Economics / History

Aggregate Demand Dominance: The Million Dollar Minute

The post-World War II economic era (roughly 1945-1973) could probably be attributed to military expenditures.  I’ve delved into the contributions military demand has made to stoke innovations over the last two centuries and traced a history of developments during the Cold War, but here I am literally referring to expenditures:

Half way through the hike, we stopped at a large open area with a large set of bleachers.  The entire series was seated in the bleachers.  There was a disabled tank in the open field about 300 yards away.  We were told to stay tuned for the “one million dollar minute.”  We didn’t have the slightest idea of what they were talking about.  Two Marines came forward with an M-203 grenade launcher and fired a few grenades at the disabled tank.  They registered a couple of hits.  Next, a .60 caliber machine gun was brought out and the Marines opened fire on the tank.  They had target practice with the tank.  Tow dragons were next in the assault.  They registered two direct hits.  A tank rolled in from the left side of the open field and hit the tank with two rounds.  Lastly, 2 cobra helicopters appeared over the trees and fired two missiles each at the disabled tank.  About one minute later, all of the weapons at the tank for a full minute.  The onslaught of firepower produced a cloud of smoke around the tank.  When the smoke cleared the tank was demolished.  That was the “one million dollar minute.”  The price of the ammunition fired by all the weapons for one minute, cost about one million dollars.  This was a demonstration of the superior fire power of our Marine arsenal.  It was very impressive.

I’ll bet.  The million dollar minute in this case was an impressive, incredibly wasteful expenditure of ammunition on American soil during peacetime.  The author is describing an event he experienced during boot camp at Parris Island in the summer of 1981.  Apparently blowing through this kind of cash is seen by some soldiers as humorous:

I got to see the 4th of July “million dollar minute” at Ft. Lewis WA circa 1990 as a cadet. 155 and 105 Artillery barrages, air strike (cannon), air assault by helo, TOW and Dragon fires.

Unintentional hilarity as the Dragon missiles flew all over the place and not one hit the target.

…and before a reader might ask, these aren’t one-off events:

I’ve seen two. One during ROTC advanced camp, and one at Ft. Sill during OBC. The Fort Sill one the better of the two. M-1s, MLRS, Apaches and even a B-1 way off in the background doing a run.

…there are different reasons for chewing through ammunition needlessly:

I believe it is the current term used for a very large firepower demonstration.
We just act as if all hell has broken loose they are very impressive.
They are usually done to impress our politicians and foreign dignitaries.
At about a million dollars a minute.

A mad minute is a little different and somewhat smaller in scale.
There the word is passed to all personnel that a specific time say 02:40 everyone is to fire ahead of their position with everything they have, for exactly one minute.
The purpose is to show the enemy what is waiting for them should they engage your position.
It is only done by a unit in a position already known to the enemy.
Not usually by small units more of a firebase thing.
If you were probed the night before you might want to do it at a time you expect them to be near.
Usually at night.

From a distance a mad minute is beautiful to see.

Beautiful to see—essentially a mad minute is extremely expensive preening.  This has been the U.S. military’s standard operating procedure for decades:

I first encountered the term in the late fifties and it referred to a special demonstration where all the weapons of a type division were brought to bear within a small area. Demonstrations would begin with a squad firing the M1, then the BAR, next the Browning .30 cal through mortars, tank guns and a variety of artillery tubes climaxing with TOT fire by 8″guns. It was an impressive display. Done today it would be even more impressive.
I remember seeing one of those demonstrations in ROTC in the 1970s, back then it was called the “Million Dollar Minute”. Not only did it include artillery and armor but attack helicopters, AC-130 gun ships and Air Force fixed wing aviation….all pounding the same lifeless tank hulks on a hill. I guess if done today with inflation it would be the multi-million dollar minute.

…and the scale of these expenditures is only limited by battleship availability:

Back in the summer of 86 I went through my ROTC Advanced Camp at Fort Riley Kansas.  You know what you got near Ft Riley…tell me and we’ll both know.

Well one thing I do remember from those six miserable weeks (and trust me I have been trying to purge that wasted summer from my memory) was the Million Dollar Minute or what was officially called the “Live Fire Demonstration”.  Every weapon we had in the arsenal short of the 16 inch guns on the battleship USS New Jersey fired for one minute.  And we blew a million in ammunition. Man that was fun.

The Million Dollar Minute is an exercise in contempt.  These not-at-all-isolated events are a product of the mad dash to control the disbursement of U.S. defense funds.  Every military unit has an operations and/or training budget.  Should October arrive and a unit has not burned through the ammunition and fuel allocated to maintain airmen’s, marines’, sailors’ and soldiers’ readiness, it is guaranteed in the following fiscal year that congressmen and senators will reallocate those funds for “job-creation” purposes (i.e.: defense lobbyists will redirect “waste” in the Pentagon budget to the procurement of additional weapon systems).

