It is our constant Cold-War paradigm that forces the U.S. to think in terms of “preventative” action rather than “reactive” action. From this motif, the government has used the military to continue expensive ventures that protect American lives and eliminate enemies abroad. Most people would agree with this to be the job of the federal government, to supply the U.S. with the most capable and technologically advanced military possible, very few would disagree with that premise. In these terms, it becomes a “straw man” argument. A glorified taboo that nobody may criticize defense of military spending. Nicholas Kristoff, a New York Times columnist, identifies some startling facts about the military’s over-sized presence:
The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.
• The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?
• The intelligence community is so vast that more people have “top secret” clearance than live in Washington, D.C.
• The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.
This is the one area where elections scarcely matter. President Obama, a Democrat who symbolized new directions, requested about 6 percent more for the military this year than at the peak of the Bush administration.
Why does the military get this “sacred cow” complex with the equivalent of being part of the untouchables? The answer lyes in the political ramifications that most congressman do not want to suffer for even considering cutting the military from its golden faucet of funding. First, many congressional districts make the weapons and possess military base. Closing one factory or one base will cost them votes. Second, and more importantly, proposing cuts in the military will ostracize that particular congressman as unpatriotic, proving once again that name calling continues to destroy civil discourse. To put aside that criticism, it can simply be said that it might be mythical to suggest that those who want to lower the costs of the military are communist or terrorist sympathizers. On the contrary, some of our greatest military leaders have warned against this military industrial complex, President Eisenhower in particular. Kristoff says:
Paradoxically, it’s often people with experience in the military who lead the way in warning against overinvestment in arms. It was President Dwight Eisenhower who gave the strongest warning: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” And in the Obama administration, it is Defense Secretary Robert Gates who has argued that military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny; it is Secretary Gates who has argued most eloquently for more investment in diplomacy and development aid.
I am not against having a robust and strong military to guard from ever looming threats, but to say we must trade off defense with national development is pure lunacy. I would rather build 20 new schools than 100 war fighter planes any day of the week and twice on Sunday. My point is not to bash the military for its courageous efforts, but to point out a simple area often overlooked, or scared just to talk about it, by policy wonks. Rerouting the money towards development aid or national infrastructure would be a start. More precisely, it is finding a way to cut that money from the budget to stop our insane addiction to spending, creating new industries for those who feed the military industrial complex, and putting the U.S. on a more sustainable path fiscally and economically.
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