The first thing that you have to understand about military spending in America is that we have to spend that money. When the shit goes down somewhere, as it inevitably does, nobody really calls Portugal to see how they’re going to handle things. They call us. Sometimes we say “gosh, that’s too bad” and do nothing, and sometimes we fire up the shitty Toby Keith songs and actually do something, but nobody fails to contact the United States when something terrible happens between Country A and Splinter Group B.
And don’t forget, we were more or less obligated to build ourselves up in the first place. Raise your hands if you think Western Europe would have been great under Stalin after WWII! Anybody? Hello? And let’s also recall that we were the only member of the Allies that had any money at the time. Everybody else was rebuilding and/or practically broke.
We were flush with cash, with one of the reasons being that all of that money and gear we sent to England after the war wasn’t charity. It was a loan. England was in hock to the United States for billions, and they didn’t actually finish paying that off until 2006. Also, we didn’t have to rebuild much of anything. Not one single bomb fell on mainland America during the entire course of the war.
That huge industrial defense effort that we got going during World War II was scaled back, but it didn’t stop. Defense spending has been more or less at the same percentage of American GDP for the past 70 years, so much to the point that it’s a crucial aspect of our economy. Anyone who tries to at least scale it back a bit is met with outright hostility.
Here’s a major difference between how military spending was done in WWII and how it’s done now: Back in the day, factories mostly did one thing. One factory made bombers, one factory made rifles, one factory made artillery shells, one factory made howitzers, one factory made mortars, etc. etc. But now, everything is spread out all over the country. Let’s examine the process of manufacturing a plane. One factory in Washington State makes a part of a jet engine. One factory in Florida makes the canopy. One in Missouri makes the seats, and yet another in Colorado makes the restraints for that seat. And so on and so on. When you ask anyone in the Department of Defense why in the hell they spread the manufacturing process for one airplane all over the country, they will tell you it’s because of security, and that might be true. But another reason is that each of these factories is providing jobs to hundreds or even thousands of people in multiple states and, more importantly, multiple Congressional districts. If the Pentagon wants to phase out this particular airplane because it’s obsolete, or if they simply have too many, they will have to fight multiple Congressmen to get it phased out. None of these Congressmen want the loss of jobs or the loss of sweet, glorious, Pentagon revenue taken away from their districts.
Consider the M1 Abrams tank. You may or may not notice that we don’t really use them anymore. Most of the guys we are fighting now don’t have much going for them in the armored vehicle department and are instead using AK-47s, improvised explosives, and machetes. So the Army told Congress that they wanted to freeze production on new tanks. Every manufacturer involved in the entire process sent an assload of lobbyists to Capitol Hill, and Congress (specifically Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, where the tanks are eventually fully assembled) told the Army to keep those tanks coming:
In a statement, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said that Congress “recognizes the necessity of the Abrams tank to our national security and authorizes an additional $120 million for Abrams tank upgrades. This provision keeps the production lines open in Lima, Ohio, and ensures that our skilled, technical workers are protected.”
So in order to keep those skilled technical workers in his own state at their conveyor belts, Mike Turner is forcing the Army to accept tanks that it no longer needs or wants.
This isn’t just with the manufacturing process either. The United States has a ridiculous amount of military bases all over the country that might as well be a regiment of troops guarding a warehouse full of surplus jockstraps, but each one of those bases (useful or otherwise) means a steady revenue flow for the Districts. If you have a base you have troops with paychecks, and they have to spend them somewhere, right?
It’s interesting to note that a great many of these Congressmen and Senators who are supplementing the economic health of their districts and states with cash from the Pentagon tit got elected due to railing against government handouts, decrying wasteful spending, and promising to keep the government out of the lives of the citizens. But that sentiment dries up pretty quickly when you try to take unnecessary and wasteful defense spending out of their pockets.
We had a President warn us about this, you know. And I’d like to point out that the President who warned us was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wasn’t exactly someone you could put in the “Liberal Pussy” category.
It was January 17, 1961, and Ike was about halfway out the White House door, and he gave a televised farewell address where he said the following:
“We have been compelled to create a permanent defense armaments industry of vast proportions…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 statehouse, 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.”
Nobody really said anything about that line. For one thing, everybody was looking forward to getting the new President with the hot wife in there, and also, nobody was really sure what the old guy was talking about. Military what? Complex what? At that point the U.S. hadn’t been involved in a military skirmish since Korea. Everybody had a house and a car and a wife and a job and lived in the suburbs and had steaks on the grill. Nobody paid attention. But he was absolutely right. We let this thing get out of control, and now we can’t stop even when we want to.