Enumerating saddles

Nestled between the foreword and the introduction of this Andrew Natsios essay on counter-bureaucracy (it’s much more interesting than the tile suggests), is what I believe is the world’s first recorded instance of people in the field complaining about the bureaucratic demands from their colleagues at headquarters. I’m sure that today many field officers feel equally as burdened by reporting and short-term management constraints. The message is pitch-perfect.

Gentlemen,

Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the
approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been
diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by
His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch
to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles,
and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s
Government holds me accountable.  I have dispatched reports on
the character, wit and spleen of every officer.  Each item and
every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable
exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains
unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there
has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of
raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm
in western Spain.  This reprehensible carelessness may be related
to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France,
a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in
Whitehall.
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request
elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so
that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over
these barren plains.  I construe that perforce it must be one of two
alternative duties, as given below.  I shall pursue either with the
best of my ability, but I cannot do both:

1.) To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for
the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or,
perchance…
2.) To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,

Wellington

—Attributed to the Duke of Wellington, during the
Peninsular Campaign, in a message to the British
Foreign Office in London, 11 August 1812.1

Why We Fight

Before I finish my “three part series” on refugees, I thought I would share some thoughts on the joyful subject of American military spending.

For an in-depth look at the American military-industrial complex, watch this documentary entitled “Why We Fight” (E. Jarecki, 2005). If you’re not in the mood to watch a full length feature about a pretty dry topic (I recognize that not everyone is into nerdy things like military spending), you should at least watch President Eisenhower’s farewell address, which is the first 3 minutes of the movie. Like him or not, he was definitely a visionary, and his words of warning ring so true today…

Facts about military spending


(Source: Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)

This graph shows the proportion of our military spending that is earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Source: Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)

Why is the US spending so much on its military? Besides the fact that the military-industrial complex continues to have a huge influence on how much of the federal budget is allocated to military spending, it feels like the United States is construing its domination of the world as a matter of hard power – we are the strongest, mightiest nation on Earth because of our military. We used to dominate the global scene through our economic, political and military influence, but the former two have decreased sharply in recent times.

In terms of economic power, the United States is now contending for top dog with emerging market economies (China… India…. ), and economic interdependence makes it very difficult to truly dominate the world through that channel (thank god).
In terms of political influence, apart from Africa which apparently loves the United States and George W Bush, the US is confronted with the fact that its voice is not as powerful as it used to be.
I recognize that these are all debatable points – the point is that we really need to ask ourselves why the US is spending over half a trillion dollars/year on its own military, and if the reasons for doing so are valid.

Note: the US spends about $70 billion on education annually…. wonder why 63% of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel. Nine in ten couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. And 54% did not know Sudan was a country in Africa“(2006, National Geographic.)

“Why We Fight” offers an interesting perspective on the relationship between the US government, and the military and its industries. It should fuel further examination of the reasoning behind astronomical spending on conventional military activities in a world where the threats that loom the largest are no longer conventional…. Our failure to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan are testament to this.