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What Militarism Means

When we think of militarism, Prussians in spiffy uniforms goose-stepping down Unter den Linden probably comes to mind. Prussia’s fixation on her army was less an “ism” than a product of her geography, which stranded the country between two great land powers, France and Russia, with no natural defenses on her borders. Nonetheless, a cartoon from the Kaiser’s time depicts such militarism well. It shows a Berlin street full of people in various uniforms, all staring pop-eyed at a man in a suit. The caption reads, “A civilian! A civilian!”

A book a friend recommended offers a supplementary definition of militarism, one that touches closer to home for Americans. The work, A History of Militarism by Alfred Vagts, was first published in 1937. Vagts makes an important distinction at the outset:

Every war is fought, every army is maintained in a military way and in a militaristic way. The distinction is fundamental and fateful. The military way is marked by a primary concentration of men and materials on winning. … Militarism, on the other hand, presents a vast array of customs, interests, prestige, actions and thought associated with armies and wars and yet transcending true military purposes. Indeed, militarism is so constituted that it may hamper and defeat the purposes of the military way [emphasis added].

Modern militarism has … specific traits … modern armies … are more liable to forget their true purpose, war, and the maintenance of the state to which they belong. Becoming narcissistic, they dream that they exist for themselves alone … perpetuating themselves for the purpose of drawing money.

This definition of militarism is alive, well, and running the show on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon. As Vagts warns, the result is not merely the waste of some hundreds of billions of dollars. Much of that money is spent in ways that work against military effectiveness, against the ability of our armed forces to win. Vagts reminds us: “The acid test of an army is war—not the good opinion it entertains of itself. …War is the criterion, and war only. The rest is advertisement.” thisarticleappears [1]

As it happens, the U.S. armed services are sponsoring the poster child for such “advertisement” and for the militarism that undermines Vagt’s military way. Its name is the F-35.

The F-35 airplane, a fighter/bomber, is the most expensive weapons program in American history. In April, the GAO released its latest report on the F-35 program. Its findings, which are—or should be—devastating, include:

The GAO report does not address the issue of the F-35’s performance, but what is known makes the picture even bleaker. The F-35 has a higher wing loading than the infamous F-105—the “Thud” or “Lead Sled” to its pilots—which means it maneuvers like a brick. It has less than a 1:1 thrust-to-weight ratio, which compared to other fighters makes it Porky Pig. And its vaunted “stealth” anti-radar capabilities are a fraud because by now almost everyone has discovered how to cut through “stealth”—old-fashioned long-wave radars do it nicely.

Republicans in Congress continually call for reducing the federal deficit. Sloughing off this albatross would save a neat trillion. At the very least, congressional budget hawks should demand a fly-off, where the F-35 would have to prove it is a better fighter than our existing F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s. Will they? No. Some of those nice men in expensive suits standing at their office doors, checkbooks in hand, might go away.

The shape of American militarism is the enormous shadow cast by the F-35.

William S. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook [2] and director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "What Militarism Means"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 27, 2015 @ 5:13 am

Fraud and deceit just keep snowballing in the new American normal. One day, as economist Herb Stein put it, “things that just can’t go on, won’t.”

Meanwhile, 41,000 homeless in Los Angeles alone, and all our clueless leaders try to do, when they’re not plumping to get some of that Washington militaristic vigorish, is to make being homeless illegal, to feed the for profit private imprisonment boom and it’s share prices.

Dump and pump.

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#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On July 27, 2015 @ 9:15 am

The F-35 is overpriced, behind schedule and is not a very good airplane. It is curious to see Republicans who are supposed to be so tight fisted with taxpayer money, oblivious to the massive cost overruns of the F-35.

Of course, the whole purpose of the F-35 is not national defense. It is basically a boondoggle for defense contractors and subcontractors. A way to channel money to Lockheed and Company. The Pentagon is reluctant to use it in actual combat. The military brass seems to know that it is not going to cut it in the arena of combat. All these hundreds of billions of dollars for an airplane that is not that good in combat.

We could have procured upgraded versions of the F-16, F-18, & A-10 at a far cheaper price, and used the savings to cut the deficit. It seems to me that would be what a “true conservative” would do.

