On the Morality of: Military Spending

I’ve been following, with some incredulity, a battle brewing in Congress over a military-spending bill and whether it will include money to buy more F-22 Raptors, a jet fighter used by the Air Force during the Cold War. Even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates insists that these planes are not needed, a contingent of Congresspeople are bent on putting that spending back into the budget – forcing the military to take these planes against their will!

Bizarre as this sounds, it’s a classic example of how the military-industrial complex operates in America. Major military firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which make most of their profit from multibillion-dollar government contracts, deliberately spread out their operations over as many states as possible – ensuring that senators and representatives from those states will vote for their programs, to ensure the steady flow of government cash that creates jobs in their districts. This pork is like a drug, and Congress, for the most part, is hopelessly addicted.

Stories like this one explain why the amount of money that the U.S. spends on the military is so staggering. Our 2009 base military budget, plus supplementals to paay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is about $650 billion. When all military-related spending is counted, the total sum may be closer to $1 trillion. This is just about as much as every other country in the world spends, combined. (See also.)

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, America has not had an adversary that poses us any realistic military threat. And in a world increasingly interconnected by trade, great-power conflicts like those of the 20th century seem less and less likely to happen again. The wars of the future are far more likely to be the kind we’ve seen in recent years – peacekeeping operations in failed states and asymmetric conflicts with non-state actors like al-Qaeda – for which large conventional weapons systems are useless. Even if we were expecting to fight more wars like those of the past, our spending vastly outstrips any plausible enemy. How, then, can we possibly give a moral justification for such massive, reckless spending on weapons that, in all likelihood, we will never need? (The F-22, for example, has never been used in combat.)

America needs to relearn the concept of opportunity cost. This idea has been ignored by posturing elected officials who huff that “no price is too high to pay for security”. But this is obviously false: every dollar we spend on the military is a dollar we can’t spend on something else. And there are countless actual, urgent issues our country is facing where that money could be spent to make a major positive difference right now, as opposed to the entirely theoretical possibility of a distant future war that might require these weapons.

Consider how much good that trillion dollars could do if spent in other areas. We could rebuild the entire nation’s energy grid with clean alternative power, ending global warming and severing the dependence on foreign oil that poses a significant threat to our security in and of itself. We could enshrine universal healthcare and create an educational system that would make Americans the healthiest, best-educated, most secure people on the planet and an envy of the other nations. We could even apply it to areas of legitimate security concern, like inspecting more of the shipping and transit that passes through our ports – a plausible target of major terrorist attacks, and an area where our current precautions are woefully inadequate. Yet all these grand plans are viewed as too expensive, too “socialist”, too unlikely to yield a benefit, by the same elected officials who think nothing of handing out hundreds of billions of dollars each year to well-connected lobbyists and corporations.

The easy excuse is to blame the politicians and assume that wealthy corporations have hopelessly rigged the system in their own favor. But this is too simplistic.

As debased as it is, America is still a democracy, and we still have the power to vote out any politician who offends us. The real problem is how we, the voters, evaluate risk and hold our government to account. Politicians assume, usually correctly, that any vote against the military budget will be used against them in attack ads. Wealthy lobbyists supply the cash needed to run expensive modern campaigns. And voters who would otherwise take their representatives to task for waste and corruption will cheer on almost any spending, no matter how frivolous, if it’s justified by repeating the words “national security”.

These attitudes create an environment that favors candidates who will vote for massive, wasteful military budgets instead of spending to address real needs. When the voters see the senselessness of this, when we’re willing to vote for politicians who pledge to slash the military budget to only what is genuinely necessary for defense, we can dismantle the military-industrial complex and divert that spending into areas where it will truly benefit all of us.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • keddaw

    A good post, especially pointing out the opportunity cost of the dollars being spent, but I have a question on why you bring morality into it?

    I have spent a great deal of time thinking about such issues and come to the conclusion that morality is a false construct, it is a shorthand way of saying “acts that seem to lead towards a society I would like to live in.”

    So is it immoral to spend all your budget on weapons of war while children starve on the street? That 100% depends on whether you want a country that is stupidly strong on defence/offence or if you want a country that looks after the weak and poor.

