A news article this week brought to mind something British politician Tony Benn said, “I remember setting sail to South Africa for training [as a WW2 RAF pilot] and being part of a war aims meeting. It was the most brilliant political meeting I ever attended. One man spoke of the mass unemployment of the 1930s and said that if we could attain full employment by killing Germans, we could have full employment by building houses, schools and hospitals.”
The article is about a $643M contract with Bath Iron Works (BIW) for which Maine Senators Collins, a Republican, and King, an independent, got funding. They say it will “allow the Navy to send another DDG-51 to sea when the Navy’s fleet needs to preserve important combat capabilities in support of our national defense.” Democratic Representative Pingree said, “this is excellent news for the families who earn their living at BIW.” A shop steward who represents BIW workers said, “the contract brings more stability to the company, which employs about 5,400 people.”
So, my representatives in Washington, the BIW workers and their families, local business owners, everyone around here is happy we’re going to build more of these ships that were “originally designed to defend against Soviet aircraft, cruise missiles and nuclear attack submarines.”
What struck me is, although we don’t think of Defense that way, it has grown into an enormous jobs program. What’s more it’s a program whose rationale and scope we do not question.
President Reagan’s budget director David Stockman has points to make, however. In The Ukraine, The War Party and the Pentagon’s Swamp of Waste he writes, “the $625 billion allocated to DOD this year amounts to a colossal destruction of economic resources for no benefit whatsoever to the safety and security of the American people.”
Stockman is angry, perhaps because “About three decades ago I called the Pentagon a “swamp of waste” during an off-the-record interview that ended-up on the evening news. Presently I ended-up in President Reagan’s woodshed–explaining that, well, yes, I did say that because it was in fact true.” His article is excellent background reading.
I don’t feel emotional about this but I am equally determined to do what I can so we do question how we want to spend that $625B of tax revenue. The current program does have some benefit — it provides a lot of jobs — but as Tony Benn realized, some of them could be different jobs. Some could be jobs without the risk of being killed or maimed.
Defense spending has huge support. There was a bi-partisan agreement to cut (sequester) federal spending this year. Stockman notes that “Had every dime of the $55 billion sequester been implemented, this year’s DOD budget would have been roughly $600 billion … in 1989, the DOD budget was about $475 billion in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars.” Even though DOD spending would have been up 25% from 25 years earlier, when the time came to make the cuts, Congressman Paul Ryan and others said making them would be tantamount to surrender. So the cuts were not made.
What provoked Stockman’s article is, “Contrary to the bombast, jingoism, and shrill moralizing flowing from Washington and the mainstream media, America has no interest in the current spat between Putin and the mobs of Kiev.”
Echoing President Eisenhower’s famous warning when he left office sixty years ago, he says, “The source of the current calamity-howling about Russia is the Warfare State–that is, the existence of vast machinery of military, diplomatic and economic maneuver that is ever on the prowl for missions and mandates and that can mobilize a massive propaganda campaign on the slightest excitement.”
Stockman is outraged that we believe the propaganda and by our hypocrisy: “We have invaded every country to our South–from the Dominican Republic to Guatemala and Panama and assassinated or overthrown dozens of their leaders–all within the 60 year span since Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to his minions in Kiev. So precisely which nearby borders are so sacrosanct and exactly who has done the more egregious violating?”
I’ve written before about our defense spending and military strategy over which “we the people” have no control. President Reagan greatly accelerated spending on what was in fact a spurious rationale, it dropped and stabilized in the next decade, then it was driven to extraordinary new heights by President Bush based on a new spurious rationale. The numbers below show our total defense spending, not just what is presented in the US budget defense line item but also the spending on “overseas contingency operations” i.e., the wars President Bush started in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We might be encouraged by Congress’ refusal to approve President Obama’s recent desire to take military action in Syria except that (A) Congress is currently of a mind to refuse everything he proposes and (B) everyone in Congress always wants more military spending in their district.
Important as it is to make rational changes to our defense spending and decide what kind and size jobs program we want to fund, however, we first need a government that functions, one that could debate such questions, arrive at decisions and take action.
I’m still absorbing research about how we could get such a government and, following a break where I’m hoping for sun and heat, I will report back next month.
Martin, I admire your thinking process and conviction, and hope you can help effect change somehow. I hope you are not Don Quixote, fighting windmills. Trying to take on the military-industrial complex is certainly a bit daunting, based on your recent article showing how much fundamentalism there is in this country, I would imagine trying to get our government to function could be yet more difficult.
Thanks very much for your encouragement, Harold. Although I no longer question whether any of us can have a positive effect, encouragement does help to maintain the effort. I’ll keep flapping my butterfly wings.
Paul made this interesting observation: “Unlike most advanced economies, the US does not engage in industrial planning except under the guise of defense spending.”