To say that I am unimpressed with the President’s latest announcement regarding the department of defense is a colossal understatement. What is especially troubling is the suggestion that even with anticipated cuts, in the words of the President: “The world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.” This is at the cost of spending more than the next ten nations combined.
Following World War II, the creation of the new cabinet level Department of Defense represented an effort to reorganize the military services to reduce rivalries and move the lopsided military establishment into a peacetime mode. Under that arrangement, the War and Navy Departments were reduced to sub-cabinet status. Unfortunately, with the development of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the hot war in Korea, American disarmament was reversed. The defense establishment was rebuilt and the determination to stop communism everywhere at whatever the cost became the key component of American foreign policy. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson led the nation into the criminal tragedy of Vietnam. President Nixon prolonged the war an additional four years in a bloody but unsuccessful effort to avoid a defeat. After that, one would have thought that the American people would have had their fill of such gratuitous wars.
What Americans did have enough of, was conscription. The draft was abandoned. Enter the professional armed forces. No longer were the nation’s sons, especially those of the middle and upper classes, hauled off to fight wars where there was no serious threat to the nation. Now it was volunteers. No longer was the pain spread across the broad spectrum of the American public.
Ending the draft, a deft political move after the Vietnam debacle, was a major mistake. A standing, professional army allows the President much greater freedom in the name of national security in which he or she can indulge in with the uncritical support of Congress. Uniform national service, offering a variety of opportunities, military or other, for our nation’s youth to serve could yet remain a break on a President’s martial ambitions and have done so much more for the nation in other ways.
In effect we no longer have a Department of Defense; it has morphed back into a War Department. To retain the defense moniker is actually worse than a euphamism, it is a lie. And the bloated American military capabilities have done nothing but bring the nation to grief internationally, help drive up the national debt and compromise the civil liberties of its citizens. Unfortunately, the largely complacent public has allowed this tragic drift.
It is the cost in treasure that has finally begun to get through to the public. I think that it was former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen from Illinois who was quoted as saying something like: “a billion dollars here and a billion dollars there, pretty soon you are into some big money.” Now, we are talking trillions. The reality is the nation cannot afford to retain the status of the only remaining military superpower, as if that is any distinction worth having.
Some have argued in partial justification of defense expenditures that it acts as a boost to the economy. This is not a World War II situation where defense production and related jobs raised the nation out of the Great Depression. In this high tech age, the cost of military hardware is much more expensive and it requires far fewer workers to produce. More to the point, defense spending is a significant contributor to the deficit and takes away from much more pressing internal needs such as failing education, deteriorating infrastructure, environmental degradation, energy dependence, etc.
Through it all, successive, gullible, jingoistic congresses heaped resources upon the nation’s war-making establishment to enable such ventures. The chant was that the nation would have a “defense second to none.” A defense second to none has resulted, in effect, to an offense second to none. Presidents have been free to send their military off to Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, and with the advent of 9-11, Afghanistan and Iraq, and now most lately, Libya.
The so-called “Arab Spring” continues to offer serious new excuses for foreign military involvements for this country. The United States was formerly content to back, or at least tolerate authoritative regimes that were largely secular in orientation. Those regimes were dedicated to keeping the militant Islamist factions suppressed. But the strongest beneficiaries of revolutions in the Arab World appear to be those same Islamist factions. Most important is Egypt where massive U.S. financial support for Mubarak has been his payoff for keeping peace with Israel. We are now faced with an Egypt potentially less favorably disposed towards Israel and a nuclear-armed Iran in the grips of militant clerics.
In the latest gratuitous war, Libya, it was the Europeans who were most enthusiastic about the intervention, but the United States was initially coerced into taking the lead because it unfortunately had capabilities that the Europeans lacked. Thus, like Iraq, another nation’s infrastructure was bombed and damaged and civilians killed when no threat existed to the United States. Will the next target be Syria?
There are more than financial costs of perpetual war. There are the American casualties, both the dead and injured. Of those who return physically intact, many suffer from mental damage, post traumatic stress disorder, often leaving their lives in ruins. But American losses in blood and treasure pail to those in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the loss in life and property dwarfs American losses, serving mainly to bolster corrupt regimes and earn the enmity of much of the Islamic world.