Tomgram: William Hartung, Trump for the Defense

Originally posted at, November 22, 2016

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt
It couldn’t be stranger when you think about it (which few here care to do).  In the latter part of the twentieth century and the first years of this one, Washington did what no power in history had ever done.  It garrisoned the globe with a staggering number of military bases in a remarkably blanket fashion (China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and a few similar places aside).  In these years, it just built and built and built.  At one point, there were something like 1,000 installations in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, from bases large enough to be small American towns to tiny combat outposts.  In 2015, there were at least 800 significant U.S. bases in foreign countries (and more small camps and places where U.S. military equipment was pre-positioned for future use).  No great power, not even Britain at its imperial height, had ever had such a global military “footprint,” such an “empire of bases,” and yet in this country it was as if no one noticed, as if it were of no importance at all.  The media rarely even acknowledged the existence of such bases.  They were never considered news.  They played no part in American politics.  They went largely unmentioned in “the homeland,” despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of American military personnel, their families, private contractors, and others cycled through them annually.

Particularly in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, those bases reflected a growing belief in Washington that it might indeed be possible for a single nation, the planet’s “sole superpower,” to militarily dominate the planet, lock, stock, and barrel.  As a result, investment in the U.S. military proceeded apace and the urge for it to be everywhere only spread.  At one point in recent years, the Pentagon’s budget was larger than those of the next 10 countries combined, including a number of allies; and as Nick Turse has reported, by 2015, the Pentagon had created a vast secret military, its Special Operations forces, which played a role in 147 countries, a figure for the record books.  Meanwhile, new drone bases(on which we have no count) were being built in significant numbers to ensure that a Hellfire missile could be delivered to anyplace in the Greater Middle East, much of the rest of Eurasia, or northern Africa on more or less a moment’s notice.  Nor did Washington’s efforts stop there. In these last years, the U.S. has conducted bombing campaigns and other kinds of military activities in no less than seven countries.

And yet here’s what’s notable: unlike other imperial powers with such garrisons in their heyday — the Romans, the French, the British, the Soviets — the U.S. managed to dominate next to nothing, to impose its will on no place militarily. Instead, in the post-9/11 era, under military pressure from Washington, country after country, area after area passed into a state of chaos, not order, and it seemed to make no difference what form that pressure took.

Neither this tale of failure nor the costs of such militaristic fantasies to the American taxpayer have yet been fully grasped here. As we enter the new era of Donald Trump, amid a welter of conflicting signals, only one thing seems clear when it comes to the U.S. military. Whatever extreme figures end up in key posts in the Trump version of the national security state, as TomDispatch regular William Hartung indicates today, yet more money will be sent swirling down the Pentagon’s drain. It’s like going into hock to finance your own imperial decline. Tom 

A Pentagon Rising
Is a Trump Presidency Good News for the Military-Industrial Complex?
By William D. Hartung

As with so much of what Donald Trump has said in recent months, his positions on Pentagon spending are, to be polite, a bundle of contradictions.  Early signs suggest, however, that those contradictions are likely to resolve themselves in favor of the usual suspects: the arms industry and its various supporters and hangers-on in the government, as well as Washington’s labyrinthine world of think-tank policymakers and lobbyists.  Of course, to quote a voice of sanity at this strange moment: it ain’t over till it’s over. Eager as The Donald may be to pump vast sums into a Pentagon already spending your tax dollars at a near-record pace, there will be significant real-world obstacles to any such plans.

Let’s start with a baseline look at the Pentagon’s finances at this moment.  At $600 billion-plus per year, the government is already spending more money on the Pentagon than it did at the peak of the massive military buildup President Ronald Reagan initiated in the 1980s.  In fact, despite what you might imagine, the Obama administration has pumped more tax dollars into the military in its two terms than did George W. Bush. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the U.S. currently spends four times what China does and 10 times what the Russians sink into their military.

So pay no attention to those cries of poverty emanating from the Pentagon.  There’s already plenty of money available for “defense.”  Instead, the problems lie in Washington’s overly ambitious, thoroughly counterproductive global military strategy and in the Pentagon’s penchant for squandering tax dollars as if they were in endless supply. Supposedly, the job of the president and Congress is to rein in that department’s notoriously voracious appetite. Instead, they regularly end up as a team of enablers for its obvious spending addiction.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump.  He’s on the record against regime-change-style wars like Bush’s intervention in Iraq and Obama’s in Libya.  He also wants our allies to pay more for their own defense.  And he swears that, once in office, he’ll eliminate waste and drive down the costs of weapons systems.  Taken at face value, such a set of policies would certainly set the stage for reductions in Pentagon spending, not massive increases.  But those are just the views of one Donald Trump.

