Bring Back the Standing Army

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson did not agree on much, but when it came to “standing armies” — militaries that did not disband during peacetime — they were united: “War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few,” wrote Madison, echoing Jefferson’s sentiment that “standing armies [are] inconsistent with freedom.”

Today, the United States does not have a standing army. It has a stampeding army, a stomping army, an Orwellian “boot stamping on a human face,” a leviathan let loose upon humanity by brigand-leaders too senseless, haughty, and rich to listen to history or conscience. The Republic is dead; Empire blooms. Yet all that blooms also wilts, and everything Americans hold dear — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — is imperiled by an industrial-military-hypercomplex that consumes the wealth and spirit of all Americans, young, old, or yet to be born.

The numbers stagger: Over 3 million “defense” employees run with a budget of more than a trillion dollars a year (this includes not only the Department of Defense, but also the myriad of secret and not-so-secret departments and agencies that participate in the imperial project). This insular and self-contained World of War-making spends more dollars, directs more persons, and ruins more lives and economies than any other organization on the planet. The Navy has 11 super-carrier battle groups. The rest of the world, combined, has zero. The Air Force has hundreds of stealth bombers and fighters. The rest of the world, combined, has zero. There are over 1,000 military installations scattered across 63 countries, covering 1,105 square miles — the equivalent of 48 Manhattan Islands. The rest of the world’s countries prefer to keep their bases inside their own borders. While foreign armies tend to stand still, our military has hopped, skipped, and jumped its way across the world — in the ’80s: Iran, El Salvador, Libya, Lebanon, Grenada, Honduras, the Persian Gulf, Bolivia, Panama; in the ’90s: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Zaire, Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Serbia; in the last decade: Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq (again), the Philippines, Georgia, Haiti, Pakistan; and at present, with drone assassins at our happy fingers, our nation wars without warning, without debate, without vote, at any time, in any place, for any reason.

This, then, is not a standing army of defense. This is a conquering army of empire, causing destruction not only abroad, but also increasingly at home.

With the cost of conquest running up to a trillion dollars a year, America’s national debt has grown to $15 trillion, with 80% of the interest due solely to military expenditures. This catastrophic bill exceeds imagination. No stack of dollars bills, no matter how high, can communicate the enormousness of this loss. But we don’t need to imagine. All we have to do is open our eyes to the peoples and communities writhing under the heel of the war economy: drive into the urban ghost towns of our inner cities and see houses boarded up, abandoned cars rusting, trash drifting on sidewalks, the unemployed everywhere. This nightmare of global domination costs each American family more than $100,000 — the cost of a simple home, of a good education, of a life-saving operation, of a small start-up business, of an America where every person has a chance to be free from a debt-burdened, underemployed, paycheck-to-paycheck life of financial slavery.

To be sure, money (especially bureaucracy-laden federal funds) cannot solve problems endemic to the human condition. The world will always remain a dangerous place, demanding the vigilant safeguarding of law and order. While Madison and Jefferson fought against standing armies, they also stressed the imperative of a well-armed and well-trained populace — the million-man militias — capable of rising to the defense of a nation when needed, and they made this imperative permanent in the Second Amendment.

Yes, in a modern world, a standing army may be needed. So let us have an army that stands — stands for liberty, not power; stands for security, not dominance; stands for people, not profits; stands on American soil, not foreign bodies. If we must have a standing army, let it stand where it was always meant to: at home, for the Republic.

Author: Nathan Wildermuth

Nathan Wildermuth is a former West Point cadet and Army Ranger who was honorably discharged as a conscientious objector in the winter of 2003. He is married, has two sons, and is currently working on his memoir, So You're a Coward.