1/23/09. NPR's Bob Edwards interviews Eugene Jarecki . "... Jarecki made the documentary film, 'Why We Fight, ' which won a Peabody Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. The movie explored the power of the military-industrial complex and its growing influence on policy which outgoing president and former general, Dwight Eisenhower, warned against in 1961. ..."
[Audio clip] Dwight D. Eisenhower: Until the latest of our world conflicts, the US had no armaments. American makers of ploughshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, 3 1/2 million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, and even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office in the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought by the military-industrial complex. [audio clip]
Bob Edwards: Now Jarecki has followed up "Why We Fight" with a book called "The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Man, and the Republican Peril."
Eugene Jarecki: Well, I wanted to take a much deeper look at the American story. "Why We Fight" focused very heavily on the rise of the military-industrial complex and its influence on policy. Dwight Eisenhower, of course, gave us that phrase when he warned us against that concentration of dangerous influence over policy. But I thought -- the more I made the film and then travelled with the film and started to talk to audiences, both civilian and military I started to take a much deeper look -- about how this all came to pass, how America lost her way. The book became a more far-reaching survey and historical analysis, combined with the present-day analysis of how this all happened to us and what we can do about it.
BE: We had Andrew Bacevitch on the program a while back. He's a retired colonel, a history professor who has a new book, "The Limits of Power." And he argued that to charge the Bush administration with primary responsibility and our foreign policy is to credit them with undeserved historical significance! You agree with that?
EJ: I do agree with it. I agree with Andrew on many things. I think he's an amazing force for our public mind. I'll take it maybe a step further, which is to say that there is an extremely dangerous phenomenon broadly in America in which we over-invest in individual the cult of personality. So I would argue that it is as wrong-headed to think that Bush and Cheney (for example) singlehandedly destroyed this country in the last eight years, as so many people want to think, as it is to think Barack Obama can singlehandedly save it. That's an over-exaggeration of what any of these individual figures do. We are looking at a far broader story of America losing her way over a far longer period of time. It's a story that belongs to both parties and certainly not to one administration or another. Even an administration like the Bush administration that I believe needs to be held accountable for real crimes that they've committed. So I say that as a parenthetical. I think there's a great deal of troubling accountability that needs to be addressed here. But that doesn't mean that they invented US foreign policy and its mischief during the past eight years!
BE: The Bush administration did not make a radical break with past foreign policy.
EJ: They made a shrill extension of what had come before. Certainly Bush has taken US policy into an extremist direction that even had people like Henry Kissinger scratching their heads. And I think the reason they were scratching their heads is that they said, "Wow! This young man is kind of impolitic about this. He doesn't understand that we candy-coat the activities we do around the world. That harsh, blunt tip of the spear representing national interests around the world, we tend not to express that as crassly as this administration did through things like torture, wars based on overt tissues of lies -- so many things that were done that were an extension of trends that were emerging before. A dangerous extension, but all the same an extension.
BE: And do you think the beginning of the Obama administration is not a new start when it comes to foreign policy?
EJ: Well, that remains to be seen, doesn't it? The real question facing Barack Obama is what does change mean, what form will change take. And the real question for the public is what do they expect of Barack Obama and what do we expect of ourselves. The point is that American foreign policy -- and public policy in general -- has gone deeply into a place that many of us don't understand. That happened over many decades. It happened from both parties and if Americans simply think that getting rid of Bush will solve it, they woefully misunderstand what's wrong in Washington where the poison is. It runs throughout all the arteries. It's corrupting so much of the body of our system that to think that Barack Obama -- even with the best of intentions and even if the indications we had that his hirings and his appointments, were true agents of change (which I don't think they are) ... even if we were seeing that -- he would be up against a mountain of resistance in the entrenched interests in Washington.
BE: Indeed, he kept Bush's defense secretary.