#3 Comment By RINOVirus On July 27, 2015 @ 10:20 am

The dogfight asked for has already happened: [5]

#4 Comment By Jason Morehead On July 27, 2015 @ 10:24 am

This is particularly damning: Even the pilots who fly them dislike the F-35 and/or think it’s at a complete disadvantage to the aircraft it’s supposed to replace.

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#5 Comment By AJ On July 27, 2015 @ 10:58 am

Some of those nice men in expensive suits standing at their office doors, checkbooks in hand, might go away.

If we really had a system of justice, they would be going after graft in the military-industrial complex. FIFA is very small potatoes.

#6 Comment By Tom On July 27, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

The F-35 is just the tip of the iceberg. Our military bases overseas cost us billions and achieve nothing except to increase the risk of war.

For example, why do we still have troops in Germany? The Russians pulled out in 1994, the British will be gone by 2019, and the French have only 500 troops in Germany.

Why do we still have troops in South Korea? South Korea has twice the manpower of North Korea and would win any war. The Chinese plan is to march down to Pyongyang, round up the top leadership, and put them in “special camps.”

Now that we’ve finally patched things up with the Cubans, we could also get out of Guantanamo. Our navy doesn’t need a coaling station anymore, because our ships no longer burn coal.

#7 Comment By JDM On July 27, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

In 1935, Major General Smedley Butler, USMC wrote, “War is a Racket”.

He starts out by stating:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

It’s a good read, and just as applicable today as it was in 1935 when the clouds of warm were looming yet once again.

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#8 Comment By No Fly Zone On July 27, 2015 @ 3:14 pm

UncleBilly wrote “It is curious to see Republicans who are supposed to be so tight fisted with taxpayer money, oblivious to the massive cost overruns of the F-35. “

Eric Cantor was a great champion of the F-35, in great part because he was Bibi Netanyahu’s bum-boy, and Bibi wanted lots of free ones, courtesy of the American taxpayer.

Cantor steamrolled the somewhat desultory congressional Tea Party opposition to the F-35.

Then, with grassroots Tea Party support, Dave Brat steamrolled Eric Cantor.

The question now is whether Brat and other dissident congressmen can garner sufficient support to pull the plug on this Frankenstein’s monster project and make something usable and affordable, something of real military utility that we can give to our soldiers in good conscience.

#9 Comment By LMIDF On July 28, 2015 @ 12:51 am

@No Fly Zone
“The question now is whether Brat and other dissident congressmen can garner sufficient support to pull the plug on this Frankenstein’s monster project and make something usable and affordable, something of real military utility that we can give to our soldiers in good conscience.”

Because it isn’t? The actual per-plane cost is comparable to less capable planes like the Eurfighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, and it replaces four 1970s airframes who are going to have ever increasing maintenance costs across the end of their airframes operational lives; you might think that the simple, rugged B-52H is less costly to maintain than the supersonic, swing-wing B-1B. That would be wrong for the reason outlined above.

By what metric does it lack “real military utility”? It’s well designed for systematically taking down a modern IADS network, which is a likely foe with the proliferation of S-300 (and equivalent)systems with their associated radars and C3 nodes. Simultaneously, it seems to be acquitting itself quite well in “dogfight” exercises.

*On B-52 vs B-1B costs
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*On airframe costs (which is the closest to an apples-to-apples metric)
F-35 LRIP 6&7 (c.2013): [10]
The engine adds $13-20 million or so
Dassault Rafale (c.2013): [11]
Translation – Before taking into account the draft Trademark Law, the total cost of the program for the state was 45.9 billion € 2013. Unit cost (excluding development costs) of €74M 2013 for the Rafale B (110 aircraft) €68.8M 2013 for the Rafale C (for 118 aircraft) and 79 M € 2011 for the Rafale M (58 aircraft).
Eurofighter Typhoon (c.2009): (this is the only wikipedia one, and it was not easily verifiable with the citation provided) €90-mil

*On recent air combat test success
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#10 Comment By RINO_InNameOnly On July 28, 2015 @ 10:46 am

If the military wanted the plane, I would be inclined to give the Republicans a pass here.

Since they don’t, the Republicans deserve the scorn they are going to reap from all sides.

#11 Comment By Joffrey Fa On July 28, 2015 @ 11:24 am

“Republicans in Congress continually call for reducing the federal deficit. ” No, that is only when a Democrat is in power. Remember who made the “deficits don’t matter” statement?

