What Would It Take for the Pentagon Budget to Shrink?

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I examine what it would take for the Pentagon budget to go down. You can read the entire article here. What follows is the concluding section.

Ever since 9/11, endless conflict has been this country’s new normal.  If you’re an American 21 years of age or younger, you’ve never known a time when your country hasn’t been at war, even if, thanks to the end of the draft in the previous century, you stand no chance of being called to arms yourself.  You’ve never known a time of “normal” defense budgets.  You have no conception of what military demobilization, no less peacetime might actually be like. Your normal is only reflected in the Biden administration’s staggering $813 billion Pentagon budget proposal for the next fiscal year.  Naturally, many congressional Republicans are already clamoring for even highermilitary spending.  Remember that Mae West quip[Too much of a good thing can be wonderful]?  What a “wonderful” world!

And you’re supposed to take pride in this.  As President Biden recently told soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division now stationed in Poland, this country has the “finest fighting force in the history of the world.”  Even with the mountains of cash we give to that military, the nation still “owes you big,” he assured them.

Well, I’m gobsmacked.  During my 20-year career in the military, I never thought my nation owed me a thing, let alone owed me big.  Now that I think of it, however, I can say that this nation owed me (and today’s troops as well) one very big thing: not to waste my life; not to send me to fight undeclared, arguably unconstitutional, wars; not to treat me like a foreign legionnaire or an imperial errand-boy.  That’s what we, the people, really owe “our” troops.  It should be our duty to treat their service, and potentially their deaths, with the utmost care, meaning that our leaders should wage war only as a last, not a first, resort and only in defense of our most cherished ideals.

This was anything but the case of the interminable Afghan and Iraq wars, reckless conflicts of choice that burned through trillions of dollars, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops killed and wounded, and millions of foreigners either dead or transformed into refugees, all for what turned out to be absolutely nothing.  Small wonder today that a growing number of Americans want to see less military spending, not more.  Citizen.org, representing 86 national and state organizations, has called on President Biden to decrease military spending.  Joining that call was POGO, the Project on Government Oversight, as well as William Hartung at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.  And they couldn’t be more on target, though they’re certain to be ignored in Washington.

Consider the recent disastrous end to the Afghan War.  Viewing that conflict in the aggregate, what you see is widespread corruption and untold waste, all facilitated by generals who lied openly and consistently to the rest of us about “progress,” even as they spoke frankly in private about a lost war, a reality the Afghan War Papers all too tellingly revealed.  That harsh story of abysmal failure, however, highlights something far worse: a devastating record of lying on a massive scale within the highest ranks of the military and government.  And are those liars and deceivers being called to account?  Perish the thought!  Instead, they’ve generally been rewarded with yet more money, promotions, and praise.

So, what would it take for the Pentagon budget to shrink?  Blowing the whistle on wasteful and underperforming weaponry hasn’t been enough.  Witnessing murderous and disastrous wars hasn’t been enough.  To my mind, at this point, only a full-scale collapse of the U.S. economy might truly shrink that budget and that would be a Pyrrhic victory for the American people.

In closing, let me return to President Biden’s remark that the nation owes our troops big.  There’s an element of truth there, perhaps, if you’re referring to the soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen, many of whom have served selflessly within its ranks. It sure as hell isn’t true, though, of the self-serving strivers and liars at or near the top, or the weapons-making corporations who profited off it all, or the politicians in Washington who kept crying out for more.  They owe the rest of us and America big.

My fellow Americans, we have now reached the point in our collective history where we face three certainties: death, taxes, and ever-soaring spending on weaponry and war.  In that sense, we have become George Orwell’s Oceania, where war is peace, surveillance is privacy, and censorship is free speech.

Such is the fate of a people who make war and empire their way of life.

To read the entire article, visit TomDispatch.com.

18 thoughts on “What Would It Take for the Pentagon Budget to Shrink?

  1. An ability to think critically and skeptically would seem to be a requirement to be able to resist the raw propaganda and myth-making of our history that allows the ongoing squandering of trillions of dollars in military spending.

    But with long-vilified “enemies” the population can be rallied by the mystic chords of memory (to use Lincoln’s brilliant phrase) to support whatever spending is said to be required to keep us safe – so they say.

    Witness the so-called unprovoked Russian operations in Ukraine – as you discussed in your last post. Admittedly, I have a limited sample size, but I find those with whom I try to discuss the situation are completely taken by the images and narrative pushed the MSM (and these are bright people). Can trillions more dollars being spent be far behind and supported by the majority?