EJ: That was a choice that, of course, for many of Obama's critics rang out as a very troubling one for a candidate who ran not only against the Iraq war -- which Mr. Gates supported -- but also a candidate who suggested serious change in our profile around the world. Simply the choice -- Robert Gates is the first time in American history that a secretary of defense from one party has been maintained by a new president of the opposing party -- doesn't seem like chance. It seems like the quintessence of keeping a status quo. However, it's an interesting thing that in the January issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Secretary Gates actually wrote a piece in which he talked about what American foreign policy and defense policy should look like in the next few years. I have to say it's a pretty commendable piece! It's a pretty far-reaching real departure from anything he was able to do during the Bush administration. One of two things is the case: either Secretary Gates, who wrote that thing while he didn't know he was going to be kept on, wrote it for his successor -- sort of a blue sky document that he would leave someone else with -- or he might have thought that McCain, if he had won, would keep him on. Either way, we have a blueprint that we can hold this administration up against and say, "Here are some real things that the secretary of defense talked about needing to change. Let's see if they change!"
BE: What does "the American way of war" mean in the title of your book? Where does it come from?
EJ: "The American way of war" is a term which has historically been used to describe all that America brought to war-fighting that was new and different. And that largely took place during World War II and it meant that America brought industry to the battlefield. What Roosevelt called "the great arsenal of democracy" is what we identify as the American way of war: mass production, high technology, the tooth-to-tail ratio (they call it). That means for every shooter in the field, every man with a gun, there are hundreds behind him supporting, providing fuel for the tanks, the oil, the boots, the guns, the ammunition. That model of American industrial warfare -- that was the American way of war. But I argue that the American way of war has become something different. The machine has taken on a life of its own, the life that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about. That's where the American way of war has become something that eclipses the American way itself.
BE: What sort of an American way of war did the founding father envision?
EJ: They envisioned an American way of not war! The founding fathers were deeply cautious and reluctant about war. They saw their experience under the king of England as the experience of the dangerous implications of war-making for civil liberties and for the consent of the governed, as they called it -- which is fundamental to our constitutional system. The republic itself was founded on the idea that an executive who is too powerful can oppress the people and in no way can he do so more than by declaring war. When you declare war you can raise taxes for war. All of a sudden everything has a reason -- you can't question the leader. It's like on the school bus when we were kids, it always said "Do not talk to driver while bus is in motion." Well, as long as you launch a war nobody can question you. So historically, throughout time and not just American history, war favors the leader. In the framers' case, they used the phrase Jefferson and Madison wrote in a letter, "War favors the executive." They knew that. So what they wanted was a system that would keep the executive from being able frivolously to take us to war. And of course we've just seen how deeply our system has lost its checks and balances.
[Audio clip] Robert Byrd: On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war. Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. Listen! You can hear a pin drop!
BE: Ironically, it's two generals turned president where you found some of the most prescient ideas about American militarism.
EJ: Yes. I never thought I would become the torch-bearer for Dwight Eisenhower and George Washington! But I have. Eisenhower found in Washington a hero to whom he could look for guidance. I found in Dwight Eisenhower a hero to whom I could look for guidance -- and my audiences do as well, and my readers, I hope. What George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower cautioned us about was the idea that -- as Washington warned --"overgrown military establishments" (those are Washington's words) are antithetical to republican liberties. That's a huge concept. What he means exactly is what the framers broadly feared: when you allow the head of state or those in power to embark upon an overindulgence -- overengagement -- in foreign quarrels (Shakespeare said in one line in Henry IV "busy, giddy minds with foreign quarrels") that what you can do is really paralyze the people and put them in the grip of your model for state power. It alienates and disenfranchises the people by essentially saying, "It's wartime. It's no time to question the executive. We simply must do these things until the trouble passes." Of course, now we live in a world which Eisenhower would have deeply feared. Eisenhower was against preemptive war, against preventive war. He would roll over in his grave to see the path to war in Iraq. It's no wonder that Eisenhower's son John and his granddaughter Susan both felt the need to leave the Republican party, for example, over their opposition to the Iraq war. So now you have a world in which we are playing out the worst fears of Eisenhower and Washington in how military-industrial and just militarism in general as a set of forces can run away with public policy and lead us down what may turn out to be a deeply nation-destroying situation.
[Audio clips] Various voices from documentary, "Why We Fight": "The B-2 bomber has a piece of it made in every state to make sure that if you ever tried to phase that project out you will get howls -- howls! -- from among the most liberal members of Congress."