    Thus, to say the treatment of women in some Muslim countries is immoral is wrong, it is only immoral to you because you do not wish to live in/see a society that treats woment that way, but it is not inherently immoral.

    Just a thought after reading a few of your interesting “On the morality of…” pieces.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Moral relativism may mean that conclusions about the morality of anything are contingent on the the context and society. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be examined however. In Western Democracy how our tax dollars (or pounds in my case) are spent, and how the need for particular types of expenditure are presented to the electorate is absolutely a moral question. The social contract in a democracy is that we elect goernments to look after our interests and pay for that through taxation. If that government is spending trillions on armaments that are not for our well being but to line the pockets of private enterprise, that is immoral. This may say nothing about the morality or otherwise of military budgets per se, but when we have other opportunities to spend finite resources on something else valuable an ethical choice needs to be made.

  • http://agnostiChicagOkie.blogspot.com DAM10N

    I’ve worked for the DoD my whole career, first as an officer in the USAF and later as a contractor for one of America’s major aerospace contractors (one that you did not mention in this post).

    That said, I can think of no rationale for doing anything with the F-22 program other than mothballing it and waiting for the next major regional war in which air superiority becomes a live issue. I get that the U.S. was caught switchfooted in the skies over Europe, the Pacific, and eventually sunny SE Asia, but it has been a generation of two since the enemy fighters put up anything like a decent resistence against our last-gen fighters. It is time to move on to new and geniunely useful programs like pilotless drones which provide close air support.

    Better still, we could divert some of the ever-bloating military budgets to full-hearted attempts at conflict prevention, as by building up useful infrastructure in the pacified bits of Iraq. Once this gets rolling, there will be a visible incentive for the less pacified regions to settle down and get funded up.

  • Scotlyn

    Keddaw:

    So is it immoral to spend all your budget on weapons of war while children starve on the street? That 100% depends on whether you want a country that is stupidly strong on defence/offence or if you want a country that looks after the weak and poor….Thus, to say the treatment of women in some Muslim countries is immoral is wrong, it is only immoral to you because you do not wish to live in/see a society that treats woment that way, but it is not inherently immoral.

    How would the morality question look to you if, just for a moment, you “tried on” the point-of-view of the child starving on the street, or the Muslim woman threatened with rape, assault and/or death for asserting her equality as a human being? (These being the specific examples you chose to use).

    We all naturally do what we do to create “a society I would like to live in.” That’s just normal self-interest. You’re not “doing” morality until you begin to address the question of how to create a society that we (starving children, beaten down women, etc) would all like to live in.

  • Tim

    Or instead of spending the extra dollar, give half of that money back to the taxpayers who provided the cash. The other half goes towards the nation’s debts.

  • Justin

    DAM10N, one quibble…

    It is time to move on to new and geniunely useful programs like pilotless drones which provide close air support.

    Unfortunately, pilotless drones have killed numerous civilians. They do present the advantage of keeping our troops out of harm’s way, but at the apparent cost of accuracy.

  • Alex Weaver

    Unfortunately, pilotless drones have killed numerous civilians. They do present the advantage of keeping our troops out of harm’s way, but at the apparent cost of accuracy.

    Are they less accurate than airstrikes from manned planes?

  • http://duford.com sduford

    Good post, just one correction: the F-22 was not used during the cold war. It is a very recent fighter that was designed during the cold war to address cold war threats. It has actually never been used, in combat or otherwise. It is an incredibly expensive weapon that has never had an enemy to fight.

  • nfpendleton

    The sick, sad irony is that the money for “defense” spending of all kinds is a foregone conclusion while even the idea of spending our money on a single-payer national health system makes gets one pegged as a stinking pinko commie degenerate.

    And as for unmanned drones? More license for even greater wholesale murder.

    Unfortunately, the only way many people will get the idea that making war is against humanity’s best interests is when you finally send their children to get killed in the jungle/desert/urban rubble/etc. Only then will the jingoism and flag waving begin to ring hollow.