Don’t forget the other one, the presidential candidate who termed our military a “disaster” and insisted that huge spending increases were needed to bring it back up to par. A window into this Trump’s thinking can be found in a speechhe gave in Philadelphia in early September. Drawing heavily on a military spending blueprint created by Washington’s right-wing Heritage Foundation, Trump called for tens of thousands of additional troops, a Navy of 350 ships (the current goal is 308), a significantly larger Air Force, an anti-missile, space-based Star Wars-style program of Reaganesque proportions, and an acceleration of the Pentagon’s $1 trillion “modernization” program for the nuclear arsenal (now considered a three-decade-long project).

Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that, if Trump faithfully follows the Heritage Foundation’s proposal, he could add more than $900 billion to the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade. Trump asserts that he would counterbalance this spending splurge with corresponding cuts in government waste but has as yet offered no credible plan for doing so (because, of course, there isn’t one).

You won’t be surprised to learn, then, that the defense industry, always sensitive to the vibes of presidential candidates, has been popping the champagne corks in the wake of Trump’s victory.  The prospects are clear: a new Pentagon spending binge is on the horizon.

Veteran defense analyst David Isenberg has convincingly argued that the “military-industrial-congressional-complex,” not the white working class, will be the real winner of the 2016 presidential election. The Forbes headline for a column Loren Thompson, an industry consultant (whose think tank is heavily funded by weapons contractors), recently wrote says it all: “For the Defense Industry, Trump’s Win Means Happy Days are Here Again.”  The stocks of industry giants Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman rose sharply upon news of his election and the biggest winner of all may be Huntington Ingalls, a Virginia-based manufacturer of aircraft carriers and nuclear attack submarines that would be a primary beneficiary of Trump’s proposed naval buildup.

The Ideologues Form Their Ranks

Of course, the market’s not always right.  What other evidence do we have that Trump will follow through on his promises to dramatically increase Pentagon spending? One clue is his potential appointees to national security positions.

Let’s start with his transition team.  Mira Ricardel, a former executive at Boeing’s Strategic Missiles and Defense unit, has been running the day-to-day operations of the defense part of the transition apparatus.   She also served a lengthy stint in the Pentagon under George W. Bush. As Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One has noted, she’s advocated for the development of space laser weapons and more military satellites, and is likely to press for appointees who will go all in on the Pentagon’s plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a new nuclear bomber and a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles. So much for “draining the swamp” of special-interest advocates, as Trump had promised to do.  Vice President-elect Mike Pence, recently named to head the Trump transition team in place of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, has promised to cleanse the transition team of lobbyists.  But government watchdog groups like Public Citizen are skeptical of this pledge, noting that corporate executives like Ricardel who have not been registered lobbyists are likely to survive any changes Pence may make.

The person currently rumored to be the frontrunner for the defense job is General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a 44-year Marine and former head of the U.S. Central Command who left the military in 2013 amid disagreements with the Obama administration over how many troops to deploy in Iraq and how hard a line to take on Iran.  According to a Washington Post profile of Mattis, he “consistently pushed the military to punish Iran and its allies, including calling for more covert actions to capture and kill Iranian operatives and interdictions of Iranian warships.”  These proposals were non-starters at a time when the Obama administration was negotiating a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but may receive a warmer reception in a Trump White House.

Another candidate for the Pentagon post is Jim Talent, a former senator from Missouri who is now based at the conservative American Enterprise Institute after a seven-year stint at the Heritage Foundation. Talent is a long-time advocate of spending an arbitrary 4% of gross domestic product on defense, an ill-advisedpolicy that would catapult the Pentagon budget to over $800 billion per year by 2020, one-third above current levels. The conservative National Taxpayers Union has derided the idea as a gimmick that is “neither fiscally responsible nor strategically coherent.”

Another person allegedly in the mix for Pentagon chief is Kelly Ayotte, who just lost her Senate seat in New Hampshire.  She was a rising star in the ranks of the Capitol Hill hawks who roamed the country with Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain advocating an end to caps on Pentagon spending.  Ayotte’s name may have been mentioned primarily to show that Trump was casting a wide net (the whole spectrum from hawks to extreme hawks).  Conservative Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas — a fierce opponent of the Iran nuclear deal and an avid booster of increasing Pentagon spending beyond what even the Pentagon has asked for — is reputedly another contender.