"I believe in this military. I am urging the senators to support this bill. $66 billion for our men and women in uniform..."
"I just want to thank the Chairman for working with me and adding $100 million to upgrade ten additional B-1 bombers."
"That B-1 has been a great asset for the project of power... the F-35 joint-strike fighter... I am also grateful for the work the House Armed Services Committee has done to fully fund the FA-22 program this year... God bless our contractors!"
BE: You've used the example of the B-1 bomber.
EJ: The B-1 bomber is a great example. You know, this is where we see public policy really becoming the plaything of those in power. The B-2 bomber has a piece of it made in every state. Why? I only took Econ-101 in high school. But something tells me that building a plane in every single US state is not the most efficient way to build anything. But it's a really smart thing to do if what you're trying to do is not save money. If what you're trying to do is to spend as much money as possible. What you're trying to do is keep the B-1 system going so that it doesn't get shut down. People don't say, "Why are we building this thing?" So when it comes up for review in Congress, you want everybody to get getting a piece of the action. In order to do that, it's like the Mafia families. You make sure the good stuff goes around. So the B-1 bomber is strategically ... it's no accident it's makers have targeted districts in every single US state. They're making a wheel over here, they're making a wing tip over there, they're making an engine over here. When this thing comes up for review and there's the question, should we make more of the B-1's or slow the program down, you get a lot of people voting to continue it because their bread and butter back home depends on it.
BE: Are there politicians serving today who are willing to admit all that?
EJ: I think there are certainly politicians who have gone up against it. People like Henry Waxman and John Conyers. There are certainly people in Congress -- and even, to his credit, people like John McCain did and certainly others. All too often, it is the exception because political engineering, which is the process we're talking about -- the technique of putting my weapon in as many districts as possible. Let's take the F-22 fighter. The F-22 is an air-to-air combat aircraft. We have, to date, spent $70 billion on the F-22 fighter -- and climbing. Now, the only problem with the F-22 fighter is that it's for air-to-air combat, meaning dogfights with other planes and we don't have an enemy with an air force. So when you're in a financial crisis and you see $70 billion going out the door on a plane that has nothing to do with any contemporary enemy, obviously that's a plane that should come up for review. But then you notice it's being built in 45 US states. And about 300 US districts. So when that thing comes up for review at the Congressional level, what ends up happening is that it gets looked at as "this is a threat to my livelihood back home, so I, the congressperson, am put in a conflict of interest about whether this is a good part of America's arsenal because what I'm really answering when the vote comes up is whether this is a good thing for my district."
[Audio clip] Unidentified voices from documentary: President Eisenhower's concern about the military-industrial complex -- his words have unfortunately come true. He was worried that priorities are set by benefits to corporations as opposed to benefits to country. There's too close a relationship and there's outright -- I hate to use the word "corruption" but it borders on the behavior of some of these individuals both in industry and in the Pentagon. ...
The number 1 recipient of contracts was Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton, and its subdsidiary, Kellogg, Brown, and Root. [unidentified voices]
BE: You interviewed John McCain for your film and for the book, and in the film John McCain is very outspoken, very critical of American imperialism and the military-industrial complex. At one point in the film he's asked about the no-bid contracts for Halliburton and the others, and he says, "It looks bad. It looks bad." Then when asked what should be done about it, he says, "I think there should be a public investigation of what went on." So, what happened?
EJ: Well, at that moment the phone rang during the interview. It doesn't happen that often. But we were in his office and he's a senator. The phone's going to ring.
[Audio clip of interview] Senator John McCain: ... And apparently Halliburton more than once has overcharged the federal government. That's wrong.
Interviewer: How would you tackle that?
McCain: I would have a public investigation of what they've done....
EJ: All of a sudden, John McCain looked very distracted in the middle of the interview and somebody caught his attention from offscreen -- a staffer. And the staffer let John McCain know, subtly, that the Vice President was calling.
[Audio clip] McCain: Vice President's on the phone? Okay.
