Willem Lange: The President’s Chilling Militarism Leads Us Into a Trap

  • FILE -A caution sign hangs on a fence in front of a building that houses depleted uranium at the EnergySolutions facility in Clive, Utah, in 2015. Columnist Willem Lang says President Donald Trump's description of our invincible nuclear future sounds like fourth-graders playing cowboys and Indians — but with real, loaded guns. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

For the Valley News
Tuesday, February 13, 2018


I watched the president’s announcement of his plan to rescue and renovate the nation’s ailing and inadequate infrastructure. As Arte Johnson, capped in a German helmet, used to say, “Very interesting.”

Trump wandered off course frequently, as usual, but his immediate audience was apparently a roomful of lower-echelon sycophants, who couldn’t have cared less. They all agreed in their remarks that he was a great guy and a fantastic leader. “But there’s no heed to be taken of them.” (Shakespeare this time) “If (he) had stabbed their mothers they would have done no less.”

Well, at this point there’s no way of knowing whether any of this pie will descend from the sky, or how in the world we’ll pay for it if it does. The work has got to be done — if I were a young man, I’d bring my carpenters union dues up to date in anticipation of it — but there was another, chilling feature of the president’s announcement that was far more important and ominous.

There were two prongs to this apparently off-the-cuff, but major, announcement. The first was that the military-industrial complex, about which then-President Eisenhower warned us many years ago, was about to get a massive financial shot in the arm. President Trump quoted Secretary of Defense James Mattis as saying, “Wow! We’re getting everything we asked for!”

Military spending in the United States already consumes over half its national budget; it’s larger than the combined military budgets of at least the next seven largest spenders. We’re not only planning, as the old saying goes, to fight the last war, but we’re going all the way back to the Second World War. In the process of attempting to expand what the president has called our criminally depleted military, we’re falling straight into the trap that the Reagan years of military spending set for the Soviet Union. That once mighty nation is now reduced to nasty cyber-hacking, beating upon weaker neighbors, and affording an occasional crossword puzzle clue: designation of former state (SSR).

There is no credible existential threat to the United States from any foreign country. Can you imagine the logistical, financial, military and political costs of ruling a country this size, filled with 325 million angry people united, for the first time in decades, behind the goal of driving you out? What’s a great deal more likely, if our current posture doesn’t change soon, is that we’ll be eclipsed financially by other nations, put off by our belligerence and alarmed by our deficits, forming trading alliances beyond our reach or control. That’ll be the whimper (as opposed to the bang — against which we’re trying to arm ourselves — predicted by T.S. Eliot long ago). The nuclear threat to our security, if any, is a rogue organization run by people with nothing to lose who’ve managed to acquire a nuclear weapon and smuggle it into the states.

The second prong of the president’s random remarks on self-defense was his promise of a gazillion-dollar “massive upgrade” of our nuclear arsenal. His description of our invincible nuclear future sounded like fourth-graders playing cowboys and Indians — but with real, loaded guns.

There’s probably no one on the president’s staff — including him — old enough to remember the world before nuclear weapons. I do. I recall our giddiness at the end of the Pacific war, followed by the question, “What in the world is an atomic bomb?” And I remember, years later, weeping as Jimmy Carter, ever the cockeyed optimist, painted a picture of a world that had come to its senses and destroyed its nuclear weapons.

More than 60 years ago, in college, I briefly dated a Hiroshima survivor. Hideko Tamura (now Snider) was a lovely woman — still is — who, luckily, was at a family estate a few miles from Ground Zero when the bomb detonated. On my desk calendar is a permanent appointment for Aug. 6: “E-mail Decco.”

In her book One Sunny Day she writes: “Every year when the days begin to stretch and the penetrating heat of summer rises to a scorching point, I am brought back to one sunny day in a faraway land. I was a young child waiting for my mother to come home. On that day, however, the sun and the earth melted together. My mother would not come home.” Hideko has spent her life trying to convince people of the idiocy of nuclear war: its horrible human costs and its lasting damage. With even a cursory glance at the news almost any day you can see how much headway she’s made. To her — and to me, too — the president’s words are a far worse obscenity than any other we’ve heard him utter in his thus-far bizarre term as chief executive.

We Americans do a lot of chest-beating — rather like mountain gorilla silverbacks, who are in imminent danger of extinction. I read social media every day, and can’t help but be impressed by much of the simplistic jargon of modern-day patriotism. It’s probably vain to hope that our president will grow much during the remainder of his term; but that’s hardly an excuse for the rest of us failing to analyze his rhetoric and realize our own better angels.

Willem Lange can be reached at willem.lange@comcast.net.