Congressman Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, is looking for a job after losing his seat in a primary earlier this year. He has been mentioned as a possible secretary of the Navy.  The outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, he has been the most vocal advocate in Congress for a larger Navy.  Not coincidentally, Virginia is also home to Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.

Retired Army Lieutenant General Mike Flynn has now been selected to serve as Trump’s national security adviser, where he may get the last word on foreign policy issues.  A registered Democrat, he was an early Trump supporter who gave a fiery anti-Obama speech at the Republican convention and led anti-Clinton chants of “lock her up” at Trump rallies — hardly the temperament one would want in a person who will be at the president’s side making life-and-death decisions for the planet.  To his credit, Flynn has expressed skepticism of military interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has also advocated regime change as a way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and criticized President Obama for being too “politically correct” to use the term “radical Islam.”  His own views on Islam and how best to deal with terrorism are particularly concerning.  He has described Islam as a “political ideology” rather than a religion, and has made demonstrably false assertions regarding the role of Islam in American life, including the absurd claim that Islamic law, or Sharia, has taken hold in certain communities in the United States.

The scariest potential Trump appointees — or at least the scariest voices that could have the president-elect’s ear or those of his closest advisers, are not necessarily the ones with preexisting economic stakes in high levels of Pentagon spending.  They are the ideologues.  R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and fierce advocate of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, punches both tickets.  He’s closely connected to right-wing think tanks that press for spending more on all things military and was a member of neoconservative networks like the Project for the New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.  Woolsey is also an executive at Booz, Allen, Hamilton, a major defense and intelligence contractor.

Then there’s Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. A former Reagan-era Star Wars enthusiast turned professional Islamophobe, he has insinuated that President Obama might be a secret Muslim and slandered fellow conservatives for allegedly having questionable ties to radical Muslim organizations.  Such claims should make Gaffney unfit to serve in the government of a democratic society.  However, his advice is reportedly being listened to by key Trump insiders and appointing him to some national security post may not prove a problem for a president-elect who has already installed white supremacist Stephen Bannon as his strategic adviser in the White House.

And then there’s John Bolton, the hawk’s hawk who never met an arms control agreement he didn’t despise, and who took to the pages of the New York Times last year to advocate bombing Iran.  Prominent neoconservatives are pushing Bolton as a possible secretary of state in a Trump administration.  A potential obstacle to a Bolton appointment is his strong anti-Russian stance, but he could still get a post of significance or simply be an important voice in the coming Trump era. He has already called for Trump to scrap the Iran nuclear deal on his first day in office.  Another reported candidate in the race for secretary of state is Rudy Giuliani, perhaps the most undiplomatic man in America. Recent reports suggest, however, that the former New York mayor no longer has the inside track on the job. The latest name to be mentioned in the secretary of state sweepstakes is former Massachusetts governor and failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a harsh critic of Trump during the campaign.

Below the cabinet level, certain Republican foreign policy experts who opposed Trump or remained neutral during the campaign have been trying to mend fences — even some of those who signed a letter suggesting that he might be “the most reckless president in American history.”  Part of this backpedaling has included preposterous claims that Trump’s pronouncements have become more “nuanced” in the post-election period, as if he didn’t really mean it when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals or talked about banning Muslims from the country.

One hawk who hasn’t accommodated himself to a Trump presidency is Eliot Cohen, a leader of the “Never Trump” movement who had initially urged foreign policy specialists to put aside their reservations and enter his administration.  Cohen has since reversed course and suggested that no “garden variety Republican” go near Trump, arguing that he and his “mediocre” appointees will “smash into crises and failures” on a regular basis. 

In the end, it may not matter much just how the contest for top positions in the new administration plays out.  Given the likely cast of characters and the nascent crop of advisers in the world of national security, it’s hard to imagine that Trump won’t be strongly encouraged in any efforts to pump up Pentagon spending to levels possibly not seen in the post-World War II era.

Reaganomics on Steroids?

One thing, however, does stand in the way of Trump’s current plans: reality.

As a start, how in the world will Trump pay for his ambitious military, “security,” and infrastructure plans?  A huge military buildup, a $25 billion wall on the Mexican border, a potentially enormous increase in spending on immigration enforcement officials and private detention centers, and a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, all against the backdrop of a tax planthat would cut trillions in taxes for the wealthiest Americans.  The only possible way to do this would be to drown the country in red ink.

Trump is likely to turn to deficit spending on a grand scale, which will undoubtedly exacerbate divisions among congressional Republicans and cause potentially serious pushback from the Party’s deficit hawks.  On the other hand, his desire to lift current caps on Pentagon spending without a corresponding increase in domestic expenditures could generate significant opposition from Senate Democrats, who might use current Senate rules to block consideration of any unbalanced spending proposals.