EJ: And here John McCain found himself in a situation in which he was talking about many issues relating to American defense, including Halliburton, and as he said, "It looks bad" -- the bad appearance of no-bid contracting to Halliburton. And here the Vice President is calling. So all of a sudden he got very anxious and sort of stammered and nervously laughed... Certainly in my experience ever that a person left the interview to take a call. Now, granted -- it's a call from the vice president and not everybody gets those every day. I recognized it as, well, the vice president is calling and he has to take the call. The interview ended then. People have read that scene in very different ways. Some people thought it sounds fishy. Here he is talking about Halliburton and Vice President Cheney calls and he gets all nervous! One audience member said they thought maybe Vice President Cheney thought the interview had gone on long enough. I don't see it that way. I put it in the film -- I thought it was an interesting moment showing how even when a person like John McCain wants to go out on that limb -- which is such a tenuous limb in Washington -- to challenge the corrupt running of the economics of government and the poisonous corruption of our public policy-making, he's a stone's-throw from a figure as powerful as Cheney. The status quo is such a powerful force that just how far can he really go when he's that close to the seat of power. And has to do -- as we saw during his presidential campaign -- has to do anything in his power to keep Vice President Cheney and others at that level of power happy. It just undermines the spirit of reform that one would have hoped to see from Senator McCain, had he become president, or that one hopes to see when he's in the Senate. I think the same is true for Barack Obama as we look ahead. Those forces in Washington are formidable. They are not going to simply bend because of a campaign slogan. It will take a national campaign by every single one of us to hold to the fire the feet of anyone who has been elected with the idea of reforming a system that desperately needs reform.
BE: When he was in the Senate, Harry Truman made his great political reputation investigating derense contractors during World War II.
EJ: Yes, he did.
BE: A "popular" war!
EJ: A popular war! And you know we have to do it all the time. We're not just talking about bad wars vs. good wars. The framers didn't care whether a war was necessary or unnecessary. What they were fearful of was that the mechanics of how we go to war and the transparency and accountability of the decision making process was so paramount because you never know when wrongdoing -- like Vietnam, like Iraq -- when mischief is going to sneak up on the system. Sure, you may have Franklin Roosevelt, as I talk about in my book. He may do things that... My parents escaped the holocaust. I grew up in a household that looked at FDR has having done the right thing and the necessary thing. What I've learned since is that there's more to the story. Franklin Roosevelt wasn't absolutely straightforward about how he did it. There are things that he did in that process that have massively influenced the country in negative as well as positive ways ever since. So my image of him has been texturized a bit. For example, I learned that one of the things he did more than any other president in our history was to concentrate executive power in the White House. Four-term president? Franklin Roosevelt was about the closest thing we've ever come to a monarch.
BE: And of course he used the war to do that.
EJ: He used the war to do it and he did a war that we all see as necessary. So there's a grey area there. I can recognize all that is great and good about what he did. But I also need to be aware that the way in which he did it concentrated so much power in the executive branch that we almost had a monarch in the White House. What happens may not happen on his watch, bad stuff like Hiroshima. Hiroshima happened four months after he died. So all of a sudden he dies and within four months we've launched a very questionable nuclear attack on a foreign power -- frankly, because Harry Truman wasn't the intellect that Franklin Roosevelt was. And I'd argue that George Bush isn't the intellect that Harry Truman was! So sixty years on, Franklin Roosevelt's loosened shoes, where we gave him a lot more room to be an executive, are coming back to haunt us in far lesser men using those executive powers with far less consideration. That's what's dangerous and that's what the framers wanted us to be so vigilant about. The system must be kept cleaner, more managed, and more transparent to the public, or there will be mischief. The mischief stakes now have never been higher.
BE: In the book you write about something you call "the missing 'C'".
