Stop calling it ‘defense’

Mar 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Columns, From the Archives, Opinions

by Nate Bassett

I’m tired of hearing about how much we’re spending on defense and the military.

It’s a well known fact that the military budget of the United States is almost as large as the rest of the world’s combined defense spending.

Estimates run from $660 billion to over a trillion dollars in the defense budget for 2010, about 5 percent of our GDP.

The new budget from the White House will have the U.S. spending above $2 billion every day.

And with good reason; US troops are deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, we’re fighting two major wars, several ostentatiously-named peacekeeping missions, and the ubiquitous global war on terror.

It’s undoubtedly expensive to keep the tanks greased, planes fueled and soldiers paid.

Though that’s simplifying it; defense spending includes $4 billion spent on recruiting, which also figures in about $22,000 in entitlement bonuses and the $1,600 spent on advertising for each recruit that enlisted.

Remember America’s Army, the free video game the DoD released a few years back?

Somebody got paid to make it.

Recently we celebrated the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. – I was struck by a quote. Rev. King said, “When a nation becomes obsessed with the guns of war, social programs must inevitably suffer. We can talk about guns and butter all we want to, but when the guns are there with all of its emphasis you don’t even get good oleo. These are facts of life.”

The words rang even more truly when the New York Times reported the president was going to freeze spending, excluding important programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and of course defense.

It’s a common talking point to cite the dangers of international terrorism as a justification for maintaining and increasing military spending.

Nobody wants to be seen as soft on the enemy. But when it comes to the state of our armed forces, as thinly stretched as they are, it is an obvious fact that there is no comparable conventional force on the planet.

Yet we continue to fund the military and train troops to fight with the same mindset of the British during the American revolutionary war.

As the British wore bright uniforms, marched in a straight line, and were cut to ribbons by guerilla fighters across their empire, we pour money into high tech hardware while our enemies handle obsolete soviet weapons we bought for them decades ago.

We occupy Iraqi and Afghani cities and are (surprise!) seen as the invading occupiers.

We are fighting a cultural and ideological force with all the finesse of a wood 2×4.

Meanwhile, defense contractors enjoy the opportunity to “support our troops” by turning a huge profit and American businesses enjoy the new potential markets in so-called stabilized zones.

Taking a closer look at the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, civilian deaths are a subject of much dispute, but studies say anywhere between 100,000 and a million have died in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, numbers easily suggest tens of thousands have died unnecessarily.

While some collateral damage is a fact of war, the fact that the military does not release official body counts and estimates suggest only 20,000 or so casualties suggests we’ve successfully killed more people who did nothing to deserve it than we have the targets the military intended.

This policy of accepting excessive civilian deaths, combined with a colonialist mentality of “the only acceptable government is our government” and never-ending occupation, suggests the war is one of attrition, and that defense is the furthest thing from the DoD’s mind.

When “defense” takes the form of an overwhelming force which answers to no one and consumes money sorely missed in a shaky economy, the money spent becomes revenue for what I call an offense budget.

Ironic to think that we have a Department of Defense (renamed in the late 40’s from the more accurate “Department of War”), yet no Department of Peace (despite numerous propositions).

At the same time we have defense spending, which conveniently encompasses all offense spending. And all this time, more people are forced to get by on the oleo Rev. King mentioned.

Would we pay for an offense budget? Probably not. Will people keep signing up and heading off as long as we call it defense? Most definitely.

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  1. You make some great points, Nate. Unfortunately, the “defense” budget has always been a grotesque reflection of American values – might makes right, for example. The military-industrial complex has entrenched itself in the U.S. economy as “too big to fail” – an estimated 1 out of 6 people owes their livelihood to this beast. All of this represents a huge challenge for those who wish to see some form of reform, such as
    the Department of Peace – an idea whose time has come. Check out the Student Peace Alliance ( to learn about the campaign to support a new department that will put peacebuilding at the same level as “defense”. Peaceful solutions offer long-term benefits through building stronger relationships between people and countries and giving rise to Mutually-Assured Prosperity.