Just look at that graphic for a while. It’s the embodiment of everything George Washington was warning against when he said in 1796, “Overgrown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly to Republican liberty.” Same for Dwight Eisenhower, when he said in 1961, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
Seymour Morris Jr. points out these quotes in the chapter “A Warlike Nation, Not a Militarist One” in his excellent book “American History Revised,” which I am making my way through.
Morris details the history of the military of the United States and explains that until modern times, it wasn’t nearly as well funded or massive as it is now. And despite the current wars on two fronts, there have been a number of wars and countries that in the past the United States has refused to get involved in.
He also talks about a president who had no trouble cutting military spending, even after fighting in the Civil War:
Known in war as “the butcher,” [Ulysses Grant] approved of Andrew Johnson’s slashing of military budgets at every opportunity, resulting in the largest military downsizing in history, leaving European militarists astounded. When he eventually did become president, with every unemployed Union general banging on his door to resurrect the war machine, Grant still said no.
I knew when I started writing this that the United States’ defense budget is far and away the biggest in the world, but reading actual figures on how much the military costs is mind-blogging. Literally–the numbers are so big I can’t wrap my head around them. My eyes widened more than once reading the military budget of the United States article on Wikipedia (and yes, I know it’s a less than desirable place to get information). GlobalIssues.com (which created the pie charts embedded in this post) also has a section on world military spending that is worth reading in full.
We have spent more than $1 trillion on defense in fiscal year 2010 alone.
One trillion. In one year.
No wonder we’re suffering from such a large budget deficit. When was the last time anyone sat down to cut wasteful spending from the Department of Defense? Considering defense’s budget has grown 9 percent each year since 2000, it’s been a long time. Seriously examining all of the money spent on defense is a vital task, but as soon as such a task is proposed, some politicians are bound to make noise about how cutting funds endangers the safety of our troops. No one wants that. I have friends who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of course I want them and all of our soldiers to have the training and gear needed to come home safe. However, I find it hard to believe every single military expenditure is necessary to combat missions.
When you think about it, why is the extra money needed? Is it that much more costly each year just to maintain the military we have? Somehow I doubt that’s the case. What, then, is the purpose of those increases? To keep growing the military and increasing the budget is ludicrous when they’re already so much bigger than their nearest competitors.
I have the feeling this isn’t more of a concern for the public because, as was the case for me, the numbers are so big they just don’t seem real. Tom Engelhardt offers this assessment of the American military complex in “The American Way of War”:
“Because the United States does not look like a militarized country, it’s hard for Americans to grasp that Washington is a war capital, that the United States is a war state, that it garrisons much of the planet, and that the norm for us is to be at war somewhere (usually, in fact, many places) at any moment.”
We should know that, because look at how much in taxes the United States spends on the military vs. everything else:
In the next Congress, I hope there are enough serious thinkers in Washington, D.C., to stand up for real defense reform. It will be impossible to reduce the deficit without taking a hard look at our largest area of expenditures.