Interesting piece on military spending over at the New Yorker, and it’s fascinating from the historical perspective. There was a time when Americans didn’t want to be the world’s policeman, didn’t even want a standing army in times of peace:
Early Americans considered a standing army—a permanent army kept even in times of peace—to be a form of tyranny. “What a deformed monster is a standing army in a free nation,” Josiah Quincy, of Boston, wrote in 1774. Instead, they favored militias.
Which is why your well-regulated militia was necessary to the security of a free state, that little part of the Second Amendment most gun enthusiasts carefully forget to invoke.
Not until the Second World War did the United States establish what would become a standing army. And even that didn’t happen without dissent. In May of 1941, Robert Taft, a Republican senator from Ohio, warned that America’s entry into the Second World War would mean, ultimately, that the United States “will have to maintain a police force perpetually in Germany and throughout Europe.” Taft, like Nye, was an ardent isolationist. “Frankly, the American people don’t want to rule the world, and we are not equipped to do it. Such imperialism is wholly foreign to our ideals of democracy and freedom,” he said. “It is not our manifest destiny or our national destiny.”
Imagine a Republican making this argument today.
But of course we instead say that we’re not ruling the world, merely making it safe for democracy, and in fact our own freedom relies upon our ability to project military force anywhere on the globe.
Funny how our ancestors didn’t believe that. Times have changed – but they haven’t changed that much.
The United States, separated from much of the world by two oceans and bordered by allies, is, by dint of geography, among the best-protected countries on earth. Nevertheless, six decades after V-J Day nearly three hundred thousand American troops are stationed overseas, including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy. Much of the money that the federal government spends on “defense” involves neither securing the nation’s borders nor protecting its citizens. Instead, the U.S. military enforces American foreign policy.
“We have hundreds of military bases all over the world,” Melvin A. Goodman observes in “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism” (City Lights). “Few other countries have any.” Goodman, a former Army cryptographer and a longtime C.I.A. analyst who taught at the National War College for eighteen years, is one of a growing number of critics of U.S. military spending, policy, and culture who are veterans of earlier wars. Younger veterans are critical, too. A 2011 Pew survey of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq found that half thought the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth fighting, and nearly sixty per cent thought the Iraq War wasn’t.
And then we get to Andrew Bacevich, one of the most effective opponents of militarism out there – and himself a former soldier in Vietnam:
Lately, Bacevich argues, Americans “have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in U.S. history, Americans have come to define the nation’s strength and well-being in terms of military preparedness, military action, and the fostering of (or nostalgia for) military ideals.”
And finally, snippets of Congressional testimony/hearings on why America needs to keep spending ever more on its military while cutting everything else:
But by far the most adamant statement came from Dempsey. “I didn’t become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to oversee the decline of the Armed Forces of the United States, and an end state that would have this nation and its military not be a global power,” he said. “That is not who we are as a nation.”
Either the United States rules the world or Americans are no longer Americans?
That is indeed the argument – that we cannot be safe, and cannot be free, unless we have those hundreds of bases around the world; unless we possess the ability to respond rapidly to developments in places like Libya and Mali, places most Americans couldn’t find on a map.
How’d we go from one extreme, as a nation, to the other? In part – as Lepore documents – it’s due to the entrenched nature of what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex.
Yet, how is it that average people have come to believe that our freedom is based on our ability to effectively rule the world via our military?
Don’t people see that a “peace” enforced by this type of force is going to be fragile when this type of force ultimately proves unsustainable? Don’t people get that securing our freedom by sticking our nose into events in the Mideast guarantees blowback – that in striving to make our world safer, we make it more dangerous?
Lastly, I want to riff on Bacevich’s comments in relation to the gun-control debate we continue to have.
As I’ve said many times now, those who venerate the military are chief among those who scream about their Second Amendment rights. And they’re not getting that the one cancels out the other.
People want our military to be the strongest on the planet, yet somehow think that they and their dinky AR15 will stand as a check upon government tyranny.
If empowering the militaristic state, citizens disempower themselves. Insisting the U.S. military be the most formidable on the planet ensures that the average citizen can –never– stand up to it.
We’ve been blinded by our global military preeminence. But I get the feeling the Founders would have understood this perfectly.