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Essay

On balance, American empire in world is a negative

A rebuttal to Thomas D. Farrell's November 23, 2014 "Island Voices" column in Honolulu Star Advertiser entitled "On balance, Army in Hawaii is a positive"

in Military

In a November 23, 2014 “Island Voices” column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, retired Colonel Thomas D. Farrell argued that “on balance, [the] Army in Hawaii is a positive.” For a variety of reasons, I strongly disagree.

Farrell opened his piece with a rhetorical question and answer: “Is the Army a good deal for Hawaii? Frankly, I don’t care.” This flippant and condescending attitude is reprehensible, and one of the many reasons so many people from so many walks of life in Hawaii have so many grave reservations about the presence of the American military-intelligence complex here.

He goes on to say “we’re all in this together.”

Some of us would disagree. Some of us would instead assert that the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hawaii has never been extinguished, politically, morally or legally. It is only because of the Machiavellian principle of “might makes right” that Hawaii remains one of the many colonized possessions of America. In fact, since the entire continental United States was stolen from native peoples, the entire country must be considered one of the most egregious examples of settler colonialism in the history of the world; perhaps the single worst.

Farrell further goes on to mention the light burden of America’s imperial project on its citizens (or, some might say, “subjects”) when he says that “other than paying taxes, the United States doesn’t ask much of the average American when it comes to supporting the nation’s defense.”

On the subject of taxes, it must be noted that, according to recent figures from the Congressional Budget Office, over 50 percent of federal discretionary spending goes to the military. This enabled America to spend more on its military “in 2012 than the countries with the next 10 highest budgets combined” (Koba, 2014, para. 1).

One may consider such a level of spending as either morally reprehensible or a realistic appraisal of what it takes to maintain American security and global leadership. No matter which side of the equation you come down on, it also seems likely to bankrupt America.

The current official figure of the national debt is nearly $18 trillion. When obligations and unfunded liabilities for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, prescription drug benefits, retiree pensions and other cost items are tallied up honestly, the figure of the national debt becomes much, much higher.

David Walker, former director of the Government Accountability Office (a respected, non-partisan research arm of Congress) placed it at $70 trillion as of 2012 (Korn, 2012, para. 5). University of California-San Diego professor of economics James Hamilton placed it at $70 trillion as of 2013 (Hall, 2013). Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher placed it $100 trillion as of 2008. Boston University professor of economics Larry Kotlikoff placed it at $222 trillion as of 2012 (Kotlikoff, 2012, para. 13).

Given that the “U.S. government debt grows $10 million a minute,” these figures are doubtless even higher today (Korn, 2012).

For the purposes of our argument, let us assume that these massive off-the-books liabilities are real, important and some day must be confronted. Let us also be somewhat conservative in our calculations and use Walker and Hall’s outdated low-end figure of $70 trillion.

According to the population clock of the United States Census Bureau, the population of America as I write is 319 million people. According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of these 319 million people, only 147,283,000 are actually working. Let us leave to the side the numerous and highly credible reports that the official unemployment figures are grossly underestimated, and accept this 147,283,000 figure.

Therefore, the “share” of the national debt for each working person is $475,275. The average annual per capita personal income is $38,611 (United States Census Bureau, 2008). That means that each individual with an average annual per capita personal income would have to work 12 years of their roughly 45 year long working life to repay “their share” of the debt; a debt they did not agree to incur; assuming that they did not eat, cloth, or shelter themselves, or have any other costs during those 12 years. Seen in this light, it seems unlikely that the federal debt will ever be repaid. Hyperinflation and a dollar crash seems inevitable.

When Farrell states that “the United States doesn’t ask much of the average American when it comes to supporting the nation’s defense,” he comes as close to an accurate statement as he does in the entire piece. Absent a universal draft, the cannon fodder for America’s endless imperial wars come from a poverty draft composed largely of very-low income people of color from the inner city and caucasians and people of color from rural areas.

Farrell is incorrect, though, when he speaks of “defense.” America hasn’t fought a defensive war since 1812. All one has to do is read Blum’s book Killing Hope to get a synopsis on each of the more than 50 wars and major covert involvements the United States has instigated since World War II (2008). This has resulted in the death of millions of innocent civilians across the world. These deaths have occurred because the United States has maintained “military capabilities staggeringly in excess of those required for self-defense” (Bacevich, 2010, para. 37).

Farrell goes on to lambaste those who would complain about the costs associated with educating K-12 age military dependents in Hawaii public schools. He mentioned a “retired Army colonel who recently complained in these pages that the state Department of Education spent $115 million ‘out of pocket’ to educate the 11,000 Army dependents last year.” He implied that the concern of local education leaders was overblown because it only represented “6 percent of DOE’s $1.7 billion budget.” Farrell seems to be suggesting that this is a tempest in a teapot because it is a relatively insignificant amount of money, in the grand scheme of things.

$115 million is a significant amount for the state of Hawaii to be covering for the federal government. Even if “out of pocket” means the net balance of state expenditures for serving K-12 military dependents and the $43.3 million received in federal impact aid, figures from Farrell’s piece, this still leaves a shortfall of $71 million. This is still a significant amount.

Farrell goes on to argue that Army-occupied lands cannot be returned to “productive civilian use” because it would be too expensive and the local population would be unable to think of doing anything more productive with these properties than building golf courses. This too is an extremely condescending statement. 