EJ: The missing "C" came from a remarkable discovery I made which is that in the original drafts of Eisenhower's farewell address -- in which he famously warned against the military-industrial complex and its threat to democracy. It turned out that in the original drafts he didn't actually use that formulation -- "military-industrial complex." He used the formulation "military-industrial-congressional compex. That word "congressional" was in there. And why was it in there? It was in there because Eisenhower as president had discovered that what really was at work poisoning public policy in Washington was a triangle. One side was military, another side was industrial, and the other side was congressional. Without the participation of members of Congress as I've described earlier -- where they are corruptible, where they are bribable, effectively, by where you bring your program and build it -- that unless you can get the approval of Congress and get them in on the take, you can be a military man or an industrialist and you won't get your policies through the government. It is through the vulnerability of our representative republic that this manipulation of public policy takes place. That's why military-industrial-congressional complex -- the missing "c" -- needed to be restored.
BE: The neo-conservative writer, Robert Kagan, said that America did not change on September 11th, it only became more itself. Do you agree with that?
EJ: I think that Robert Kagan represents a way of thinking about America that on the one hand is deeply candid and therefore commendable -- and it's also deeply twisted. I talk about Mr. Kagan in my book at some length because basically he takes a view that other neoconservatives were not willing to take and many Americans weren't willing to take. A lot of people said, "Oh, the outrage! The outrage! Look what we're doing in Iraq. It's so imperialist!" And Kagan, to his credit, said, "Imperialist? Try telling the native Americans we weren't imperialist! Try telling black Africans that we brought here against their will we weren't imperialists! Try telling the 120,000 Japanese civilians we put into internment camps in the 1940's we weren't imperialists!" I mean, he calls Americans on their fraudulent self-concept that we are some kind of Mother Theresa country that has always done right and never had a heavy hand, never been expansionist, etc. It's a crazy illusion. He's right about that. But you know what's weird? The very next thing he says is, "And since we're a great country," (I don't know where he gets that from given what he's just said about all the people we hurt, "since we're a great country we should just keep doing what we've been doing!" For 200 pages in his book, "Dangerous Nation," I think I'm reading here one of the most deep and thought-provoking critiques of American expansionism ever, and then it turns out he's saying "Yes, we've done all of this stuff, so past is prelude! Let's just keep doing it."
BE: There have been attempts to tie the neoconservatives to the political philosopher, Leo Strauss. He briefly taught former undersecretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, at the University of Chicago in the 1970's. What do you make of that Straussian connection?
EJ: Well, Paul Wolfowitz has questioned the Straussian connection and I go through when he says it's an overstatement. Again, in a certain sense I think the effort to find in the neoconservatives roots that go back to Leo Strauss or to Wolfstetter and other sort of famous, ghoulish figures from 20th century thought is to some extent unnecessary. The neoconservatives represent a far more recent history in the seizure of public policy for private gain. There is a small group of thinkers who were around during the previous Bush administration (father Bush) who wanted several things to be true about the world. They wanted us to become a far more imperial power. They had ideas about a "new world order" in which America would have a much more iron grip around the world. That got leaked to the public and it was dismissed. People just said, "This is crazy talk. This is not the country we want to be." In came Bill Clinton and those ideas were relegated to a kind of policy sideline in Washington. And this many years later, with George Jr. coming into office, those people were given a new chance in the spotlight. Back they came, out of the shadows, with a vengeance. That vengeance included a desire to knock over Saddam Hussein, a desire to create a much more militaristic and imperial foreign policy and footprint for America around the world. There is now no doubt that they seized on 9/11 as an opportunity in the most opportunistic and cynical and really deplorable way. They seized on personal tragedies for so many of us and turned it into an opportunity to launch a war that had long been in their minds.
[Audio clip] Reporter: Under fire from critics who charge he's been blurring the lines between Iraq and 9/11, President Bush was forced to clarify yesterday...
Bush: Wait, wait, wait! We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th. What the vice president said was...
Unidentified commenter: ... What'd he just say?! I mean, I almost jumped out of the chair! I don't know where people got the idea that I connected Iraq to 9/11? What is he, nuts? What the hell did we go in there for? We're getting back for 9/11. If it didn't have anything to do with 9/11, why're we goin' in there? I was mad. I was mad. My first thought is, you're a liar! I'm from the old school. Certain people walk on water. The president of the United States is one of them. If I can't trust the president of the United States, I dunno... Terrible thing when American citizens can't trust their president. You begin to wonder what the hell is with the whole system. There's something wrong with the entire system.
