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TomDispatch: Believe It or Not (2010 Imperial Edition), U.S. War-Fighting Numbers to Knock Your Socks Off



From TomDispatch this afternoon: A Ripley's Believe It or Not tour of America's Afghan and Iraq wars -- and of an American style of war so profligate it sets your mind spinning: Tom Engelhardt, "Believe It or Not (2010 Imperial Edition), U.S. War-Fighting Numbers to Knock Your Socks Off"

SPECIAL FEATURE: Today, TomDispatch is also offering the first TomCast audio interview not linked to a TomDispatch piece. In it, Jonathan Schell and I have a wide-ranging discussion of the war he covered in Vietnam, the Afghan War, and U.S. nuclear policy from the 1960s to the present. Schell has just written the Nation magazine cover story, “Reaching Zero.” Check the TomCast out here.

In my 1950s childhood, Ripley’s Believe It or Not was part of everyday life, a syndicated comics page feature filled with mind-boggling stats. With our Afghan and Iraq wars on my mind, I’ve been wondering whether Ripley’s moment hasn’t returned. After all, from the approximately 3 million items of equipment that will have to be removed from Iraq in any draw down of U.S. forces and the hundreds of bases to close to the 1.1 million hamburger patties now being shipped into Afghanistan monthly and the 400 bases already opened there, the numbers are staggering.

As I write in my latest post on America's war-fighting "footprint": "These sorts of figures define the U.S. military in the Bush era -- and now Obama's -- as the most materiel-profligate war-making machine ever. Where armies once had baggage trains and camp followers, our camp followers now help plant our military in foreign soil, build its housing and defenses, and then supply it with vast quantities of food, water, fuel, and god knows what else. In this way, our troops carry not just packs on their backs, but a total, transplantable society right down to the PXs, massage parlors, food courts, and miniature golf courses." Read it now.

In this post, I take readers on a striking Ripley's Believe It or Not-style tour of money spent and things consumed, all in prodigious amounts, in the course of wars fought by the Pentagon as if American pockets had no bottoms, the national treasury had no limits, and there was quite literally no tomorrow.

As I suggest, "If war were really a Believe It or Not matter, or victory lay in the number of hamburgers transported or the price of fuel consumed, the U.S. military would have been the winner long ago. After all, it may be the most product-profligate military with the heaviest 'footprint' in history." As it happens, however, the wars themselves against two motley minority insurgencies have hardly been less striking in their lack of success. As I conclude: "Vast piles of money and vast quantities of materiel have been squandered; equipment by the boatload has been used up; lives have been wasted in profusion; and yet the winners of our wars might turn out to be Iran and China. The American way of war, unfortunately, has the numbers to die for, just not to live by."

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