    Right now, with the adventurism of our current power class, we’re creating another Vietnam generation of veterns who will carry all their dehumanizing training and war scars with them until they die. And it will affect their children like it did my generation growing up. My father was in South East Asia for less than a year before I was even born, but I and my sister can still taste the bitterness in our own mouthes. I think America is ill – possibly even dying – but the poison sure has hell isn’t the desire for universal healthcare or gay marriage or progressive taxation, or even atheism.

    Slash the military budget to pre-WWII. Then feed the hungry and heal the sick. This is not bleeding heart bullshit.

    IMHO.

  • Thumpalumpcus

    We could rebuild the entire nation’s energy grid with clean alternative power, ending global warming and severing the dependence on foreign oil that poses a significant threat to our security in and of itself.

    This is the only flaw in an otherwise excellent post. The premise of this statement ignores that both India and China have ramped up, and not cut down, on cola-based industrialization.

    Otherwise, I absolutely agree. I, too, am a USAF vet and follow aviation affairs closely. Not only is this plane unneeded, I would also cite the C-17, the Seawolf-class submarines, and the new Army Intelligent BDU. In the words of Steve Miller, “feed the babies who don’t have enough to eat / shoe the children with no shoes on thier feet…”

  • Thumpalumpcus

    That would be “coal” and not “cola”, of course. But a sugar-high is a terrible thing to waste.

  • tdd

    It has only gotten worse since Eisenhower said the following in 1953:
    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. … Is there no other way the world may live?

  • Danikajaye

    Do you think attitudes towards military spending will gradually change as the generations that can remember the WWII, the cold war and other conflicts die? Those generations were bombarded with anti-communist propaganda like this http://reallygoodmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/picture26_11.jpg -(By the way how do I do the nice little links?)and the fear of communism is very deeply ingrained. Wars are instrumental in shaping the thinking of the people that lived through them and those who experienced those years probably still feel the need to spend heavily on defense for their own safety and freedom. Anything that has the word “universal” or “redistribution” attached will reek of the communism to older generations and thus they are likely to resist these socially progressive changes with all their might. Will it get easier to cut the defense budget in favour of the “commie” policies like universal health care as time passes and the old fears and attitudes die out?

  • Scotlyn

    tdd – thanks for the lovely quote from ex-General Eisenhower. His final presidential address is a huge warning against taking the path that we actually took, towards more militarisation. It is perhaps not surprising that someone actually acquainted with war (as Bush and Cheney so patently weren’t) should be so eloquent about its dangers. I would add to his quote the observation that in pursuing foreign markets for US-produced arms, we encourage other governments to similarly rob their citizens of schools, hospitals, etc, thus spreading the rot.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    The premise of this statement ignores that both India and China have ramped up, and not cut down, on coal-based industrialization.

    It’s true that, if China and India ramp up their per-capita carbon emissions to the same level as the U.S., the world is as good as cooked. However, at the moment I believe they’re still nowhere near this level: the U.S. is far and away the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, both per capita and absolute. And with the size of our economy, if we can manage to enact a carbon tariff on imported goods, it would give the developing world a very powerful incentive to play along.

  • Scott

    I’m not defending the F-22, but I do have a few comments on this subject.

    To expanded on what sduford said above, the F-22 did not fly during the cold war, which ended with collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991. The first flight of the F-22 was in 1997, reaching initial operational capability in late 2005.

    The fact the US military industrial complex spreads out its supply chain across many states should be little surprise. Many non-defense companies play this game for the same reasons (foreign and domestic automobile companies and their part suppliers come to mind).

    Combat use is not the sole benchmark of a weapon’s effectiveness. Some of America’s most effective weapons have never been used in combat; their mere combat readiness being a credible deterrent to aggression (cold war bombers and ground-launched cruise missiles for example).

    Today, Iran and North Korea have some of the most sophisticated air defense systems on the planet, and for good reason: observing American tactics for the last 20 years, they know any significant military operation will start from the air. Our half-century old B-52s, 30-year-old F-15s/F-16s, and single-engine turboprop unmanned aerial surveillance and attack aircraft are hardly a threat against such formidable air defense shields, and Iran and North Korea know it. However, when the US forward-deploys stealthy B-2 and F-22 aircraft in response to saber-rattling by these two regional blowhards, they pay attention, since these two aircraft are currently the only ones can effectively penetrate their well defended airspace and survive.