Another unidentified commenter: We're not going back to where we were. I find one of the sillier ideas is the notion -- and you hear it all the time -- that American policy has been highjacked by a handful of people and as soon as they're out of there, we're going to go back to the way it was. They're wrong about that. Because we are not the same people we were before.
BE: One of the first interviews you carried out for the film was with the two pilots who carried the bombs that launched Operation Iraqi Freedom.
[Audio clip] Pilot 1: March 19 is a night I will never forget.
Pilot 2: March 19 is one for the history books. It's one for my personal history book
EJ: They're incredible men. You know, I had a lot of experiences in this film talking to people in the field, our men and women in uniform. And one of the experiences that was most broadening was... you know, I've done a bunch of teaching with the film at West Point. I visited West Point several times for "Why We Fight" and then the book, "American Way of War." I've spoken to many people in uniform who participated in one level or another of the Iraq war. No two people I spoke to had a more first-hand involvement at the most elite level than the two pilots -- "Fuji" and "Tooms" they're called. Fuji and Tooms were the two men entrusted to carry out the opening strike on Iraq. It was an attempted assassination of Saddam.
[Audio clip] The decision to attack Iraqi leadership, the opening salvo -- it was a bold move. It was a new way of making war. Technology was to provide our leadership with that opportunity. The target area was called "Dora Farms". It was a presidential-type palace along the side of a river. I see the river. I know I'm at the right part of the town where I was told I needed to deliver the bomb.
Reporter: Let's just have a look at the scene live. Air raid sirens are being sounded in the Iraqi capital.
Pilot: We pressed in across the target. I think our time over target was about zero five thirty and so I let the bombs go. Let 'em rip.
Reporter: Those air raid sirens... [reporter's words drowned out by sounds of bombs]... Things seem to be heating up...
Pilot: We dropped four enhanced GBU two thousand pound bunker busters, satellite-guided [sound of bombs, explosions] They both seemed to come off. I didn't notice anything adverse about it. I've dropped bombs before.
Pilot: When the weapons fell out of the plane, I realized that this is the opening strike of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And I said, "Well, if we did our job tonight, this whole thing might be over tomorrow." [sounds of screams and shouting, sirens...]
Rumsfeld: There's no doubt but that the strike on that leadership headquarters was successful. We have photographs of what took place.
Reporter: The mystery of what happened begins here at a palace compound called Dora Farms. One weapon clearly missed. Others landed just outside the wall, destroying other buildings.
Pilot: Still seems like a dream to me. We tell the story about it. You sit down and talk with your kids nd you get some tough questions. You get asked by your daughter, "Did you go out and try to kill Saddam Hussein?" And that's a tough one to answer to a little kid. When we saw him on TV, sure, one side of me said, "I guess we didn't get him." But in the end? We got him.
Pilot: How many times in a lifetime does an individual get to take the opening shot in a conflict that will liberate a people.
EJ: And I got to talk to them about their feelings, the sort of play-by-play, blow-by-blow of what they did, what they were doing, what they didn't know about it, how much they knew, how they felt about that it failed, how they felt when he was ultimately captured, what they felt about launching a war that has come under such scrutiny as a war that was really the brainchild of people who were in many ways highjacking policy in America for their own goals. These are very sensitive questions to ask men who are in an obedient chain of command. I was very impressed at the extent to which they were able to think through with me the implications of what they had been a part of while in no way leaving their responsibility to the chain of command. None of them told me anything that was mutinous to their position. But they did, I thought, share with me very deep reflection how they balance being a human being on the one hand, and being a man-in-the-loop on the other. The man-in-the-loop is simply a military idea that says, "We can have war run by machines as long as we keep a man in the loop." But I would argue that at the end of the day these men are only being used for their faculties. Because what separates man from machine is a sense of morality and consequences. That is specifically not what is being asked of these men. That's what's troubling.
BE: Tell me about Air Force Colonel John Boyd.
