As coronavirus infections in the US soar past the 150,000 mark, making the US epicenter a growing world-wide COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down the US economy and threatens a global recession, the Pentagon, seemingly on autopilot, continues to focus its spending on such purported national security threats as Russia, China and ISIS terrorists in the Middle East. 

Russian and Chinese leaders meet to discuss sanctions

Although it is highly unlikely that either Russia or China, both facing pandemic challenges of their own, would militarily threaten the US, and though the US, with terrorist threats subsiding, is actually pulling back from the Middle East, financial documents examined by tarbell.org from the Pentagon’s Office of Controller and the Congressional Budget Office show that the US military is currently spending some $300 billion on weapons development and acquisition programs as well as on upgrading the huge US nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon and Dept. of Energy are also requesting another $320 billion for the next fiscal year beginning this Oct. 1 to fund such long-term programs as the F-35, the Trident submarine launched ICBM, a whole new generation of small “useable” nuclear weapons, President Trump’s new Space Force and a host of other weapons of war. 

To Andrew Bacevich, former professor of military history at the US War College, West Point graduate and retired colonel in the US Army and a long-time critic of US strategy military planning, none of this makes any sense. As he tells tarbell.org, “The United States military is preparing itself for war as we understood in the 1950s, which was war as it was in the 1940s with the addition of nuclear weapons.

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“Since then, we have experienced a lot of wars. A couple resembled the Pentagon’s preferred model of war, and here I’m thinking of Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91 and the early stages of the Iraq War in 2003. But the majority of those wars have not conformed to that model.”  He adds, “Nonetheless the Pentagon clings to that model of war and to a conception of national security that in no way conforms with actual national security challenges or with protecting the safety of the American people.”

Just this past week, a critical element of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet was sidelined for the next month. The enemy that managed to cause this sudden surprise unilateral disarmament of the mighty US Navy’s Seventh Fleet was not Russian or Chinese cyber hackers or a sneak attack by some foreign sappers. Rather, it was just a tiny virus, COVID-19, that infected one crew member on each of the two $13-billion Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carriers assigned to the Pacific region. 

The USS Reagan and its carrier group of support vessels is now holed up in Japan with at least two infected crew members on board so far and others being quarantined.  Meanwhile, the USS Roosevelt, which had been steaming from the its homeport in San Diego, armed to the teeth with attack aircraft, bombs other weapons, towards a mission in the South China Sea, has been urgently rerouted to Guam with an onboard epidemic that has already spread to a total of 38 sailors among it’s 5000-member “Big Stick” crew. 

USS Ronald Reagan

This forced shutdown of the US Pacific Fleet’s only two carrier groups, which virtually eliminates air-cover for Seventh Fleet vessels, by some microscopic specks of inanimate RNA protoplasm, offers a perfect metaphor for the absurdity of the decades-long US misallocation of trillions of dollars to the military in the name of national security. As Bacevich sees it, Congress should be reducing funding for costly major weapons systems and wars of choice and should shift that money to where it’s needed, which he agrees would be combating the current pandemic and redesigning the US healthcare and social system of the US to be better able to confront future crises like this one.

Looking at the fiasco of the virus’s spread to the Navy’s carrier groups in the Pacific, Bacevich, who is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, says the ironic situation “unquestionably drives that point home.” 

Bacevich is right. The military, with its longstanding virtually unchallenged first claim in Congress on US government revenues, is proving to be largely irrelevant to the issues that challenge Americans’ security.

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Congress could start to rectify that by at least for the balance of this year and for the first six months of FY2021, taking away the money for the Pentagon’s arms projects, and reallocating it to expanding hospital beds, funding the emergency production or purchase from abroad if necessary of adequate testing kits, protective N95 masks and ventilators for critically ill coronavirus patients, as well as for expanding Medicaid coverage to guarantee access to doctors and hospital care to the 87 million or more people in the US who do not have the funding or insurance coverage to allow them to see a doctor or get hospital care for potential communicable coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile, once the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s and USS Ronald Reagan’s crews are all tested, diagnosed, quarantined and cared for as needed and the ships are thoroughly disinfected, it might be a good idea to cancel their missions on the far side of the globe and send them home. The two carrier groups’ thousands of sailors and pilots could surely be more useful helping the country battle the pandemic here. 

As tarbell.org founder and US health system critic Wendell Potter says, “If ever there was a time to divert the spending of tens of billions of dollars from the military industrial complex’s imaginary future threats to an all-too-real and potentially devastating current threat to our country and its people it is now.”