    Scott

  • Leum

    The F-22 is vulnerable to rain. Pretty sure it’s a crapshot.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Today, Iran and North Korea have some of the most sophisticated air defense systems on the planet…

    I’m curious to see the sources for this claim. More to the point, under what circumstances do you envision the U.S. declaring war on either Iran or North Korea?

  • Alex, FCD

    From Leum’s article:

    “It is a disgrace that you can fly a plane [an average of] only 1.7 hours before it gets a critical failure”

    But other defense officials — reflecting sharp divisions inside the Pentagon about the wisdom of ending one of the largest arms programs in U.S. history — emphasize the plane’s unsurpassed flying abilities…

    Yes, friends: unsurpassed flying abilities. For two hours. Unless it rains. When the Penatagon orders pizza, I assume they get BZ-47 Tactical Combat Pie, which costs $57,000 per slice and which has an 80% failure rate.

    Of course, my own military is in the habit of buying used British submarines with the optional sunroof.

  • Staceyjw

    We would need to switch all vehicles to electric/natural gas/hydrogen if we wanted to stop our addiction to middle eastern oil. Changing our grid power to renewable energy would reduce carbon but the fuel for the plants is mostly American made (coal, gas, nuculear). CHina and India are resistant to cutting their pollution, part of this is because they point to us and say they wont if we wont.

    I hate how politicians talk of national security, and throw $ at it, without giving any of that cash to the troops that actually fight their wars.

    This is a symptom of a typical American attitude- give money to corporations, its capitalism- give it to people, its socilaism and thats BAAAAAAD. So we pay Being for costly plains, and short our troops healthcare…

    Staceyjw

  • Scott

    Please forgive my ignorance of XHTML tags for starting/ending quotes.

    “Today, Iran and North Korea have some of the most sophisticated air defense systems on the planet…” …”I’m curious to see the sources for this claim.”

    I read it in a fairly recent issue of Jane’s Defense Review; my apologies, I don’t have an online subscription to Jane’s so I can’t provide a link to the specific article.

    “More to the point, under what circumstances do you envision the U.S. declaring war on either Iran or North Korea?”

    It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision scenarios for either country. A desperate and power-hungry North Korea blitzes over its southern border with little or no warning, their uniformed millions overwhelming the fraction of defending South Korean and UN forces. NK quickly sues for peace in exchange for not nuking Tokyo. The US is treaty-bound to defend South Korea; I’ll bet we have (or will have) similar treaties with Iraq/Afghanistan should Iran have territorial ambitions in either direction.

  • other scott

    “It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision scenarios for either country. A desperate and power-hungry North Korea blitzes over its southern border with little or no warning, their uniformed millions overwhelming the fraction of defending South Korean and UN forces. NK quickly sues for peace in exchange for not nuking Tokyo. The US is treaty-bound to defend South Korea; I’ll bet we have (or will have) similar treaties with Iraq/Afghanistan should Iran have territorial ambitions in either direction.”

    Sorry guy, but I have to disagree with you at least a little here. Whilst nobody doubts that North Korea is a powerful nation and could potentially take South Korea over at the drop of the hat, it is impossible to ignore the fact that in this day and age coutnries are becoming less and less likely to invade another nation. Globalization and an worldwide economy which is completely and utterly dependant on other nations means that full-scale wars are less and less likely to occur. It is a type of xenophobia that the US uses to try and turn other countries into monsters in international eyes.
    In fact i’d argue that the USA is more likely to invade another country than either Iran or North Korea (Afghanistan/Iraw for example). Whilst North Korea is a dangerous nation, I m no more worried about them starting a war than I am about the US doing some more ‘pre-emptive strikes’.

  • http://chronos-tachyon.net/ Chronos

    FWIW, because of opportunity cost, all economic decisions are fundamentally moral decisions as well. That trillion dollar budget for defense spending could also, for instance, pay for around $1.5 million dollars per each cancer patient who dies per year (all 550,000 of them, ballpark). If $1.5 million in prevention and/or treatment could save half of them, that’s 250,000 lives saved. Per year. Dollars do directly convert to lives.

