Dreaming Big About the U.S. Military

Let’s build two new faulty aircraft carriers at the same time.  Even before the bugs with the first one are worked out.  You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

W.J. Astore

As the U.S. military enjoys enormous budgets ($718 billion this year, rising possibly to $750 billion for 2020), Americans are told not to dream big.  There might just be a connection here.

Due to budget deficits (aggravated by the Trump tax cut for the rich), Americans are warned against big projects.  Single-payer health care?  Forget about it!  (Even though it would lead to lower health care costs in the future.)  More government support for higher education?  Too expensive!  Infrastructure improvements?  Ditto.  Any ambitious government project to help improve the plight of working Americans is quickly dismissed as profligate and wasteful, unless, of course, you’re talking about national security.  Then no price is too high to pay.

In short, you can only dream big in America when you focus on the military, weaponry, and war.  For a democracy, however, is that not the very definition of insanity?

Consider the words of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic worker movement.  She wrote in the early 1950s about poverty as a form of grace, that she was “convinced” America needed such grace, especially at a time “when expenditures reach into the billions to defend ‘our American way of life.’  Maybe this defense will bring down upon us the poverty we are afraid to pray for,” she concluded.

Speaking of “defense,” the title of a recent article at The Guardian put it well: Trump wants to give 62 cents of every dollar to the military. That’s immoral.  As Joe Biden once said, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.  The U.S. government has made that plain: more weaponry and more wars.  By wildly overspending on the military and driving up deficits, we just may find the grace of poverty that Dorothy Day spoke of.  It will indeed come at a very high price, one that will be paid mainly by the already poor and vulnerable.

How to cut the colossal Pentagon budget?  It’s not hard.  The Air Force doesn’t need new bombers and fighters.  The Navy doesn’t need two new aircraft carriers.  The Army doesn’t need new tanks and similar “heavy” conventional weaponry.  Get rid of the “Space” force.  No service needs new “modernized” nuclear weapons.  America should have a much smaller military “footprint” overseas.  And, to state what should be obvious, America needs to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere while ending the bombing currently in progress in seven countries.

A sane national defense is probably achievable at roughly half of current spending levels.  Just think what the U.S. could do with an extra $350 billion or so each year.  A single-payer health care system that covers everyone.  Better education.  Improved infrastructure.  A transition to greener fuels.  Safe water and a cleaner environment.

But today, the only people lustily singing “Imagine” have changed the lyrics: they’re not dreaming of peace but of more nukes, more weapons, and more wars.  And they’re winning.

14 thoughts on “Dreaming Big About the U.S. Military

  1. The question that is never asked publicly but I’d bet are the first words uttered by every member of Congress whenever the subject of cutting back on military spending (in all its forms) is raised: “What the heck are we gonna do with all those grunts? There are no jobs for them to come back to, there’s no “here” for them here anymore!”
    I suppose they could become military “contractors” or perhaps employees of some para-military security firm. I know Col. “Mad Mike” Hoare is gone, but how’s the mercenary trade these days?
    And this: could the companies involved in providing all our military hardware sue the government for lost revenue if their contracts were terminated? “You ordered two aircraft carriers, you’re getting two aircraft carriers.”
    No, my friend, I think there is far too much cash in play for the military to ever be scaled back.
    Meanwhile, I’m still waiting on my Peace Dividend from when the Cold War ended and the Commies went the way of the great buffalo herds.


    1. The “Cold War Dividend” became evident, when Clinton “balanced” the budget…for a moment in time. Then, Poof…it was gone in a flash.


  2. One of my favorite figures, from 2017 data.


    Rank Country Amount USD$
    1 Saudi Arabia 2,107.42
    2 Israel 1,981.5
    3 United States 1,879.3
    4 Oman 1,873.6
    5 Singapore 1,786.4
    6 Kuwait 1,651.4
    7 Norway 1,238.0
    8 Australia 1,123.2
    9 Bahrain 935.8
    10 France 889.1
    11 Brunei 808.7
    12 South Korea 768.0
    13 United Kingdom 713.1
    14 Denmark 661.9
    15 Finland 651.3

    That’s per-capita, so per-person annual military expenditures for 2017, data sourced from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute https://www.sipri.org/

    Russia’s current spending puts it right around Finland, and China’s spending per-capita is much, much lower than that.

