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William Astore, Something Is Rotten in the U.S. Military

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Here’s the curious thing: since at least the Vietnam War era of the 1960s and early 1970s, the United States has been almost continuously at war. Certain of those conflicts like the Vietnam War itself and those in Iraq and Afghanistan in this century are still remembered by many of us. Honestly, though, who remembers Grenada or Panama or the first Gulf War or even the struggle against ISIS, the endless (still ongoing) bombing of Somalia, and this country’s military adventures in Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and Northern Africa? And doubtless, I’m forgetting some conflicts myself.  Oh, yes, what about the 1999 bombing of Serbia? So it goes, or at least has gone, for more than half a century.

As Stan Cox pointed out at TomDispatch recently, the U.S. military, as the largest institutional user of petroleum in the world today, now seems at war not just with other countries or terror movements of various sorts, but with the planet itself. And don’t forget those 750 bases our military occupies on every continent except Antarctica or the staggering Pentagon and national security budgets that have continued to fund all of the above (and so little else).

Russia has indeed invaded Ukraine, causing a harrowing nightmare all too near the heart of Europe. And China has indeed been dispatching warships, drones, and missiles menacingly close to Taiwan. Still, when it comes to militarizing the planet in these last decades, nothing compares to our own military.  And looking back — as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore, who also runs the Bracing Views blog, does today — tell me that it truly isn’t the story from hell.

Astore mentions a phrase that no one who lived through the Vietnam years is ever likely to forget: “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Even the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam used it about a conflict in which only darkness lay at the end of that very “tunnel.” As an image, it was, of course, supposed to offer hope in a war that seemed, like enough of our conflicts in the years that followed, to be going anything but our way.  And these days, with such conflicts seemingly heading home in some bizarre fashion, who could doubt that, metaphorically speaking, all of us now find ourselves in some version of that same tunnel — with the light at its end perhaps the flames of an overheating planet. And with that in mind, let Astore explore the nature of the military that so many of your tax dollars have gone to support in these years.  And then, be depressed, very depressed. Tom

Integrity Optional

Lies and Dishonor Plague America’s War Machine

As a military professor for six years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the 1990s, I often walked past the honor code prominently displayed for all cadets to see. Its message was simple and clear: they were not to tolerate lying, cheating, stealing, or similar dishonorable acts. Yet that’s exactly what the U.S. military and many of America’s senior civilian leaders have been doing from the Vietnam War era to this very day: lying and cooking the books, while cheating and stealing from the American people. And yet the most remarkable thing may be that no honor code turns out to apply to them, so they've suffered no consequences for their mendacity and malfeasance.

Where's the "honor" in that?

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Engelhardt, A Book to Write?

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Burning Books (or Rather Book Companies)

Looking Back on My Years in — And out of — Publishing

No one listened better than Studs.  For those of you old enough to remember, that's Studs Terkel, of course. The most notable thing about him in person, though, was this: the greatest interviewer of his moment, perhaps of any moment, never stopped talking, except, of course, when he was listening to produce one of his memorable bestselling oral histories -- he essentially created the form -- ranging from Working and Hard Times to The Good War.

I still remember him calling my house. He was old, his hearing was going, and he couldn't tell that my teenage son had rushed to answer the phone, hoping it was one of his friends. Instead, finding himself on with Studs talking a mile a minute, my son would begin yelling desperately, "Dad! Dad!" 

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Best of TomDispatch

Barbara Ehrenreich, On Americans (Not) Getting By (Again)

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It’s with both sadness and pleasure that I post this evening’s Best of TomDispatch piece.  As I’m sure most of you know by now, thanks to a wave of coverage — ranging from a New York Times obituary to a moving piece by Deirdre English, the former editor-in-chief of Mother Jones magazine — Barbara Ehrenreich died on September 1st at 81. The world will miss her. Truly.

She wrote for TomDispatch for years and, in 2011, I posted this epilogue to the 10th anniversary edition of her famed book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by which time it had already sold almost two million copies.  Just one small memory: as the last century ended, I was working as an editor at a remarkable publishing house, Metropolitan Books, when the manuscript for Nickel and Dimed arrived on our doorstep. The head of the publishing house, my friend Sara Bershtel, handed it to me and asked me to tell her what I thought. I read it, gripped by Barbara’s remarkable account of another America, of her time working as a waitress, maid, and Walmart sales clerk among other poor-paying jobs, and returned it to Sara saying, as she reminded me recently, that I thought it would prove “a classic.” And whatever else I may have been wrong about in these years, I certainly wasn’t wrong about that.

(And by the way — Barbara would have been horrified! — the staff of Metropolitan Books, where I worked for years and which not only published Barbara’s work but many books I edited, as well as ones by Andrew Bacevich, Noam Chomsky, Edward Snowden, and so many other remarkable authors, has been laid off by its corporate owner, essentially doing in one of the great — and progressive — publishing houses of our time. I hope to return to this horror at TD in the near future.)

Nickel and Dimed was a classic among classics and so was she. So long, Barbara. Tom

Nickel and Dimed (2011 Version)

I completed the manuscript for Nickel and Dimed in a time of seemingly boundless prosperity. Technology innovators and venture capitalists were acquiring sudden fortunes, buying up McMansions like the ones I had cleaned in Maine and much larger. Even secretaries in some hi-tech firms were striking it rich with their stock options. There was loose talk about a permanent conquest of the business cycle, and a sassy new spirit infecting American capitalism. In San Francisco, a billboard for an e-trading firm proclaimed, “Make love not war,” and then -- down at the bottom -- “Screw it, just make money.”

When Nickel and Dimed was published in May 2001, cracks were appearing in the dot-com bubble and the stock market had begun to falter, but the book still evidently came as a surprise, even a revelation, to many. Again and again, in that first year or two after publication, people came up to me and opened with the words, “I never thought...” or “I hadn’t realized...”

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