    (The reality is that diminishing returns kicks in — increasing amounts of money yield decreasingly impressive results — so it doesn’t make sense to plow all that money into cancer or any other single cause. It’s purely for illustration. But it’s a good benchmark to show exactly how much military spending costs in terms of lost lives and squandered productivity.)

    Worst of all, most of the money is wasted on inefficient, non-competitive, no-bid contracts given to defense contractors chosen via a corrupt system of bribery, quasi-legal quid-pro-quo, and good-ole-boy networks. If even half the money tied up in big-budget spending (not touching troop salaries at all) could be squeezed out by shopping around for better deals, that could still be 100,000 lives, easily. Again, per year.

    (Any arguments about the poor, helpless defense contractor employees are straight up examples of the Broken Window fallacy. The money that should have been funding someone else’s job is instead going to the defense contractor’s employees. Those jobs never existed, because the employees that would have filled them were laid off before they were hired. And, each year when Congress passes the annual defense budget, they’re laid off again, so that a defense contractor employee somewhere can take home a pork-funded paycheck for a piece of equipment that we don’t need.)

  • Scotlyn

    Alex, FCD

    When the Penatagon orders pizza, I assume they get BZ-47 Tactical Combat Pie, which costs $57,000 per slice and which has an 80% failure rate

    I looove this idea! Can we get them to stick to Tactical Combat Pie and forget about the bombers? We’d all be 100% better off!

  • Thumpalumpacus

    However, at the moment I believe they’re still nowhere near this level: the U.S. is far and away the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, both per capita and absolute.

    According to an “All Things Considered” broadcast from earlier this month, you are right in our per-capita ranking, and wrong about our absolute ranking; but do not misunderstand me — all reduction is to the good and we had ought to reduce whther they do or not. Apologies for the lack of hard numbers; I’ll do some digging to back this up, if you’ll bear with me.

    To Scott, Other Scott, and others –

    While readiness is important, it is easy to take overboard. As Robert O’Connell observed in his fine history of weaponry Soul of the Sword, at the currrent rate of cost inflation, by 2050 the entire American defense budget will be taken up by one fighter jet. Certainly we can both maintain readiness and cut costs. Chronos has an excellent point in that the drive of rising costs is primarily fueled not by actual rising costs but by an incestuous relationship between the DoD and it’s contractors.

    Do we need the best weapons? We need the best weapons for our situation. We won WWII not with the best, but with a numerical superiority of good weapons. We should, IMO, come up with affaordable designs that are easy to mass-produce in the event of an emergency.

    It would help if we forswore these little invasions, too.

  • Scotlyn

    Thumpalumpacus –

    It would help if we forswore these little invasions, too.

    But if we did that, and stopped generally destabilising other countries, we’d have no markets left to sell our weapons to!

  • Polly

    Even if we were expecting to fight more wars like those of the past, our spending vastly outstrips any plausible enemy.

    Which leaves only the implausible ones. Maybe the US government is expecting to go to war with the Elohim that the Raelians keep talking about. ;)

    Our so-called defense spending makes about that much sense.

  • Alex Weaver

    Whilst nobody doubts that North Korea is a powerful nation and could potentially take South Korea over at the drop of the hat

    Their armies are comparable in size (North Korea has about a 15% troop advantage). With a defender’s advantages and, to my knowledge, a stronger industrial base and more reliable food supply, it’s not clear to me that South Korea would be quickly or easily conquered unless China were aiding the North. Where are you getting this information from?

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    “by 2050 the entire American defense budget will be taken up by one fighter jet. ”

    Yes, but that one jet will be really, really cool.

    :D

    It’s not a trillion dollars we have to spend. By that logic, think how much we could save if we just stopped spending money on locks, cops, courts, and jails. Yes, if only people would act fairly, life would be a paradise for everybody. But it will always be in some people’s best interests to cheat. Blame evolution and game theory.