Farrell appears to have no idea that all federal military installations are located on highly contested ceded lands. At the very least, the disposition of these lands must be guided by the trust obligations of section 5(f) of the 1959 Admission Act. All military occupied ceded lands should be returned to public civilian control as soon as possible, and then transferred to a sovereign Hawaiian nation, or held in trust awaiting such a nation, such as is the case with Kahoolawe.

Farrell further complains that transferring Army lands back to Hawaii would be too expensive and cites Kahoolawe as an example, because cleaning it up cost the Navy “over $460 million.”

Here, Farrell’s flippancy and condescension morph into something much darker, an incredible hubris and lack of any discernible knowledge of the most basic aspects of Hawaiian culture, history, custom and law. This is especially disturbing coming from a retired “intelligence” (sic) officer.

When I went to Kahoolawe on a Protect Kahoolawe Ohana access, I learned that the island is the kino lau, the body form, of the god Kanaloa; was a very important navigational school; and a major starting and stopping point for the sailing route back and forth between Hawaii and Tahiti over millennia. Kahoolawe probably has the highest density of important archeological sites of any island in Hawaii, perhaps because it has escaped “development,” due to being a bombing range and military training site for so many decades.

For Farrell to complain about the costs associated with cleaning up the immense damage done by the military of the United States (and other nations) to a very special and sacred place, a major symbol of triumph in the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, displays an ignorance that is hard to evaluate.

The military historian Chalmers Johnson has written that there are over 700 United States military bases in approximately 130 countries and “6,000 bases in the United States and its territories” (Johnson, 2004, para. 4). Hawaii is just one small piece in this giant system. As Johnson says at the close of his book Nemesis: “If the American people do not find a way to choose democracy over empire … it’s evident that Nemesis—in Greek mythology the goddess of vengeance, the punisher of hubris and arrogance—is already a visitor in our country, simply biding her time before she makes her presence known” (Johnson, 2008).

Farrell is clearly an acolyte of what former military man Andrew Bacevich calls the Washington Rules (2010). The basic credo of the Washington Rules is the assumption “that the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism” (Bacevich, 2010, para. 41).

When people like Ferrell reiterate the “conventional wisdom” behind the Washington Rules, they are responding to the implicit and explicit cues of a wide variety of bureaucracies and affinity groups that they either want to join, or, in Farrell’s case, gain the approval of and justify having dedicated so much of their life to.

To put it more bluntly, Farrell and his ilk are simply “adopting fashionable attitudes to demonstrate trustworthiness,” thereby securing “advancement,” “access” and continued membership in The Club (Bacevich, 2010, para. 33).

Any continuation of Bacevich’s Washington Rules (2010) or Johnson’s Empire of Bases (2004) is likely to be one of the many formulas for the definitive collapse of the American empire, and the initiation of a series of convulsive geopolitical, macrostructural economic and environmental shocks.

These changes will likely cause a smaller Army presence in Hawaii, something that Farrell argues against. These changes may even end it altogether. When the Soviet Union couldn’t pay its military personnel, many of them just walked away from their jobs.

If current trends continue unabated, there will be a time (and sooner rather than later) when the “253,288 uniformed personnel, plus an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials” abroad will walk away from their jobs, and take their spouses, loved ones and dependents with them, just as they did at the end of the Soviet Union (Johnson, 2004, para. 4).

As America implodes because the political, judicial and economic systems are irredeemably broken and beyond repair, the same seems likely to happen in Hawaii some day too.

References:

Bacevich, A. (2010), August 26). “The unmaking of a company man.” Tomdispatch.com. Retrieved from http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175290/.

Blum, W. (2008). Killing Hope, U.S. military and C.I.A. interventions since World War II - Updated through 2003. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.

Hall, W. (2013, August 5).  Study: U.S. debt obligations $70 trillion. Breitbart.com. Retrieved from http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/08/04/Study-U-S-Debt-Obligations-70-Trillion.

Johnson, C. (2004, January 15). “America’s empire of bases.” Tomdispatch.com. Retrieved from http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1181/chalmers_johnson_america%27s_empire_of_bases.

Johnson, C. (2008). Nemesis‬: ‪The last days of the American republic‬. New York: Henry Holt and Company‬.

Koba, M. (2014, February 24). “U.S. military spending dwarfs rest of world.” NBC News. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/military-spending-cuts/u-s-military-spending-dwarfs-rest-world-n37461.

Korn, M. (2012, August 10). “U.S. government debt grows $10 million a minute: David Walker.” Yahoo Finance, Daily Ticker. Retrieved from http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/u-government-debt-grows-10-million-minute-david-160752953.html.

Kotlikoff, L. (2012, July 31). “U.S. is ‘totally broke’: Federal govt.’s fiscal gap is $222 trillion: Economist.” Yahoo Finance, Daily Ticker. Retrieved from http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/u-totally-broke-federal-govt-fiscal-gap-222-135416602.html.

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Table A-9. Economic news release, Selected employment indicators. Author: Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t09.htm.

United States Census Bureau. (2008). State rankings, Statistical abstract of the United States, Personal income per capita in current dollars, 2007. Author: Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/statab/ranks/rank29.html#footnote1.

United States Census Bureau. (2014, November 27). U.S. and world population clock. Author: Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/popclock/.

United States Congressional Budget Office. (2012, March). Breakdown of discretionary spending in 2011. Author: Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/BS_Discretionary_print.pdf.

Walker, B. (2008, August 7). “Our $100 trillion national debt.” Lewrockwell.com. Retrieved from http://www.lewrockwell.com/2008/08/bill-walker/the-real-federal-debt/.


Dr. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa

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