Nor will Trump’s incipient infatuation with Pentagon spending do much for members of his working class base who have been left behind economically as traditional manufacturing employment has waned.  In fact, Pentagon spending is one of the worst possible ways of creating jobs.  Much of the money goes to service contractors, arms industry executives, and defense consultants (also known as “Beltway bandits”), and what does go into the actual building of weapons systems underwrites a relatively small number of manufactured items, at least when compared to mass production industries like automobiles or steel.

In addition, such spending is the definition of an economic dead end.  If you put taxpayer money into education or infrastructure, you lay the foundations for further growth.  If you spend money on an F-35 fighter plane, you get… well, an overpriced F-35. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts indicates that infrastructure spending creates one and one-half times the number of jobs per dollar invested as money lavished on the Pentagon.  If Trump really wants to create jobs for his base, he should obviously pursue infrastructure investment rather than dumping vast sums into weapons the country doesn’t actually need at prices it can’t afford.

At present, with its proposals for steep military spending increases and deep tax cuts, Trump’s budget plan looks like Reaganomics on steroids.  A Democratic Congress and citizens’ movements like the nuclear freeze campaign managed to blunt Reagan’s most extreme policy proposals.  The next few years will determine what happens with Mr. Trump’s own exercise in fantasy budgeting.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 William D. Hartung

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Veterans For Peace Statement on Election Results

VFP National Office, November 9, 2016

Veterans For Peace calls for all of our members and those who believe peace is possible to remember that peace is not found in elections, it is found in the work we do to create it. This election season has been one of the darkest and disappointing in recent history. Peace was missing from all the debates. Now that we know who will be the next president, we have a lot of work to do and it begins now!

Soon President-elect Donald Trump will take office. While he does not have a foreign policy record to examine, there are a few things we know. Trump condemned the nuclear agreement Iran made with world powers. He claims he will renegotiate the deal, calling for a “double up and triple up of sanctions.” Trump is not only committed to keeping nuclear weapons, he seems unfazed by the possibility of more countries becoming nuclear powers and talks casually about using nuclear weapons. Trump constantly claimed that the U.S. military is depleted and called for increases in military spending beyond the 2013 sequester levels. Perhaps his best known foreign policy positions that bridge directly into domestic policy are his call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and building a wall along the border of the U.S. and Mexico. 

On the domestic front, we know President-elect Trump provides great momentum to many of the most repressive and dark social tendencies our nation has struggled to discard. Trump’s campaign ran on the toxic energy of hate. It began with calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. It revved up by calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States and it completed its triangle of xenophobia and misogyny by defending sexual assault. The Trump campaign has put on a facade of reaching out to the Black community, however his words make it clear that he is hostile to people of color when he characterizes Black and Hispanic communities as “hell” and called for law and order and stop frisk. His hostility is clear enough to White supremacists that many endorsed him as their candidate.

The peace movement must stand strong against policies that call for more violence and war. We must resist all forms of hate and xenophobia. We must stand in solidarity with domestic struggles that move forward women’s rights, immigration reform and all forms of racial, economic and social justice. With our allies across all struggles, we must build a full spectrum movement to create peace at home and abroad. Peace is possible if we make it so. It will happen if we build it together. The work begins now!

Take the Peace Pledge! We know that voting won’t stop wars, but social movements will!

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Reclaim Armistice Day, November 11

[The original submission for the Corvallis Gazette-Times “As I See It” piece, published Nov. 6, 2016]

November 11 is Armistice Day

Graphic: VFP national

Many celebrate November 11 as Veterans Day, but across the country, Veterans For Peace chapters and other peace and justice groups will be ringing bells to commemorate Armistice Day.

The Armistice of 1918 ended the terrible slaughter of World War I. Thirty million soldiers were killed or wounded in that war. The world had never witnessed such carnage. 

For one moment, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (11a.m. on November 11, 1918), the world agreed World War I must be the “War to End All Wars.”

There was exuberant joy everywhere and many churches rang their bells, some eleven times, to mark the signing of the armistice.

In hopes of “sealing the deal,” sixty-two countries, including the belligerents from World War I, signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928, promising not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.” The United State Senate ratified that treaty by a vote of 85-1. Similar provisions were later incorporated into the United Nations Charter.

So how did Armistice Day become Veterans Day and how did this country’s foreign policy swerve so dramatically away from a renewed pursuit of peace toward one of endless war?

