer, the immediate dangers of military service would finally be negligible. No such luck. Since around mid-June, as President Trump searched for scapegoats like the World Health Organization for his own Covid-19 ineptitude and his concern over what rising infection rates could mean for his approval ratings, he decided that it was time to push this country to "reopen."
As it turned out, that wouldn't just be a disaster for states from Florida to California, but also meant that the Pentagon resumed operations at about 80% capacity. So, after a brief reprieve, my spouse is now required to report to his office four days a week for eight-hour workdays in a poorly ventilated, crowded hive of cubicles where people neither consistently mask nor social distance.
All of this for what often adds up to an hour or two of substantive daily work. Restaurants, dry cleaners, and other services where Pentagon staffers circulate only add to the possibility of his being exposed to Covid-19.
My husband, in other words, is now unnecessarily risking his own and his family's exposure to a virus that has to date claimed more than 150,000 American lives -- already more than eight times higher than the number of Americans who died in both the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed.
In mid-August, he will transfer to an office job in Maryland, a state where cases and deaths are again on the rise. One evening, I asked him why it seemed to be business as usual at the Pentagon when numbers were spiking in a majority of states. His reply: "Don't ask questions about facts and logic."
After all, unless Secretary of Defense Mark Esper decides to speak out against the way President Trump has worked to reopen the country to further disaster, the movement of troops and personnel like my husband within and among duty stations will simply continue, even as Covid-19 numbers soar in the military.
America's Archipelago of Bases
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