    Bill, I’d only disagree with you on one point. You spoke of a total collapse of the US economy bringing about a reduction in defense spending. I think, and fear, that before that point the owners would bring on a Gotterdamerung before accepting a final collapse.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said, WJ, well said. Shared agony is to our moment as empire makers ecstasy is to their legacy.


  3. PATRICK LAWRENCE: The US Bubble of Pretend
    The lack of objective, principled coverage of the war in Ukraine is a degenerate state of affairs. The one thing worse is the extent to which it’s perfectly fine with most Americans.

    It is perfectly obvious by now, to anyone who cares to look, that mainstream media in America and the other Western powers are not reporting the Ukraine crisis accurately.

    Let me try that another way: The government-supervised New York Times and the rest of the corporate-owned media on both sides of the Atlantic lie routinely to their readers and viewers as to why Russia intervened in Ukraine, the progress of its military operation, the conduct of Ukrainian forces, and America’s role in purposely provoking and prolonging this crisis.

    So far as I know, this is the first war in modern history with no objective, principled coverage in mainstream media of day-to-day events and their context. None. It is morn-to-night propaganda, disinformation and lies of omission — most of it fashioned by the Nazi-infested Zelensky regime in Kiev and repeated uncritically as fact.

    There is one thing worse than this degenerate state of affairs. It is the extent to which the media’s malpractice is perfectly fine to most Americans. Tell us what to think and believe no matter if it is true, they say, and we will think and believe it. Show us some pictures, for images are all. …………………………..



  4. Another precise and cogent essay WJA.

    I too rejoiced when the Soviet Union disintegrated. I too hoped for the end of the militarism that was overwhelming this country. I too hoped for a new start with Russia which would make NATO obsolete. I too hoped that everyone could step back from the nuclear cliff and begin to seriously eliminate nuclear weapons. The Chinese might have gone along if the U.S.A. and Russia were non-nuclear. I too looked forward to the days when tuitions at public universities and colleges were minimal, and public works and institutions were well funded. Remember the days when it was considered a good job when one worked for the government?

    Now it appears that this latest war has revitalized NATO, and given a big boost to military spending on both sides of the Atlantic.

    I do not see any solutions in your essay nor do I have any. I feel like I am in a heavily loaded train running down hill at full speed. Everyone knows a curve is coming up, but everyone pretends the engineer is taking care of things, even as we feel the train picking up speed.

    What is really disheartening is that the next couple of generations are asleep, hypnotized, apathetic, narcissistic, or buy into the fantasies ladled out to them by those in power. I do not see any protests about militarism in the U.S.A. Almost the opposite, I see more glorification of violence in every form and more macho posturing. Just look and listen to the cars on the street; aggressive looking grills and mufflers that sound like enraged tigers.

    Something is sick in the American soul and until the patient recognizes that and wants to be cured, I am afraid they will keep drinking up the swill until they destroy themselves.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Many thanks, WJS. A family relation in Phoenix tells me that some mufflers are now designed to emit a loud “bang” when the car is started. How this is legal, I don’t know.

      Saw a jeep today with a spare tire cover that sported a death head skull that featured the stars and stripes. Now there’s a REAL patriotic American!

      But what does it mean? Death to America? Death is America? America is so tough we produce lots of skulls? The semiotics are baffling.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. All the evidence is that the “defense” budget has nothing to do with what it claims to cover. I noticed the other day that budget is now more than the next 11 (rather than 10) next national military budgets combined.

    That budget does reflect the reality of corporate welfare and keeping up our exports.

    The ultimate absurdity of the free spending is that if push comes to shove with China, even if there is no WW3, America would suffer far more from the loss of Chinese made products than the Chinese would suffer from a lack of US imports. Look on labels to see where just about everything you own is made. Without going outside their national border the Chinese have a market three times the size of ours. Military posturing about China is nonsense, we are having some trouble with the impact of the Russian invasion and we get next to nothing from Russia.

    The world is deeply interconnected and we fool ourselves to believe that America can stand apart and dictate how the world must be even as our never addressed level of consumption is setting the way it will be. CO2 in the air continues its relentless rise even though US gasoline consumption has leveled off after a peak in 2018. The defense budget, if anything, pumps consumption.

