As we are a week away from Thanksgiving 2008, missing from all of the emotional cacophony being generated over the future of financially troubled automaker General Motors Corporation (GM), is a one very serious consideration that has been completely overlooked. The smug post baby boomer commentators think GM should be simply dismissed as one of the last of the iconoclastic Orwellian companies to survive the art deco era and it is time for it to go. Wall Street traders view GM currently a poor choice to make money either long or short, so they too think it is time for it to go. One would certainly be hard pressed to find any sympathy among any of GM’s competitors from the east or from the west. The Congressional attitude is currently mixed and tends to vary along party lines. Further, since the Japanese automobile manufacturers have located several of their large manufacturing plants in the southern United States, the Congressional members from these states naturally oppose any financial help whatsoever for GM. Their argument is that helping GM would essentially wind up hurting local employment at the foreign owned plants in their respective districts. More below the fold.
However, no voice has been raised in concern about the effect the demise of GM would have on the equipping of our Military forces with the vehicles that they need. General Dwight David Eisenhower as President warned America that its security depended on preserving inflexible strength in three major sectors, American economy, American industry, and the American military. The American industry is no longer viable, the American economy is currently teetering on the brink of disaster, and the American military is in tatters from fighting wars on two fronts for over the last 7 years. Therefore, the current status of GM has quietly unveiled the presence of the 800 pound gorilla in the room in the form of a long unresolved question. How does America preserve her free non-dependent security for her homeland if she allows any of the three sectors addressed by General Eisenhower to collapse? This question has become even more critical in this day of world wide interconnected economies and trans-national corporations.
As the Supreme Commander of allied Forces during World War II, Eisenhower was painfully aware of the problems of military materials reaching the troops in the field in sufficient time to allow them to maintain their tactical positions. Maintenance of effective supply lines under combat conditions remains a serious problem even in this day of high speed computers and satellite navigation. Proponents of international trade address this question by urging that the military purchase its vehicular equipment from the lowest bidder domestic or foreign. However, what these merchants assign to obscurity is the entire question of parts re-supply which would be next to impossible during a full fledge global conflict if the supplier was offshore. Since World War II, the political Pentagon has spent a lot of time waltzing around this issue as it seeks funding flexibility within the halls of Congress for its more ambitious programs. Mundane equipment like trucks, cars and vans simply are too boring for the minds of our futuristic thinking generals. Further, warfare in the modern era is fought at lighting speed, leaving little time for the manufacture of replacement parts for damaged vehicles. A sure measure of the repair efficiency of motor vehicles can be determined by a quick trip to the local motor pool and counting the vehicles there that are currently in service and operational.
The military made a feeble stab at addressing the question of vehicular repair in the field way back in the early 1980’s. Their primary focus was on a so-called scaleable engine that would be the basic engine for equipment used by all branches of the military. The “final” basic design selected was an air cooled engine with horizontally opposed 4 cylinders. Starting from the basic 4-cylinder unit, dual cylinder pair sections could be added on up to a maximum 16-cylinder configuration which could be used for tanks and other huge vehicles. The idea was to make this engine standard, and as a result, replacement parts for it would be available from service depots (Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force) all over the world. Unfortunately, the new basic engine was abandoned not too long after its official acceptance by the military. The current dilemma that the military faces is that the civilian rush to produce “greener” electric powered vehicles does not even consider military field applications in their design concepts.
So let’s set out the questions framed by the very real possible bankruptcy of GM.
1) Will there be a domestic supplier of military vehicles to the military if GM ceases manufacturing? (It should be noted that I am not talking just about Hummers in respect to the types of military vehicles.)
2) All units that have fought both in Iraq and Afghanistan are in urgent desperate need of vehicle replacement. Who would supply those vehicles if there is only one domestic manufacturer (Ford) left?
3) All of the alternative energy vehicles currently being considered for civilian applications are still 10 to 20 years away from real production; so, of what use are these proposals for GM relative to the urgent needs of today’s military?
4) Who or what agency will be responsible for material procurement, shipping and storage, and on-time delivery of repair parts to unit motor pools; if the Pentagon purchases new vehicles from manufacturers in Europe or Asia?
I believe that there are Constitutional grounds for the government to takeover GM in the name of national security. Certainly the military problems and threats facing America would dictate the propriety of such a move by the government. I further believe that before this valuable resource for the capability of the military is thrown on the trash heap, the government should step in and restructure it first to meet the defensive needs of the country. This should be priority #1 for the government. The commercial viability of the company should be of lesser priority and could be worked out in time as part of the general restructuring and retooling. Finally, this recommendation has nothing to do with either the encouragement or rejection of socialism, free market principles, or any other economic ideological theories. It has to do exclusively with the readiness of the military forces protecting our country. It is at times like these that we must do what is necessary to protect America and not place her in a position that could tempt her enemies into adventuresome military excursion.