Prior to WWII, the US had a marginal presence overseas. We now have over 800 military bases in 70 countries around the globe — more than any nation in history — including 174 in Germany, 113 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea.
Concomitant with that was a thousand-fold increase in the size of our “intelligence services,” which behaved so badly in the decades after the war that no less than three Congressional committees were established to investigate.
The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established the FISA court, was the direct response. The intent was increased oversight. The result seems to have been to make Congress an accessory.
This situation is such a significant departure from earlier periods of American history that Eisenhower felt compelled to warn us about it in his farewell address, where he coined the phrase “military-industrial complex.”
Since 1945, the number of years the US has been actively shooting or bombing people overseas vastly exceeds the reverse. We exist in a near-constant state of simmering warfare augmented by a hyperactive espionage apparatus.
It’s so pervasive that we’re numb to it. In all the debates about Guantanamo Bay — a name now synonymous with the extra-legal detention center, despite that it takes a mere fraction of the entire facility — no one questioned the need for the base itself.
People in a hurry to label and attack will take that to mean I am against the military or something. People don’t evaluate what you say anymore, if they ever did. (I’m skeptical.) They decide which direction it points and drop you at the extreme.
But it’s important: At no point in the national debate did the base itself ever come under discussion. A constant, active military presence in foreign countries around the globe is just an assumed part of life in post-war America, which we should start calling pre-war America.
It’s possible the alternative was worse. But even if that’s so (and we can at least question it), constant, active espionage & warfare — which, after 9/11, trickled down to a paramilitarized police — surely comes at a cost.
Misinformation, for example. Politicians have never been known for their honesty, but there used to be a difference between politics and espionage. President Lincoln used bribery to get the 13th Amendment through Congress, but at no point was anyone in doubt as to his intentions.
In warfare, even your ends must be disguised, as well as what and how much you know. Just look at Turing’s cruel calculus.
There is a certain sense in which nuclear weapons and the specter of total annihilation have contributed directly to our post-factual world. They have facilitated the largest engine of obfuscation in history and put it in the hands of “peacetime” government, which developed it as a core competency.
The examples of its known use are too many to mention: Iran/Contra, the manufacture of WMD in Iraq, the “reformation” of Col. Qaddafi, Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide… The unknown uses must surely appall us.
The goal, always, is stability — for fear that any upset of the apple cart will result in total catastrophe. The result, however, is stasis. Politicians no longer inaugurate change because that is not their mandate. They are, first, managers.
It genuinely doesn’t matter what is true so long as you get up tomorrow and do the same thing you did yesterday.