June 29, 2020
Intro by Tom Engelhart to article by Andrew Bacevich
Today, in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich considers the all-American version of “extreme materialism” that Martin Luther King called out more than half a century ago.
And when it comes to the overwhelming urge to get one’s hands on the goods, among the looters of this moment two groups are almost never mentioned: the Pentagon and the police.
Yet, in 1997, the Department of Defense set up the 1033 program as part of the National Defense Authorization Act to provide thousands of domestic police forces with “surplus” equipment of almost every imaginable militarized kind. Since then, thanks to your tax dollars, it has given away $7.4 billion of such equipment, some of it directly off the battlefields of this country’s forlorn “forever wars.”
For items like grenade launchers, mine-resistant armored vehicles, military rifles, bayonets, body armor, night-vision goggles, and helicopters, all that police departments have to fork over is the price of delivery. The Pentagon has, in fact, been so eager to become the Macy’s of militarized hardware that, in 2017, it was even willing to “give $1.2 million worth of rifles, pipe bombs, and night vision goggles to a fake police department,” no questions asked.
That “department” proved to be part of a sting operation run by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “It was like getting stuff off of eBay,” a GAO official would say. Only, of course, for free.
The militarization (or, thought of another way, the commercialization) of the police has been remarkably on pace these last 23 years, while the Pentagon’s ever-soaring budgets for its ever-sinking wars could be thought of as the great American commercial success story of this century.
With more and more taxpayer dollars in its wallet, it’s been on a remarkable looting spree. Ask yourself: has there been a weapons system it couldn’t have, a military base it couldn’t establish, a war expense Congress wouldn’t fund even while cutting back on crucial aspects of the domestic budget like infrastructure programs or disease-prevention spending?
No wonder the Pentagon could supply all those police departments with a cornucopia of goods with which to turn themselves into over-armed occupying forces in this country.
It’s never thought of that way, but the Pentagon and the police have essentially been looting the coffers of the American taxpayer for a long time now and, in the Trump era, the process has only intensified.
Nonetheless, as Bacevich points out, even with protests over racism filling the streets of America, protests over defunding the Pentagon have yet to surface in any significant way. Perhaps it’s finally time. Tom
Martin Luther King’s Giant Triplets
Racism, Yes, But What About Militarism and Materialism?
By Andrew Bacevich
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