EJ: Oh man! I love talking about John Boyd. John Boyd is one of the great -- you know those people you asked me about that make great transformations. John Boyd is a leader of the pack. Boyd was a colonel who was a real lightning rod in military circles and in the Pentagon in particular. He's become known as "the fighter pilot who changed the art of war" -- that's the subtitle of the book about him by Robert Coram. Boyd is somebody everybody should read about. He is a man who at a very young age brought remarkable innovations to air combat strategy. He was a person who wrote down, as a lowly major in his late twenties or early thirties, a massive workbook of flight combat permutations, aerial tactic combinations, all the ideas. He'd been a fighter pilot and a very successful fighter pilot in Korea. He wrote down all the permutations that he could think of, of formations of air-to-air combat. When this came to light and people heard what he had done, at first he was looked at as having overreached his pay grade -- and who does this guy think he is! Before long it was adopted by the US Air Force as its official tactics manual. That was just when he was a lowly major. What happened from then on is that he brought remarkable innovations to how we build aircraft in America. He invented something called the "energy maneuverability theory" which was the root idea behind the F-15, F-16, and F-17 -- three of the most famous aircraft we have, all coming out of John Boyd's brain. Here's a man who makes all those contributions to American combat. And then in the mid-'70's, he begins to discover that the planes coming out of his designs are being compromised by the military-industrial complex. Basically they're being weighted down by all the silly bells and whistles that are being glommed onto these aircraft by one district congressperson or another who's got some weapons maker in their district. John Boyd had a lot of acolytes in the Pentagon and in the military broadly. People thought he was brilliant and he was. A fascinating story is that around John Boyd these acolytes, who saw the system being manipulated by private actors for their own gain, were all engineers and they figured out how to, in a certain way, using their engineering acumen to engineer reform within the Pentagon. They took all that skill they once used to optimize aircraft performance and they tried to make the Pentagon itself perform better for the American public, for the taxpayers' dollars, and for our security. They became known as the "military reform movement" and there are many famous names that came out of it -- Chuck Spinney, who ended up on the cover of Time magazine and figures quite a lot in my book. But John Boyd is really the person they all looked to as having really set a standard for American combat and for the integrity of our processes of building our arsenal. He lived an amazing life and made remarkable contributions and represents that kind of coming to wake up that so many Americans need to do. There have been several people in uniform that have been exemplary in making that journey.
BE: What slows down the military-industrial complex? Or dismantles it?
EJ: Well, I mentioned Chuck Spinney in the last comment. Chuck Spinney is a guy who was able, during the Reagan administration, to actually freeze Reagan's defense budget in constant dollars at one point by bringing so much information to bear in public and in Congress that it became embarrassing for the administration to keep up its frivolous accounting and reporting practices -- and most of all, its expenditure practices. So I would argue that we need massive amounts of information coming to light. We need a public that is demanding real redirection of national priorities. If the public simply goes back to bed and hopes that Barack Obama can change this, that's a very dangerous equation. It would dangerous even if it looked like he was going to. Because the forces of resistance would be so severe. But the public needs to say, "Eisenhower teaches us that every dollar we spend on a gun is a dollar we don't spend on a hospital. Every dollar we spend on a bomb we don't spend on the levees ... on a road, on education, on health, on welfare, on everything we need to make the country strong." What Eisenhower taught us is an idea of national strength that's about more than just bombs. What's happened is that we have some pretty shallow civilians who've been running public policy in the last fifteen or so years. It goes back long before the Bush administration. They don't understand that you can't run a country on military growth alone. What comes with that is all the dangers that the framers feared -- and even new dangers they may not have contemplated. The fact that we are collapsing economically. You have to ask youself -- when Joe Stiglitz is estimating that the Iraq war is costing $3 trillion, well, might that money have helped us stay solvent? Might it have helped us compete in the world in a real way, rather than in this fictional cops-and-robbers way that we're doing on the streets of Baghdad?
BE: Fewer people are connected to the military anymore since the all-volunteer army.