This “necessitates” every unit literally burn through their training allocation each year.  Live Fire Demonstrations are perfect in this respect: copious amounts of ammunition and fuel are expended simultaneously.  The military literally puts on a show for lobbyists (who don’t complain as defense industries also manufacture ammunition) and the captured politicians holding the purse strings…

From Peacetime Preening to Wartime Walloping

One need not look far to see how profitable waging war is for defense industrialists.  In fact, these pictures tell it all…

Opening salvo: The assault on the sniper's position begins with rounds fired from the 40mm auto-cannons on an M42 anti-aircraft tankOpening salvo: The assault on the sniper’s position begins with rounds fired from the 40mm auto-cannons on an M42 anti-aircraft tank
The soldiers then launched flairs into the hills, as a pair of M-60 machine guns in guard towers began pelting the woods with hot leadThe soldiers then launched flares into the hills, as a pair of M-60 machine guns in guard towers began pelting the woods with hot lead. The machine gun’s tracer bullets can be seen in red
The U.S. soldiers were trying to kill a Viet Cong sniper who routinely fired on the camp from the safety of the rock outcroppingsThe U.S. soldiers were trying to kill a Viet Cong sniper who routinely fired on the camp from the safety of the rock outcroppings
James Speed Hensinger was a 22-year-old soldier when he set his Nikon camera to take long exposures. He didn't know what to expect when he sent the film off to be developed. What he got back is nothing short of incredibleJames Speed Hensinger was a 22-year-old soldier when he set his Nikon camera to take long exposures. He didn’t know what to expect when he sent the film off to be developed. What he got back is nothing short of incredible
The M42 tank's .50-caliber machine guns up fire - lighting up the hills. The soldiers didn't know there the sniper was - they were hoping to hit him with the massive barrageThe M42 tank’s .50-caliber machine guns up fire – lighting up the hills. The soldiers didn’t know there the sniper was – they were hoping to hit him with the massive barrage

The smaller M60 machine guns chime in again as they soldiers pour thousands of rounds into the hillside. The sniper was never found, though soldiers did discover traces of blood when they searched the area the next dayThe smaller M60 machine guns chime in again as they soldiers pour thousands of rounds into the hillside. The sniper was never found, though soldiers did discover traces of blood when they searched the area the next day

Perhaps the Daily Mail is underestimating the volume of firepower in these photographs.  This Vietnam veteran insists the fire looks less like it is coming from individual .30 caliber M60s like this:

https://i1.wp.com/olive-drab.com/images/id_mg_m60_700_10.jpg

…but from quad-M2 .50 caliber emplacements like this:

https://i0.wp.com/www.vietnam.net.pl/M55/quad_truck.jpg

Why is this significant?  Because the M60 fires the 7.62x51mm NATO and the M2 fires the 12.7x99mm:

http://www.bimmerboost.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=14659&d=1328823368

…and 12.7mm rounds cost $3-5 each.  Which says nothing of the main armament 40mm cannon shells the M42 “Duster” is clearly firing…

Either way, this display of American firepower in April 1970 was all in response to ONE Vietnamese soldier.  During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military is sometimes estimated to have fired more than 50,000 rounds of ammunition per enemy confirmed killed in action (KIA; and in this sequence, there was no confirmed dead Vietnamese sniper).  In Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, that ratio has escalated to 250,000-300,000 rounds per confirmed enemy KIA.  Today, war has definitely escalated to the Billion Dollar Minute.

All this leads me to one question:

Historical Data Chart

Does anyone else wonder if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the primary source of the mid-2000s rise in U.S. inflation?  Speaking of wars…

Historical Data Chart…does anyone else guess fighting a major war was solely responsible for the 1910s inflation?

Historical Data Chart

…and the 1940s inflation?

Historical Data Chart

…and the 1950s inflation?

I’ve spent most of this post exploring how expensive hunting individual Vietnamese soldiers with 40mm cannons along with .30 caliber and .50 caliber machine gun fire must have been, so why is this:

Historical Data Chart

…rarely thought to be war-related?  Moreover, what role did the Vietnam War play during the outbreak of the 1970s stagflation?

***Hint: Vietnam triggered the collapse of Bretton Woods in March 1973.***

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5 thoughts on “Aggregate Demand Dominance: The Million Dollar Minute

  1. Your article reminds me of several similar large expenditures of ammunition that are held by the private sector: The Big Sandy Shoot in Arizona and Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky.

    Big Sandy Promo

    Big Sandy Night Demo

    Knob Creek Night Demo

    The biggest differences are the way it is paid. The above demonstrations are for fun and showing off your weapons privately, which I have no problem with.

    I do have a little problem with the Live Fire Demonstration as the taxpayers are footing the bill. There is no need to waste resources like that just to show off our capabilities. I might argue that at times during war, maybe a show of force could be helpful. Such as a Shock and Awe spectacle. This might show the enemy what he is up against if he continues to show aggression towards the US. He might ask himself, “Is it worth it when all I have is 30 year old RPG’s and outdated AK-47 knock-off’s”? I do agree though that that much firepower is a waste of resources to kill just one sniper on a hillside. For the sake of argument I am going to say that maybe we don’t know the whole story. Maybe they had intel that there was a squad forming to assault our troops. Maybe they were in underground bunkers. It’s hard to know what still might be classified or not. It’s also hard to know what the Brass was thinking when they gave the order. They probably should have just called in Chuck Norris.

    • Considering Nixon’s (the Vietnam incident i describe occurred in 1970) willingness to order mass quantities of firepower to accomplish dubious goals, such as bombing Cambodia and Laos with close to five million TONS of high explosives, I question whether such lopsided usage of weaponry was limited to the air campaign. After all, you have to fire a hell of a lot of bullets to get a 50,000-to-one KIA ratio…

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  3. Pingback: Aggregate Demand Dominance: The Full History of Hyperinflation and the “Debased Currency” Fallacy | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

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