    What we need is technology that makes cheating unprofitable. Mostly that’s accountability – I can’t wait for the day when every single public act is recorded on video – but, sadly, at least some of that is also force.

    That said, as a member of the defense industry, we could save a lot of money just by changing the way things are done. The government moved to “time and materials” contracts so that they couldn’t be accused of giving defense companies obscene profits; but now defense companies just drag out the contract until it costs ten times as much. Better to let companies make fixed-price bids, even if that means sometimes they will make 200% or 300% on a few contracts.

    In other words, after 30 years of Reaganomics, the solution to our defense budget woes is the free market. It kinda makes you wonder what the heck the Reaganites were doing all those years…

  • Scotlyn

    Yahzi

    the solution to our defense budget woes is the free market

    . Yeah, it would be interesting to take the “obligatory” customers out of the market (ie governments) and see how many bombers these guys could sell to purely private entities. By definition the arms market is not a free market, it is a funnel for sucking up taxpayers money, without the taxpayers being able to exercise any consumer choice in the matter.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    “By definition the arms market is not a free market, it is a funnel for sucking up taxpayers money, without the taxpayers being able to exercise any consumer choice in the matter.”

    You didn’t get the point of my post. The arms market is the way it is precisely because the taxpayers demanded it be that way, because they were horrified by “obscene profits.”. Just as taxpayers voted for mandatory hospital care while voting against universal health insurance, because they were horrified by hospitals turning people away but unwilling to actually pay for it (and now they pay for it through obscene hospital bills). Taxpayers don’t always choose what is in their best interest because they are often swayed by simplistic ideological arguments.

    The solution to this problem is to stop presenting things as simplistic and ideological. Like, for instance, asserting that all defense spending is a waste, out of citizen’s control, and a moral crime. Some defense spending is necessary, and until people can present reasoned, rational arguments, rather than blanket statements, we’re not going to get any closer to the right level of defense spending.

  • Alex Weaver

    Actually, requiring defense contractors to submit proposals and evaluating the proposals comparatively would go a long way towards reducing the amount we’re actually paying, by providing an incentive to make their offers competitive…though there might need to be an increase in anti-trust enforcement.

  • Scotlyn

    Yahzi –

    The solution to this problem is to stop presenting things as simplistic and ideological. Like, for instance, asserting that all defense spending is a waste, out of citizen’s control, and a moral crime. Some defense spending is necessary, and until people can present reasoned, rational arguments, rather than blanket statements, we’re not going to get any closer to the right level of defense spending.

    You are absolutely right here about trying to get away from ideology and think rationally about the problem. To think rationally you need to begin by naming things more precisely. If you consider it necessary to kill people in order to achieve positive social change, it doesn’t help to cloak that rationale under a euphemism like “destroying social institutions.”

    Likewise, it would help any rational discussion to distinguish carefully between what is truly necessary for our “defense” and what is actually only necessary in order to overcome the defenses of others. We do not really need to have a military base in more than half the countries in the world to defend ourselves. A strong shield around and within our own territory should be an elegant sufficiency.

    We also need to be able to rationally distinguish between those enemies who are actually determined to threaten, invade or destroy us, and those who are simply reacting to the threat we pose to them.

    Finally, yes, the American revolution was violent, so was the Second World War. However, what brought about the possibility of the American constitutional democratic experiment was not the war, it was the long process of discourse, social experiment, etc that culminated in the Constitutional Assembly.

    World War II might have passed us by, had the Japanese not threatened our Pacific hegemony, which we gained through various previous military adventures including those in the Phillipines in the 1890′s. We manifestly did not enter it with any intention to plant democracy in either country, but found it useful to encourage that story line after the fact. (Ditto Iraq) The Marshall Plan was a truly inspired civilian response to post-war chaos, that apparently learned the lessons from the failed humiliation of Germany in the Versailles treaty that concluded World War I. Neither outcome was a necessary consequence of war, or violence as such.

