In A Dark Time, The Eye Begins To See
James Carroll’s thoughts on America’s wars
By Mera Szendro
During the past 60 years of U.S. international relations, author and newspaper columnist James Carroll said the country has made a number of irrational decisions. “We look for rational explanations of irrational acts. We have made a lot of irrational actions,” Carroll said during a recent lecture at Marymount Manhattan College’s Theresa Lang Theatre.
Carroll’s lecture, “1945-2007: America and Its Wars,” was poignant and important and was the centerpiece of Marymount’s annual Rudin Lecture series. The most refreshing component of Carroll’s speech was his ability to mix his own personal thoughts of U.S foreign policy and bring clarity to some complex international issues to an audience of Marymount trustees, students, professors and staff.
Carroll’s main subject was the Pentagon and its influence on Washington and America’s view towards war. The Pentagon was supposed to be a temporary storage space and Roosevelt wanted to dismantle the war department after WWII. He lost this fight with Congress and the department took on a life of its own throughout wars in Korea, Vietnam and Latin America.
In President Eisenhower’s farewell speech, given in 1961 he warned American politicians and citizens alike of the “military industrial complex”. Eisenhower defined this as the “coalition consisting of the military and industrialists that profit by manufacturing arms and selling them to the government.” During this period the U.S. was spending more annually on military security than the “net income of all U.S. corporations.” The warning that Eisenhower gave was very real. At the time, there were only 19,000 atomic bombs. By 1986, there were 100,000 atomic bombs, Carroll said.
During President Clinton’s term, the Defense Department budget was $260 billion dollars. By 2008, the budget is expected to be $620 billion. Carroll expects it to be a trillion dollars by the end of the decade. He views the creation of nuclear weapons as a permanent feature in American life. According to the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Project, 67,500 nuclear missiles have been built from 1951 to the present day. Carroll talked of this proliferation of weapons as a mentality that has seeped to all facets of American culture, saying that there is an “unchecked reach of the Pentagon.” Carroll says the military-industrial complex has expanded to encompass the entertainment and academic realms of American society.
March 19 marked the fourth year of the American military’s occupation in Iraq. Carroll told the audience that the Bush Administration is responding to the very real threat of terrorism. The events of September 11 created fear, hurt and revenge in the hearts of Americans and we responded instinctively without forethought. “The tragic mistake in President Bush’s actions has been to treat this as an occasion to go to war,” Carroll said. “While the Pentagon continues to build nuclear submarines, and weapons adequate for the Cold War, we are unable to combat makeshift terrorist bombs and weapons.”
Carroll said that policing and international intelligence is the better path, if we want to rid the world of terrorism. The Pentagon does not consider these options because, as Carroll says, “Our economy depends on war propagation. This is a terrible waste of human creativity.”
Carroll spoke to the audience with great passion and urgency, very much like Eisenhower did over fifty years ago. “We now stand nearly ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts, America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world,” Carroll said. “Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.”
Carroll reminded us that we obviously have not gotten it right yet. He urged the audience to support politics, which he views it as the “the greatest system of reversing momentum. We must demand from presidential candidates to speak at a deeper level,” and he advised, “ask them, why do we need WWII weapons systems?”
Carroll said the most important thing is to make nuclear weapons unavailable, so that other countries do not have to compete with us. “America has to find a new way of thinking, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, all breathe the same air, all cherish our children and that we are all mortal,” he said. Carroll’s father, who was an Air Force General during the Cold War, gave him words of knowledge that he says remain with him to this day. “My father gave me the kernel of knowledge and hope when he told me, ‘How briefly on the earth we are, not to find another way to live than by killing.’”