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Engelhardt, The End? (Not Yet!)

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: As you’ll see, today’s article is more personal than most of the ones I write. Still, 22 years after I began TomDispatch, I must admit that I’m amazed to still be writing such pieces. But to do so, while supporting the work of a stellar cast of other authors, I eternally need to bother you (and, mind you, I remain amazed at the way so many of you continue to support my modest efforts to make this world a somewhat better place). At this point, in fact, you’re the only way I raise money to keep this site going. That’s why, today (and undoubtedly on all too many days to come), I’m reminding you that a visit to our donation page really does matter. Should you indeed go there and contribute at least $125 ($150 if you live outside the U.S.), you’ll find a wonderful set of books by TD authors, any one of which you can choose to be signed, personalized, and sent your way. And while I’m at it, let me offer special thanks to those of you who have signed on to donate regularly to this site. I can’t tell you what you mean to me! Tom]

Prophesies, Then and Now

My Life at World’s End

Indulge me for a moment. This is how "The Prophecy" in my 1962 high school yearbook began. It was written by some of my classmates in the year we graduated from Friends Seminary in New York City.  

As I wander, I finally run into one of my classmates, now "a skinny old man with bushy white hair, wearing a loose deer skin." And yes, whatever happened (that "great invasion") while I was underground in -- as anyone of that period would have known -- a private nuclear-fallout shelter, is unclear. Still, in the world I find on emerging, all my former classmates, whom I meet one after another in joking fashion, now live in caves. In other words, it had obviously been devastated.

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William Astore, America Hangs from a Cross of Iron

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Just in case you were wondering where your tax dollars went in this century, consider the American war, now 20 years old, in Iraq (and after 2014 in Syria as well). Neta Crawford of the invaluable Costs of War Project has just released her latest summary of what that invasion and the disaster that followed cost the American taxpayer. Her estimate: $1.79 trillion, if you don’t count the future costs of caring for that war’s damaged U.S. veterans. If you do, we’re talking about $2.89 trillion by 2050. And in case you think that’s all so been-there-done-that, don’t forget, while this country no longer has 170,000 troops in Iraq as it did in 2007, there are still 2,500 of them there and another 900 or so in Syria. Add in the no less disastrous war in Afghanistan, another $2.3 trillion or so, and you’ve already made it over the $5-trillion mark before you even include the costs of the rest of the disastrous global war on terror (still ongoing) in places ranging from Somalia to West Africa.

Think of that as the context for the latest Pentagon budget, already larger than those of the next nine countries combined, because here’s what couldn’t be stranger: the less successful the U.S. military has been globally, the more we, the taxpayers, have to ante up. Yep, the 2023 Pentagon budget, passed late last year, was $858 billion and, if you’re talking about the full “national security” budget, including all our intelligence agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and the like, that figure is closer to $1.5 trillion annually.

In fact, these days, hiking the Pentagon budget may be just about the only thing congressional Republicans and Democrats can actually agree on, which means… yes, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, blogger, and TomDispatch regular William Astore makes strikingly clear today, we’re still heading for the stratosphere (and I’m not thinking about the U.S. Air Force or even that American drone Russian planes forced down over the Black Sea recently). In fact, when it comes to that budget, the proverbial sky may not be the limit, but outer space itself. Tom

A Highway to Peace or a Highway to Hell?

The Vast Power of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex

In April 1953, newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a retired five-star Army general who had led the landings on D-Day in France in June 1944, gave his most powerful speech. It would become known as his “Cross of Iron” address. In it, Ike warned of the cost humanity would pay if Cold War competition led to a world dominated by wars and weaponry that couldn’t be reined in. In the immediate aftermath of the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Ike extended an olive branch to the new leaders of that empire. He sought, he said, to put America and the world on a “highway to peace.” It was, of course, never to be, as this country's emergent military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC) chose instead to build a militarized (and highly profitable) highway to hell.

Eight years later, in his famous farewell address, a frustrated and alarmed president called out "the military-industrial complex," prophetically warning of its anti-democratic nature and the disastrous rise of misplaced power that it represented. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry, fully engaged in corralling, containing, and constraining it, he concluded, could save democracy and bolster peaceful methods and goals. 

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Andrew Bacevich, Duck and (Re)Cover?

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I can still remember sneaking into one of those old Broadway movie palaces (of the sort you can see in Edward Hopper’s classic painting) with two friends. It was 1959, in the midst of a global “Cold War,” and I was 15 years old, too young as I recall to be allowed in to see Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach without a grown-up.

We sat in the first row of the balcony (it was a thrill!) and watched the movie version of Neville Shute’s 1957 novel about — yes, there’s no way to prettify it (though a cast including Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and — a blast from the past — Fred Astaire didn’t hurt) — World War III. As that movie opens the northern hemisphere has been totally nuked and wiped out, while the fallout is now being carried south — the film is set in Australia — and will, sooner or later, extinguish the rest of humanity, including Peck, Gardner, and Astaire.

And no, it didn’t actually happen (not yet anyway), but like TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century, I grew up in a world whose end seemed eerily in sight. After all, as he reminds us today, On the Beach was just one of so many end-of-the-world movies, books, and magazine articles of that “duck and cover” era.

In our present world, some sixty-odd years later, no schoolchildren are taught to save themselves from atomic destruction by leaping under their desks, hands over their heads. We’re in a world where “the end,” the potential dystopian finale of human civilization via the fossil-fuelized overheating of this planet, won’t come in a moment. No ducking and covering like Bert the Turtle of my school childhood years when climate change is the culprit. But cheer up, as Bacevich suggests, those old nuclear war films may still have something to teach us in the Ukrainian moment of the twenty-first century. Tom

On Missing Dr. Strangelove

Or How Americans Learned to Stop Worrying and Forgot the Bomb

Bosley Crowther, chief film critic for the New York Times, didn’t quite know what to make of Dr. Strangelove at the time of its release in January 1964. Stanley Kubrick’s dark antiwar satire was “beyond any question the most shattering sick joke I've ever come across,” he wrote. But if the film had its hilarious moments, Crowther found its overall effect distinctly unnerving. What exactly was Kubrick’s point? “When virtually everybody turns up stupid or insane -- or, what is worse, psychopathic -- I want to know what this picture proves.”

We may find it odd for an influential critic to expect a movie to “prove” anything. Kubrick’s aim was manifestly not to prove, but to subvert and discomfit.

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