Call It the ‘Militarism Budget’

Ron Paul says, “Of course, I’m for defense; who isn’t?” On Morning Joe, he said we should call it the “militarism budget” if we hope to gain support in curtailing it. Words are vital in today’s age for gaining political support. It’s time all antiwar and anti-empire writers started using the term.

Just think how many successful campaigns have been waged by changing the terms of the debate. “Anti-abortion” became “pro-life,” “crippled” became “handicapped,” “bureaucrat” became “civil servant,” “civilian deaths” became “collateral damage,” and, of course, the “War Department” of World War II became the “Defense Department.”

Of course not all the military budget is for empire and waste; about half is necessary. So we might start calling it the “militarism/defense” budget. This would accustom readers to associate the two together as about 50-50 for each. It would only add two more syllables to the admittedly long word “militarism.” In print the longer word makes little difference.

“Military-industrial complex” has 10 syllables and is pretty tough to say fast, but anyway the term is old and used up. “Militarism” is a new word we can all relate to and one that explains Washington’s penchant for using bombs and bribes in futile efforts to supposedly make America safe (actually, they just increase our enemies’ numbers). Look at Iraq, scene of our great “victory,” where all the oil business is going to other nations’ companies. American businessmen will be afraid to venture there for the next 20 years for fear of families seeking vengeance for killed loved ones. The same is happening in Afghanistan and now Pakistan, where a recent Pew poll showed that 70 percent of the population now consider America their enemy.

Although the militarism budget is ostensibly only $700 billion, Robert Higgs at the Independent Institute has written a detailed study showing that it is actually some $1 trillion, if one includes intelligence, Homeland Security, nuclear, and hidden costs. Yet Washington is so dysfunctional that when the Washington Post ran a detailed series of articles last year exposing waste in the intelligence community, e.g., 50,000 yearly mostly unread reports and vast overlaps, not a single Republican leader endorsed any investigation or spending cuts.

We can’t lift the lid on the crawling waste in the militarism budget until most Americans understand that much of the spending has little to do with “defense.” In his brilliant essays about 4th-generation warfare, William Lind often writes about how our budget is mostly designed to refight World War II. Massive tank battles and aircraft carrier groups are obsolete, except for beating up Third World nations without air defenses, so we could do with about half of the 11 carrier groups we maintain. We have far too many officers and more four-star generals than during World War II. The possibilities for savings are almost endless in the “militarism/defense budget.”

Another focus should be military retirement. Twenty years’ service was appropriate for cavalrymen in Colorado in the 1880s. It is still OK for combat infantry, Navy medics, and a few others. Today’s longer lifespan, better medical knowledge, easier military life, and good pay should allow longer years of service, say 25 or 30. Hundreds of thousands of civilian military jobs could be filled by men and women during an extra 10 years of service. Fifty billion yearly is spent on almost free health care for retired military personnel and their families before they reach 65 and are eligible for Medicare. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is already trying to cut back on this cost.

The war party, of course, is trying to make China into a bogeyman in order to justify billions more in spending. A bankrupt, indebted America is only on its way down like other great empires before us. There’s no assurance that our political system is capable of making the necessary adjustments. Assuredly though, our domination of the world can only continue if we remain solvent.

Author: Jon Basil Utley

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He was a foreign correspondent in South America for the Journal of Commerce and Knight Ridder newspapers and former associate editor of The Times of the Americas. He is a writer and adviser for and edits a blog, The Military Industrial Congressional Complex.