#12 Comment By Johnny F. Ive On July 28, 2015 @ 2:41 pm

I think the best solution would be stop spending money on such things. The next best solution is to funnel the money towards things the country needs. Does it matter to the defense company if they are paid the same amount of money to build a useless airplane or high speed rail across the US?

#13 Comment By LMIDF On July 28, 2015 @ 3:34 pm

@RINO_InNameOnly
“If the military wanted the plane, I would be inclined to give the Republicans a pass here.

Since they don’t, the Republicans deserve the scorn they are going to reap from all sides.”

You can, I assume, actually produce evidence that isn’t in the form of long-debunked punk journalism, right?

#14 Comment By Validator On July 28, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

By what metric does it lack “real military utility”? It’s well designed for systematically taking down a modern IADS network

Not something it’s very good at. The cost overruns were accompanied by time ovverruns, remember, and potential enemies have had 20 years to prepare for it. Against most advanced contemporary IADSs you’d have to send in glide wing Raptors to take out the low frequency radar IADS omponent before using the F-35. I don’t even know that we’ve got enough of that kind of Raptor. Those facing less sophisticated opposition (e.g. the Israelis) still want them because they don’t have to deal with that kind of thing, plus, they’re free. But IADS that detects the F-35 is proliferating. And stealth is supposed to be its big advantage.

No, it looks like the F-35 has been a colossal, wasteful ripoff. We ought to pull the plug and focus on the real future, which seems to be unmanned.

#15 Comment By LMIDF On July 28, 2015 @ 8:29 pm

@Validator

“The cost overruns were accompanied by time ovverruns, remember, and potential enemies have had 20 years to prepare for it.”

Just like the OHP-class FFG, F-15, F-16, and let’s not forget the proto-Lightning in terms of media coverage, the V-22 Osprey. And those cost overruns have already been spent in the form of setting up a production line and paying the paychecks of LockMart engineers and execs. Of course, this isn’t even an entirely accurate comparison: if you were to combine the R&D costs of the AV-8B Harrier, F-16, and F-18 it would be a better comparison because the F-35 replaces the roles of all those airframes. Indeed, it is not egregiously more expensive, even in its more pricey LRIP form, than its main competition for export orders – the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, neither of which have received many orders. All those hundreds of export orders are projected to bring the per-plane cost down (as you would expect from an economy of scale).

“Against most advanced contemporary IADSs you’d have to send in glide wing Raptors to take out the low frequency radar IADS component before using the F-35.”

Let’s start breaking this down:

1) You seem to be implying that legacy platforms are somehow better in this regard, despite also being able to be picked up by low-frequency radar. This is, as I hope you realize, false. I hope I’m not insulting your intelligence, but I’m trying to be comprehensive here.

2) You fail to understand the physics of radar systems. Low frequency radars are better at detecting VLO craft in that they’ll let you know [i]something[/i] is there (correspondingly, their level of target discrimination such as between an airliner and a fighter, is poor). Most of these radar are 2D, which is to say that they can’t provide altitude information. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they are utterly unsuitable for missile guidance for the same reason that they are very vulnerable to attack.

To achieve those low frequencies, they must be necessarily quite large. The lower the frequency, the larger the antenna. So, you have antennae which are, somewhat hyperbolically, the size of football fields blasting EM radiation into the sky for ELINT to pick up. This is just singing a song to guide HARMs or other standoff weaponry to their targets, which they are particularly vulnerable to on account of their large footprint and comparative immobility.

3) Finally, you make the usual false dilemma, that either VLO features perfectly work or are utterly ineffective. Not only is this fallacious rhetoric, it does not make sense in the context of the physics of radar systems. VLO features are not an ON/OFF switch. While low-frequency radar might be a tool for combating VLO aircraft, it does not in and of itself, invalidate the concept nor its real world implementation.

Now, I doubt either of us are in a position to challenge the veracity of these claims, but the F-35 has been stated to have an RCS (radar cross-section) roughly equivalent to that of the B-2 bomber.

“No, it looks like the F-35 has been a colossal, wasteful ripoff. We ought to pull the plug and focus on the real future, which seems to be unmanned.”

I’ve responded to your initial claims, and I would like to respectfully decline to engage with you about UCAVs, though I would like to offer an off-the-cuff opinion that those are some big opinions for you.

