Next Monday is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for America’s veterans, and the political landscape is lighting up with rhetorical fireworks as the-bullshit-factory-that-is-Washington celebrates the holiday with a nasty scandal over mismanagement of veteran affairs. Which isn’t gonna work out well for anybody, since that particular strain of corrupt incompetence goes all the way back to the Revolutionary War, and both parties have always been up to their collective neck in it. But as long as we fight wars, we’ll have veterans to support… and we always will, since for some, war is good business. To investigate further, let’s look back at a blog from a Memorial Day gone by:
It’s difficult to comprehend the immense sacrifices endured by so many American families through the labor— and loss— of their sons and daughters. The memory of such service can never be erased or dishonored. But… here are a few interesting facts about the current state of America’s military. Not about those brave servicemen and servicewomen who daily risk their lives defending us domestically and abroad; just some hard data about the BUSINESS of warfare as it currently exists in the USA.
The annual military expenditure of the United States accounts for roughly 47% of the world’s total arms expenditures. The president’s base budget of Defense Department spending (including “overseas contingency operations”) averages around $650 billion dollars annually, not including military-related items outside the Defense Department budget, such as nuclear weapons programs (paid for by the Department of Energy), Veterans Affairs, interest on debts incurred in past wars, or State Department financing of foreign arms sales and military development assistance. Neither does it include defense spending that is not specifically “military” in nature— like the Department of Homeland Security, FBI counter-terrorism activity, and orbital intelligence-gathering by NASA. When all these items are added to the tally, the sum approaches $1.5 trillion dollars. Annually.
The United States defense budget is 7 times larger than the military budget of China and totals more than the world’s next twenty largest military spending governments combined. Almost 60 percent of all discretionary spending and close to one quarter of ALL AMERICAN GOVERNMENT SPENDING goes directly into some kind of military expenditure (Fun Fact: the amount of money we spend annually on our military is 27 times what it would cost us to build a giant robotic middle finger large enough to flip off God).
In his farewell address on January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (legendary war hero, five-star general, former Supreme Head of World War II Allied Command, and lifelong career military badass) famously seized his final opportunity to speak directly to the American people and warn them about a new threat he believed was then looming on the horizon. Eisenhower even invented a new term— “the Military-Industrial Complex”— to describe the thing he feared.
Here’s what he said:
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence— economic, political, even spiritual— is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military-Industrial Complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
President Eisenhower feared the rise of a future conspiracy between the armaments manufacturing industry, the highest levels of the military elite, and the American political machine, to treat warfare as a sustainable business and a never-ending source of corporate profits drawn directly from the tax dollars of the American people, essentially forever.
Yikes! We sure wouldn’t want THAT to happen… oops.
I like Ike. He was one smart guy. Too bad his descendants weren’t wise enough to take his warning seriously.
(originally appeared on 5/29/2012)