11/15 Cold War Defense Spending and How It Transformed Politics w/ Michael Brenes

November 15, 2021

Sam and Emma host Michael Brenes, history lecturer at Yale University, to discuss his recent book For Might and Right: Cold War Defense Spending and the Remaking of American Democracy, on how the Cold War helped to ingrain the military-industrial complex within the American political, economic, and labor sectors. Michael takes Emma and Sam back to the forties, in the wake of WWII, as the US shifted its focus to the USSR’s threat to US imperial interests, with the unification of liberals in the government around the idea that the US military must be broadened, even while conservatives were wary of a garrison state. They also dive into how the Cold War saw the defense budget cemented as a new form of welfare state, far from the New Deal, serving to generate unionized, stable jobs, with legislation from the GI bill to full racial integration in the military presenting the sector as the leader of social progress. Next, they look at Eisenhower’s presidency, as, despite being a key figure in identifying the military-industrial complex, he allowed defense funding to flourish in a time of austerity, with the holes in the military-welfare state becoming more and more glaring as the actual welfare state is rolled back under the second red scare. Over the next two decades, the US sees a declining faith in the military-industrial complex as it becomes clear that the fight for jobs in the sector is both a zero-sum game, and becoming increasingly concentrated in specific, higher-educated fields. Then, they dive into the 80s and 90s, as the sudden disappearance of the USSR left a gaping hole for excuses for the Pentagon budget, until a conversation around reassessing the connection between defense and the economy is interrupted with a presidential impeachment trial, putting US politics into a drama-driven state, with 9/11 then putting US defense back into the money seat, even on the domestic scale, with the militarization of police increasing rapidly into the aughts with the wars on drugs and crime. They wrap up the interview by touching on the last couple of decades, and how the war on terror has both seen the biggest uptick in total defense spending, and a return of the discussion around an international, completely autonomous US military and its failures. They also look at how the defense industry exacerbates income inequality, and what we can do to begin to shift jobs during a period of peace to civilian, peacetime purposes. Emma and Sam also discuss Sen. Barrasso extending empathy and understanding to Jan 6 insurrectionists’ “hang Mike Pence” chants.

And in the Fun Half: Emma and Sam cover the general failings of COP26, looking at AOC’s recent comments about the US “[recovering] our moral authority,” before John from SA calls in to debate the importance of negative partisanship, and the MR crew covers the Republicans that voted for BIF almost immediately announcing their retirement. Tulsi visits Fox as Sean Hannity flirts with her imperialist and fiscally conservative tendencies, Dave from Jamaica discusses vaccine hesitancy versus anti-vaccination propaganda, and Cole James Cash shares good news, bad news, and great news. Jared from Portland discusses avoiding painting our children a nihilist picture of the future, plus, your calls and IMs!

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