#16 Comment By Whitehall On July 28, 2015 @ 10:51 pm

Sorry, but this article doesn’t make much of a case one way or the other about the wisdom of buying the F-35.

LMIDF attempts to engage in a cogent debate but none of the other commenters nor the author rise to the challenge.

As for me, I STILL don’t know who is offering the correct wisdom.

#17 Comment By LMIDF On July 29, 2015 @ 10:56 am

I’m relatively more inclined to believe Lockheed Martin, even though many specifics are classified and unknown, when common arguments made by its detractors rely on reader ignorance of the topic at hand.

Do you see David Axe explaining to you the limitations of low-frequency radar? Of course not. STEALTH FIGHTER BEATEN BY 1940s WEATHER RADAR makes for a good headline, but you won’t see any honest discussion of its limitations.

Here’s a nice overview of, from a broad perspective, the benefits of the F-35 (and other 5th Gen aircraft) from a Marine pilot with experience with the F-18, F-22, and F-35:

#18 Comment By In Sum On July 29, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

Sorry, but this article doesn’t make much of a case one way or the other about the wisdom of buying the F-35.

In itself a good reason not to keep blowing money on it, on the general principles of “first, do no harm” and conserving the public weal. It’s too bad that so many repositories of authority have been exposed as corrupt or incompetent. It has left the public with little confidence in the judgment of decision-makers.

#19 Comment By Jim Houghton On July 30, 2015 @ 4:37 pm

This article is SOOOO naive. Does the writer really not understand what American “militarism” is about? It’s jobs. Jobs. Jobs. All the trillions are not WASTED in the sense that they are not raked into a pile and set on fire. Those trillions feed millions of American families. The DoD is the largest single employer in the world and that doesn’t even include all the companies that make the stuff they buy! We’ve got a tiger by the tail because when we cut military expenditures, jobs are lost in the manufacturing sector that can’t be replaced without extensive retraining, the creation of other manufactured products (since we don’t make much over here anymore) and a lot of social and economic displacement. So the politicians keep voting for a big military budget and keep trying to maintain a level of friction with the rest of the world that encourages taxpayers to go along out of fear. Does anyone think the Iran-deal naysayers really care about what’s on the page? They are terrified that if tensions in the world lessen by one iota taxpayers will start to think, “Hey, maybe we could spend that money on something else, like roads and schools!”

“Defense” is the only government-run, taxpayer-funded jobs program Congress will consistently vote for, because they’re STUCK WITH IT!

#20 Comment By LMIDF On July 31, 2015 @ 12:13 am

Hey Jim, have you perhaps considered that it might eventually come the time to retire 30-year old airframes based on 40-year old combat paradigms with something nominally more capable?

Try shaving with Occam’s Razor from time to time, instead of believing sensationalists engaging in a disinformation campaign that relies on your lack of knowledge on the material at hand.

Let’s actually examine why the F-35 has taken a while to mature (and, though I doubt you do much military reading, I think you should read about the Eurofighter Typhoon if you really want to see what a troubled development looks like). Many of its “so-called” delays have resulted from deliberately risk-averse development which stretched out its system-development demonstrator process by using fewer planes. This was a deliberate Congressional choice to reduce concurrency.

While we’re at it, let’s stop pretending that the number of F-35s in IOC is magically high in comparison to historical aircraft, because it isn’t. For the F-16, it did reach its full level of intended capabilities until the Block 30 (which gave it all-weather capability, secure communications, and compatibility with a wide range of guided weapons), after 13 years and 1800 airframes produced. Let’s not forget that a hair fewer than 300 aiframes had been produced before the first nominally useful version, the F-16A Block 10.

The F-35 program, if you look at the numbers and honestly compare them to historical programs, has been less “wasteful” and more cautious in its development cycle.

#21 Comment By Hibernian On August 3, 2015 @ 11:06 pm

The TFX (F-111) of the 1960s was also a multi-role Air Force / Navy / Marine Corps fighter-bomber. It also had massive cost overruns. Fortunately, it was canceled.

#22 Comment By Jeff On August 14, 2015 @ 12:50 am

The USMC insisted on a VTOL type of aircraft, and this requirement drove many of the design decisions and trade-offs in the F-35, including the most problematic ones, as I understand it. I can’t help but wonder if we would have been better off overall by giving the Marines a separate aircraft, and exactly what and how really useful the benefits of having three variations of the same aircraft really are, or were intended to be.