    Finally, the control that citizens and taxpayers exercise over the purchase of weapons is really so miniscule as to be non-existent. This is not an ideological statement. No matter what way the arms market is set up, almost anyone who takes a good look at it becomes horrified by the obscene profits involved, while being largely unable to do anything about it, because most actual transactions take place behind a thick veil of secrecy and far from any actual oversight on behalf of the taxpayer’s/citizen’s interest.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Ebonmuse “Since the fall of the Soviet Union, America has not had an adversary that poses us any realistic military threat.”
    Ah ha! The F-22 was designed specifically to fight only the unrealistic threats, like mole people, Zombie Lenin and Martians. Gotcha! U S A! U S A!

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    Scotlyn:

    You have some good points, but when I got to this line – “World War II might have passed us by” – I simply could not take anything else you said seriously.

    Even if, by some stroke of bizarre alternate history, it were possible for us to sit out WWII, the notion that we should have stayed on sidelines while Hitler committed genocide is just… boggling.

  • other scott

    “Even if, by some stroke of bizarre alternate history, it were possible for us to sit out WWII, the notion that we should have stayed on sidelines while Hitler committed genocide is just… boggling.”

    I’m not sure if you are joking here, or have some special piece of information that the rest of us aren’t privy too… But isn’t it widely known and accepted that the US refused to actually enter WWII until they were attacked in pearl harbour?
    The war started on September 1 1939 and the US refused to fight untill pearl harbour was bombed on December 7 1941. So basically the US sat by and watched 2 years of genocide and did nothing but place trade embargos on Japan.

    As I said, i’m not sure if you have a better grasp of the history of WWII than I do or something, but I’m pretty sure that sitting on the sidelines for 40% of a genocidal war and then only joining in once your own country is attacked could be equated to a “war passing the US by had the Japanese not threatened a US Pacific hegemony”.

  • Scotlyn

    Yahzi –

    Even if, by some stroke of bizarre alternate history, it were possible for us to sit out WWII, the notion that we should have stayed on sidelines while Hitler committed genocide is just… boggling

    Yahzi, I appreciate the statement I made was easily misunderstood – my apologies. I was not giving you a “should have been” but a genuine “might have been.” When Britain began to fight against Hitler’s Nazi regime, the Americans did not immediately jump in. There was a fair bit of sympathy for the “it’s not our problem viewpoint, that is, until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour – a direct threat. Obviously you can never speculate after the fact as to what might have happened if what did happen didn’t, nevertheless, it is a fact that our initial involvement in the war was a direct response to an attack on us (and in my opinion that is a legitimate reason to go to war – ie defense.) If the Japanese had attacked us, would we have delayed our entry into the European war much later, or not at all?

    And, as it happened, there were some very good reasons to fight against Hitler, not least to rescue the people in concentration camps, just to quote one example. But it’s fairly clear that these were not the reasons that persuaded our masters and betters to finally join the war, although they provided a convenient story to tell ourselves after the war. During the war, we were not particularly welcoming to refugees from Germany, just for one example, and in the Pacific, we had built up a huge amount of self interest that had to be preserved at all costs.

  • Scotlyn

    Obviously last line of my first paragraph should read, “if the Japanese had not attacked us…

    PS. My original comment was also aimed at the American hubris that pretends we were the only people fighting against Hitler. If we had not joined the effort, the war would certainly have been fought, although against far greater odds.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Scotlyn –

    Good summation. Also of note is that fact that Roosevelt and the US military leaders spent two days wondering how it was that they would be able to declare war against Germany in the absense of a German attack — there is no mention of Germany, or Italy, in the “Day of Infamy” speech. Of course, Hitler alleviated those concerns by declaring war on us on 10 Dec.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    other scot
    “I’m not sure if you are joking here,”
    No.

    “or have some special piece of information that the rest of us aren’t privy too”
    No.

    “i’m not sure if you have a better grasp of the history of WWII than I do or something,”
    Apparently, yes. :D

    I strongly suggest you get a copy of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” It is as unique a piece of writing as Thuycide’s “History of the Peleponesian War,” both pieces being written by a person who was “there for the whole of the war.” It is one of the best history stories ever written, and will not only serve as an education on WWII but on the immutability of human nature.