    My two reality checks are:

    The water level in Lake Mead
    The CO2 level in the atmosphere measured in Hawaii atop Mauna Loa.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The US Congress sees a bigger Defence Budget only from the perspective of creating higher paying Military-Industrial Complex jobs in their States.
      They don’t give a damn how may people are killed as long as the Wars are contained “over there” as the US has been able to do up to now. All that changed with this War


  6. While I share the bleak assessments of the article and fellow commenters, and I think it’s a 95% probability that within the next few generations there will be an environmental collapse and a nuclear war, the only slight ray of hope I see are the examples in my lifetime of some unpredictable cultural changes that have occurred. Notably, how smoking cigarettes in our country has been effectively banned in virtually all public buildings and transport, how seat-belt use in cars is now widespread, drunk-driving laws are strong, or how blatant racism and homophobic behavior is being reduced (when I was in my teens in the 1960’s you would still read about an occasional lynching in the South). Not much to cling-to admittedly, (and those are only the POSITIVE changes, not the unpredictable negative changes that have occurred) but things that I never would’ve envisioned happening while growing of-age in the 50’s & 60’s. Unfortunately, militarism strikes an innate chord with most people— many men like the concept of protecting the family/tribe and the envisioned violent conflicts, and enough women like the protection by the ‘macho’ male — so it’s more resistant to logical discussion….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. On that positive side, I like to think of how the potential of women has been released. When I was in high school “home ec” was still taught for girls. This liberation is a wonderful thing to see and I look forward with anticipation to the developing lives of 4 granddaughters. Just over 100 years ago American women got the right to vote. This is progress not in technology that we’ve come to expect, but in human relations, a far more difficult thing to change. But your anxiety about nuclear war and environmental collapse are well taken, Eddie. The planet is overpopulated with no sign of an acceptance of consuming less. There are so many have-nots quite understandably wanting the high consumption lifestyle Americans have enjoyed. We’re hardly in a position to say no. My take is that heating will continue and for the lack of our own control of ourselves, the earth or our nuclear weapons will impose control of our numbers with no chance of appeal.


  7. “If you’re an American 21 years of age or younger, you’ve never known a time when your country hasn’t been at war….”

    And the people between 21 and 30 don’t remember the relative peace after Gulf War I.

    But the fact that war is normal for all those people is an almost insurmountable obstacle when it comes to reducing military budgets. They have nothing to compare with today’s obscenely bloated allocations. It doesn’t occur to them that the situation should be different.

    By the same token, if that national collapse does happen, that segment of the population will be least able to cope on mental and emotional terms.


  8. You concluded, Colonel: “We have become George Orwell’s Oceania, where war is peace, surveillance is privacy, and censorship is free speech. Such is the fate of a people who make war and empire their way of life.”

    A nation and a people get the government, the system of governance, and the governors that they deserve. And for Our sins, we have the GoatRope called American Politics today, and the way it has been for a long, long time. And the disasters that its foreign, economic, environmental, and domestic social policies and programs have been, are, and promise only to continue to be.

    Yesterday ~ April 4, 2022 ~ was the 55th anniversary of the day that the Doctor and Reverend Martin Luther King, in a Church in New York City, declared War against America’s War in, on, and against the People ~ and Their Land, Country, and Nation ~ of Vietnam in his epochal oration ” Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

    To hear and perhaps listen to it, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJhgXKGldUk. To read it: https://www.crmvet.org/info/mlk_viet.pdf. And an excellent survey and analysis of it is available at https://original.antiwar.com/david-bromwich/2008/05/16/martin-luther-kings-speech-against-the-vietnam-war/ .

    It was on this day that he delivered a declaration that ~ in many ways ~ was, is, and forever will be the most important and impactful statement he ever made. Beyond even his “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” “I have a Dream…,” and “I’ve been to the Mountaintop.”

    And in Breaking That Silence on that day in April 1967, Dr King initiated [and, in fact, initialed] his own Death Certificate; to be filled out in full exactly one year to the bloody day later ~ April 4, 1968 ~ in a place called Memphis. The morning after his Mountaintop report.

    Dr King began “Beyond Vietnam” with the simple statement: “A time comes when silence is betrayal. In Vietnam, that time has come for us.”

    i would suggest that if silence is indeed betrayal, then that time has come for those of us who are concerned about America’s [and indeed, Humanity’s] collision course with Reality and the grim future that that present course promises.

    The only way that this nation’s military and other wasteful budgets are ever going to go down is if and when a critical mass of American Citizen/Taxpayers DEMAND that that happen, and refuse to accept its Not happening. Which, unfortunately, is not very likely to happen any time soon. Or to happen at least soon enough to avert the looming catastrophe.

    A prolonged War in Europe; global food shortages and supply line chokepoints; a resurgent, alien strain of COVID; inflation reaching hyper- proportions; a climate increasingly manifesting increasingly powerful and destructive weather events…. .

