Military Industrial Complex (image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: United States Marine Corps Official Page, D Sharon Pruitt)

The idea of economic conversion, of retooling and retraining pieces of the military industrial complex to build what other wealthy nations have (infrastructure, energy, education, etc.) converged with the end of the Cold War two decades back. It was time for a peace dividend as well as a little sanity in public spending. Among the cosponsors of a bill to begin economic conversion in the late 1980s was a guy by the name of Leon Panetta.

Standing in the way was Congressman Newt Gingrich (Republican, Lockheed Martin).

As Mary Beth Sullivan recounts,

“On the first day of the opening of the 101st Congress, Speaker [Jim] Wright convened a meeting of members who had proposed economic conversion legislation, and their aids. The purpose was to ensure that all proposals be joined into one, and that this legislation be given priority. To dramatize the importance of this bill, it would be given number H.R. 101.”

Seymour Melman, a leading proponent of the bill recounts what happened:

“Supporters of such an initiative did not reckon with the enormous power of those opposed to any such move toward economic conversion. In the weeks that followed, these vested interests waged a concerted and aggressive campaign in Congress and the national media to bring down Jim Wright over allegations of financial misconduct.”

“The allegations,” Sullivan writes, “had little substance, but Newt Gingrich, representing a headquarters district of Lockheed Martin, led the Republican attack. Sadly, they won. According to Melman, ‘Their media campaign drowned out any further discussion of economic conversion … A historic opportunity had been destroyed.”

The military industrial complex survived and thrived and is growing even to this moment with plans to grow on into the foreseeable future, even as we’re falsely told it’s being cut back. Our nation trails others in the areas of education, health, retirement security, life expectancy, infant mortality, environmental sustainability, poverty, and — in so far as anyone has measured it — happiness. Instead we have a military that costs as much as the rest of the world’s put together, and much of the rest of the world’s is purchased from our weapons makers. We have aircraft carriers, bombs, missiles, helicopters, bases, drones, and billionaires to make up for our crappy schools and lousy trains.

While I understand how exciting Newt Gingrich’s sex life may be, there may be other things he has to answer for as well.