    Scotlyn
    “our initial involvement in the war was a direct response to an attack on us”

    We provoked the Germans mercilessly with constant supplies to Britain, and we forced the Japanese to declare war by cutting off their supplies of oil. These events were done to provoke an attack, because our leaders of the time felt that sacrificing a few hundred thousand soldiers would be better than living with a Nazified Europe for the next 1,000 years. Perhaps you disagree with their judgment.

    Our government wanted to enter WWII earlier, and was only held back the by dissent of a pacifistic citizenry. In other words, the passivity that you are currently decrying was a direct result of people like you. I’m not objecting to pacifism; I’m objecting to hypocrisy.

    You have consistently underestimated the power of the American people. Throughout our history, we have, by and large, got exactly the government we deserved, wanted, and voted for. Now that government and its policies may not particularly please you, as an individual, but that’s the thing about democracy.

    You need to stop blaming the “gubermint” for our problems, and start accepting the flaw might lie in your fellow citizens, who, despite being anti-Semtic, racist, misogynistic, in favor of violence for disciplining children, and amused by animal torture, still managed to recognize that fascism would be worse.

  • Scotlyn

    Yahzi, I will happily defer to your superior knowledge re the minutae of World War II. But, I still think you have fallen prey to the mythology of that war as being a virtuous war – which is mainly an after-the-fact aura that war was able to take on because the enemy, in that case, turned out to be very very bad, and as you argue, the results turned out, on the whole, to be pretty good. The fact that none of this was apparent to the citizens of the US prior to joining the war, or that this argument was not available to the leaders who wished the citizens to agree to join the war, makes it clear that the “virtues” of this war were far from clear at that time. People “like me” are not necessarily pacifists, but in fact, mostly just ordinary citizens, who dislike going to war for no good reason. Firstly, the idea of killing someone close up and personal – husband, wife, parent, parent-in-law, etc is so much easier for most people to at least contemplate, than the idea of going halfway around the world to kill complete strangers. And secondly, ordinary citizens are normally fairly caught up in their ordinary lives and are averse to disrupting them to fight a war. The only thing that ever sways ordinary citizens to go to war is a sense of personal danger to what one holds dear.

    On the other hand, the leaders of people (whether self-selected or otherwise), in developing the goals of statehood and power, soon discover that there are many reasons for war, that citizens may be unsympathetic to, that in fact may disregard the issue of the citizen’s safety altogether – territorial gain, tributary/resource/financial gain, and many other such goals which seem good, perhaps even necessary, to them. Your account above simply shows that the leaders in charge of the US at that time were no more averse to allowing their own citizens to be put in harm’s way in order to “help” them to feel endangered enough to want to go to war than those of any other country. Such it has always been.

    But this:

    You need to stop blaming the “gubermint” for our problems, and start accepting the flaw might lie in your fellow citizens, who, despite being anti-Semtic, racist, misogynistic, in favor of violence for disciplining children, and amused by animal torture, still managed to recognize that fascism would be worse.

    is just a load of what I was shoveling onto my vegetable patch this morning…if you don’t mind me saying so.

    There is only one government I can criticize (not blame – you will notice my criticisms are always framed with the word “we” and “our”), as it is my own government. (Actually there are two – I am a member of the US polity by virtue of birth and of the Irish polity by virtue of marriage). A constitutional democracy is not about electing leaders and then shutting up forever. Those leaders have a duty to represent us. And the citizens, likewise, have an absolute right and a duty, to kick up a stink when they mis-represent us. That’s how it works. If my government pursues a vengeful and bloody massacre in Fallujah, just for example, or if they steal someone off a street and “disappear” them somewhere to be tortured, they do it in my name, and it reflects on me. Therefore, I have every right, and in fact, an obligation to criticise and remind them they govern only with the consent of the ordinary citizens (of whom I am one).

    Also, your “what we got” is “better than fascism” is a false dichotomy. These are not the only two alternatives…

  • lpetrich

    Back then, the biggest “pacifist” movement was the “America First” movement (“I don’t want my boy to die for Great Britain”), which implied that being involved with the war is un-American.

    It was a curious coalition of the far right and the far left; the latter was mainly faithful Communists who followed the party line from Moscow, whatever it currently happened to be.


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