Armistice Day in the U.S. was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, to honor the war dead but also to affirm that the World War I armistice had provided the opportunity “…to show [America’s] sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

Congress, following the lead of twenty-seven states, finally adopted Armistice Day as a national holiday in 1926, saying in the congressional resolution: “…it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations….”

World War II veterans wanted to expand recognition to all veterans and President Eisenhower signed a bill in 1954 officially changing the name from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day.” That’s it. There was no change to the original purpose of Armistice Day; just a name change.

Since then, as the U.S. fought direct and proxy wars to enlarge its economic sphere of influence and ensure the Soviets were denied the same, war and militarist expansion were reestablished as the preferred means of implementing U.S. foreign policy. 

Why is that? The answer lies in the fact that war is a very lucrative business. As Marine General Smedley Butler, who fought in several wars of empire from Latin America to China, said, “War is a racket.”

Consider these statistics:

– The Pentagon budget consumes over 50% of federal discretionary dollars.

– The top six defense contractors (in money awarded for contracts) are the same top six election campaign donors (totaling $27M in 2012). Is this a coincidence?

– Lockheed Martin, the top 2016 defense industry campaign contributor, has spent $3.4 million of the $24.7 million total spent by defense contractors in this election cycle (as of this writing). Is there any question that this money buys access and influence?

– Every hour, taxpayers are spending $8.36 million on the Pentagon, homeland security, the Pentagon’s “slush fund” (for overseas contingency operations) and other war-related budget items; not including military health and retirement benefits.

– In 2015, Linn County taxpayers paid $91 million and Benton County $106 million to fund the Pentagon budget.

What could these “defense” dollars have funded in local projects, e.g., schools, roads, jobs, needy family assistance?

See for details.

But what about the veterans for whom the November 11 holiday was renamed to honor?

How best to honor them? We could start by providing the health care and support they were promised. 

Twenty veterans take their own lives every single day. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funding is discretionary, and must be rejustified and renewed by Congress every two years. The agency is currently so severely underfunded that it cannot adequately serve the unexpected (by some) volume of medically needy Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, let alone the thousands of veterans of all prior wars still awaiting treatment for mental and physical wounds. 

Most studies estimate that up to one in three homeless people are veterans and that the homeless veteran population is becoming larger and younger, as veterans suffering from PTSD (and coping by abusing drugs and alcohol) have trouble finding and keeping a job.

Of particular concern to us in Veterans For Peace are the thousands of veterans and their families who continue to suffer the effects of Agent Orange defoliant exposure from their time in Viet Nam. The VA has a tragic history of denying Agent Orange-related illness claims, especially from those with genetically inherited birth defects.

How best to honor our veterans? Wave flags at a parade and thank veterans for their service? Buy stuff at the Veterans Day sales at the mall? 

How about we bring our troops home and reduce the size of the military to what is minimally necessary to defend our shores? How about shifting those public funds to colleges, technical training, health care and green energy, where millions of jobs would await those no longer employed by the armed forces?

Please join Veterans For Peace, Albany Peace Seekers, the Corvallis branch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Corvallis Alternatives to War and other local faith, peace and justice groups in truly honoring veterans on November 11 (and every day) by working for peace, not celebrating militarism and war.

Bart Bolger, Chairperson, Veterans For Peace, Linus Pauling Chapter, Corvallis

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Great Drones Quilt Video from Connecticut Event

This presentation by Ed Kinane could be titled “Drones 101.” It is a great video for someone who doesn’t know too much about them. Please share!

Source: Great Video from Connecticut Event

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Veterans For Peace Statement Calling for Columbus Day to be Replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Statement by Veterans For Peace national office


Veterans For Peace believes that the federal holiday commemorating the arrival of
Christopher Columbus to the vfpreindigenouspeoplesday“New World” is an affront to Indigenous peoples everywhere and particularly to native peoples of the Americas. We denounce the celebration of a person who carried out mass killings and genocidal acts against Indigenous peoples and paved the way for European colonization of native lands and enslavement of native peoples. Continue reading

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Drones Quilts at the Intrepid Museum

The prestigious Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City will be holding a major exhibit on drones beginning May 5th 2017 and running at least until the end of the calendar year. The Dro…

Source: Drones Quilts at the Intrepid Museum

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Week of the Bomb: Monday

[In addition to the classified briefings for presidential candidates, this excellent piece should be required reading for all of them and their senior advisors, with a written test to follow. Then publish the results of that test before the general election. — VFP 132 ed.]

With the anniversary of the Trinity Test just passed, and the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki coming up, I realize the atomic bomb has been following me for years. The first book of poetry I …

Source: Week of the Bomb: Monday

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