    One is reminded of REM’s classic: “It’s The End of The World As We Know It.” But also that “The People Have The Power…”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iwK0IFgZyQ .

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Near the end of “Beyond Vietnam,” Dr King made “incandescently clear” as to the ultimate, bottom line, bullet-hits-the-bone Truth: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on
    military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

    And fifty-five years later, here we are.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. ‘US Interventionism Always Makes Things Worse’

    Friendly reminder that it’s impossible to get a clear understanding of what’s going on in the world without accounting for the fact that very powerful people within your own society are actively working very hard to manipulate your understanding in their favour.

    Obviously believing unproven US or Ukrainian claims about what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine is as dumb as believing unproven Russian claims about what’s happening there, and anyone advocating for direct NATO military intervention against Russia is an enemy of our species.

    Advocating skepticism of unproven claims made during a war and saying nuclear superpowers should not attack one anothers’ military forces on the basis of those claims should literally be the least controversial position that anyone could possibly voice about anything…………………………….



    1. Opinion: The #Bucha incident mustn’t be politically exploited! Whose False Flag? IMPARTIAL INVESTIGATION NOW!!

      According to the Russian Defense Ministry, some serious questions need to be answered.
      These include why the town’s mayor didn’t make mention of these crimes during his video address the day after the RAF’s departure.
      They also asked why footage and images didn’t circulate until a couple days later once Ukrainian intelligence officials and the media entered Bucha, and why those cadavers allegedly did not exhibit signs of days-long exposure to the elements.



  11. Here’s an excellent follow-on article to Yours, Colonel:

    “The Warfare State’s Infinitely Mendacious Echo Chamber” by David Stockman in “CONTRA CORNER”

    It all starts with the number $813 billion, the Biden national defense budget for FY 2023. That number is so hideously—nay, grotesquely—large that it is the inherent fount of the war fevers, Russophobia and sweeping disinformation that now gushes from the Washington war machine and its auxiliaries in the mainstream media.

    The fact is, never before in the history of mankind have economic resources of this gigantic magnitude been showered upon the blob-like military-industrial-intelligence-foreign aid-think tank-NGO-lobbying complex that is now ensconced in the world’s leading national capital.

    Accordingly, there are literally hundreds of thousands of uniformed and civilian government employees and private contractors and consultants operating within the confines of the beltway and its outlying nodes that have an overriding interest in keeping the fiscal gravy-train flowing. So doing, they excel in inventing, spinning, hyping and lying about the national security threats which justify a “defense” budget of this staggering size.

    Indeed, there is so much fat and walking around money is these elephantine totals that the US defense budget functions like a self-licking ice cream cone. Endless pockets of research and study money end up funding the think tanks, NGO’s and consultants who, in turn, make it their business to fuel a massive threat exaggeration syndrome. And they do so day-in and day-out focused upon a constantly rotating set of theaters all around the planet.

    For want of doubt, just recall where the defense budget was at the height of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was at the peak of its industrial might and at which time President Eisenhower delivered his famous farewell address warning of the dangers of unchecked power in the military-industrial complex. The budget then, which the greatest general to ever occupy the Oval Office felt was more than adequate to provide for the nation’s security, was $52 billion in dollars of the day.

    In FY2021 purchasing power equivalents that translates to $370 billion, meaning that the pending Biden budget is 2.2X larger in real terms. And, also in constant dollars, that $813 billion Biden figure is:

    2.0X Nixon’s FY 1972 defense budget of $398 billion, notwithstanding that Tricky Dick was a dyed-in-the-wool cold war hawk;

    2.2X Jimmy Carter’s outgoing $370 billion defense budget, which did not lead to any Soviet invasion despite the endless “weakness” caterwauling by GOP hawks at the time;

    1.33X Ronald Reagan’s massive defense build-up which peaked in FY 1986 at $610 billion in feckless pursuit of final victory over the original Evil Empire (note: the latter collapsed owing to communism, not the Reagan defense budget);

    1.54X the last Cold War defense budget of $545 billion in FY 1990, which should have been the dropping off point for post-Cold War demobilization and demilitarization of American foreign policy.

    After all, at that point the frightful Soviet Union had been swept into the dustbin of history in 1991. Likewise, in the early 1990’s Deng Xiaoping elected to replace Mao’s slogan that power stems from the barrel of a gun with the proposition that everlasting communist party rule would be better facilitated by a smoking hot printing press and a debt fueled construction and exporting spree.

    Continued at: https://www.davidstockmanscontracorner.com/the-warfare-states-infinitely-mendacious-echo-chamber/

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.