Speaking to an audience of military personnel in California earlier this year, United States President Donald Trump unveiled his scheme to create a sixth branch of the US military: the “space force”.
According to Trump’s version of the story, the idea had unfolded as follows: “I was saying it the other day cos we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space. I said maybe we need a new force; we’ll call it the space force. And I was not really serious, and then I said what a great idea, maybe we’ll have do do that.”
Of course, such flashes of creative brilliance are to be expected from the man who self-identifies as “a very stable genius“.
It seems, however, that the whole space force notion may not have materialised in as spontaneous a fashion as Trump has implied. As CNN pointed out, the idea for a “space corps” as a distinct military branch surfaced last year but was ultimately “nixed from the final version of the $700 billion bipartisan defence policy bill”.
Rewind a bit further in time, and we find that a similar suggestion was also put forth in 2001 by a commission headed by soon-to-be US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
And as NPR recalls: “The concept of a space force goes back to the Cold War”.
Anyway, facts are flexible in the Trumpian era.
Overspending on war
Explaining to the gathering in California that his “new national strategy for space recognises that space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea”, Trump vouched for the feasibility of a space force “because we’re spending a lot and we have a lot of private money coming in. Tremendous”.
He’s right, at least, about the spending habit; just take a quick glance at that $700bn figure a few paragraphs back.
Or consider the December 2017 statement by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who found that, while the US “spends more on national defence than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan combined”, the nation isn’t exactly flourishing.
Among numerous other trivia, the report notes that “Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy”.
With “one-quarter of youth living in poverty”, the US youth poverty rate is the highest of any country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and, as of 2013, US infant mortality rates were “the highest in the developed world”.
Let’s get ‘more lethal’
Granted, this state of affairs is not enormously surprising given the US government’s consistent prioritisation of the health of the arms industry over the health of the humans that are allegedly being defended from ubiquitous foreign nemeses, only to languish in sickness and poverty at home.
Meanwhile, Trump’s latest mission to convert outer space into a proper “war-fighting domain” would seem to fit in rather nicely with mankind’s valiant quest to destroy itself.
And though various observers have downplayed the possibility that the Trumpian space force vision will ever debut in real life, there are plenty of more ominous indicators.
For example, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who last year opposed the creation of a space corps, is quoted in a May 2018 dispatch on the Defence Department website as saying that “we want to make the [US] military more lethal in outer space and cyberspace, at sea, on land, and in the air”.
And in February, US Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein declared his belief that “we’re going to be fighting from space in a matter of years.”
Practically speaking, of course, space is already a war-fighting domain. There is a space-based layer to the United States’ ballistic missile defence system – successor to Ronald Reagan’s so-called “Star Wars” initiative of 1983 – and space capabilities are already integral to bellicose international endeavours by the US military.
On top of that, the Air Force Space Command, a division of the US Air Force, currently boasts “more than 36,000 professionals assigned to 134 locations worldwide”, according to its website.
The need to take things to the next level with a full-out US “space force”, then, presumably has something to do with US reliance on comprehensive militarisation strategies as a means of perpetuating domination both domestically and globally.
Methods have generally ranged from the more straightforward installation of US bases, outposts, and troops in the vast majority of countries in the world to the less tangible militarisation of US society and culture, which is often conducted in even subtler ways than, say, via Trump’s idea to arm teachers to halt school shootings.
Shooting for the stars?
In an academic paper titled Constructing Civilian-Soldiers: The Militarisation of Inner Space, Syracuse University professor Jackie Orr explores the “history of attempts by the US government, media, military, and academy to enlist the psychological life of US citizens as a military asset”.
After all, any state wishing to be on perpetual war footing would do well to have behind it a civilian population emotionally conditioned to either demand more war or at least view it as necessary or inevitable.
Utilising George W Bush’s post-9/11 assertion that “every American is a soldier” to discuss the so-called “war on terror” as “the most recent theatre of operations for securing the psychological organisation of US civil society for the manufacture of mass violence”, Orr contends that the duties of the civilian-soldier extend to outer space, as well: that “final, fantastic frontier for the US military’s imaginary and material battlefields”.
Fast forward to 2018 and Trump’s insistence that “our service members will be vital to ensuring America continues to lead the way into the stars”. But in this case, shooting for the stars is hardly a good thing.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.