War Is Our Business

August 11, 2010

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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.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Martin Kelly
    Aug 12, 2010 @ 12:46:23

    Wow, I don’t even know where to start on this Zarberg. You make it seem like we (the United States) suddenly got involved in wars after WWII and that there was no defense industry before that event. There are very few years in our history where the United states has not been at war, from the 3 invations of Haiti, to the war of the barbery coast, through 2 invations of Mexico, separtate from an all out war with Mexico, Spain and England. As far as the US defense industry, we did have to import weapons to fight any of our wars, even our family fued. Maybe the defense industry is too big, but the fact that we now provide the majority of war material throught the world means that money is coming into the country rather than draining out which is actually mitigating the problems that you identify.

    As far as the pwercent of budget spent on the military, you can only get above the 50% you have to delete the costs of past military (veterens benifits). Since the military (the Navy specifically) is one of the few government programs specifically supported by the constitution and we have a responsibility to provide for those who have put their lives on the line for our freedom, I have to disagree with you on the need for this budget. You are correct that the bigger threat my now be electronic, gut there is still a physical threat. You need to have the tools on hand when the event occurs, not pick up after the attack. The only reason that President Bush was able to respond to the attacks of 9/11 is that President Clinton had funded and prepared the military for that task. If we cut back for all of these other activities (most of which I would argue should be delt with at the local not federal level) we leave ourselves vulneralbe to the people out there who would do us harm.

    Your discussion of the F-22 is an interesting asside. I do not know if it is the best solution, but it is actually less expensive than the costs of maintaining the aircraft built in the early 70’s (F-16 and F-15) and there will be significally fewer of them. The reason for the reduction in numbers is not just a cost saving effort, in tests the F-22 is a 20-1 kill ratio against any flighter aircraft. So maybe it is the best option after all. It is also the only up to date aircraft we have since the F-35 is being held up for exactly the reasons you state, it is too expensive.

    Consider when you are trying to protect yourself or your family, do you want the cheapest fire extiquiser or the best availabe?


  2. Zarberg
    Aug 12, 2010 @ 19:23:12

    “but the fact that we now provide the majority of war material throught the world means that money is coming into the country rather than draining out which is actually mitigating the problems that you identify.”

    50% of discretionary spending is government spending only, it does not have a thing to do with corporations that pay less than income taxes than you or I do.

    ” I have to disagree with you on the need for this budget”

    You can explain why we need a Navy that is bigger than the next 13 navies combined despite the fact that 11 of those 13 are in NATO and considered our allies? I used to work for a defense industry organization that had a department called “power projection” – we’re spending billions and billions of dollars to make ourselves look like the toughest kid on the block. We don’t need 5+ carrier battle groups, dozens of attack and nuclear missile submarines, and thousands of aircraft. The threat to justify them simply does not exist in today’s world.

    “in tests the F-22 is a 20-1 kill ratio against any flighter aircraft. ”

    What tests? Against our own fighters? I haven’t seen any evidence of waves upon waves of enemy fighters coming to attack us in the last 20 years. The biggest military threat to our country today is China, and they simply don’t have the air force to compete.

    “Consider when you are trying to protect yourself or your family, do you want the cheapest fire extiquiser or the best availabe?”

    I want the one that does the job best without blowing my budget while trying to take care of essentials. In terms of our country, those essentials are education, health, and infrastructure – not necessarily in that order. A massive, bloated military is simply not justified today against the the credible threats that exist. An educated, healthy population who have the right tools to defend us electronically and from a security standpoint are what we need but the money they need are tied up in pointless military hardware that keeps getting voted in because defense industry lobbyists have the ears of politicians and the middle class don’t.


  3. Zarberg
    Aug 29, 2010 @ 13:46:14


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