Our country has been involved in quite a few wars in the last 100 years.  World War I seemed to be more or less justified, although some can claim that we timed things just right to place ourselves as the heroes riding in to save the day.  Diplomatic mistakes and overbearing surrender conditions created the perfect conditions for Hitler’s rise to power.  That lead us to World War II.  World War II was certainly justified.  Regardless of the overwhelming public sentiment in 1939 to remain neutral, the atrocities of the Nazis had to be stopped and probably wouldn’t have been stopped without American intervention. 

I won’t argue the pros and cons of the two biggst post-WWII wars, Vietnam and Korea here but it is hard to argue against the statement that they weren’t as “justified” as World War II.  During WWII, the massive industrial effort of the United States combined with the near absolute destruction of the German and Japanese industrial infrastructure set up the US to be a dominant industrial power for at least the next few decades.  American cars rolled off the lines.  American military products became the rage in nearly every country to field an army.  American companies were on a roll from the post-war boom.  A new industry practically exploded in size – defense contractors. 

War is a huge industry.  It can be easily argued that World War II was precisely what this country needed to get us out of the great depression.  World War II quickly blended into the cold war which saw active conflicts such as the Korean War, The Vietnam War, The invasion of Grenada, the invasion of Panama and many other smaller military actions.  Except for a few years in the 70’s and the 2000s (when the George W. Bush administration didn’t include the 2 wars on the budget) the percentage of US discretionary spending on military matters has been over 50%.  We have bridges falling, a sub-par electrical infrastructure, and weak public transit compared to nearly every other industrialized nation on the planet and yet we’re spending half our optional money on the military.  Diseases still run unchecked, half our population is overweight, and yet we currently have a navy that’s bigger than the next 13 navies combined – and 11 of those 13 are considered allies.  Consider that the US Navy has dramatically decreased in size since the 80’s, too.

What’s a bigger threat to the US – a massive, coordinated attack on our information infrastructure or a massive, coordinated attack by troops, planes, and ships?  War should always be the last possible option, yet major political decisions are made every day to spend money on war before spending money on citizens.

The F22 program is a perfect example of how the defense industry has a stranglehold on US politics.  Originally designed as a successor to the aging F15 fighter, the F22 won a competition between two massive teams of defense contractors.  In addition, the final product is a joint venture between dozens of different companies, with major components designed and manufactured in dozens of different states and countries.  When it was proven that the F22 was far too expensive for the results it produced, this “shotgun” style approach to manufacturing almost gave it a too-big-to-fail style argument against killing it.  The defense industry didn’t even need lobbyists in this case; almost every politician with a stake in the program argued to keep it active, despite the massive bill it was ringing up with proven flaws and extra expenses.

It might be a painful transition, but it’s time to start thinking about better peacetime expenditures.  F22s, aircraft carriers, and tanks are not going to stop terrorists.  A healthy, smart, well-equipped population with transparency in defense lobbying will be the best deterrent of all as we move forward in this new century.

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Zarberg is a member of The Political Observers, a sub-group of our writers who are devoted to topics that are political in nature. Zarberg provides a liberal viewpoint in his articles.

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