    Granted, per-capita spending tells you zero about total capabilities, but it is a good measure of the relative burden of military expenditures on the population of each society.

    And this is only the *official* budget. The war costs add another ~$500 per-American, but they’re paid for with federal borrowing.

    So yes – the USA could cut the military budget by 50% and it would *still* have the world’s most powerful military, leaving massive funds available for domestic investment.

    This is why I urge the Gabbard campaign (or any other progressives who have any sense of moral obligation) to embrace a Peace Dividend in the area of $1,000 per-person per-year. The average congressional seat would be up for between $5-8 billion annually in benefits, and the program could be structured to allow local residents to choose the projects they’re most interested in.

    And for charts that show the US military budget over time, see:

    Correcting for inflation, the US spends as much on the military now as it did in the 1960s.


    1. Ack, realized after posting that I made a mistake on the last bit of math –

      Each congressional seat covers about 500-800 thousand people, which means *500-800 million* in annual local benefits, not *5-8 billion*.

      Still, show me the representative willing to ignore half a billion $ in annual local benefits, and I’ll show you a rep vulnerable to getting smashed in the next election. The Pentagon is smart about making sure contracts benefit most *states* but I suspect that mostly enriches a few reps, mostly senators.


  3. Here’s a sharp clip from The Rational National that echoes my point: Plenty of money for the military, but none for a green new deal. Former President Obama tells new Democrats to think of the price tag when it comes to health care, green energy, etc., but not when it comes to war and weaponry.


    1. Goes back to my argument that DC has been entirely captured and turned into a wealth-accumulation engine for Elites. Whose financial portfolios, I assume, include many “defence” stocks.

      Elite colonization of social institutions works pretty much the same as in any parasitic organism. That’s why powerful Republics turn into Empires, eventually, and why Vanguard Socialism/Communism goes the same way. The Elite creates a mythological reality to sustain its claim to disproportionate access/power, and attacks anyone who challenges the mythos.

      The USA is in a terrible trap, and there’s two ways out: Roll back Empire by dramatically cutting the military and embracing principled diplomacy, or break up the Union.

      The first only happens if a new movement rises that can take back control of DC. I like Gabbard’s long-shot for this.

      The second happens if the first does not, probably when the next Geoquake hits, sometime between the early 2020s and 2040s. My studies have convinced me that this is how the Elite-driven European World System functions, how it changes.

      Pretty much this:



  4. I’m all for cutting the bloated defense budget but why does every commentator say “Let’s just spend it on other government programs” that are just as wasteful as defense. How about letting people keep more of their money. While we’re at it, let’s break up the health care cartels and stop government guaranteeing college tuition’s. You’d see costs plummet.

    But this is all a pipe dream. The Republic is long dead. Long Live the Empire!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The reality is that the money spent by the military is money stolen from the rest of the world, maybe that’s why nobody cares.


  6. There is an excellent article in the Smithsonian Magazine:
    The Wild Road Trip That Launched the Populist Conservative Movement
    How a fiery preacher and a maverick Army general took the nation by storm.
    The General was Edwin Walker.

    The origins of the tactics used by President Agent Orange and the alliance between evangelical bible thumper’s, the military, anti federal government (at least in terms of desegregation, the Warren Court), and the Liberal Media as the enemy. JFK was a particular target, a catholic, surrounded by Ivy League types and he used the military to enforce desegregation, and the FBI to investigate the KKK.

    The article has the following: But he (General Walker) did not harm his standing among his supporters when he blackened Washington Daily News reporter Thomas V. Kelly’s eye for asking a question Walker considered impertinent.


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