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Tomgram: Michael Klare, Acclimatizing the U.S. Military

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

In case you hadn't noticed, the climate change news is anything but good. There was that dismal recent United Nations Emissions Gap Report on how far so many countries are from meeting their Paris climate accord commitments on staunching greenhouse gas emissions. Then there was the World Meteorological Organization's latest global climate report predicting that this decade will "almost certainly be the warmest" on record, with its second half proving significantly warmer than its first. Finally, the Global Carbon Project just reported new carbon-dioxide emissions figures for 2019 and, for the third year in a row, they're on track to cumulatively hit a record high. Yes, the actual gain, 0.6% this year, was lower than the 2.1% increase of 2018. Still, at a moment when any climate scientist will tell you that greenhouse gas emissions should be significantly on the decline if our children and grandchildren are to inherit a truly habitable planet, they're still going up (and up). And with the TV "news" yakking nonstop about impeachment and related Trumpian matters, this isn't even considered a major story in much of the media. In my daily New York Times (which this old guy still reads in a paper format), the Global Carbon Project story was relegated to page 12, while the front page that day highlighted the report by the House Intelligence Committee on presidential behavior re: Ukraine ("a sweeping indictment") and how, at the recent NATO meeting, Europe's leaders turned "the tables on the Great Disrupter."

And so it goes on planet Earth in 2019. In the context of the grim heating of this planet, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of the just published book All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change, focuses today on an organization that, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, has historically been the largest institutional user of petroleum and "the single largest producer of greenhouse gases." It has also, as Klare indicates in his new book, been one of the earliest government institutions to focus on the devastation climate change could bring our way. The question he considers today: How will that very institution, the Pentagon, adapt to this new future at a time when the American people chose (or at least the Electoral College chose for them) to put an arsonist in the White House as commander-in-chief? In this century, it seems that the phrase "firing squad" is gaining a new meaning as the almost perfect definition of the actions of the Trump administration and what the rest of us face. Tom

Insignia, Badges, and Medals for a Climate-Wracked Era
The U.S. Military on a Planet From Hell
By Michael T. Klare

It was Monday, March 1, 2032, and the top uniformed officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps were poised, as they are every year around this time, to deliver their annual "posture statement" on military readiness before the Senate Armed Services Committee. As the officers waited for the committee members to take their seats, journalists covering the event conferred among themselves on the meaning of all the badges and insignia worn by the top brass. Each of the officers testifying that day -- Generals Richard Sheldon of the Army, Roberto Gonzalez of the Marine Corps, and Shalaya Wright of the Air Force, along with Admiral Daniel Brixton of the Navy -- sported chestfuls of multicolored ribbons and medals. What did all those emblems signify?

Easy to spot were the Defense Distinguished Service and Legion of Merit medals worn by all four officers. No less obvious was the parachutist badge worn by General Sheldon and the submarine warfare insignia sported by Admiral Brixton. As young officers, all four had, of course, served in the "Forever Wars" of the earlier years of this century and so each displayed the Global War on Terror Service Medal. But all four also bore service ribbons -- those small horizontal bars worn over the left pocket -- for campaigns of more recent vintage, and these required closer examination.

Although similar in appearance to the service ribbons of previous decades, the more recent ones worn by these commanders were for an entirely new set of military operations, reflecting a changing global environment: disaster-relief missions occasioned by extreme climate events, critical infrastructure protection and repair, domestic firefighting activities, and police operations in foreign countries ruptured by fighting over increasingly scarce food and water supplies. All four of the officers testifying that day displayed emblems signifying their engagement in multiple operations of those types at home and abroad.

Several, for example, wore the red-black-yellow-and-blue ribbon signifying their participation in relief operations following the staggering one-two punch of Hurricanes Geraldo and Helene in August 2027. Those back-to-back storms, as few present in 2032 could forget, had inundated the coasts of Virginia and Maryland (from whose state flags the colors were derived), causing catastrophic damage and killing hundreds of people. Transportation and communication infrastructure throughout the mid-Atlantic region had been shattered by the two hurricanes, which also caused widespread flooding in Washington, D.C. itself. In response, more than 100,000 active-duty troops had been committed to relief operations across the region, often performing heroic measures to clear roads and restore power.

Also displayed on their heavily decorated uniforms were patches attesting to their membership in elite units and squadrons. General Sheldon, for example, had spent part of his military career as a member of the Army's Rangers and so wore that unit's distinctive insignia. But Sheldon, along with General Wright of the Air Force, also sported the bright red patch signifying membership in the military's elite Firefighting Brigade, established in 2026 to counter the annual conflagrations erupting across California and the Pacific Northwest. Similarly, both General Gonzalez and Admiral Brixton sported the dark-blue patch of the Coastal Relief and Rescue Command, created in 2028 for military support of disaster-relief operations along America's increasingly storm-ravaged coastlines.

Medal Mania

The media, politicians, and the general public have always been fascinated by the medals and badges worn by the nation's military leaders. This obsession intensified in November 2019 when two events received national attention.

The first was the testimony on President Donald Trump's possible impeachable offenses before the House Intelligence Committee by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top expert on Ukraine at the National Security Council. During that testimony -- which confirmed some of the claims made by an unnamed whistle-blower that the president had conditioned the release of U.S. military aid to Ukraine on an investigation of the alleged financial wrongdoing of his presumed electoral rival, Joe Biden (and his son) -- Vindman wore a full-dress uniform. It bore a purple heart (awarded for a combat wound received in Iraq) and other ribbons signifying his participation in the war on terror and the defense of South Korea. Following his appearance, Trump supporters promptly challenged his patriotism, while many other observers affirmed that his calm assertions of loyalty in response to such charges and all those medals on his uniform accorded him unusual credibility.

The second episode occurred just a few weeks later when President Trump intervened in a formal Navy proceeding to allow Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher -- once on trial for serious war crimes -- to retain his "Trident" pin, the symbol of his membership in the Navy's elite SEAL commando unit. Gallagher had served multiple tours of duty in the country's twenty-first-century "forever wars." He had also been accused by fellow SEALs of murdering a wounded and unconscious enemy combatant and then having himself photographed while proudly holding the dead body up by the hair.

When tried by fellow officers last June, Gallagher was acquitted of the murder charge after a key witness changed his story. He was, however, found guilty of taking a "trophy" photo of a dead enemy, a violation of military rules. When, on this basis, the Navy sought to eject Gallagher from the SEALs and strip him of his Trident pin, President Trump, egged on by conservative pundits, overruled the top brass and allowed him to keep that insignia. "The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin," Trump tweeted on November 21st.

Like Lt. Col. Vindman, Chief Petty Officer Gallagher wore numerous service ribbons in his courtroom and public appearances and, in his case, too, they signified participation in the forever wars of the twenty-teens. A quick look at the badges borne by most other senior officers today would similarly reveal participation in those conflicts, as almost every senior commander has been obliged to serve several tours of duty in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

By 2019, however, public support for engagement in those conflicts had largely evaporated and -- to again peer into the future -- during the 2020s, U.S. military involvement in such seemingly endless and futile contests would diminish sharply. Defense against China and Russia would remain a major military concern, but it would generate relatively little actual military activity, other than an ever-growing investment in high-tech weaponry. Instead, in those years, on a distinctly changing planet, the military mission would begin to change radically as well. Protecting the homeland from climate disasters and providing support to climate-ravaged allies abroad would become the main focus of American military operations and so the medals and ribbons awarded to those who displayed meritorious service in performing such duties would only multiply.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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