EJ: The all-volunteer army comes up in my book and in the film, "Why We Fight," because it's a dangerous thing. In one way we all like the idea that there's not a draft. A draft feels inconsistent with a democratic society -- forcing people to go off to war. But those in power are not stupid. They recognize that drafts, ever since Vietnam, is a politically costly experience. To raise the specter of it has a tremendous political cost. Instead, they rely on the idea of the all-volunteer army. When a society becomes poor enough, when our young people have so little opportunity coming out of high school whether it's in the foresaken heartland or the crumbling inner cities, there are so few options that in many ways this choice takes care of itself. Now a young person goes off to war because it's one of the only gigs they can get. We don't even have the sense of purpose and sense of clarity to be able to say, "Hey, that's not right! What kind of a system is this where the best gig young people can get is to kill someone?" Instead, we say, "Hey! Nobody forced them to go!" So the all-volunteer army becomes kind of a cloak for what is really a poverty draft, where there is a force like a draft that's compelling our young people to risk their lives. But it's an economic force rather than one of choice and one of compulsory action by the government. So we end up saying, "Hey, nobody forced them to go!" when in fact there are a lot of forces forcing them to go.
BE: You warned that real change goes far beyond the effort of casting a ballot. So what kind of engagement are you calling for?
EJ: I'm calling for a rekindling of the American tradition of resistance. The tradition of resistance is not about carrying pitchforks in the streets. It starts with informing yourself. It starts with recognizing our tendency to want to go to sleep politically. I want to say, to be fair to people, that I recognize we're all overworked. American life has been lived in a kind of myth of prosperity for a long time. A lot of people have been living on credit. We've been living under the illusion that everything we do is right and nothing we do is wrong. So when the stock market crashes, it comes as a huge shock to everybody. But I realize that Americans are very hardworking. They are stretched too thin already. They have bills to pay, kids to put through school, put food on the table -- all these things already challenging them. Or they're students and they have student loans to pay. So much on them that to simply say, "You need to do more! You need to be a Jefferson or a Madison!!" Or you need to look at your country, figure out what's wrong, and fix it. That's a pretty convenient thing for somebody to say. First, I do this for a living. This is my job. So it's not like I'm in a steel mill all day and then at six o'clock I'm supposed to be political. I'm political all day long! So I want to find ways for people to be involved and engaged that are possible for them, given the already busy nature of their lives. Because of that, what I ask people to do -- no matter who is listening -- I ask them to think about what they do for a living and find that there is political change potential, social change and social reform potential far more than they think in their everyday walks of life. If you're a teacher, you can be doing a great job in the classroom. You can be serving your 20 kids well. That's a blessed profession and thank god you're doing it! But if you're not also spending some measure of your time -- above and beyond that call of duty -- to help America get back to a viable system of education by participating at the local county, state and beyond levels in efforts to reform what is wrong with American education, then what you're doing is teaching in that vacuum of your classroom but the building is crumbling around you. The same is true of a doctor who may be treating his patients well. But if that doctor is not taking what he or she knows and using it to become one of an increasing number of voices for real reform in how terribly and desperately we treat our society from a medical perspective, then again you're treating your patients in a race against nightfall. This is true in every walk of our lives, even somebody who's working as a plumber. The fact is that if you're not joining forces with plumbers you know and other craftspeople you know to make sure the conditions of the workplace, to make sure that your capacity to collective bargain and unionize... are not protected, then you may be putting in a good piece of plumbing but it's a piece of plumbing in a system that's broken. It's sort of like dieting. They've told me my whole life that the only diets that work are the ones that let you eat the way you already do, just with some small changes. That's the same deal here. People have to find that kind of activity that is an extension -- an easy addition to what they already do -- and I think that's the most natural way for people who feel politically disengaged. So it's starts with going on line, figuring things out about an area of the world you're interested in. If you have a sense that you're concerned about education, or you're concerned about the water in your community, or you're concerned about the environment -- whatever your area is, choose it. Then doggedly pursue articles and reading on the internet about it. That will lead you to want to share that with people. And you have to take the time to share with people. When you all get excited about certain things and you think there ought to be change, you have to find ways in your walk of life to make that desire for change known to your local county, state, and ultimately federal leadership. Your local leadership, if they feel the pressure that you want for change, it becomes a force in their calculation, when election time comes, to please you. That's part of what a democracy is supposed to look like and we've woefully forgotten that. We mostly sleep on the job.