By Sherwood Ross
(Special) --- On the brown prairie just a few miles west of Belle Fourche, (pronounced BELL-foosh, South Dakota), a town that styles itself the geographic heart of America, you can pull your car off two-lane blacktop highway 212 and watch the antelope graze. These graceful creatures keep back a couple of hundred yards from the road, and if you approach them to take pictures they will pick up their heads and tails and amble off in the opposite direction. They're wary enough so that if some fool with a rifle tried to take a shot, there's a good chance they'd escape.
Now and then behind the barbed wire fence strung along the highway, you can spot the antelope grazing near the concrete ruins of an abandoned missile silo nudging above the surface. Here, at the height of the Cold War, missiles slept waiting for the alarm clock that would ring if nuclear war broke out with Soviet Russia. The antelope pay no mind to the possibility some really indigestible stuff might have leaked up from the silos that might ruin their meal.
The nuclear silos were peopled by two men, so that, in theory, if one went nuts, the other could prevent him from launching the nuclear missile on his own initiative. A U.S. Senator once boasted, "We can hit the men's room in the Kremlin" and these silo soldiers were the plumbers at the ready to flush the world's troubled toilet bowls. In order to fire the missile, though, both operators had to turn the handles of their instruments simultaneously. The only wee problem is someone figured out how one man could disable the other and, by using a rope attached to a spoon, turn the disabled man's trigger along with his own, thus launching his own private nuclear holocaust.
Much of the country's nuclear stockpile has been dismembered, and the ranchers in nearby Belle Fourche are no longer collecting a little extra rent from the Pentagon for the use of their meadowlands. They console themselves with a homespun parade and genuine rodeo every July 4th that's worth a trip to South Dakota. Cowpokes on the floats throw candy at bystanders and the cowgirls racing around the barrels in the arena are among the prettiest.
USA has reduced its stockpile of nuclear warheads to about 10,000, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. "No Nukes News," published by Peace Action Education Fund of Washington, D.C., says the arsenal is nevertheless equivalent to 130,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. "This is firepower enough to destroy the Earth, and all life on it many times over," they observe.
Nuclear war-ready America is just one of the several props that sustain the Military- Industrial Complex (MIC). Nuclear warfare began when President Truman sought a way to shorten WWII, in part to save the lives of U.S. fighting men. The bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki did that all right, at the expense of shredding international conventions against bombarding civilians. Another outcome was the costliest arms race in history. If the U.S. could drop the atomic bomb, why couldn't Soviet Russia make one and drop one? Why not China? Israel? India? Iran? And rather than share the technology with its wartime Soviet allies, the U.S.-U.K. bomb developers kept the secret to themselves, insuring a nuclear arms race that has bled the U.S. of $7-trillion since the Manhattan project. Albert Einstein, looking back, said writing FDR about the possibility of creating an atomic weapon was the worst mistake he ever made in his life. Over the years, the manufacture and testing of A-Bombs and H-bombs would lead directly to many deaths and fill the atmosphere with poisonous fallout liable to cause cancers for centuries to come. As for the cost of a Cold War that might have been averted, General Douglas MacArthur, hardly a pacifist, said, "The hundreds of billions of dollars now spent in mutual preparedness (by America and the Soviet Union) could conceivably abolish poverty from the face of the earth."
Earlier, when FDR's appointee to run the War Production Board, Donald Nelson, a former Sears' vice president, had a difference with the Pentagon, FDR told Nelson not to rock the boat. It was General Brehon Somervell, boss of Pentagon procurement, who called the shots. So military contractors built and overbuilt, to the point where the U.S. produced, for instance, more than 130 aircraft carriers during WWII, so many it sent a flotilla of leftovers to ally Winston Churchill.
In 1944, with an Allied victory probable and when humungous stockpiles of ammunition and other war materials were climbing skyward, many small contractors wanted to begin the conversion to peace-time consumer goods. According to author Cook, the big defense contractors quashed this initiative because the nimble small players could convert more quickly, so nothing was done until the top defense contractors were good and ready.
Starting with WWII, according to Cook, permanent revolving doors were built linking the Pentagon and Corporate America. There were 1,400 executives from the rank of major and up employed by the top 100 defense contractors, he said. General Dynamics alone had 27 generals and admirals on its payroll. That practice continues to this day, and at the highest levels. The MIC crowd also occupies top slots in Washington. As John Perkins noted in "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" (Plume), George Shultz, Nixon's Treasury secretary, served as a Bechtel president and Caspar Weinberger, Defense Secretary under President Reagan, had been a Bechtel vice president. Bechtel, of course, is one of the Pentagon's leading business partners.
During the Fifties, many generals and their business buddies fanned out across the country preaching the gospel of preparedness and, at times, even the lunacy of preventive war. Government contributed to the hysteria by urging Americans to build fallout shelters. In an uncharacteristic but prescient remark, General MacArthur declared: "Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear --- kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor - with the cry of a grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded."
So it was that another general, President Dwight Eisenhower said upon leaving the White House, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
In words that now seem prophetic written in 1962, Cook predicted Vietnam: "If we are dragged into another (after Korea) limited war in Southeast Asia, we shall bleed ourselves of our finest youth and our future leadership in a blind endeavor to halt and contain by force an ideology we detest. The battle, if it is fought on these terms can only succeed in bleeding us white in endless 'police actions.'"
"America has been changed without any popular recognition of the fact, from a peace-loving and isolationist democracy into a Warfare State whose real intent...is not the preservation of peace and law and order in the world, but the extension of our own capitalist system throughout the world..." Cook concluded, adding "...insanity has become our way of life."
As a result of the CIA's breeding so much hatred around the world, if we're not scared out of our wits over possible reprisals, maybe we should be. Today, leftover Cold War era nukes can be smuggled into the U.S. and detonated. How does an industrialized nation with so much to lose respond to a desert kingdom or a stateless gang of thugs having access to a nuclear trigger? What good are all the Star Wars anti-missile defense shields (still being built, naturally, at great cost to the taxpayers,) against incoming missiles, when the nuclear strike can be imported for cheap on a cargo ship? It is nations such as the U.S. and Great Britain, whose leaders decided 60 years ago to build atomic weapons, that stand in the gravest peril today as a result of that decision.
Speaking of the Star Wars defense, the New York Times reported a senior Congressional investigator has accused the Government Accounting Office of covering up a scientific fraud among builders of the $26-billion system designed as an anti-nuclear missile shield. The contractors are off to a poor start, he said, on a system that will eventually cost the taxpayers $250-billion. The investigator, Subrata Ghoshroy, said GAO ignored evidence the two main contractors "had doctored data, skewed test results and made false statements" to the government. Ten years ago like charges were made by a senior engineer who then charged contractor TRW in 1995-96 "had falsified research findings" about the project. (By the way, how many public schools can you build for $250-billion? How much low- and moderate-income housing? How much mass transit? How many diseases could you wipe out around the globe?)
As the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in UK's "The Guardian" on July 15, 2004: "In 2003, close to half the total US government discretionary expenditure was used for military purposes. A large part was for weapons procurement or development. Nuclear-powered submarines run to billions of dollars, individual planes to tens of millions each."